One of the things I’ve added to my supply of shooting gear is a new shooter bag: It’s pretty common to see safety gear on the prize table of shooting matches, and I’ve been fortunate to win enough to stock a small bag with the stuff I need (besides a gun and ammo) to introduce someone to the world of the shooting sports.
The bag I use is pretty boring: It’s not some über-tactical gear bag that looks like it just got off the plane from Khandahar, it’s a plain ol’ cloth shopping bag (albeit with a 5.11 logo on it) that wouldn’t look out of place at Wal-Mart. Why that bag? If you’ve got a friend who’s nervous about guns but wants to learn, you don’t want to show up looking like you’re a member of Seal Team Six.
Inside the bag is enough stuff for at least three people (and myself) to have fun on the range:
- Eye Protection: I like these Peltors because they fit over eyeglasses, and I try to have a smaller pair of some kind for kids and smaller-sized shooters as well.
- Ear Protection: I have a spare set of inexpensive electronic noise-reducing earmuffs that I keep in the bag because they allow people to hear range commands but still protect your ears, and I back that up with a couple of pairs of regular earmuffs and a whole bunch of in-ear foam plugs as well.
- Targets: Paper plates are great for new shooters because they’re non-threatening and familiar (and the fact they’re about the same size as a center-mass is a good thing, too). Reactive targets like steel plates are good becuase they give instant feedback, however, they’re hard to fit into a shopping bag… 😀
- Miscellaneous Gear: A staple gun, extra staples, sunscreen… add and subtract from this as you see fit. I’ve also tossed in a spare NSSF First Shots book to give them something to read during downtime and some tissues and bottled water to help with thirsty days on an outdoor range.
And one more thing: Make sure you tell your friends to dress for the range before you go shooting. T-shirts and running shoes are great, but avoid scoop-neck shirts and sandals. Trust me, you do NOT want a hot piece brass fresh out of your gun falling in between your toes.
Don’t ask me how I know this. 😀
IDPA is a fast-growing shooting sport that is more focused on “defensive” situations than other shooting sports such as USPSA. People competing in IDPA are sorted according to how well they shoot the IDPA Classifier, a standardized course of fire that is the same for shooters around the world and allows people of equal skill to compete against each other.
The Classifier stage setup looks something like this:
The course of fire is as follows:
|Stage One||7 Yards||30 Shots|
|String 1||Position #1 Draw and fire 2 shots to the body and 1 to head on T1.||3 shots|
|String 2||Position #1 Draw and fire 2 shots to the body and 1 to head on T2.||3 shots|
|String 3||Position #1 Draw and fire 2 shots to the body and 1 to head on T3.||3 shots|
|String 4||Position #1 Draw and fire 2 shots at each head T1 – T3.||3shots|
|String 5||Position #1 Start gun in “WEAK” hand pointed down range at a 45 degree angle, safety may be off, but finger must be out of trigger guard, fire 1 shot at each T1 – T3.||3 shots|
|String 6||Position #1 The shooter will load three rounds maximum in the handgun and begin standing, facing up-range (back to target). On the start signal, the shooter will turn, draw, and engage targets T1 through T3 with one round each. The shooter will then perform a slide- lock reload and re-engage targets T1 through T3 with one round each.||6 shots|
|String 7||Position #1 Draw and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 “STRONG” hand only.||6 shots|
|Stage Two||10 Yards|
|String 1||Position #2 Draw and advance toward targets, fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 while moving forward (all shots must be fired while moving) there is a forward fault line at the 5 yds line for this string||6 shots|
|String 2||Position #3 Draw and retreat from targets, fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 while retreating (all shots must be fired while moving).||6 shots|
|String 3||Position #2 (Load 6 rounds MAX. in pistol) Start back to targets, turn and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3, reload from slidelock and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3.||12 shots|
|String 4||Position #2 Draw and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 “STRONG” hand only.||6 shots|
|Stage Three||20 Yards (Bianchi style barricade and 55 gal. barrel required)|
|String 1||Position #4 Draw and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 from either side of barricade, perform a Tactical Reload and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 from the opposite side of barricade.||12 shots|
|String 2||Position #4 Draw and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 from either side of barricade, perform a Tactical Reload and advance to Position #5, fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 from around either side of 55 gal. barrel.||12 shots|
|String 3||Position #5 Draw, kneel and fire 2 shots at each T1 – T3 from around either side of 55 gal. barrel.||6 shots|
|Start position for all strings EXCEPT Stage One/String 5 is hands naturally at your side.|
While all those shots look intimidating for beginning shooters, the fact is, the IDPA Classifier is a good test of a your ability to deal with close range targets, long range targets and moving while shooting. As with all IDPA stages, your score on classifier is a mixture of your raw time as measured by a shot timer plus extra time added for poor shooting or not following the rules.
