Should You Look Into Practical Shooting Sports?

PSS imageThere are many Practical Shooting Sports out there and most of them can be beneficial to you as a self and community defender. Some examples are 3gun, 2gun, PCC, IDPA, IPSC, USPSA, SCSA, Run and Gun, Rimfire, Precision, hell lets throw in Cowboy Action Shooting, and there is a litany of others. (I’ll write a little something going through these in another post). Though there are vast differences in how one might navigate a scenario for a practical match verses a life endangering encounter where tactical considerations come first, practical shooting can push shooters to learn their guns, test their gear, and master the fundamentals. Ask many of the best shooters in the military and best trainers around the country if they shoot in competitions to hone and test their skills and you will find that quite a few are avid advocates of the practical shooting world. Furthermore, the military, the behemoth bureaucracy that it is, takes innovations in techniques and gear from the competition world and integrates it (slowly) into their own training and equipment. There is a quite a dialogue between competition shooting sports and the military. If you are conscious of the differences in priorities between practical shooting worlds and combat senarios, you can manage to get great feedback on your capabilities and diagnose problems to increase skills and even your gear set up to make you more prepared. For example, lot of folks use Run and Gun matches to test their gear and physical capabilities for SHTF scenarios and bugging out. I would caution folks not to get caught up in “gaming” the events, heavily modifying your gun and gear to increase your performance in the game itself, at some point how you can get to far in the weeds, but there is plenty of feedback offered during the pressure testing of competition that can help you adjust and improve your skills and set up. The point is, practical shooting sports can be very beneficial to your skills development as a shooter.

Lets also be real here, many of us “civilians” have trouble overcoming the static range because its all that is available to us and there are isn’t abundant opportunities to practice tactics with a group of people. Many folks out there might not know people that are knowledgeable on tactics because they aren’t as ingrained in our communities and because of how expensive many tactical shooting courses are up front. I can’t just front $1500 for a one off 2-3 day training all to often. Learning tactics is an important thing to address, and I imagine for most of us its the hardest set of skills to acquire and practice regularly. Participating in a practical shooting sport is a way to develop fundamental techniques and pressure test our skills to push your capabilities and motivate you to get better in the absence of regular tactical training. I personally have found that training for matches has compelled me to practice exponentially more than if I was limited to a static range with periodic training’s on tactics from legit people with other folks that I trust – that’s a hard set of circumstances to come across for most of us. (We should note here that there are plenty of things in the tactics world that can be practiced without live fire).

Last year I started competing in matches, and I was solidly in the back third of the pack every match. I had trouble assessing the course of fire under stress, lacked the fine motor skills to manipulate my firearms quickly and effectively, had no real understanding of hold overs with certain zeros and certain distances and certain ammo. I couldn’t effectively engage targets at varying distances quickly and accurately. I had never shot a moving target before or had to ingratiate complex decision making into my live fire by having to distinguish between shoot and no-shoot targets. The world of competition challenged me in so many ways and I learned real quick just how much I sucked. The first 3 gun match I shot I came in dead last, by a lot. Yeah, some of that was gear, I was running a pump shotgun instead of a semi auto (which is now a why I wont ever use a pump as a home defense gun anymore, Ill explain more in another post), my pistol is the gun a carry which is a compact (most 3gunners shoot duty sized pistols), my rifle barrel isn’t math grade, I don’t have lightweight bolt, can’t adjust my gas block, my optic is a $25 red dot without any magnification, and it has a milspec trigger….BUT being given the most slick AR in the world, I still would have landed in last place by a mile because my fundamentals were dogshit under pressure. When you shoot a match the first time you will likely experience the same. Its part of the learning experience and one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had on the range. Truly eye opening.

Over the next six months I participated in probably 6 other matches, some 3 gun, some 2 gun and a strictly carbine match, which is a great option for folks looking to dip a toe in the pool. The competitions allowed me to identify what skills where undeveloped and what gear was total shit in a way that a static range never would have. I learned what upgrades would be helpful on my guns, but also keeping in mind not to mod out my gun so much that it becomes impractical for applications outside the sport. I learned what I could and couldn’t to under pressure. Static ranges don’t have the ability to pressure test you or imbue folks with the inclination towards betting their skills. I think it can often do the opposite. Static ranges and punching holes through bullseyes can give us more confidence in our abilities than we really have. We can inflate our ego and imagine how fucking slick we would be in real life, but the embellishment of our ego and lack of actual feedback isn’t real life.

