If you’ve been reading our website for any amount of time, you’ve seen how much fun we all have shooting action pistol matches like IDPA or USPSA. Action pistol (also known as practical pistol) is a ridiculously fun sport, but getting started can be extremely intimidating for both men and women. I waited almost a year after taking my first training class (that included the basics of USPSA) before shooting my first match because of the anxiety I felt about competing. You don’t have to wait, just remember a few basic things, and you’ll be well on your way to having a great time.
Just Do It – If you’re waiting until you’re 100 percent ready, you’ll never shoot a match. There are a few things that are helpful to know before stepping foot onto the range. Practice and repetition will make you a competent action pistol shooter, but for now, it’s best to stick to the basics:
- Focus on the things you can control, like making sure your gun works and your ammo runs, malfunction drills are no fun when you’re competing.
- Learn the rules of the range you will be competing at (hot or cold range, safety areas) before you go, that will save you some time and put you a little more at ease when you step on to the range.
- Make sure you know how to safely draw your pistol from a holster before heading to your first match. This is easily accomplished with dry-fire practice at home (safety first – triple check to make sure your gun and magazines are unloaded first and move your ammo to a different room).
- Add some reloading practice once you’ve got your draw down (check to make sure there is no ammo in the magazines first). Don’t worry about your speed, take the time you need to be smooth and steady when pressing the mag button, reaching for your magazine pouch and inserting the new magazine.
Learn the Lingo – There are some basic commands that you can study before shooting your first match. Make sure to learn the range commands of the sport you’re shooting (IDPA and USPSA commands are slightly different). Knowing and following these commands will keep you from getting disqualified (it happens, even at big matches), which is the opposite of fun. Here’s a comparison of the basic IDPA and USPSA range commands, you can also read the current IDPA or USPSA rulebook for definitions and an explanation of the scoring.
It’s Ok That You’re A Little Freaked Out – Just roll with it. You’re going to be running around with a gun shooting things that you’ve probably never shot before under the pressure of time, it’s pretty normal to be uncomfortable with that idea if you’ve never done it before.
You Will Have Bandwidth Issues – There’s only so much space in your brain, and with action pistol shooting, you will quickly fill it up with all the things you need to remember. Despite your best efforts, much of that information will leave your brain as soon as the buzzer goes off (we call it the Red Mist). The most important thing to remember above all else is to be safe. Watch your muzzle direction at all times (keep it pointed downrange at all times) and keep your finger off the trigger when you’re not shooting at a target. Speed and accuracy will come with practice, right now is the time to concentrate on safe gun handling. You’re going to mess up, don’t stress about it. I still have my share (and sometimes more) of missed targets and penalties at pretty much every match.
You Will Not Embarrass Yourself – I hear this concern a lot from people thinking about getting started in action shooting sports. First of all, check your ego at the door, you won’t need it on the range (it’s much more of a hindrance than a help). Also, hardly anyone is watching you, and if they are, they’re either making sure you’re safe, or they’re looking at the course of fire, trying to figure out their plan of attack. There’s always a few ways to shoot a stage, and many of us watch to see if we can pick up some clues that we hadn’t thought of. We were all new to the sport once, and we are very aware of the mental energy it takes to shoot action pistol. Follow the safety rules and be safe with your gun, and I promise that the other shooters will encourage you and help you out where needed.
BE SAFE, don’t try to shoot too fast and have fun!
There’s been some discussion lately over whether the new, popular pocket 9mm are really useful or not. I can dig it. They do seem like a solution in search of a problem. They’re pushing the boundaries of what could be considered a “pocket pistol”, but don’t offer the control and accuracy of a compact or subcompact 9mm.
I consider the ultra-compact 9mm to be the “scout rifle” of concealed carry. No, they are not as concealable as a pocket .380, and no, they are not as powerful as a .45 and no, they are not as accurate as a compact 9mm like a Glock 26 or a Springfield XD-M.
However, a small single-stack 9mm is 85% of all those guns. Just like a scout rifle is the rifle to have if you can have only one, a single-stack 9mm allows you to carry your gun in the front pocket or on your waist and gives you seven rounds (or more of 9mm) to stop the threat.
Small 9mm’s don’t do one thing really well, but an ultracompact 9mm does a whole lot of things fairly well, and they work really well as the CCW gun to have if you can only have one.
Simple question, isn’t it? Why did you decide to join thousands and thousands of other people like yourself and purchase a firearm for self-defense?