Your score on the Classifier will put you into one of five IDPA classifications:
|Master (MA)||89.00 or less||91.00 or less||92.00 or less||101.00 or less||102.00 or less|
|Expert (EX)||89.01 thru 109.00||91.01 thru 110.00||92.01 thru 111.00||101.01 thru 122.00||102.01 thru 124.00|
|Sharpshooter (SS)||109.01 thru 138.00||110.01 thru 140.00||111.01 thru 142.00||122.01 thru 155.00||124.01 thru 158.00|
|Marksman (MM)||138.01 thru 190.00||140.01 thru 192.00||142.01 thru 195.00||155.01 thru 212.00||158.01 thru 218.00|
|Novice (NV)||190.01 or greater||192.01 or greater||195.01 or greater||212.01 or greater||218.01 or greater|
So if you raw time plus equals 190 seconds or greater and you’re shooting a Glock in Stock Service Pistol, you’re considered a Novice shooter and compete against other people of similar classification in a match.
Me? I’m on the cusp of breaking into SSP Sharpshooter, and I *almost* made it there last weekend, but alas, I fell short. I’ll have a walk through of how I shot the Classifier and what I can do better to make it to Sharpshooter the next time I shoot it in my next post, and hopefully we’ll both learn something as a result.
Stop for a moment: Do you know where your house keys are? Where your cell phone is or your wallet? Are they in the same place they normally are? Probably.
We carry our daily “must have” items in the same place all the time because we don’t want to spend a lot of time looking for them if we need them.
The same thing is true for your defensive firearm. If (God forbid) you’ll need it, you’ll need it rightthisverysecond and not want to pause for a moment to reflect where it might be. This is why once you’ve decided on where to carry your pistol, you’ll want to carry in that position as often as possible and not move it to another location or yourself or somewhere else.
For example, through trial and (some) error, I’ve found that I prefer to carry my CCW gun in an Inside The Waistband (IWB) holster, specifically in a hybrid Kydex/leather holster of some kind, positioned at about 3:30 on the same side as my strong hand. I usually carry either a Smith and Wesson Shield or a CZ P07 in that position, but if I can’t carry on my waist because of what I’m wearing or where I’m going, I carry a pocket .380, a Kel-Tec P3AT in a pocket holster in my pants on my strong hand side. My extra magazine (and you DO carry spare ammo, don’t you?) is either in a mag pouch on my waist or in a nifty little pocket pouch that keeps my ammo separate from the flotsam and jetsam in my pockets.
Take a moment to think about where your carry gun is right now. If you’re not sure, or if it’s not close by, it’s not going to be much help when you’ll need it most.
Earlier this month, I wrote a piece on concealed carry guns for women at Shooting Illustrated that’s proven to be quite popular with men and women alike. One of the consistent comments I’ve had about the article is that some of the guns that were a popular choice for concealed carry, like the NAA .22 Revolver and the Kel-Tec PMR30 are in “sub-optimal” calibers for personal defense.
Which begs the question, what is an “optimal caliber” for self-defense, and what happens if you go over or under it?
Well, that’s kinda like asking what is the best car: You’re going to get a lot of answers, and they all depend on the context. Most experts will tell you, though, that something in the range of 9mm-.45ACP range is where you want to be, and in that range, I personally prefer 9mm, but smart people disagree on this issue, so there is no “right choice”.
What happens when you chose a gun that’s in a smaller caliber, like .380 ACP or .22 Magnum? Well, you need to make up for the lighter, slower bullets in those guns by throwing out more of them at your target.
