A cell phone as a handgun instructor? Not quite, but the MantisX Shooting Performance System may be the third most useful job yet found for a cellphone, right after making phone calls and texting a grocery list. The system combines old and new technologies to aid in troubleshooting shots landing outside the 10-ring, plate or silhouette—and it does so in the comfort of your living room!
Mini gyro + computer
Affixed to your handgun’s rail, the diminutive MantisX unit detects movement on three axes, (left-right, up-down, forward-backward), similar to three-axis gyroscopic inertial navigation units used in aircraft, submarines and other vehicles. Movement across the axes transmits a signal to your iOS or Android phone via a Bluetooth connection, where the software superimposes this movement onto a circular plot, similar to a round bullseye target, on your cell phone screen. Whether dry firing or shooting live fire, the unit senses the instant of hammer or striker fall, implying a bullet strike on the circular plot. The impact point of this implied strike can diagnose errors in shooting technique that throw bullets off-center, such as pulling the trigger left or right, or tightening the shooting hand before firing the shot.
The circular plot, or diagnostic target, shows the quadrant where your theoretical shot landed, along with a “POSSIBLE CAUSES” prompt for errors such as, “TOO LITTLE TRIGGER FINGER.” Tapping the error statement at the bottom of the screen brings up a short critique from your e-instructor, along with animations that show correct and incorrect technique, explaining the likely problem and suggesting a correction. Swiping to access other screens will display a trend analysis of shot strings and a trace analysis of your muzzle movement interpreted as hold, trigger pull (tracking the muzzle during trigger squeeze) and shot break and recoil pattern.
Though operation utilizes today’s increasingly miniaturized and mysterious gee-whiz digital technology, shot analysis remains based upon the same technology that our grandfathers used: a paper diagnostic target. What’s new and improved is the MantisX makes it possible to use the diagnostic target while dry firing, which isn’t possible with a paper target. In addition, the tutelage suggests how to correct your technique—not exactly like an instructor looking over your shoulder, but still a useful digital substitute, especially for the beginner.
Mount, download, shoot
The MantisX unit is about the size and shape of an aftermarket laser sight, and it attaches to a pistol or rifle rail in the same manner. Mounting is with a choice of two screws, one with a serrated thumb grip to quickly attach and remove for dry firing, the other with a standard screw slot to tighten firmly to withstand the recoil of live firing.
If your firearm does not have an integral rail, you can purchase a separate adaptor rail (essentially a short piece of Picatinny rail with adhesive on the flat bottom) that affixes to the bottom of the magazine, to which you then attach the MantisX unit. Download the app into your smartphone; the steps are clear, brief, easily understood, and takes less than a minute. You tell the app whether you’re shooting a pistol or rifle, whether right- or left-handed, dry firing or firing live rounds, and whether the unit is mounted forward or backward. Turn the unit on and lay the firearm on an unmoving surface for a few seconds while it calibrates. Then start your session, aiming at whatever suits you as a stationary target (“Aim small, miss small” will provide more accurate results). Distance from your target is not a factor—it can be inches or yards away. You can evaluate individual shots, and the software will also evaluate the pattern of a string of shots.
Even though MantisX is intended primarily for live fire evaluation, its major appeal is that it is practical and exquisitely handy for dry fire practice sessions at home. That said, dry fire practice does not introduce recoil—live fire with or without the MantisX is necessary to detect whether the shooter is committing errors such as pushing or “heeling” in anticipation of recoil.
In dry fire, the system can erroneously record slide racking as a hammer/striker fall and an errant shot. MantisX addresses this problem in specific pistol models by updating downloadable software. Hammer pistol shooters can resolve this problem by simply hammer cocking rather than slide racking, and striker fired pistols may be reset with a partial slide rack.
Obviously, the MantisX does not readily attach to revolvers, as these don’t typically sport rails. However, depending on your specific revolver’s configuration, it may be possible to attach the adaptor to the flat bottom of a grip. I suspected there may be a possibility that, shooting DA, the MantisX unit might detect cylinder rotation and mistake it for hammer fall, and thus I referred the question to Mantis.
“We have done limited testing with revolvers because it is difficult to find revolvers with rails, but detection on those so far has been very accurate,” Mantis Marketing Manager Casey Christensen said. “If you are using it on a revolver and are getting false positives, let us know and we may be able to adjust our detection [software] to accommodate.”
Attached to the bottom of a revolver grip or a magazine, it seems the unit would record a much lesser actual muzzle movement than if attached under the muzzle, rendering resultant information less precise. However, Christensen said this isn’t so.
“Since much of the important movement for shot detection is measured in angles by the gyroscope, either placement should produce the same results. Because the firearm is generally rigid and moving as one piece, the angular movement will be the same in either location. The only instance where these could differ is when a magazine is very loose and is able to move or rotate independently of the whole firearm.”
Target vs. combat
Something to keep in mind is that the diagnostic target was developed and intended for Bullseye (now called Precision Pistol) competition, fired using a one-handed hold; a two-handed combat grip introduces another element, the support hand, which the diagnostic target may or may not address correctly, as an error may be induced by the support hand—rather than by the shooting hand.
“You are correct in this,” Christensen said. “We are working on methods to update and improve the diagnostics to better reflect two handed shooting, since that is what most modern people do. However, in our experience, the most important thing that people need to recognize is where they are going wrong, and this allows them to make needed corrections.”
There are probably as many different opinions on this matter as there are instructors, but the upshot is that troubleshooting errors can be a bit more complex with the two-hand hold. On the positive side, dry firing costs nothing and the MantisX allows an unlimited expenditure of “air bullets” in troubleshooting your technique.
Dry fire competition
I showed the MantisX to other shooters in order to get their impressions and feedback, and in doing so discovered an additional, unintended duty for the system: dry fire competition fun. The diagnostic assigns a percentage score to your shot based on how much you moved the pistol away from your sighted position when the hammer/striker fell. A “100 percent” would indicate zero movement, pretty much impossible, but a “99 percent” is achievable for the steady two-hander. Competition became one in which each dry fire shooter tried to score the highest percentage.
The unit ships and stores in a sturdy and well-cushioned Pelican case; the instructions that come with the unit are clear and concise. The unit has an integral battery, recharged by plugging it into your home computer, laptop or backup battery with the included micro-USB cable. Being software-driven, Mantis releases updates to their app every month or so; the company advises purchasers of these update by email.
MantisX isn’t going to put any handgun instructors out of business, but it is a highly useful and valuable diagnostic and dry firing tool for both the Precision Pistol shooter, and for the beginner who has no recourse to an instructor for troubleshooting technique and improving his or her performance.
MantisX is available directly from the manufacturer’s website for $149.99. Adaptor rails for more than a dozen specific handgun magazines are $25 each; the universal adaptor rail is available for $10. Visit mantisx.com for more information.