Each match I would take notes on each course and identify my penalties and misses, then diagnose what I believe the problem was. I’d compare my stats to that of someone else in my squad whose score I wanted to reasonably attain.  I got free advice from excellent shooters every match and tried to adjust what they thought needed adjusting. By the end of the season I was floored by how much progress I had made. I was more confident, way more accurate, much quicker, effective at shooting multiple firearm platforms, could engage multiple targets, could hit what I was aiming for at varying distances from 2 yards to 400 yards, and generally felt like I fucking owned my shit. (However I was still smoked my most of the people out there). The last few competitions I matched scores, then surpassed, a family member who had been shooting decades longer than myself. I out performed a pair of dudes that had just retired from something like two decades in SWAT who had been doing matches just as long as me.  I edged my way into the second third of the pack in terms of scoring, which was my goal set after the first few matches. None of the skill development would have been possible sitting at a bench drilling the 10 ring with all the time in the world to place my shots. For me at least, there was nothing else out there that could put me under that amount of simulated stress, which demanded I deal with nerves and adrenaline, required me to shoot while moving, while maintaining safety and performing to a reasonable standard. All of those skills can now be transferred into real life situations with some intentional thought and practice with tactical considerations. The constant throughout both worlds is the need to master the fundamentals of shooting, and since the tactical is less attainable for me, practical shooting is my route for now. I imagine its much the same for several of you out there.

But don’t take my word for it, some of the best trainers and tactical shooters in the country echo this point. When you step onto the range for your first match you will quickly find that there is a shit ton of folks whose job requires a gun and using it. I’ve talked with several folks who say they’re there to practice and test skills because their profession doesn’t offer the regular pressure testing needed to stay sharp. Surprisingly, when I first started it was a commonly understood reality that many of the people tearing it up during these competition matches can obliterate the performance of many military and LEO personnel due to their mastery of the fundamentals. It’s unique to watch a old man near retirement age, with a decent beer gut and bad knees, fucking obliterate a 30 something gunslinger in terms of accuracy and speed, but that happens all the time in matches.  The point is we should be taking notes and learning in these arenas as well.

So, should competition be the beginning and end of your training? NO. I believe there should be an element of it if its accessible to you. Here is a nuanced perspective from an article in Ballistic magazine from a retired special forces trainer, and current affiliate with Alias Training & Security Services, Ken Hackathorn.

“Competition shooting has advantages in that it provides a format where individuals can learn to be very competent shooters. The accuracy and speed factors that they develop are both well documented. In my training classes, the best shooters almost always come from the ranks of IPSC/USPSA and IDPA. So, without question, competition provides really good skills.

The problem is that to become really good at competition, many mindset/tactics are disregarded. In fact, the real issue is that, like everything we do in life, “we are what we practice.” Engaging targets in the open when cover is close by, reloading on the run (though it’s much wiser to reload behind cover and then move), engaging targets in the order that gives us the fastest times instead of those that would be the greatest danger to the shooter, always having a chance to plan your “attack” or even rehearse your run—these are but a few of the things that set people up for failure in the real world. It appears that the more skilled you become in competition, the easier it is to preprogram behaviors that could be fatal in a real self-defense encounter.

It is my belief that situational awareness is far more important than marksmanship skills in the real world. You need to be good at combat marksmanship—it’s nice if you’re a great shot, but it’s rarely ever a requirement. Sadly, most top competition shooters delude themselves into believing that, because they are so fast and good, they will automatically win any fight they might get in. As soon as the targets start shooting back, “gameboys” will learn very quickly that the rules they live by on the range are much different than on the street.

On the other hand, naysayers who say, “Competition will get you killed on the street,” miss the mark in that they do not understand that the stress of competition can be an excellent learning device. Once you have learned to perform in competition and have reached a skill level you are confident in, you can begin to ask yourself, “What is it that the game offers me?” If game shooting is driven by the goal to be the best, you will likely acquire a mindset about doing well at the game without any appreciation of how badly you are setting yourself up for failure on the street when the learned behaviors from competition surface under life-and-death scenarios. As such, like many things in life, competition can be a great learning experience, but too much can be dangerous, kind of like alcohol consumption.”

I can’t disagree with anything stated there!

Visit https://www.ballisticmag.com/2016/04/08/10-experts-can-competitive-shooting-help-real-world-defensive-shooting/ to see the article the quote comes from and hear what other experts have to say.

Read these article to get a more in depth look at the back and forth between competition innovations and the military. http://www.defensereview.com/military-marksmanship-training-versus-competitive-shooting-training-the-matchup/ and http://www.defensereview.com/tactical-ar-15m4m4a1-carbine-aftermarket-accessories-for-military-combat-applications-the-competition-to-combat-crossover/

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