By Ed D.
“Owning a handgun doesn’t make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician.” – Jeff Cooper
Like many people that grew up in the city, my first exposure to firearms occurred while I was serving in the US Army (sometime during the Pleistocene Era). After spending a considerable amount of time learning the nomenclature, disassembling, cleaning, reassembling, marching with, cleaning, sleeping with, cleaning, drilling with, cleaning, practicing shooting positions, cleaning, perfecting my sight alignment with, and cleaning the well-worn M-16A1 that I had been issued, I managed to qualify ‘Expert’ on the rifle range. At the time, this meant that I was able to put a round somewhere on to a human silhouette target out to 300 meters. Flash forward a decade and . . .
In answer to a flyer at the local range, I decided to try my hand at Service Rifle competition. After all, I had qualified ‘Expert’ in the Army; this should be a piece of cake, right? I had an M-1 rifle that I had acquired in a trade, the sight picture was essentially the same, and, except for the weight and caliber of the rifle, I should be able to utilize everything I learned under the gentle guidance of my Drill Sergeant (“You call that CLEAN? Drop and give me fifty!”) to do well at this.
Soooo, armed with a box-stock M-1 rifle and delusions of grandeur, I attended my first rifle match. The results were humbling (spelled h-u-mi-l-i-a-t-i-n-g) to say the least. You see, the Army didn’t teach me how to shoot a rifle, it taught me how to operate and maintain a rifle. It’s one thing to put a round into the 18 inches of a human silhouette target that gives you the satisfaction of falling over, no matter where you hit it. It’s another, entirely, when your 18 inch group is on display for the world to see, right next to the target of someone who fired all 10 shots of the string into the ’10 and ‘X’ rings, on their target.
That sobering experience led to my spending the next several years shooting every match I could find including the National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio. Eventually, I managed to elevate my skills to the level of ‘competent’. While I never attained the coveted ‘Distinguished Rifleman’ badge, I got a post-graduate education in marksmanship. After spending the entire summer shooting at X-Rings 200, 300, and 600 yards away, a 150 yard shot at a deer in the fall was akin to shooting at the side of a building.
Alas, the human memory is short.
Along the path of my firearms odyssey, I had acquired several handguns, my favorite being a Kimber 1911. My first exposure to this type of handgun was once again compliments of the US Army. I was given an M1911A1 that had probably been in the inventory since The Battle of the Argonne Forest. It rattled like a handful of bolts in a tin cup. I was given instruction in the proper form and proceeded to put 7 shots somewhere on a human silhouette at 25 meters.
Much later, after I had discovered the magic of reloading, I shot at least 500 rounds a week on the local range. Through this, I became an above average pistol shot on a square range. Being able to shoot little, tiny groups on a target at a known distance taught me a lot about operating a handgun. I was confident in my ability to hit a target at considerable distances. If the kind of trouble that required the judicious application of a handgun arose? No problemo, I felt secure in my ability.
Several moves, 2 kids, and 4 states later, I was invited to shoot in an IDPA match. IDPA stands for International Defensive Pistol Association. Simply put, it is a competition where the average shooter, with a minimum of equipment, negotiates a course of fire while being timed. Courses of fire vary from match to match. Most are derived from the twisted imaginations of the competitors, with inspiration coming from current events and history.
Since I already owned the necessary holsters and such, and I knew I was a good shot, I figured that this would be a cinch. (Are you detecting the pattern here?) On match day, I arrived full of confidence and enthusiasm. By the end of match day, I was a hollow shell of my former self. I botched the draw on one course of fire as a result of inadvertently stuffing my t-shirt into my holster while preparing to shoot. No one noticed because my concealment garment, well, concealed my ineptitude. I also discovered that no target is so close, or so large, that I cannot miss it. But the most important thing I learned was that I had been living under the illusion that I was competent.
And therein lays the value of competition.
It is one thing to stand on a square range and shoot at a target when you have nothing but time, and no one is there to gauge your ability but you. It is another, entirely, when you add the element of being timed, and the ego-crushing reality of your results being displayed for the entire world to see.
You can lie to yourself all that you want, but to perform in front of witnesses eliminates that option. It also forces you to evaluate your skill and equipment with brutal honesty. That nifty holster you bought after reading about it in some gun rag might not work for you. Despite what Jeff Cooper and a veritable army of adherents might say, the 1911 might not be the best pistol for you. And, being able to shoot itty-bitty groups is nice, but if you want to do so quickly, you are going to have to practice. A lot.
All of this to say, if you think that you don’t have the skill to be competitive, you’re wrong. If you can safely manipulate a firearm, you can compete. Skill? That grows with experience. And the only way to make it grow is to leave your ego at home and get your ass on the firing line.