Practical pistol shooting is lauded by many as the ultimate in preparing for self-defense, while dismissed by others as potentially getting you killed in the streets. Regardless, the simulated stress of performing in front of others while on the clock with challenging target presentations is not something most folks get exposure to on a square range. Those who have access to proper pistol bays can’t be bothered to lug out all the props. I’ve been a match director for an International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) match for about a year now. While it’s clearly a game at its core, it still tests fundamentals in a way that self-directed practice doesn’t. Each week we have 25-35 shooters of varying levels of experience and skill, so conservatively I get to watch 75,000 rounds (plus my own training regimen) poke holes down range. The experience has been invaluable, and taught me a lot about competition shooting, shooting in general, and people . . .
It’s the Indian, not the arrow…unless it’s the arrow. Given the discipline we shoot, people want to shoot their actual carry gear, which is laudable. The problem: Most people have bad fundamentals and learning fundamentals on a tiny 9 is very difficult. Small guns have compromised grips and heavy-ish triggers. Plus they’re light. If you don’t understand how to grip a pistol and press a trigger, you’re facing a more daunting task than you realize. Which leads to my next point….
People are generally not proficient with their carry gun and gear. We run a semi-annual “In the Streets” match where running actual carry rigs is encouraged. Most folks come away humbled. Generally speaking, nobody is as proficient with skinny 9mm’s as they are with a fighting nine. These matches lead me to giving up the skinny nine in favor of a more substantial grip that’s less comfortable for carry, but shoots better. Everyone else realizes they don’t practice presentations from their daily concealment near as much as they should. And remember….
If you can shred targets while shooting a full-size gun, you can generally do it on a compact. Guys who can blaze on a G34 can blaze on a G19, too. Guys who shoot SP01 Shadows can shoot P01’s or 75 Compacts to similar effect. M&P 9Ls to M&P 9Cs, so on and so forth. Your skill level with a similar platform will be about the same, even in the absence of the go fast action parts that are “must have” for competition. That said, folks going from double stacks to single stacks generally don’t port as directly. I suspect it’s the grip that makes the difference. That slim, short grip sure conceals well, but it’s hard to grip with enough firmness to prevent the barrel from moving during trigger manipulation. Establishing a quality firing grip on an IWB holster with a skinny gun further stacks the deck against you.
Switching to a different/”better” platform doesn’t lead to improvement. Unless the previous platform just did not fit your hand, it’s unreasonable to think a “better” gun is going to lead to better performance. Invariably folks switch platforms, backslide against their usual competition, put in a lot of effort in practice to get back to where they were, and in the process they get used to the gun and as a result of practice end up better than they started. The gun itself is less important. Going up in gun size does generally lead to better results.
Guys who’ve been shooting for 30 years can’t be told anything, even when they’re wrong (and it’s obvious). Homeboy shows up with a Wilson Combat 9mm 1911. Cool. Nice gun. Gun keeps failing to fire. “It’s the ammo!” Not really, it’s the fact you don’t rest your thumb on the safety so in recoil your strong hand thumb is slightly activating the safety and inducing malfunctions. Similarly…
If you learned how to grip a handgun from movies or the internet without the help of someone who understands what a grip ought to be, you’re probably not gripping your gun right. You’re probably not using enough grip force (with either hand, but especially the support hand), you may be folding your thumbs down like it’s a revolver. Your support hand may be worthless with how it addresses the gun. You won’t fix your grip at a match.
Guys who carry guns for a living have issues taking range commands from civilians. This can lead to disqualification. It’s usually the ego of the professional involved and not the profession itself.
Position Sewell leads to breaking the 180 when moving to your support side. It might have applications in real life, but it sure gets folks DQ’d. It’s also not as fast back to target as breaking your grip and re-establishing it as you enter a shooting position if there’s considerable movement between shooting positions.
The “Go Fast” guys are generally the safest. It makes sense if you think about it, they play by the rules and want to win. Safety is a rule foundational to winning, so they follow it. Generally, the folks who very vocally proclaim that safety is important, but are not as practiced as the go fast guys, are the ones you have to watch. Only one shooter stands out in memory who might be an exception to that rule.
Non-competitor Civilians do not practice clearing malfunctions, including those caused by dry magazines. The first reload on the clock usually involves a solid 1.5 seconds of staring at the rear slide plate in disbelief as you watch the muzzle dip as the trigger is pulled again… and again. Sometimes again for good measure. Vocal cues of “Tap, Rack, Bang” are usually required for legitimate malfunctions. Even if they know what they’re supposed to do, they aren’t practiced at recognizing the visual cue to do it.
Most folks don’t train with targets beyond 25 feet. Twenty-yard shots on an open target prove to be a lot harder than they aught.
The “go fast” guys aren’t cutting corners on technique, they’re executing fundamentals faster. Their accuracy is usually as good as or better than their slower counterparts. There isn’t much space for excuse or justification for getting beat by them other than they are better at running a gun and hitting what they’re aiming at than their competition. They may exploit stage design or dump rounds to force more favorable reloads, but even if they didn’t, that’s not what separates them from the pack. The “I’m a serious self-defense guy” excuse is just that, an excuse.
Nobody is as proficient with handguns as they think they are. The folks who come in with the most confidence are usually the most silent once the shooting is done. It’s a huge check to your ego when you have actual objective data to compare your ability to your peers, and that’s a good thing. You learn about yourself and your capabilities in competition. If you’re un-tested you might consider rolling out and trying it. Even if you don’t pick up competition as a hobby, it will provide very rich feedback for how you should be directing your practice.