Buckle up for what is probably the most in-depth UTM Civilian Training Ammunition Review ever published.
Last February we posted on Universal Training Munitions (UTM), and their significant importance to reality-based training (RBT) for the military and law enforcement. The UTM design allows officers to use their duty firearms during force-on-force training. For the AR-15, officers are only required to change out the bolt carrier group. The clearly marked blue UTM bolt is designed to be rim fired. This protects against accidental firing of live centerfire ammunition during training. There are other procedures for Glock handguns, providing the same level of protection.
A short time after our post, UTM came out with their Civilian Target Ammunition (CTA). We posted an article with the particulars of the CTA product. [Ed. note: The original article is reproduced in the appendix portion of this review. Scroll down to read it.]
Several months ago UTM contacted us and offered us an opportunity to test the CTA. We jumped at the opportunity, and after a bit of a delay we’re ready to share our findings.
Let’s dig in…
Civilian Target Ammunition (CTA)
The Civilian Target Ammunition is marketed for anyone who wants to get more trigger time but may have restrictions on how often they can get to the range. This is particularly beneficial for the AR-15. The number of ranges allowing rifles is much lower than those for handguns.
Some states are very restrictive about how firearms can be transported. The CTA rounds allow a shooter to get trigger time almost anywhere. This includes inside their own home, garage, living room, or wherever, with a greatly reduced concern of damage.
Another great advantage of the CTA set up is the ability to train new shooters on the AR-15, without the fear of live-fire mishaps. The CTA system allows a new shooter to handle a real firearm, use all of the controls, but be at greater ease knowing the weapon is only firing plastic training rounds. This could be a huge benefit to instructors, and likely a way to advance firearms training much faster with newer shooters than by traditional means.
Fear of firearms and shooting is one of the biggest hindrances to training new shooters. Despite efforts to reduce those fears, when it comes time to live-fire there are often moments of high stress for the instructor and the shooter.
The UTM CTA system provides the middle ground in training, where a student can actually fire the rifle, but knows that there isn’t going to be a loud bang or a real bullet traveling downrange. This ability to actually fire the rifle before live rounds have great potential in reducing fear, anxiety, and shooting errors when the time comes for live-fire training.
UTM Civilian Target Ammunition can be an integral part of the introductory firearms training, and on-going training as well. Initial costs are definitely a consideration, but the “Core Kit” can get a shooter started for only $249.00. The UTM CTA is an excellent choice for serious shooters who want and need more trigger time and training opportunities but suffer from limited range access. Practicing for competitions in-between range times to ensure those fractions of seconds doing magazine changes or transitions stay proficient while shooting under time. When the range is far away, or cost-prohibitive, shooters can bring the range home with the CTA kits.
What’s in the “Core” Kit?
- UTM blue-marked training bolt carrier group (rimfire)
- (1) Magpul 10-round 5.56 mm magazine
- (1) 50-round box of CTA ammunition
- MSRP – $249.00
What’s in the “Marksman” Kit?
- UTM blue-marked training bolt carrier group (rimfire)
- (1) Magpul 10-round 5.56 mm magazine
- (2) 50-round boxes of UTM CTA training ammunition
- Cleaning and maintenance tools kit
- Target backer/bullet trap – with mounting options
- Several cardboard targets
- Convenient carry/storage case
- MSRP – $329.00
- Additional 50-round boxes of CTA rounds – $32.50
- Average Muzzle Energy: 2.1 ft/lbs
- Average Muzzle Velocity: 375 fps
- Projectile Weight – less than 1.0 gram
- Accuracy: 1.18in at 32 yards (mean radius)
- Maximum Effective Range for Training: Approximately 55 yards
- Surface Danger Zone (SDZ): 200 yards minimum safe distance
- Optimum Effective Range for Training: Approximately 32 yards & closer
- One year warranty in original packaging if stored as instructed.
On-Going and Advanced Firearms Training
The UTM Civilian Target Ammunition opens up much more than training new shooters on firearm mechanics. Shooters can establish the same difficult drills they would in a competition or advanced training session to improve their muscle memory, dexterity, and overall weapon skills. All this at their own home, without the costs to travel to the range and pay range fees.
Even in the short distances of a basement or garage, shooters can use CTA to establish challenging drills. Drills that hone a shooter’s fine motor skills for some of the most important aspects of the fundamentals of shooting. This would include:
- timed shooting,
- magazine changes,
- position shooting, and
- transition drills with a training pistol.
One instructor wisely told me that mastering the fundamentals of actually shooting the firearm is not the greatest time saver in a gunfight. The real speed of an experienced shooter comes in mastering the required mechanics of presenting the firearm to shoot and keep the firearm in the fight.
