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I’ve been active on the competitive shooting scene since I was fourteen years old. In that time I have learned a great deal and have been constantly and regularly humbled by the amazing and dedicated people I meet on the way. Today we will be taking a candid look at what it takes to get started in competitive shooting and what I have taken away from my involvement over the years.

Are You Cut Out To Be A Match Shooter?

The first thing you must realize about getting started in competition is that you probably won’t be very good at first and get your ass handed to you, time and again, sometimes for years without end. Others among you will get lucky and pull off a win early on, often to the chagrin of other seasoned shooters.

I won a CMP bronze in my first match at Camp Perry back in 2007 with a borrowed 1903A3 to the surprise of many. Ten years later in 2017, I placed 7th overall in the CMP Vintage Match and posted the highest score at the National Matches with the 6.5x55mm Swedish Mauser.

While that seems high and mighty, I posted a bronze in both my matches in 2018 with my own 1903A3 and the same Swedish Mauser and did an overall poor job as far as marksmanship was concerned. Be prepared for bad days and be happy for the good ones.

To all parties that matter I am, on average, a mediocre shooter who is able to offset a lack of natural skill with high-volume practice, high-end gear, and almost unlimited range time thanks to my profession. Despite the fact that I am not a categorically high-end shooter, I never let that bother me and just did my best. That said, I know some extremely talented shooters who just have an innate skill. Some are born with it, others have to learn it the hard way like I did.

Some of the best shooters I know don’t necessarily do well in competition. The day of the match is its own day and it may be a good day for you and a bad day for the local champion, or vice versa. I’ve regularly shot with people who clean up at local matches and choke at nationals. I’ve met others who find their nerve and surprise everyone around them at the big games.

The message here is that you should bring your best game and accept that there are going to be days where things fall apart and other days where the stars align regardless of what type of competition you decide to enter. Which brings us to…

The Competitive Attitude

I used to play Call of Duty in my college days and early years of marriage. Home ownership, travel and work, and growing a family have made it so that my days of playing online games are over. Although I enjoy the occasional few hours a week fighting the cult in Far Cry 5 (great game by the way), I seldom have time to compete in online warfare any more. Instead, I spend my competitive energy in an arena where failure is blamed not on hackers or campers, but any number of factors…except the shooter.

The wind. Rain. The barrel was too hot or too dirty. Maybe the barrel was too clean. The gun jammed. A round didn’t go where I swore it went. The scope was off. I had coffee the morning of the match. I drank too much with the boys the night before and was slow. I’ve heard them all over the years and I have to say that all are possible, but seldom are the true causes of a loss.

SIG’s military M17 makes for a great general-use competition gun. It is a P320 and is fully modular, so you can swap out grips, calibers, and optics easily.

There are a great many moving parts in guns and ammo. Lots of things can go wrong at very inopportune times.

Firing pins break. Screws come loose. There is no telling what can happen, but I will tell you now that nobody likes a hothead at the range or someone who is willing to argue where a given bullet hit despite evidence to the contrary. Accepting failure is very important and your ego should not be tied up in how well you do while playing a game, which is what competition is.

To be successful in competition, you must not be an a-hole to your fellow competitors, range officials, or your family back at home when you don’t do as well as you would like. There is only one person to blame for your success or failure and that is you.

Shooters are a fun, casual bunch who generally are looking for camaraderie and will usually enjoy a post-match beer and burger as much as the actual match itself. I look forward to this more than I do shooting these days as it’s one of the special times I get to spend with family and friends. Doing well in a match has nothing to do with your score and everything to do with how well you accept your mistakes.

A sore loser is not looked upon highly in competitive shooting. The people who swear under their breath instead of laughing are, by general consensus, taking things too seriously. Competitive shooting, after all, isn’t a life-and-death matter, but a game played for points just like golf or tennis. It really isn’t that different and you’ll find people who you play well with and others you will want to avoid.

People You’ll Meet In Competition

The biggest problem new shooters face when getting into competitive shooting is other shooters. I consider myself an honest guy who knows that my words are read by a lot of people. I have to be honest in my dealings as it could have a real impact on someone’s life. I got into gun writing because I liked to read the columns of certain gun writers and, as fate would have it, I have had the chance to meet many in person and tell them how they inspired me. Dishonesty doesn’t serve me, but it does others.

I’ve found that gun salesmen are generally not to be trusted. Many get into the career because they like guns, but liking guns does not mean they understand them or have a realistic idea of what you’re looking to purchase. Gun salesmen will often try to convince you that they know better because they work behind the gun counter, but many are fanboys or just out to boost their own ego.

