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A recent Truth About Guns QOTD questioned the value of the “practicool” shooting sports for self-defense oriented shooters. This was not the first time RF has mooted the idea that these games are unrealistic and encourage bad habits. In RF’s world, shooters looking to practice self-defense techniques have the range to themselves, perform whichever maneuvers they feel like doing that day, take as much time as they like and get as many do-overs as they need. And no matter what, THEY ALWAYS WIN! I am a self-defense oriented shooter who lives in the real world. There’s a reason that some 75 percent of my precious bullets leave the barrel “after the beep” . . .

A shooter can make any stage of a Practical Shooting Sports competition into a personal training ground. While you can’t address self-defense tactics—cardboard doesn’t shoot back—you can hone a wide range of applicable gun handling and shooting skills while moving through the course. Competition rules determine the order of fire and direction of movement, but you’re free to use whatever technique you choose—so long as it is SAFE.

To get the most practical training from Practical Shooting Sports competitions, you should shoot your default carry gun(s), drawing from your CCW or Open-Carry rig. (if it is safe to do so; crossdraw and shoulder rigs are not safe for competition). For me this means my SIG SAUER 220 or Model 19. I’ll run my little snub nose J-frame Smith one of these days—after I buy about a dozen speed loaders.

As for ammo, I don’t expect anyone to shoot expensive personal protection rounds 100 percent of the time. Most weeks I’ll shoot 1 stage with real .357s in my six-gun. When money allows me to score a fresh box of 185gr +p Golden Sabers, I make sure and give my faithful, old carry rounds an honorable send off. Oh the Decadence!

Aside from that, the stage is your canvas. If you want to shoot to slide-lock every time, go for it. If you want to kneel behind cover with nothing more than your pupil and gun barrel exposed you can do that too. Prefer to shoot while sprinting? There are opportunities to do that. You can wear a friggin parka and ski gloves if you want to keep it real.

Feel free to retain magazines, or just dump them all over the place. Sure, you might lose time, get a couple penalty seconds tacked on, or just plain miss. The point here: you can see how your techniques hold up on someone else’s terms, and you can find out how far and fast you can push yourself before your fundamentals fall flat on their face.

For instance, you might discover that your holster doesn’t work so well when you need your gun out NOW. You WILL have a mag fall into the dirt mid-stream because you didn’t smack it in. You might ride the slide stop or the safety at some point. (This leads to nightmares and late night sessions with the Dremel.)

On the square range, or out by yourself, it’s all too easy to blow off a jam or operator error. When SHTF at a match and you’re standing there with your thumb up your butt with the timer running, you will be more apt to find a solution. The pressure of even a “friendly” match is real. I’ve experienced varying degrees of tunnel vision, time distortion, and even tremors. (Of course, these are not the same as when someone is trying to kill you).

Is it valuable? During the four minutes of trigger time shown on the video above, I shot 107 rounds including: 20 left handed, six left hand only, six right hand only. I made six draws (plus the initial draws to load at the line) while doing math in my head. I also made four presentations from other than holster, finished 11 reloads from both slide lock and in battery (plus initial loads at the line), and performed 10 gun hand swaps.

I shot from the Isosceles, Weaver and Chapman Stances. I shot while seated and moving backwards, with obscured vision, using unfamiliar weapons. I shot at moving targets, through and around cover. And on top of all that I assessed hits as I went, whilst keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction and my finger off the trigger.

After this kind of competition, you will vividly recount every single stoppage, FTF, FTE, and hiccup on the drive home because they happened when you NEEDED your gun to work perfectly. As you lay your head on your pillow, you will ponder why it took you two mags to knock over that last 10 inch plate at 20 feet. (What IS that little bump on the front of my gun for anyways?)

As alway, competition improves the breed. It’s hard to stay motivated to train for a DGU that you hope will never happen. And, hopefully, never does. It’s much easier to get off your duff and practice your shooting skills so you don’t blow it next Monday at 7pm in front of strangers, judges, friends and family.

In my area, there is some kind of practical match nearly every day of the week, with larger events monthly. They vary from sanctioned IDPA matches to “Run What You Brung” events open to the public. Most competitions cost between $10 and $15 to enter and you need about 100 rounds or so.

New shooters get a safety/intro briefing. They’re usually paired with someone who knows what the heck is going on. Noobs get to rub elbows with National Champs, and pretty much everyone is really friendly and happy to help. Nobody cares if you suck, as long as you are safe.

If you’re bored with you current shooting regimen, or wonder how to take your abilities to a higher level, get involved in these sports. They’re fun, challenging, and present an opportunity to objectively test yourself and your gear, and get exposed to new techniques and ideas. Try your local ranges or do an internet search to find out what is available in your neck of the woods.

When it comes to personal defense training, RF is a self-motivated idealist who needs to get out of the house more. While IPSC, IDPA and many personal defense courses don’t provide a perfect simulation of real world armed self-defense scenarios, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of perfecting. The better you shoot under pressure, the better.