In multiple training sessions, our SWAT Team has consistently proven the “fastest” shooter is not the one with the quickest trigger pull, but rather the ones who have mastered weapon presentation to target, and fast magazine changes.
One of the best training methods I’ve been apart of is using short round counts per magazine. This requires fast and accurate shooting but also incorporates magazine reloads. When time is added as a factor, and penalties for missed shots, the shooter can acquire critical skills development within their own home.
Pistol ranges and centerfire rifles do not mix typically. However, the CTA conversion could easily be sold to range or club officers, opening up plenty of training opportunities at indoor facilities normally restricted to handguns. Officers and civilians could conduct the same skill tests on their AR-15s using the CTA, as they would on a live-fire range. Clean up would be minimal, and the risk of range damage is non-existent from UTM rounds.
In addition, officers and civilians could perform transition drills from their AR-15 to pistol. The CTA system could be used for the AR-15, and live fire could be used with pistols. The possible training combinations are almost limitless.
As previously published, the UTM rounds incorporate a patented two primer system. This allows the UTM rounds to be very accurate while traveling at a much slower speed than competitor rounds. Officers and civilians can conduct realistic training with a significantly reduced chance of injury or damage from munition impact.
The UTM Civilian Target Ammunition differs from the RBT (Man-marking MMR) versions by having a hard plastic bullet, instead of the wax-filled marking bullet of the man-marking rounds.
The use of a 2-primer system maximizes efficiency in launching the plastic projectiles and avoids energy loss in the empty casing. When the UTM rounds are fired, the casing will actually extend forward slightly near the base. This will not affect firing, extraction, ejection, or reloading. This is a part of the unique UTM design to better use the energy in launching the desired projectile.
Transitioning from a live-fire AR-15 to a UTM Civilian Target Ammunition system will take “less than a minute.” Actually, if your rifle is clean and free of excessive lubrication, the transition can be completed in about 20 seconds. Here’s a UTM video showing the ease of transition.
Ensuring an officer or civilian has properly changed a live-fire bolt carrier group for the UTM bolt carrier group cannot be understated. Thankfully UTM has made it easy with a clear blue strip on the extraction side, and a bright yellow reminder to check to bore on the end of the UTM bolt carrier group.
Civilian Target Ammunition Testing
Since there is a legitimate training aspect of the UTM CTA, I was fortunate enough to use my department’s range as a testing location. This was beneficial because distances were known, and the level surface allowed a more consistent platform for accurate shooting. The UTM CTA was fired from varying distances using two shooters to compare results.
AR-15 Used for Testing
- AR-15: Rock River Arms LAR-15, Entry Tactical
- Caliber: 5.56 mm
- Barrel Length: 10.5 inches
- Trigger: RRA 2-Stage Match
- Optic: EOTech, old N-cell model (no longer in production)
- Light: Surefire M900
- Zero: Previously set at 50 yards
Overall the UTM CTA rounds performed very well, and as advertised. The CTA rounds provide an actual recoil, similar to live-fire, just not quite as strong. The CTA felt recoil is straight back into the shooter’s shoulder, and there is little if any muzzle rise during firing. Still, it is much more realistic than non-recoiling training systems.
Each test was performed by both shooters at various distances from 5 to 25 yards. The majority of test strings did not attempt to counter bore-to-sight offset, but simply aimed the EOTech sight at the intended point of impact (POI). Each shooter aimed at the center crosshair during the tests, except for two series. On those shooting exercises a hold over high was held at two separate POA. This was done to determine if adjusted POA would allow shots to strike the center cross-hair as hoped.
For matters of consistency, we did not adjust the zero of the EOTech sight. That EOTech sight had been pre-zeroed at 50 yards. The bore-to-sight offset distance (the distance between where the sight is centered and the center of the barrel’s bore) was approximately 2.0 inches. As was expected there was a drop in projectile flight the further the shooter was from the target.
When shooting up close, no adjustment was made for bore-to-sight off-set. As such, it was not surprising to see our hits around 2.0″ lower than POA, very consistent with the previously noted bore-to-sight offset distance.
10-Yard Line – Standing
The first 3-shot series was from a standing position at the 10-yard line. We did not have the target/bullet catch hanging from a target to avoid any movement. Instead, the target/bullet catch was placed on the range floor. Two of the shots were nearly through the same hole, about 1.75″ low of POA (center), with the third being 2.5″ low. This was very consistent with bore-to-sight off-set, particularly from the increased angle of shooting standing to a low target.
