This is Your Brain on Competitive Shooting

Published January 16, 2012 by
Filed under Competition, Mindset, USPSA

It’s been about a year and a half since I dove head first into the world of competitive shooting, and while I’m making some progress with my speed and accuracy, there’s something holding me back, and I can’t seem to shake it. I’m no stranger to the stress, anxiety and pressure present when participating in sports (especially since my nature is to be ridiculously competitive), but there is an element of practical pistol shooting that I have never experienced before, and it’s making me look like more like Jerry Lewis than Jerry Miculek when I’m shooting a match.

3 gun Rio Salado 2011
Some call it the Red Mist. My better half has referred to it as bezerker. It is an indiscriminatory and unrelenting force that is laser-focused on sabotaging your performance. Ridiculously clever and devious, it will allow you to build up your confidence just until you step up to the line and into the shooting box. And then the timer goes *beep*, the red mist appears, and all careful planning and strategy disappears as if it never even existed.

If you’ve been watching Top Shot on the History Channel, you may have noticed that the Red Mist makes a cameo appearance in almost every episode. During episode two of season 3, it appeared during the elimination challenge and prematurely knocked my favorite contestant and WOMA home girl, Sara Ahrens, out of the competition.

During Sara’s commentary at the end of the show, she recognized the role the red mist played in her loss when she said, “I’ve had practice in friend and foe targets, it’s just a matter of I’ve never done that next to another person. I’m kind of being overcome by the intensity of the situation.”

Yep, that’s the unmistakable mark of the red mist. It doesn’t just effect your performance on the range, it also leaves a trail of amnesia and dumbfoundedness in its wake, making it that much more difficult to overcome.

So, is it possible to defeat the Red Mist, and if so, what’s the secret? Watching shooting greats like the Leatham’s and the Miculek’s make it pretty darn obvious that it can be overcome, but how does a mere mortal like me fend off this unwelcome creature that has the power to take over my brain at will?

I recently had the opportunity to ask World Championship competitive shooter, and all-around awesome woman, Eva Micklethwaite how she deals with the pressure and anxiety that builds up when she’s competing in a big match. Eva was kind enough to explain to me what she did to conquer the Red Mist when she found herself a bit “freaked out” by one of the stages at the recent USPSA Area 3 match:

It’s the preparation I do BEFORE I even step on the range that helps me with that. At this particular stage, though, I told myself to take your time and get through it. Don’t rush it, stay focused, and be patient with myself and the trigger. Basically a mental talk off the ledge. Once the buzzer goes off, instinct kicks in as well.

Experience helps a lot, you’ll get there. Mental strength is also a BIG part of this game. And if all else fails….breathe!

Looks like I’ve got some dues to pay to the Red Mist. If you’re looking for me, check the local ranges. I’ll be the one trying to reload my left thumb into the magazine well.

Reprinted with permission of



1 response so far ↓

  • 1 How to Survive Your First Action Pistol Match // Jul 30, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    […] 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 […]

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