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  1. Well-explained, Travis. My belief is that all practice is good, and the only bad practice is no practice. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. Still, as you noted, cardboard doesn’t shoot back.

    All practice is good. All practice prepares one to shoot rapidly and with accuracy. But no practice ever prepares anyone to get shot at. That component is missing from most training.

    Churchill once observed that “there is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result.” Believe me, there’s also nothing more enlightening.

    • I will disagree here, all practice is NOT good. Practicing bad tactics IS bad.

      The problem with the shooting sports is not the shooting, the problem is that the tactics and techniques used to win may get you killed on the street.

      Tempering the sports with proper defense tactics combined with practice of proper tactics on the range is a good way to prepare. “Winning” matches is not.

      If you really want to prepare for a defensive situation, do some judgment training with video simulators and live, force-on-force training. What you learn about gunfights, what you can do and what you can’t do will amaze you.

      My defensive shooting classes are as much about what you can’t do with your gun in a gunfight as they are about what you can do.

      “Real” (or as real as we can get) defensive training has little to do with guns, rather is has to do with our brains.

      • +1 on the video simulators. Every now and then we actually use the simulator as one of the blind stages for this match. That really gets your heart pumpin and your mind racing. It literally takes 5 minutes to articulate everything that was going through your brain in a 30 second simulation.

      • While it is true that becoming too competition-oriented can imprint you with some poor tactics, action shooting sports are really the most commonly available way to test your shooting skills under competition pressure. The importance of shooting under pressure and solving problems someone else has created really can not be overstated.

        It could also be said that ALL training has its flaws. Force-on-force obviously doesn’t use real guns – and it can degenerate into a children’s airsoft game if the objective of the exercise is not kept clearly in mind. Video simulators have their limitations, too. And, of course, in action shooting sports the pieces of cardboard are mostly stationary, usually you know exactly how many and where they are, and none of them are going to rush you and tackle you down to the ground. Still, for pure shooting skill, I’d claim there is no better tool for developing it than action shooting sports. The stuff that gets left out from them just needs to be trained, too. The best approach to training is a well-rounded one.

        One thing that I see several people have mentioned is shooting a match “tactically correctly”, even if that means you have no chance of winning. While this approach does have its merits, not shooting to win removes a lot of the pressure of the event – if your overall results no longer matter, where is the pressure of shooting against the clock, and against other people?

        • Excellent idea! The Campaign for Tactically Correct Shooting Competition is born!

          • It IS a great idea, however, tactically correct and competition are opposing forces, perhaps tactically correcter?

            I ran 3 matches called the POSA Cops4Kids match against cancer. They were blind stages (the participants had no idea what they were about to walk into) with a few surprises and tactical problems to solve. Participants were also required to interact with good guys on the stage as well, telling them to get down, push them out of the way, ask questions, etc.

            This was as close to tactically correct competition as we could fathom, but the aspects of both the tactics and the competition suffered.

            Yes F-o-F can turn into a game if it is not run right and that is the problem. The situations must be carefully thought out, and the actors must be good. Unfortunately it is not easy to run good sims, but it can be done.

            Shooting a standard match in a tactical correct manner does eliminate the pressure of time, but offers an opportunity to ingrain proper tactics. Can’t have both.

  2. 158 gr Winchester Silvertip .357 OUCH! @2:54

    Yeah, but they hurt on BOTH ends. :^)

    BTW, that was a smooth reload with the .44 Special. Good job!

    • Thanks, I took up the wheel gun as a new years resolution. It was fun and I learned a bunch.

      The best part was beating people with hi cap 9mms. hehehe

  3. In watching the video it scares me to see any one trailing a shooter in a “shoot and scoot” not wearing a bullet proof vest. The chance of the shooter tripping and sending a round in a direction other than down range is a real possibility.

    • Often times there are dozens of people up range of the shooter waiting their turn. It is a possibility. The job of the guy running the clock is to make sure the muzzle stays down range and will yell “Finger” if he catches you with it on there. Do anything really unsafe and you go home, and try again next week. Good habits are enforced by everyone.

  4. Our local indoor gun range had a “Commemorative Pistol Shoot” in honor of the 1911. (personally, I think they were too lenient by allowing down to 9mm to compete, but, not my range)

    Anyway, 7 rounds, 7 targets, 10 yards.

    Hitting an Alka Seltzer with a .45 at 10 yards is hard.

    The winner walked away with a RIA Commander .45 acp.

    A good time was had by all.

    10 rounds downrange and 20 minutes cleaning.

    Still worth it.

    The next contest is an aspirin shoot, rimfire only, 25 yards.

    I’m expecting another instance of epic fail, but I know I’ll have fun. (I’ve just got factory iron sights on my .22 and my eyes just aren’t that good any more)

  5. Great article Travis. Also one can shoot the game using “defensive tactics” instead of “game tactics”. You may not win the match but you will have gone through all the stages like you describe above yet shot it more “real world”. The game is what you make it and you can make it work for you. As someone near and dear to me says “a pistol match is not a gunfight but a gunfight is a pistol match.”

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