The intimidating nature of buying a gun can be daunting to new shooters. When confronted by a crusty, impatient old man behind the counter or a tactical polo dude with a Punisher tattoo, many a newbies will shy away.

These folks are present in all areas of the shooting world. Yes, they are unbearable, but most are harmless curmudgeons and fanatical killjoys with nothing better to do than flex on people. You will find them at the range and in the shop.

The SIG P210 is probably the ultimate factory-built 9mm target pistol.

The dreaded Range Nazi comes in many shapes and sizes. This is the hated range member or match officer that takes pleasure in correcting people and treats everyone as an incompetent invalid. This is the type of person who hovers and nags and is extremely concerned with the rules, even when everyone is following them with no issues.

I once saw a Range Nazi pull a seasoned shooter aside at a rifle match and berate him for how he cleared a jam in his M1. The Range Nazi literally called him a ‘foaming retard’ for bracing the rifle butt against his thigh so he could pound the charging handle in order to clear a stuck case in offhand competition.

For all concerned, this is fairly standard practice, but the muzzle had ‘gone above the berm’ and this man saw fit to make nothing into something. Some people just won’t like you no matter what you do, so don’t take it personally or let it ruin your day.

Luckily, most people you’ll meet quite reasonable and downright friendly. Most work normal jobs and compete for fun against their friends or fellow range members. These people are typically very social and will help you in a friendly and unbiased way. This is the best type of person to learn from as they are usually patient and want to include others in their sport.

Unlike the Range Nazi who is inconvenienced by your mere existence on the firing line, regular shooters will usually lend a helping hand or word of advice when they see you struggling. I’ve found that most things worth knowing about competition can be learned from other shooters. If you’re humble enough to accept that you don’t know it all, you will do well.

Your Gear

Your gear takes time to assemble depending on what sport(s) you want to compete in. This can be as simple as a stock pistol with a holster and a couple mags to a custom match rifle and support gear costing thousands. It all depends on your budget and what you want to accomplish.

Each competition style has unique requirements as far as gear is concerned. Some sports will regulate the ammunition, sights, scopes, and even the magazines. Expect to have to do some research into your sport and determine what you will need to be successful.

Don’t fret if your first attempt is a failure. Competition is all about going back to the drawing board and working on what you didn’t do right. I don’t know a single person who has the same gun and gear as they did on their first day in a particular sport. I’ve been through dozens of rifles and pistols over the course of my competition years and have settled on a few that I know work well.

I personally prefer a SIG SAUER M17 as a competition pistol and mine is stock, as is my pair of 1903 Springfields and Swedish Mauser. My National Match AR is custom built, but is within regulation for the CMP sports. You’ll be seeing more of this rifle to come this year as I discuss its build and eventually take it to the President’s 100 match at Camp Perry.

Brownell’s is a one-stop shop for your competition needs

If you buy your first handgun for competition based on what’s popular at your local range, you may get poor results as it may not be the gun for you. Many old pistol guys I know have GLOCK guns, however the demographics have changed recently as SIG has been storming the field with their seemingly unstoppable P320 line. A recent trip to a range near me revealed virtually all young shooters had SIG competition guns, typically the X Series.

Many older shooters still shoot GLOCK. It will all depend on what you want in a gun and who teaches you. Everyone has their point of view on what makes a gun good and you will have to discover that for yourself. It’s okay to start based on the recommendations of local experts, but don’t be afraid to go beyond them to make it better for your shooting style.

Practice Really Does Make Perfect

I will leave you with this thought. I’ve done well in competition not because I fire the most rounds, but because I have a good attitude about it. I know that my failures and successes ebb and flow and I’m okay with something going wrong.

You will experience failure, but that is all part of it. When I say practice makes perfect, I’m not talking about practicing with your gun, I am talking about practicing a winning attitude. Instead of fuming at the match winner, buy them a beer and talk to them about what they do that helps them win.

Setting up a competition gun can be challenging but very rewarding.

You will find that most good shooters don’t want to win easily. They want stiff, constant challenges that force them to get better. By helping you they’re helping themselves.

One day when you’re the local champ watching that kid fumble with his shooting coat or homemade holster, don’t shun him or laugh at him. Remember you were there once and if not for people like you are now, there would be no more shooters having fun on the competition line.

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    • James Yeager is right about a lot of things. It’s just the way he presents it that makes him an asshole.