Move to Shooting Prone
To avoid any adverse effect from shooting at a downward angle, the remainder of the test shots were taken from a prone position with the AR-15 supported by various means, left up to each shooter’s preference. Shooting from prone provided the near-horizontal aiming pathway for the UTM projectiles, and a more accurate way to judge trajectory and projectile drop.
7-yard Line – Prone
We decided to move closer to gauge bore-to-sight off-set more accurately and to evaluate the difference that prone shooting had on accuracy. Shooting at the 7-yard line also had the benefit of giving us an idea of what a user could expect while shooting in a basement or other room within their residence – 21 feet being a reasonable maximum distance in a home.
A 5-shot group was completed at the 7-yard line from the prone position by the second shooter. Somewhat surprisingly, the grouping was a little lower than the standing shots at the 10-yard line. The group spread out to about 1.5″ from each other, and were from 1.50″ low to 3.0″ low of POA (center crosshair).
The AR-15 used for this test is not this officer’s primary rifle, so there were some different features that could account for some accuracy. Despite this, the shooter was able to place shots in very close proximity to the shots from standing. One shot was just to the left of the double-hole shot by the first shooter. This was about 1.5″ low of POA. Two shots were just to the right of the lower shot from the first shooter – about 1.75″ low and about 0.5″ right of center. Interestingly, the final two shots were on top of each other, along the centerline but nearly 3.0″ low.
Due to the newest of the system, the shooter not using his primary AR-15, and the precision placement of those last two shots, we believe these hits were simply attributed to breathing or aiming structure.
10-yard Line – Prone
The second shooter performed a grouping from the 10-yard line and prone. These shots were still low of POA, but not inconsistent with our previous findings in consideration of bore-to-sight off-set.
Of particular note to us was our shots remained very centered along the center vertical line, meaning the UTM CTA rounds were not deviating on the horizontal axis. The slight drop in rounds from the center cross has been discussed, and this observation indicated to us just how accurate these rounds are.
25-Yard Line Prone, Supported
We decided to go ahead and move to our maximum testing range of 25-yards. We used a variety of supports to help keep the AR-15 steady and supported. Even at 25 yards the bullet drop from point of aim (POA) to point of impact (POI) averaged only about 4.75″. That’s not too bad considering the lightweight plastic projectile and the relatively low speed of 375 fps. With a very minor POA adjustment, the shooter should be confident of hitting the target.
At the 25-yard line, we also incorporated some unorthodox rifle rests to provide a more stable shooting platform. From this video you can also see just how small our target was – only about 15″ x 15″, with a center circle of only 1/2 MOA.
Some of the rounds hit at the very bottom of the target, so anyone desiring to shoot this far out should be aware that not all of the projectiles may safely make it into the built-in trap. In addition, we did not experience a great deal of shift along the horizontal axis until we reached the 25-yard line. At 25-yards the effects of air and gravity on the lightweight projectile really started to show its impact. In addition to the expected lower hits, we also saw hits that began deviating further away from the centerline of the target – sometimes as much as 3.0 inches.
At all other distances, including 20-yards, we did not experience a deviation from center on the horizontal axis of more than 1.5″, and that distance was both at 20-yards. All other ranges saw hits mostly within 1.0″ of the centerline, except for 1-2 where the shooter called an error on their part.
15-Yard Line Prone
Shots from both shooters at the 15-yard line were consistent with an expected drop and were very tight to the centerline. When shooters transitioned to the marked POA #1 (at the top of the black circle) we were laying rounds within 1.0″ of each other, and about 1.0″ low of the center cross. When POA #2 was used (one line above the black circle) we actually had two hits almost exactly on the center cross.
In this video, you can see how the UTM Civilian Target Ammunition functions the AR-15 as designed and without fail. You can also realize just how quiet the system is, only hearing the cycling of the bolt.
At the 15-yard line, we observed what I believe most would consider the maximum effective range of the UTM Civilian Training Ammunition. At this range (45-50 feet), the shooter can expect to aim at the center of the target, and still make hits safely into the target and projectile trap. Obviously, this statement is based on the shooter using the included UTM targeting system and projectile trap. A larger target and trap system would greatly increase the maximum effective range, but we then begin to expand beyond the targeted ranges of being able to train within the shooter’s home.
This range is different from the UTM stated effective and accurate range of 1.18″ (median radius) out to 32 yards. Our accuracy results were based upon an EOTech with a 50-yard zero. We completely accounted for this fact in evaluating the hits that were lower than POA. We also accounted for bore-to-sight offset. Had we specifically zeroed the EOTech to 25-yards I believe our hits would have been much closer to point of aim (POA) to point of impact (POI).
