Practice for Competition

I love to compete with my pistol. I believe that competition is one way any shooter can improve their self defense skills, even beyond practicing normal self defense skills. That’s because competition inserts the element of stress, and how you react under stress can be very different than how you react otherwise.

The two organizations I regularly compete in are the USPSA and the GSSF. Living in the metro Atlanta area means I have access to regular matches for both. Getting ready for matches takes practice, but the problem comes because I can’t always take the time to go to an outdoor range and practice the actual things I would do in matches, like run a stage. So I am reduced to finding ways to practice at home or at an indoor range the kinds of things that will make me better.

You can find out about how GSSF matches are run at their website, Three things define GSSF and make it unique. First, it is only open to Glock pistols. Second, the three stages shot at each match are pretty much the same for every match. Last, there is no drawing, movement, or reloading during stages, which makes it an ideal sport for beginning shooters.

Distilling the GSSF stages, I have found there are three things I can practice that make my match times better: the presentation and first shot; accuracy and shot placement; and transition between targets. Interestingly, all three of these make my USPSA shooting better, so I spend a lot of practice time on these.


Each GSSF stage starts at a relaxed start position, elbows by your side, gun pointed down range. Now, if you watch new shooters (and some not so new) you will frequently see some variant of the following: at the sound of the buzzer, the shooter straightens their arms, then brings the pistol up to the shooting position. Then, they overshoot the shooting position, and the pistol oscillates a few times until it settles into the shooting position. Then, the shooter moves their finger onto the trigger and a few seconds later, when the shooter is satisfied with the sight picture, they fire. This “method” wastes a lot of movement, and a lot of time.

A smooth start to a GSSF stage looks like this; when the buzzer sounds, the shooter begins to bring the pistol up to firing position, while simultaneously extending the arms, such that the pistol gets up into the field of view of the shooter and the sights are on the target, he moves his finger on to the trigger, and begins to take up the slack in the trigger. The rest of the arm extension goes directly toward the target, and when the arms are fully extended, and the sights are still on the target, the shooter breaks the shot.

The great thing about practicing the GSSF first shot is it can be practiced by dry firing. All you need is a place to practice and an unloaded gun.

I cannot stress enough the importance of making sure all the ammunition is out of the room when you dry fire. It may seem like enough precaution just to make sure the gun is unloaded, until you decide the practice session is over, and reload, and get interrupted, and go back to dry firing. Not good.

In fact, I bought a plastic practice barrel for my Glock 17, that won’t even allow me to chamber a round, should I make a mistake and insert a loaded magazine.

So, first find somewhere you can practice for 10 to 15 minutes. For me it’s my garage. You don’t need to do this in front of the TV. Remember, you are practicing a sport. Chipper Jones doesn’t watch TV in the batting cage.

Start out slow. First, rack the slide on the unloaded pistol so you reset the trigger. Then, lower it to the ready position, and relax. In your head, have your favorite RO ask “Shooter ready? Stand by . . . . beep” and SLOWLY raise the pistol through the stages I talked about earlier. I say slowly, because right now you are concerned with getting the pistol into firing position without any over travel, and breaking the shot as soon as you can.

Over the next 5 minutes, speed up the shot, so that by then you are going full speed. If you use a shot timer*, I find that anything under 2 seconds from the beep to first shot is great. Do 5 minutes of these full speed, then take a break before going on to any other practice. You’ve earned it.

After doing this drill 2 or 3 times a week, you will see your first shot become a lot smoother and faster. Then you can work on accuracy and transitions.

* You can also use an on-line flash shooting timer application that can be found at Matt Burkett’s web site, as well as any number of smart phone apps that will do the same thing. Find one that works for you. I use Matt Burkett’s, but its location moves around, so you’re better using Google.

You can also find other tips for practice and shooting GSSF at the Glock FAQ website.

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