I carry a Kel-Tec P3AT in .380 ACP on a regular basis, and that is considered by some to be “sub-optimal” because it fires a lighter bullet at slower speeds than it’s bigger cousin, the 9mm. I make up for this fact by putting a laser sight on it to make sure my bullets go where I want them to. I don’t feel “undergunned” when I carry the P3AT, because I’ve practiced with that gun enough to know its limitations and can work around them. Is it my first choice in a defensive gun? No, if given the choice, I want to have a rifle with me if I can. Actually, I want a whole bunch of people with rifles with me (Like, say, a company of Marines) if *know* I’ll be getting into trouble on any given day.
But I don’t know that on any given day. All I know is that I can carry small, lightweight guns in small, lightweight calibers almost everywhere I go, which fulfills the first rule of a gunfight, namely, have a gun.
Having “enough gun” is something I’ll leave for another day.
You’ve decided that yes, you want to do this “practical pistol” competition thing because it looks like it’s fun (it is) and it might just help inoculate you against making stupid mistakes when you life is on the line (that too).
So, what do you need?
- A reliable, serviceable handgun
Duh. Yes, you CAN shoot practical pistol with a cheap $150 hunk o’junk. No, you don’t want to. If you’ve bought a Glock or XD or CZ or M&P or similar, in either 9mm, .40 or .45, you’re set.
- Enough spare magazines
What’s “Enough”? Four, at an absolute minimum. Look, magazines are a disposable, replaceable part of your gun: They’re going to wear out eventually, so buy some spare ones now.
- A decent holster
What’s “decent”? Opinions vary on this, but in general, don’t use a woven nylon fabric holster for a practical pistol competition. Me, I like Blade-Tech holsters, but Safariland, Bianchi, Galco, Comp-Tac, and DeSantis are all good brands to start with, and if you need help choosing, my friend Tom’s written a great book on buying a holster for your gun.
- Some way to keep your spare ammo handy and accessible
And by this, I mean a magazine pouch on your belt. Again, my preference is Blade-Tech, but there’s a lot of different choices here.
- A good belt to hold everything together
No, not even a solidly-built “work” belt is going to cut it. Something like this reinforced “tactical” belt will help distribute the weight around your waist and make things MUCH easier for you.
- Ear Protection and Eye Protection
No, a pair of drugstore sunglasses and cotton balls in your ears isn’t enough. Get something that’s safety-rated for your eyes and something that’s designed for noise reduction for your ears.
Figure on 150 or so rounds for a match, a bit less if it’s an IDPA match.
- Somewhere to compete
All this cool stuff means SQUAT if it just sits around in a corner of your house. You can use the National Shooting Sports Foundation Range Finder page/app to find a range near you that hosts practical pistol matches, or visit the United States Practical Shooting Association or International Defensive Pistol Association to find a competition near you.
And be safe. And have fun.
“Know thy enemy, know thyself, and you will be invincible.”
– Sun Tzu
When I was a professional photographer, inevitably, once someone found out what I did for a living, I’d be asked “Say, I want to take better pictures, what kind of camera should I get?”
My answer to this was always “Well, that depends. How many rolls of film do you shoot each week?”, which would usually end that part of the conversation as the would-be photographer grapples with the concept of shooting an entire 36-shot roll of film each week, much less more than one, where it was not uncommon for me to burn through two dozen rolls of HP5+ or TMZ covering just one high school basketball game.
The point I was trying to make is that it’s not the camera that limits the photographer, it’s his or her ability to put in the time necessary to realize their vision and their desire to push their creativity that limits a photographer.
Looking back on this now, I realize my answer to the wannabe photogs was/is snarky and condescending: People want to take better pictures not to become the next Mark Seliger, they want to capture memories that are more evocative and aesthetic, something all of us share.
Which brings me to practical shooting. I’m blessed/cursed to call Rio Salado Sportsmans Club my home range. It’s loaded to the gills with USPSA Grandmasters. It’s a blessing in that each match is challenging and exciting, but each match is meant to be challenging and exciting to shooters like Rob Leatham, Vic Pickett and Matt Burkett.
This can discourage beginning shooters. Imagine cranking off the best golf drive in your life and then have Tiger Woods shoot behind you and out-drive you by 100 yards.
The upside to this, though, is that in the words of The Chairman Of The Board, if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere. And another great thing about shooting at Rio is the opportunity to participate and shoot in some 1st-class matches like the Desert Classic and Mystery 3 Gun, which bring in shooters from around the country. I get to meet some of the best shooters in the world, and the prize tables for each match can be really good.
This explains why I like shooting laid-back, easy-to-shoot steel matches with friends on a regular basis rather than the more difficult but less friendly USPSA matches at Rio. I like Rio: I do all my practicing there and I’ll still shoot a USPSA match there as often as I can, but right now, it’s important that I believe I can shoot well and do so when needed, even in the toughest of competitions. My practice sessions are there for me to prepare me physically, the steel matches are there to prepare me mentally. My standard for success needs to be me and the progress I have made, not the best shooters in the world can do.
If you’ve been thinking “Well, gosh, there’s no way I can shoot a pistol competition”, you need to give a try. Buy a good holster and some mag pouches, find a low-key “Steel” match in the middle of the week, let the people who run it know that this is your first time shooting a match, and you’ll soon find out that practical pistol is a fun way to learn to shoot better and keep your skills sharp.
Before I began my career as a photographer, I worked a few years behind the counter of local camera stores, getting to know the industry and the gear. When someone bought a camera from us, we made sure they bought an “accessory kit” to go with it to help start them off right, and the store made almost as much profit on the kit as we did on the cameras.
And it’s must the same for a self-defense firearm. I’m assuming you’ve purchased some kind of compact or full-size handgun for protecting yourself or your home, and if you’ve just bought a gun like that, there are a few things I’d highly recommend you purchase along with your new gun that will help you enjoy it to its fullest.
A gun without ammo is an expensive and rather unwieldy club. You’ll need two kinds of ammo for your gun; Defensive ammunition and practice ammunition.
Defensive ammunition is something like jacketed hollow point (JHP) ammunition that’s designed to expand and not punch through what it’s being shot into. You want this because if, God forbid, you need to defend your life, you need ammunition that stops the threat, not punches a hole in it and moves along to hurt someone else.
Practice ammunition is usually Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) ammunition that’s cheaper and easier to produce than JHP ammo. At a bare minimum, you should purchase three times as many rounds of defensive ammo as your gun holds, so you can be certain your ammo of choice works smoothly in your gun, and purchase at least 100 rounds of practice ammo so you can learn the basics of how your gun operates (and plan on spending a LOT more on ammo after that.).
- A Cleaning Kit
Guns are dirty things. Gunpowder doesn’t burn up 100%, and the oil that makes a gun operate smoothly attracts dust and grime. Get an inexpensive cleaning kit and plan on using it often.
- Some way to safely secure a loaded gun
No, NOT a trigger lock. It’s too easy to make your gun go BANG while fiddling with a trigger lock, and a gun that’s unloaded and under the bed is a pretty useless defensive weapon. Secure your gun with a good locking case, or better yet, a quick-access safe, and will be there when you need it and safely stored when you don’t.
Unless you’re Rob Leatham and were born with a .45 in your hand, shooting a gun accurately is not something we know how to innately accomplish. Getting training as you start your journey with firearms ownership will help eliminate or reduce bad habits done the line.
I’m always amazed when I walk into local gun stores and I don’t see them putting together package deals that offer new gun owners a starter kit that give them everything they need to enjoy their new guns right from the start.
Okay, gun stores: Add-on accessory kits have worked for camera stores for decades. Get on it.
- Being a gun owner isn’t being a gun nut
- Being a gun owner doesn’t mean you need to buy Mossy Oak clothing (unless you own some already)
- Same is true of RealTree
- You don’t even need to know what MossyOak or RealTree is in order to own a gun
- Being a gun owner doesn’t mean you have to watch Duck Dynasty
- Being a gun owner doesn’t mean you start using tactical as a noun
- Being a gun owner doesn’t mean you want to buy this
- Or this
- Being a gun owner doesn’t mean you vote Republican
- Being a gun owner doesn’t mean you’ll be signed up for the NRA against your will (although joining of your own volition is a really good idea)
- Being a gun owner doesn’t mean you’re compensating for something.
Being a gun owner means you’ve realized there will not be a cop around when you need one, and that you are always going to be your own first responder.