The very close hits on the horizontal axis clearly indicate these rounds are accurate, and our fairly tight groups at various ranges also indicate good accuracy. When considering the 50-yard EOTech zero, and bore-to-sight offset, I believe an objective observer could judge that the UTM CTA rounds would meet or be very close to the UTM stated accuracy.
A 25-yard zero on the rifle’s sights would obviously make a difference and could possibly extend that range to 20-yards. Beyond those distances, I feel that the reduction of speed and energy in the projectile makes the UTM Civilian Targeting Ammunition less capable of providing useful feedback to a shooter’s aiming and fundamentals, though still capable of providing good training on other shooting skills.
UTM CTA Targeting System
The UTM Civilian Target Ammunition targeting system is designed to be a target and a projectile trap. As the picture below shows, the small UTM projectiles have enough energy to penetrate the cardboard target but are stopped by a thin metal sheet at the back of the foam target stand. This provides an additional safety feature from a ricochet, and an easy clean-up process.
As the pictures will show, the one thing we did not have a problem with was the horizontal placement of the CTA projectiles until we reached 25-yards. Other than a few “flyers” (mostly called by the shooter for breathing, or movement during the shot), the CTA rounds landed very close to the center vertical line.
BlueSheepDog was invited to a private showing of the UTM man-marking rounds several years ago during SHOT Show. We were very impressed with the ability of an officer (or civilian) to use their own firearm, but be able to train in force-on-force situations. The ability to use your own firearm cannot be understated, as it provides the most accurate feedback for reliability or issues during live training.
We posted an article on the UTM products at that time, with an endorsement of the product. This came from several evaluation points:
- Our experiences with the product
- The incredibly innovative design of the ammunition
- The ease of transitioning from a live firearm to a UTM training firearm
- The rim-fired design for maximum safety
- The real cycling capabilities of the UTM ammunition
- The accuracy of the rounds
- The lower speed for a greatly reduced injury potential (man-marking rounds)
- The relatively affordable price.
The new Civilian Training Ammunition (CTA) has also impressed us with its potential as a training device for a wide range of shooters. The initial start-up costs are a definite consideration, but if a shooter is serious about acquiring, advancing, and maintaining their shooting skills, the UTM CTA system is an excellent method of doing so, without the requirements of a full-blown range (NOTE: Check all local laws to ensure the CTA system will be legal in your area).
During our evaluation and testing of the product, we found the transition to be easy and confident. Fit and function responded just like the AR-15 did with a live bolt and ammunition. We had absolutely no malfunctions during our entire training evolution, the UTM CTA functioned flawlessly every time. The UTM CTA ammunition loaded into the provided Magpul magazine without issue, fed into the chamber without fail, fired consistently each time, and ejected the spent casing without consistently each time.
We have no problem endorsing and recommending the UTM Civilian Targeting Ammunition system to our readers. This is not a system designed for shooters who go to the range once a year. This system is designed to enhance and maintain the proficiency levels of serious or professional shooters, or to introduce apprehensive new shooters to the joys of shooting. Either way the UTM CTA kit is an excellent choice.
BlueSheepdog.com is a for-profit website. I do not charge readers a dime to access the information I provide.
UTM provided the kit in this review free of charge. We made no promises to do a positive review of the product, nor did the company ask for any. We have no financial interest in UTM or any other company in the firearms, training, or police equipment industries.
Some of the links on this page and site are affiliate links to companies like Amazon and Palmetto State Armory. These links take you to the products mentioned in the article. Should you decide to purchase something from one of those companies, I make a small commission.
The links do not change your purchase price. I do not get to see what any individual purchases.
Appendix: Original UTM Article
[Editor’s note: The following information was part of an article entitled UTM Civilian Target Ammunition from the 2015 SHOT Show. This article is included as part of this review for greater historical context.]
Universal Training Munitions released its Civilian Target Ammunition (CTA) at the 2015 SHOT Show.
The CTA round is based on the UTM Target Bullet Round (TBR) that is used in military and law enforcement training worldwide. The U.S. Military and several law enforcement agencies trained with the UTM Target Bullet Rounds for nearly a decade. More than 198 million rounds have been made in a wide variety of calibers.
The TBR is restricted to military and law enforcement agencies. The rounds were designed specifically for MOUT and Shoot House training.
Training rounds realistically cycle the shooter’s rifle, eject casings, and greatly reduce the potential for serious injury or death from close quarters battle (CQB) training as compared to when live ammunition is used.
