It’s not about winning; it’s about pushing yourself to do your best. When we shoot competitively, we have the pressure of performing in front of our peers, against the clock, and against a standard that we can’t fudge if we do poorly.
I love shooting by myself, whether it’s pinking with a .22 or challenging myself on some hanging steel at a couple hundred yards with a bigger rifle. Lot’s of people talk about using range time to blow off steam, but for me it’s quite the opposite. I find a good range session to be akin to meditation – a way to tune out the world, relax, and really focus myself. I really wish I had time to do a lot more of it…but I digress. The problem with solo practice – or even informal practice with friends – is that you aren’t pushed to really perform. It’s just fine for having a good time, but it won’t do nearly as much as formal competition to improve your skills.
In competition, you can’t cheat yourself by choosing easier targets or sticking to the things you’re good at. You can’t take a mulligan on a bad shot. You don’t get to pick and choose what seems best today. You get a predetermined course of fire and you only have one chance to do it right. That pressure is what we need to really improve and to build skills that will be there if we ever need to use a firearm under real life-or-death stress, be it in military combat or civilian self-defense.
Another useful attribute of formal competition is that it leaves you no doubt when your gear just isn’t right. I got a firsthand face-full of that reality at this month’s local 2-Gun action match. I took a little SBR AK I had built that I thought was really slick. It has a 9.5″ barrel, Type 56 sidefolding stock, and Primary Arms red dot on a Midwest Industries mount. I figured it would be really fast and excel at the sort of multiple close-range targets that make up the bulk of this sort of match (or multiple-assailant home invasions, for that matter). Well, the first stage went pretty well, but when I locked and loaded for the second stage I discovered that my sight was dead – nary a dot to be seen. The backup sights on the MI mount were pretty pitiful, but the did eventually get me hitting the target. After a few shots the dot reappeared, but with little relation to where my bullets were hitting.
On top of that, the gun just wasn’t nearly as handy in actual run-n-gun use as I had expected. In a normal day at the range I probably would have excused that, but it’s hard to ignore placing 43rd out of 46. It may be a fun toy, but that Krink is out of the running as a gun to grab in case of emergency, and it’s largely because of a formal competition environment that I know it.
Over the last ten years or so I’ve dabbled in a whole bunch of different competitive disciplines – IPSC, IDPA, Cowboy Action, Three Gun, NRA High Power Rifle, Bullseye Pistol, Collegiate Smallbore Pistol, and probably a couple others. The one I recently found that his quickly become my favorite is a local two-gun (rifle/pistol) match with a heavy element of physical exertion. It challenges both the mind and the body, with unorthodox shooting problems and plenty of movement. It also does a decent job of simulating how one might have to use a rifle in real combat, which makes it a good place to take interesting military rifles to learn some of the pros and cons that you don’t appreciate on the workbench or square range…
For anyone else interested in that sort of thing, I put together a video talking to some of the match organizers rather than just shooting footage: