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.
As a relative newbie who still remembers his first pistol competition, I thought I’d jot down a few notes to help others get started. I ain’t Rob Leatham (yet), but I sympathize with those who want to get into practical pistol but don’t know where to start.
- Shoot your daily carry pistol to start, but only if your daily carry gun is a compact 9mm or larger. If you carry a .38 snubbie or a compact .380, shoot something else. I started out with a CZ75 for home defence, and that’s what I still use in competition.
- Don’t succumb to the temptation to lowball the holster. A $30 Fobus may look the same as a $70 BladeTech, but they’re completely different to use. One releases smoothly and easily every time, and the other can hang up and turn into an embarrassing, slow and potentially dangerous tug of war. I found this one out the hard way.
- Don’t be intimidated by the other shooters. Even Brian Enos started out as a newbie.
- Go to a match just to watch and learn the etiquette, safety routine and procedures of shooting before you compete.
- Be sure to tell the scorer it’s your first time competing in a match: Chances are there will be a safety briefing you’ll need to go through before you compete, and that gives the scorer a chance to team you up with a more experienced shooter who can show you the ropes.
- Practical pistol is a good way to learn how to shoot in a stressful environment, but it’s also a sport, so…
- Relax. Be safe. Have fun.
At last week’s IDPA match, it became abundantly clear that I needed some more practice
Because, quite frankly, I sucked.
I’ve had trigger control problems for quite a while, and they’ve returned to haunt me due to a prolonged absence from shooting earlier this year. Controlling trigger jerk is easy in theory; keep a smooth press backwards from start to BANG, then smoothly let off until the trigger resets.
That’s the theory. In reality, in middle of a shooting competition, things don’t always happen that way. Consider this simple IDPA stage from last week’s competition
This is why muscle memory is so important. Because my brain was busy with sorting out the stage procedure, I had little to no bandwidth available for the basics of “aim, breathe, squeeze” required to make an accurate shot. Instead, I had to rely on my body knowing what was the right thing to do because I had repeated it over and over again in practice.
Which brings me to .22 caliber pistols.
.22 is CHEAP. A box of 325 good-quality Federal .22LR rounds is under $20 at the local big-box store, which makes extended training sessions inexpensive and fun, and with the lower recoil of a .22, it’s easier to feel how your finger is moving on the trigger.
I own a Smith and Wesson M22a with a red dot sight which is a great gun for isolating out trigger movement from the other actions of shooting a pistol. The trigger on it is… adequate. It’s about a 5 lb pull with a good reset, but the break is kind of non-existent, however, because it has a red dot scope on it, I can concentrate on the process of how my finger is moving on the trigger and leave the worry of sight alignment behind me.
Here’s the results.
I set up this target at 10 yards and started out the practice session by shooting at the bottom right target and finished it by shooting at the top right target. You can see that as I concentrated more on how I was controlling the trigger, my groups improved until I was dropping them pretty much all inside the bullseye.
Total cost? 50 rounds of .22 and a hour of my time.
This is why using a .22 for practice make so much sense. Unless you’re flinching or having other issues with recoil, a .22 lets you correct most common shooting problems without breaking the bank.
Continuing on from my earlier post, one of the pitfalls of competitive practical shooting is that it’s, well a competition, and not the real world. To quote from the article I linked previously,
“Many of these issues can be brought together under the single heading of stage strategy. To be good at the games, you need to understand their scoring systems and their rules. Sometimes things that make perfectly good sense ‘” like dropping an empty magazine on the ground ‘” could be illegal. Some things that make no sense whatsoever ‘” like exposing yourself to half a dozen targets at once instead of using available cover ‘” might be key to getting the best score. Most stages at most matches actually give you a chance to walk through and possibly even pantomime your plan in advance. Taking those opportunities and using them properly is important for the game, but obviously antithetical to preparing to respond to a sudden attack.”
If you’re going to need to defend your life with a firearm, the chances are pretty good you won’t have a chance to map out where you’re going to reload your gun and where’s the best spot to shoot three targets without moving. Chances are it’ll be dark, chaotic and over quickly.
How do you train for that? How do you train to expect the unexpected and then react quickly enough to save your life?
“Blind” stages in competition are one way. Those are portions of a match where you aren’t allowed to walk through a stage, where you can’t figure out ahead of time where you’ll move and what you’ll be shooting when you get there. It’s just “Make ready, are you ready, standby, BEEEP!” and away you go.
This is a gamer’s worst nightmare, because all the little tweaks that you can do like figuring out angles of attack and optimal reloads don’t matter. What matters in a stage like this are the observation and orientation parts of the OODA loop, something that is off-loaded into “stage strategy” in a match but will be right up front in our face in the real world.