Ox here…Summer is almost here, and along with it, there will be thousands of opportunities across the country to compete in local, regional, and national shooting sports events that can make you a better defensive shooter.
Specifically, IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association) matches, PASS (Premier Action Shooting Society), USPSA (US Practical Shooting Association) matches, and/or 3-gun/multi-gun matches are all great opportunities to hone your skills and rapidly improve your skills with a life saving tool.
If you’re currently shooting competitive matches, this article will give you ammo when you’re trying to convince friends and relatives to join you. If you’re new to competitive shooting, it should give you such an irresistible desire to start competing that you find a local match and write it on your calendar in the next 10 minutes :)
Are competitive shooting matches perfect training tools for self-defense? Nope, it’s a compromise. But I maintain that ALL training is compromise. Unless you happen to be doing training with live ammo against determined attackers (which isn’t a very sustainable practice) you’re going to make compromises to one degree or another.
But shooting competitive matches will help you in many ways as a shooter, including:
- Handling stress/stress inoculation: There is virtually no threat of being harmed in competition like there is in a real self-defense situation, but people still get worked up, dump adrenaline, and get the shakes at the thought of performing in front of other people, being on the clock, and knowing that their scores will be posted at the end.
Shooting competitively won’t get you ready for combat or self-defense on it’s own, but it is a great way to dip your toes into the process of inoculating your mind to stress and training it to perform under stress. It won’t take long before you figure out how to get control mentally, conserve your adrenaline, and dump the jitters and nerves. This is a great step to having more control in real life shooting situations.
- Refining your technique: Failure at a match is AWESOME! Any time you get to find a part of your technique that fails in competition, it gives you a chance to fix it so that it doesn’t happen in a self-defense situation when it counts.
Shooting competitively will help you quickly figure out what works and what doesn’t for holsters, concealment, reload techniques, support hand shooting, 1 handed shooting, moving while shooting, and more.
- Encourages practice: Competition encourages practice. Almost everyone wants to perform well in front of others and nobody wants to keep making the same mistakes in front of others. This feedback loop creates internal pressure to make positive change, i.e. practice.
Husbands…keep in mind that your wife may practice to shoot better at the next match even when she won’t practice to be able to save her own life.
There’s no set date and time for when she’ll be attacked, but there IS a date and time for the next match.
Practice, and lots of it, is what it takes to move a skill from being head knowledge that you consciously know from a class, book, video, or course to being a conditioned response that you can execute unconsciously under stress and anything that gets you to practice more is a good thing.
- Accountability: If you’re going to be shooting a competitive match with people you know every month, every 2 weeks, or every week, you know that if you don’t pick up your gun, airsoft, or SIRT between matches and practice, you won’t do as well as the people who do practice.
Just like with self-defense…excuses don’t matter and only results count.
This accountability will give you positive, constructive pressure to keep improving as a shooter. You may not practice to prepare to save your life, but looking good in front of others might be enough of an incentive.
- Non-standard shooting positions and situations: Most ranges won’t let you do anything close to “realistic shooting.” You can’t draw, can’t draw from concealment, can’t turn, change elevations, move laterally, advance or retreat, find cover, use cover, lay down, roll around, sit up, shout, engage multiple targets, engage moving targets, or shoot more than 1 round per second. Many of these are standard fare in sport shooting. We address this issue with Dry Fire Training Cards, but doing it with live fire is another step in the right direction.
Don’t get me wrong…square, static shooting ranges are incredibly valuable and serve a vital role in getting people to the point where they can successfully defend themselves in a life or death situation with a gun, but you don’t want to be learning, practicing, or brushing up on these other dynamic skills in a life or death situation.
- Increases confidence: One of the most exciting things for me to see is new (and long time) shooters maturing as shooters over the course of a few short matches. It’s amazingly common for first time competitive shooters to be nervous, scared, and have a lot of self-doubt.
I see this especially with female shooters. (which is the most important segment of firearms owners & shooters–I’ll get to this in a second) Every match I’ve ever been to has had more men than women, and most women come with their husband or boyfriend. So, besides the pressure that men feel when starting out in the shooting sports, women feel that they need to represent other women, don’t want to embarrass their husband, and want to impress their husband. Most don’t have the history, familiarity, and training that their male counterparts do, and they’re usually a little more nervous, shaky, and unsure…at first.
But once they get into a groove, their technique and comfort with the gun RAPIDLY gets smoother, they get more disciplined in their execution, they start trusting the sights and shooting faster and more accurately, and start having FUN! In the process, they get a lot more capable of using a firearm to level the field and stop violent threats from bigger, faster, and stronger attackers.
Oh…one other thing…a lot of times they end up out-shooting their husbands within a few matches, and it makes the husbands smile from ear to ear.