To provide the same safe training opportunities for the ever-growing civilian AR-15 market, UTM has released its Civilian Target Ammunition. Currently only available in .223/5.56mm, the UTM representatives are going to be paying close attention to the demand for this product and could very likely expand the CTA line in both rifle and handgun calibers.
Practical Applications of Civilian Target Ammunition
Would you train more with your AR-15 if you could practice shooting at home? I know I would! I tend to get bored with dry-firing, and cold mechanical operations. I need feedback from my aiming, shooting platform, breathing, and trigger pull. That is exactly what the UTM Civilian Target Ammunition is designed to allow.
There are two primary reasons officers and civilians do not train more with their firearms.
- The expense of ammunition
- The expense of time, travel, and training.
Now you have the invaluable opportunity to gain trigger time in the location of your choosing, even at home! No more rainy day or snow day cancellations, and no more excuses!
Most of us aren’t blessed to have several acres outside of the confines and restrictions of a City’s boundaries, where we can step out and pop off a few rounds any time we like. Just like, most of us do not have our own in-door shooting range to enjoy. That means going to the Department (if that is allowed), or going to a public range, which most of us loathe.
So, we slip into only shooting at qualification time, and our fine motor skills and muscle memory drops!
Using the Proprietary UTM System
The UTM training system utilizes a proprietary bolt carrier assembly that prohibits live ammunition from being fired due to its rimfire firing pin design. All UTM training rounds have a rimfire primer as well, and therefore will not fire if loaded into a live-fire rifle.
The UTM bolt carrier is specifically marked with a standard training blue marking, so visual identification that the shooter is operating a UTM rifle is quick and easy. The system is quickly set up by simply exchanging the standard bolt carrier group on your own personalized AR-15, with the proprietary UTM bolt carrier group. There is no Gunsmithing or tools required in the transition. You can make your personalized AR-15 UTM ready in literally less than a minute.
Civilian Target Ammunition Technology
- Projectile – plastic, weighing less than 1.0 gram
- Velocity – an average of 375 fps at the muzzle
- Accuracy – 2″ groups at 25 yards, as good as 1.18″ groups at 32 yards
- Magazine – standard AR-15 magazines (metal or polymer)
- Noise Level – 113 dB (no need for hearing protection)
- Action – Dual-primer actuated system – no gunpowder, Projectile driving band system
- Safety – Will NOT fire standard .223/5.56mm live rounds
- Non-Toxic, and Lead-Free, leaving virtually no fowling in the barrel/chamber
- Realistic and consistent cyclic rates
- Reliability – Over 99%, certified by U.S. Army’s Picatinny Arsenal
Starting Your UTM Training
To use the UTM training system a shooter will need both the proprietary UTM bolt carrier group and UTM training rounds. To launch their new Civilian Target Ammunition, UTM is offering an introductory CTA Target Shooting Kit with everything a shooter will need to start training.
CTA Target Shooting Kit:
- 1 Universal AR-15 Bolt Carrier Group UTM Conversion
- 100 CTA Rounds
- 3 Paper Targets
- Nylon Coated Vinyl Target Holder
- Steel Projectile Trap (Fits behind target)
- 2 Bungee Cord Target Hangers
- 1 Bottle of Gun Lubricant
- 1 Cleaning Kit – including Chamber and Bore brushes
- 1 Projectile Puller
- Introductory CTA Kit – $349.00 (Includes everything above)
- Additional Boxes of 50 CTA Rounds – $29.50
- Pre-order in February, with delivery by April 2015
Obviously the start-up expense to the UTM Civilian Target Ammunition system is not cheap. Ammunition prices are slightly more than standard AR-15 training ammunition but have come down considerably since the onset of UTM munitions. However, I think the benefits, in the long run, will outweigh the initial expense of set up. What a great way to hone your skills, and perhaps train up the family without the anxiety of starting with live firearms.
As mentioned before, one of the main reasons officers and civilians do not train is because of the amount of time it takes in travel, set up, training and break-down when going to shooting range locations. Public ranges can go from highly organized and controlled, to open public ranges where any buffoon with a gun can show up.
With a shooting system set up in your home, you could be transitioned in less than a minute, train in 10-15 minutes, and be cleaned up and transitioned back to a live-fire rifle in less than 30 minutes. The only real expense of training is the UTM rounds. The savings in travel alone should cover the extra cost of the UTM rounds. Excuse #2 seems to be answered.
As far as Excuse #1, consider what your life is worth. Either your skills are up to the task or they are not. We’ve already established that training at home is cheaper than traveling to another shooting range. A few hundred dollars initial investment can pay out huge benefits in skill level and survivability over the long run of a career, and pay for itself in travel expenses over a period of time.