Today was to be the monumental day of my very first competitive shooting experience.
On Thursday night I left work early. Drove from Lancaster, PA down to Glen Rock, PA. I arrived at Freedom Armory at 6:30pm. I decided to pay the league fee as well as the entry fee for the given competition. So the total cost was $45 ($25 league/$20 event). The way the league works is thus; there will be six shoots. And your four highest scores will count as your league rank.
After paying it was off to the waiting area. I got a bit of an idea what to expect from chatting with the other participants and those running the event.
First off, the question must be asked… “Why compete?”
Competition is a good way to simulate a higher stress environment for testing and training one’s accuracy, action patterns, and safe handling. As well as evaluating one’s equipment and the arrangement of that equipment.
Going into this, my main purpose has been to learn. In particular, learn those areas which I need to study and train. I have never done anything like this in my life; it is a completely new experience for me. I have a decent firearm and four magazines but I am woefully lacking when it comes to additional equipment. I have a holster, but it’s a cheap $20 “Uncle Mike” clone with a slot for one extra mag.
So it was off to the competition. And truth be told, I had a pretty rocky start. My initial difficulty was in the basic concepts of readiness. I assumed “standby” meant wait at ready. I then found myself having not loaded up. The second mistake I made in the first course was I drew when the target started to move downrange instead of waiting for it to turn. Ooopss!!!!
The first course of fire required 12 rounds. I was shooting a Ruger P-345 which is a single stack .45 ACP (8+1). I was also informed that we would be shooting what people were referring to as “Virginia Rules”. You would be penalized points for any extra shots fired. I had four magazines but I only brought two onto the range with me having decided to load my first magazine to full capacity and my second magazine to 1/2 capacity (4 rounds) for a total of 12 rounds. My thought being that such would prevent me from shooting too many rounds.
I had decided to claim a DQ on myself due to this first course of fire. I figured I had 5 more shoots and only needed my best four to count. Alas, such would not be the case. The machinery on my firing lane went on the fritz on the next couple courses. The result, I was going to have to reshoot in the next group. Truthfully, this worked out very well for me. When I went in the second time, I now had a much better understanding of how the competitive system worked. Commands. What actions I was supposed to do when. Now, as soon as a course of fire was over, I was reloading and placing my firearm in the holster ready for the next course of action.
Approximately 1/2 hour later, it was all over. And I was getting my target scored. I shot a lot better than I actually expected. Scored a 196 out of 240. I had 41 out of 48 possible shots on target. If I recall correctly, I had 9X’s (or center/bullseye hits). While not likely to be competitive for the top positions, which was not my goal, it does provide me with a decent standard upon which to compete against myself . What was important is what I have learned from the experience:
- First, I gained some knowledge of the competitive sport of shooting. While not directly related to my self-defense. The knowledge of such actions will facilitate my continued participation in competition.
- My holster is exactly what it is, a $20 holster. It has a few quirks that are less than optimum for competition. Namely, there is a slight lip in the front that prevents pulling the sidearm straight out. Instead I need to pull it backwards ever so slightly before raising the sidearm free. Normally when I carry, I use the holster as a cross-carry in which this issue does not present itself as a problem. But I understand that cross draw is not popular at ranges due to the fact that a cross draw can easily sweep other people – turning them into targets. Not so good…
- The holster I was using features a slot for an extra magazine. A small flap latches shut via velcro. Using this holster in competition showed the advantage of having a stand-a-lone mag pouch on the opposite hip. Reloading my pistol requires me to reach across my waiste, unhitch the flap and remove the fresh magazine. I am pretty sure it’d be easier to just have one on the left side, grab it and pop it in.
- A third issue with my holster is the it features a thumb-break strap. The strap cross over the back of the gun securing it to the holster. It has a button snap which must be released before one can draw the sidearm. This is not insurmountable, but…it does require particular attention to training and familiarity. One of my missed shots was due to this strap. I had failed to run my finger across it in a way to release. When I went to pull my sidearm out…it was trapped. Now I consider this very much a training issue. I had far less problems with this once I made a mental note that I had to run my thumb along the strap in a low sweeping motion – freeing the sidearm. But this just shows my point, competition is a superb real-life trainer.
- .45 ACP, this is a big round. My Ruger P-345 seems to handle it very nicely. The single stack grip makes the sidearm comfortable in my hands (unlike the double-stack Glocks in .45). That said, while I do have better capacity than most revolvers, I have significantly less “firepower” (ammo capacity) than those shooting .40S&W and 9mm. This is NOT so much a bad thing, as simply something to be aware of. If I am going to carry a single stack in .45. Then I need to put extra training in reloading and be sure to keep an extra magazine handy.