If you’re like me (and I know I am), it was because of a real threat (a psychotic relative) and a perceived threat (a rise in violent crime in the Phoenix area). Either threat is a very valid reason to arm yourself and your family against the threat of grievous bodily harm, and if you’ve done so already, congratulations, you’ve made the most adult decision you’ll ever make in your life.
But what are you willing to defend with your gun? Your life? You family’s lives? Your co-worker’s lives? The life of a random stranger on the street? Your car? Your stuff? Someone else’s stuff? These are all questions you need to answer before your gun is in your hand, because there will NOT be time to answer them when the shooting starts.
Let’s look at a recent VERY high profile court case, the trial of George Zimmerman. I’m not going to try to break down what happened that night and how it might apply to you: Massad Ayoob (who literally wrote the book on armed personal defense) already has done that for us. Instead, let’s look at the decisions made by Mr. Zimmerman before that fateful night. By volunteering to be a Neighbor Watch patrolman, Mr. Zimmerman made the decision that he was willing to intervene in the affairs of others (his neighbors), and by carrying a pistol while doing so, he decided he was willing to use lethal force to defend his life if needed.
Were those the right decisions? Not for me to say: I wasn’t in his position, and a jury of his peers has exonerated him of any wrongdoing that night. I do know that I decided what is and is not worth my involvement when I started down the journey of concealed carry, and I heartily suggest everyone else do that as well.
Get a book on the firearms laws of your area and read it cover to cover. Consult with a lawyer. Get training. Consider buying self-defense insurance. Talk with your spouse or significant other about what they consider is worth defending with your lives. Ultimately, you should consider what is important and irreplaceable in your life and what is not. For me, I can always by another TV set or car, but I can’t replace my wife and children.
Your gun is not a talisman of self-protection and the more you know now about when and if you’ll need to use it, the quicker and more effective you’ll be, if, God forbid, you need it to save your life or the life of someone else.
All of us here at TeamGunblogger support practical pistol shooting as part of a balanced approach to self-defense, and one of the reasons why I shoot competitions on a regular basis it to test my shooting skills in stressful situations. In other words, can I make the shot when it’s needed, and what are the limits of my shooting ability?
Case in point, Stage 10 from the 2012 USPSA Area 2 Championships, specifically the 1:07 mark in this video where I drop a round into a no-shoot as it covered up the “shoot” target.
I was confident I could make the shot and put two rounds into the shoot target before the no-shoot covered it up, except I couldn’t. My shooting skill couldn’t cash the check my mind was writing for it. The good news is, I gained this knowledge in the context of competition and not out on the street, where the consequences of not hitting your target (or hitting the wrong target) is a LOT more severe than just a few penalty points in a shooting match.
Let’s talk more about how competition, practice, training and concealed carry all fit together. JaciJ and myself shot an International Defensive Pistol Association match at Phoenix Rod and Gun Club last week at Phoenix Rod and Gun Club. Jaci shot it using her 9mm 1911-style pistol she uses for such matches, and I shot it with the 9mm Smith and Wesson Shield I carry with me on a regular basis. Jaci was shooting the match to get a good score, I was shooting it to practice my reactions if, God forbid, I need to use my pistol for defensive purposes. The difference is, unlike a lot of other competitors at that match who were shooting for a high score, I kept my (empty) gun on my hip after I was done shooting, then drove off and loaded it up with my 9mm defensive ammo of choice when it was safe to do so, because I shot with the gun I carry as a defensive firearm.
Let’s look at two stages in the match that were, as they say, ripped from the headlines’s of today’s news and how Jaci’s approach and my approach to each was different because of our different goals for the match.
Scenario: You are downtown when the Zimmerman trial verdict is announced. A group upset by the verdict begins to riot. At the buzzer, engage closest targets with two rounds each in tactical sequence while retreating to cover, then engage remaining targets with two rounds each in tactical priority.
Here’s Jaci shooting this stage by the IDPA rules and as quickly as her shooting skills allow.
I shot this stage slightly differently. I did a “tactical reload” in-between the two groups of targets, reasoning that I’d want to top up my gun if I had a break in the action, and swapped out the half-empty magazine in my gun with a full one from the mag pouch on my belt. This is perfectly legal by IDPA rules, but it won’t win you any matches because it’s slower than going to a “slide lock” reload.
You come across a mob upset with the Zimmerman trial verdict attacking an innocent bystander. Engage all threat targets in tactical priority with two rounds each.