- Increases safety knowledge: Go to almost any range in the US, almost any day of the week, and you’ll see people with more guns than brain cells when it comes to safety. They point their gun(s) at themselves and others without ever realizing how dangerous they’re being. Usually, they think it’s fine with an “unloaded” gun or they say, “I’ve been shooting for 30, 40, 50 years and never had an accident…don’t tell ME how to be safe!” or “My uncle’s 2nd wife’s brother’s best friend did stuff in Vietnam and trained me. I don’t need the stupid rules on the sign.”
In short, a lot of shooters have unrealistic thoughts in their heads about what is and is not safe with a gun. It’s reflected in their bad habits or lack of good habits. Many times they develop their gun handling habits hunting or shooting in rural, isolated locations and these habits don’t work at a range with people around.
Competitive shooting helps people learn gun safety knowledge, and safer gun handling habits. Every shooter is held to the standard of, “handle your gun safely or be sent home.” At matches, you get to watch disciplined safe gun handling behavior that you can model and practice. And, if you screw up, you get immediate feedback and correction so that you don’t make the same safety mistake again.
- Makes shooting fun: Technically speaking, there are a lot of dopamine and endorphins released during competitive shooting events. (and most people don’t get enough of either) This creates a positive feedback loop that gains momentum the more you compete. Competing in a match leads to wanting to dry fire more. Doing more dry fire practice helps you do better the next match. And the more times you complete the cycle, the better your skills will be if you ever need to use your firearm to defend yourself.
For people who have guns primarily for concealed carry, self-defense, and home defense, guns can be looked at with a sense of dread…especially if they always train seriously and envision dark situations where someone trying to kill them every time they practice. There’s a place for that, but shooting sports help shooters develop a positive mental relationship with the gun that increases the effectiveness of training and carries over to self-defense situations.
- Good for all ages: My 5 year old runs stages at home with a laser gun and with a Nerf gun (no running and gunning for real yet). I’ve seen 10 year olds compete at adult matches with .22s. I regularly shoot with people in their 60s and older. It’s the only martial art/sport that I know of where you can have kids, parents and grandparents compete against each other and all have fun.
- Healthy competitive outlet: For any of you who played and enjoyed competitive sports, the desire to compete never goes away. It hides under the surface…suppressed and controlled…but it always wants to come out. Many people don’t have a way to tap into the feelings you get when you compete. The excitement of anticipation, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, and the re-release of happy brain chemicals when you relive the experiences during the following days and even weeks.
Shooting sports gives this to you without the chance of injury that comes with many other sports, including martial arts and most ball sports.And, 2 bonus reasons…
- Gets women passionate about shooting: I value firearms ownership and the ability of guns to level the playing field between good moral people and evil people who selfishly use violence to impose their will on others.
As a result, I’m always trying to help women start shooting and shoot more. Why? Two big reasons…First, guns empower women. Evil cultures and evil people have suppressed women since the beginning of time. Cute sayings, positive mental attitude, power thoughts, pants suits, posturing, and verbal skills don’t do crap against evil.
As US Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle said, “Despite what your mama told you, violence DOES solve problems.” There are few, if any, times in life for most people where violence is appropriate, but when it is appropriate, it’s the ONLY path to a positive solution.
If you’ve been following me for long, you know that this is why I’m such a strong proponent of the Target Focus Training unarmed combatives program, and it’s also why I feel so strongly about getting women comfortable with the use of firearms.
Comfort with a gun takes women from a victim mentality or even a “refuse to be a victim” mentality to a state of mind where they are comfortable, confident, and in control…even in sketchy situations.Second, women are the future of firearms. In most families women control how time and money are allocated…either directly or indirectly. If we get moms involved in the shooting sports, the next generation will get involved too. In addition, the kids’ real-life experiences with guns will supersede the negative messaging that they get bombarded with from ignorant, uneducated, and negatively biased TV, movies, school, books, and friends.
Can you pick up bad habits competing? Yes. There are no bullets or bad guys coming at you and there’s no pain feedback for being too aggressive, going around a corner too quickly, missing a threat, or making other bad decisions. That being said, for most people, most of the time, it’s a great training tool. And if you’re far enough along in your gun training to see that you’re developing bad tactical skills to pick up a few seconds in competition, you’re far enough along in your gun training to train for both.
Want to know what a stage looks like? Here’s me shooting Stage 2 of the IDPA Indoor National Championships earlier this year (please hit the “thumb’s up” button in the upper right corner if you like it):
If you currently are a competitive shooter, I want to encourage you to invite others into our sport as often as you can and make newcomers welcome when they are checking out the shooting sports.
With that in mind, are you currently competing or do you plan on doing competitive shooting this summer? If so, what kind? IDPA, PASS, USPSA, multi-gun, all of the above? What would you recommend to a newcomer & why? Sound off by commenting below:
And, if you’re looking for 50 of the most effective dry fire drills that you can do at home that will help you with both self defense and competition, check out Dry Fire Training Cards. While you’re there, check out the daily SIRT laser training pistol giveaway that we’re doing for the next few days.