- Ready Status: What ready-status should my firearm be? Magazine loaded? Round chambered or not? Safety on or not? These are questions that were clearly posed to me by the competition. Truthfully, I am not sure of “my” answers yet.I made a fair number of mistakes such as failing to chamber a round before pulling the trigger. I do believe that it is acceptable for some to choose NOT to leave one in the chamber. But doing so with a pistol means that your training must focus on immediately racking as you draw. It must also bring with it the knowledge that you have just given your opponent x.xxx seconds of extra time to put one into you before you put one into him.
- Safety versus De-cocker: My particular sidearm has a safety/decocker. For those new to guns. A decocker releases, or decocks, the hammer of the gun. Either returning the firearm a to double-action state OR to a non-fire state, and in the case of my pistol which features a safety/decocker. It returns it to a non-fire state with safety on safe.FYI, I really like the de-cocker feature. I am also comforted by the knowledge of the safety. It’s potentially an extra layer between an accident IMHO. That said, drawing your sidearm, pulling the trigger and “nada” because the safety’s on; can be a matter of life or death. I am of the opinion that this is both a training issue and an equipment issue. Training will reveal to you whether your chosen method is satisfactory with a given piece of equipment or whether the equipment requires modification, or even whether new equipment is necessary. In fact, after the first course of fire I decided to try using the safety as a de-cocker for the remaining courses.
- The mind: this is where much of the battle is fought. The blood coursing, the heart pounding, the nerves on edge. The brain doing it’s best to evaluate everything and take it all in, and in the end make the right decision that could decide life or death, or even more importantly – whose death. This it the muscle that requires training, so that the singles to all your other muscles become inherently natural. It’s also the tool that must evaluate how you are training to ensure whether you are meeting your goals. And the equally important aspect of knowing one’s capabilities. For all those 30 yrs olds like me who grew up watching G.I. Joe and remember the slogan “Knowing is half the battle!” – this is it!
After the competition, and the scoring of my target I chatted with to Chuck, who was running the event. Chuck also happens to be the instructor that I took the NRA courses with. He commented on a number of areas of struggle he saw. No condemnation, just encouragement, guidance and sharing of his wisdom. In particular the aspect of the safety/decocker. But he also made a comment on comfortability, and recognizing that I’m not fully comfortable with all these aspects as of yet – and that it was okay.
When he said this, I think he truly hit the bullet on the primer. As all of this is VERY new to me. I’ve been a gun owner for about 1 and 1/2 years now. I’ve had a carry permit for 6 months. And there is a certain acceptance that one must make at each level of readiness. Some will say you should this, you should that. I am of the opinion that you SHOULDN’T do anything that you’re not comfortable and prepared to do – that’s how accidents happen.
The first night after I got my carry permit and my carry sidearm. I was not yet comfortable to carry. But I really wanted too ever so much! But I was a lone. I had no formal training, I had no “Gunny” friend to show me the ropes, to ride along with…I had to work out my “defense” with “fear and trembling”. So I rode around all evening with my wife carrying an unloaded pistol. (I did keep loaded magazines in vehicle.) Part of me kept thinking, watch…of all nights you’ll get robbed – it’ll be the one night you’re carrying an empty weapon. Thank the Lord, that was not to be the case. Some would say what I did was stupid. But really, was I in any more jeopardy that I had been the rest of my unarmed life? No… and it wasn’t long until I had a magazine loaded in the grip – the very next day. All that said, I am just coming around to being comfortable with the idea of leaving a round in the chamber. We grow in stages and we grow as our experience grows.
What I am very much aware of, and what this recent competition re-affirmed; is that regardless of what I decide, I must train accordingly. And accept the risks and benefits of any given decision.
PS – I also passed out a number of my new mini-cards for the N.U.G.U.N. blog. If you got one, chime in and let me know you’re reading.
For those interested to know what our course of fire was for the evening. I have gotten permission to re-post it here. So the following is the course of fire we shot last night.
48 Round “WARM-UP” PPC MATCH
7 YARDS, 12 ROUNDS, 20 SECONDS
15 YARDS, 12 ROUNDS, 25 SECONDS
5 YARDS, 2 ROUNDS, 4 SECONDS
Repeat 6 times for a total of 12 rounds
3 YARDS, 2 ROUNDS, 4 SECONDS
STRONG HAND ONLY
Repeat 3 times for a total of 6 rounds
25 YARDS, 6 ROUNDS, 12 SECONDS
Total number of rounds = 48
Maximum points = 240
Start position = League shooters, gun in holster, all safety devices activated, hands naturally at side.
Start signal = Target turns and is visible.
Stop signal = Target turns and is not visible.
Sportsmen division shooters, gun in two handed firing position, some part of gun or hands touching the table.
Penalties = 5 point deduction for each extra hit (48 maximum) on the target.