      • Yes, but he is also wrong about a lot of things and has poor attitude towards anybody who disagrees with him.

  1. Go there and be the best you that you can be that day. Don’t sweat the small stuff. The best competitive shooters I know and remember aren’t the ones with the best scores it’s the ones who are the best people that will talk to you, help you and that’s who I want to be too.

  2. I think it bears mentioning that many of your local rifle and pistol clubs may be affiliated with the CMP, and some offer introduction courses to competitive shooting which usually includes a CMP sanctioned games match for a very nominal fee. This is a fantastic way to open the door to those people who want to give it a try without making a large financial investment in equipment—the clubs hosting the event usually have rifles, pistols and equipment that they are happy to loan. The local games matches are often a lot of fun and a more relaxed atmosphere where a competitor can hone skills for larger regional and national matches.

  3. Now, I fully realize the answer is a very wide “That depends”, but how about a rough estimate on what it costs to compete. During the travel season, about how much a month does one budget to do this?

    • My advice would be to look at forums for what matches around you peak your interest. Kinda like Amazon just check something like Reddit to make sure that match doesn’t have huge threads of people saying the match is poorly run.

      Then make sure you meet the gear requirements and check the entry fees. Around me they probably average about $35. OTOH, the Fink is $650 per person and you need two people.

      Then just go, have fun and try to figure out where you’re falling down and budget money to fix those issues, which will vary with what you want to fix.

      It really depends on what the competition is and how often you run them, how far you travel and what it takes for you to practice enough to be happy with your performance.

  4. I like your pep talk, but this doesn’t really cover how to get started in competition. Are there different leagues? Does one just enter a local competition on a whim or is there a procession that is normally followed? What are the fees or memberships involved? Is there a centralized source (like a web site) one can use to find matches at various skill levels?

    The article didn’t really discuss anything that the title implied.

    • is a great place to start. The last section “CMP Competitions” is a go-to resource if you’re interested in CMP sanctioned matches on both the national and regional levels.

    • Couldn’t agree more. I would really like to give competitive shooting a try but have no idea where to start. This article left me in the same place I started. I already know how to buy a gun and that there are a-holes in every walk of life.

    • Disagree and agree with article.
      Disagree with him talking about “fanboys”, but turns around and tries to push how great the p320 series is. Bottom line, don’t let anyone talk you into a gun, find the gun that fits you and that you are comfortable shooting.
      And I agree, good pep talk, but it really doesn’t help a person get into shooting sports. I have shot competitions for the past several years, everything from simple pistol matches to 3-gun. I have also worked in the firearms industry for a few years.
      The best advice I could give is Do Not buy a bunch of stuff and run out to shoot.
      First, research online what matches are available in your area.
      Second, go and observe the matches. Be sure to take your eyes and ears, and just go watch a match that you are interested in shooting(all matches I have been to, it is free to watch). Most people are more than helpful in answering questions and inviting other people into the sport. See what other people are using and what would work for you. This can give you a really good idea of all the equipment you will need. Observing a match will also let you know what to expect as far as it comes to safety and rules. Once again, “Ask Questions!”
      Third, if you decide to go out, just have fun, and be safe. You are not going to be placing high on your first time out, but you will have fun and get addicted.

  5. My experience is the smaller, local matches are as the author describes the attitude. The larger, regional or national matches are where you encounter the type A, win at all costs, don’t give a crap about newbies attitudes. Again, just my limited experience.

    Start with what equipment you have, or a minimal expenditure for equipment. Most competitions have a “stock” or Limited category. Try a variety of different competitions. Pick one that you find fun. Make sure your sights are point of impact for the ammo you are using. Use ammo that is dead reliable in your gun(s). Practice as best you can with the setup you are planning on using beforehand. Electronic hearing protection makes hearing range commands and hits on steel much easier to hear. If you are using optics or red dots, make sure they are properly secured to the gun. And bring spare batteries for all electronics. A field tool kit is useful for those things that don’t require gunsmithing. A first aid kit is always good to have.

  6. “I have to be honest in my dealings as it could have a real impact on someone’s life.”
    I cannot speak for anyone else, but I’ve noticed this. So that is at least one who has. I think it’s what makes Mr. Wayner the best gun writer today. Honesty. A hard to find trait these days.
    Most writers will never admit they don’t know something.They’d rather just try to bluff their way through, and then get mad and sling mud about, whenever their bluff is called. Such ones do, indeed, do damage to the newbies, many of whom don’t yet know which types to avoid.

  7. SURE! I’d love to compete. One thing that you didn’t mention. Cost of entry.

    – Good / great / exceptional equipment
    – butt ton of ammo (and then some) (and more)
    – range time (at cost?)
    – training
    – match fees
    – travel and expenses
    – etc

    Seriously, “do you have what it takes” REALLY needs to include funding. Sponsorship and company colors only come AFTER you prove yourself.

    This is why I only compete against myself. Much cheaper, and I (almost) always win.

    • Weekly IDPA or USPSA is $5 to enter and I shoot maybe 50 rounds (9mm is 15 c/round at Wal-Mart) during the 2 stages. That’s $12.50 total.
      Monthly IDPA/ICORE/USPSA is $10 to enter and I shoot maybe 150 rounds during the 2 stages. That’ $32.50.
      Summer Steel Challenge Series is $10 to enter and I shoot exactly 125 rounds over the 5 stages. That’s $28.75
      Stop making excuses.

      • Thanks, that was enlightening. ROFL…… amazing how many like to hear themselves talk.

  8. Everyone is asking questions that the author simply can not answer. A local match in my area is $10 if you help set up and tear down. A national match may be hundreds of $s and be by invite only. You might have to qualify to even get in a particular match to see if your good enough because most drastically overstate their abilities.
    Start by researching your local ranges where you practice or live close too. You will need a belt rig, a holster that doesn’t break the 90 degree mark (so no deep angled facing the rear, shoulder holsters, bra holsters, across the chest rigs etc), several mag pouches and mags along with GOOD RELIABLE ammo. If that’s your reloads then fine but I see a ton of issues as an RSO every single match that are reload or ammo related. The cheap stuff is fine IF it runs reliable.
    How much does it all cost? Well it’s a rabbit hole so it depends on how deep you want to go. You can drive every weekend across the nation if you have the funds and good enough vehicle. It’s just like any other sport or hobby in cost and time.
    At my matches more than once I’ve helped outfit shooters just so they can try it. That attitude isn’t always there at many places though. We have people reload mags from their pockets and not even be able to complete the stage because of lack of gear or ammo. The thing is you learn as you go and at least they tried it. Your not going to walk in shooting the Steel Challenge or Bianchi Cup. Be willing to put in the work, be outside your comfort zone, eat a little pride on a soggy ego sandwich and learn.
    Most folks will make excuses like “I don’t know the answer” when you can literally drive out and watch and ask questions.

  9. This entire post is overly complicated.
    Go to Practiscore, go to a weekly match and pay $5-$10. Spend $10-$20 in ammo.
    Have fun.

    • This. While I appreciate the authors attempt at the article, this comment is more valuable. Everyone knows that there are nice people and not-so-nice people. A single paragraph on this, then a single paragraph on humility, then the remainder about how to actually get started in a couple of different types of competition would have better served the intended audience. In the last year, I have taken six people to Steel Challenge matches on my dime. I let them borrow all necessary equipment and have ammo to shoot. All six of them bought their own rigs and shoot at least monthly now. If you already compete, do this. Seek those who are curious. If you want to get into competition, go to Practiscore and find a match. Figure out the minimum requirements and see if you’ve got all of the gear. If not, call (not text or email) the match or club director and say, “I want to shoot the match this weekend, but I don’t have the right gear”. Then follow his or her advice. I have lent gear whenever someone needed it and I see someone loaning gear at practically every match. Just go shoot. Don’t worry about not knowing what you’re doing. No one I’ve ever met at USPSA matches would just let a new shooter flounder, and you’d be hard pressed to convince me that it wouldn’t be the same in other shooting disciplines. Just do it.

  10. I’m a member of the Aurora Sportsmans Club which has nice shooting range (for northern Illinois) going from 15 to 600 yards. Firearms, including unloaded and flagged ones, must never point over the berm. Not even on cold range, not even while unpacking or while set up on a bench. Everyone caught breaking the rule will get some talking to from a range officer. Not because of any range nazism, simply because there is a farm house behind the berm.

  11. It is safe to say that competitive shooting has changed drastically over the years. Some good changes, some not so good. There was a time when it was for working class folks with limited time and money. You would win this month and maybe I would win next month. Well those days are long gone. Now it is the same five people in places one through five every month. Kind of takes the fun out of it. My work schedule does not allow me to shoot 52 weekends a year and three times during the week. The friendly environment has been replaced by an exclusionary one. Obviously other people have had better experiences.

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