Here’s Jaci shooting this stage so she gets a good score in the match.
And here’s me shooting it, trying to approach it as I would in real life. I made sure I told the range officer running the stage beforehand that I was going to issue verbal commands to the targets before I engaged them, so as not to freak him out TOO much when I started yelling.
Another thing I learned on that stage? My Shield doesn’t lock back on an empty magazine, and needs to head to the gunsmith.
So which is better, shooting an IDPA match for good score, or shooting it for good practice for concealed carry? Well, that depends on what your shooting goals are. I look at IDPA as defensive pistol practice first, and a competition second (USPSA is where my competition freak flag flies). Jaci (and a whole buch of other people) see IDPA as a competition first and concealed carry practice second. Those two goals are both valid, and both can be accomplished in the context of an IDPA match with equal vigor.
Update: Hey, if you’re reading this via the IDPA’s Facebook page or other points on teh interwebz, thanks for stopping by, and feel free to stick around!
Carrie from The Well Armed Woman has put together a two-part video series that is designed to help women who want to buy a gun, but don’t know where to start or how to shop for a handgun.
I’ve also got a few quick tips that might help make your first gun store trip a little easier:
- Make sure you’ve handled and fired as many handguns as possible so you know exactly what you are looking for before you step foot in a store. Ladies nights at indoor gun ranges that offer rentals are perfect for testing out a variety of handguns at a minimal cost.
- You may feel overwhelmed and intimidated the first time you walk in to a gun store. Relax, everyone’s there to help.
- If you end up buying a handgun and it’s just not working for you, don’t stress, you can always sell it. You might lose a little money, but almost all guns retain a good portion of their value, so it won’t be a huge mistake.
Don’t be this guy.
Police say a man was shot in the hand after his gun fell out of its holster while he hurried across a parking lot to avoid holding up traffic outside a Pennsylvania Walmart store.
So he was doing the right thing (carrying his sidearm in a holster), but the holster wasn’t up to the basic task of keeping his gun on his person while running across a road.
Chances are, this guy bought a holster because it felt right or looked nice or was comfortable to wear, and unless you’ve taken a serious training class where running around and “stress fire” with your daily carry gear is part of the agenda and sidearm OR competed in USPSA/IDPA with the same kind of rig, you’ll never know if what you have on you is capable of handling physical activity beyond pulling yourself up off the couch.
A practical pistol match subjects you AND your equipment to a certain amount of artificial stress. Is it the real thing? No. Is it the closest thing you’ll get to the real thing? Todd Green, Mike Seeklander, Michael Bane and Massad Ayoob say yes, and I believe them. Finding out if your holster of choice keeps your gun safe in a match will spare you the embarrassment and danger of failing to keep it safe on the streets.
If you’re one of the thousands and thousands of new gun owners who have purchased a firearm for home and personal defense, chances are, you’ve purchased some form of small, concealable pistol that’s easy to carry and conceal on your person.
This a good choice, because a firearm that’s ready and safely close by is more much more likely to help defend your life than a gun that’s unloaded under your bed. And make sure you get training above and beyond what’s required to own and/or a carry a firearm in your state. A CCW permit is just that: A permit, it is NOT a training program. There are many, many, good firearms training programs out there to choose from. Personally, I’m a fan of the NRA Personal Protection classes and Combat Focus Shooting instruction, but if you look around and ask around, I’m sure you’ll find a good instructor who’s near where you live.
So what’s a good gun to buy after you’ve purchased and familiarized yourself with your defensive firearm? What gun should you buy next? We’ll, that depends on a number of factors. If you’ve bought a rifle, shotgun or larger pistol for home defense, you may want to consider buying a smaller pistol for concealed carry so you can stay safe outside of the home as inside of it.
If you have a pistol that works for concealed carry and home defense, consider purchasing a rifle that shoots .22 Long Rifle ammunition. .22 rifles are lightweight, VERY easy to shoot and the ammo is cheap to buy. .22 rifles are very common guns and will help teach trigger control and sight picture: There’s a reason why the Boy Scouts use them to teach marksmanship to young kids, and they’ll help shooters of any skill level get better.
Something like the Ruger 10/22 is perfect for this job. It’s inexpensive, easy to find and can be endlessly accessorized and customized so you end up with a gun that’s right for your needs. Buy one today, and you’ll have a gun you can keep as an heirloom for future generations,