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Thoughts on My Goals in Competition

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving I was running the leaf blower to get the yard clean before having guests on the holiday, while listening to Walt White’s podcast Shooting the Breeze. In a recent episode Walt shared that his strategy in IDPA competition is to shoot as accurately as possible, giving preference to accuracy over speed if necessary.

Yard work generally inspires deep thought, because, really, what else is there to do? So, this got me to thinking about my own strategy in competition, and I had to admit that, despite many attempts to change it, mine was exactly the opposite. That is, I shoot as fast as I can, being willing to give up accuracy for speed.

I know exactly where this started. When I first began to compete, at the Marengo County Shooting Club in Demopolis, Alabama, the club used a simple formula to calculate scores, which was total hit value divided by time. Unlike USPSA, IDPA, and GSSF, there was no penalty for misses per se, except that one got no value for the shot. I soon realized that I could win by shooting as fast as I could, since the difference between a 10 and an 8 was more than made up by the faster score.

Now, over the years I have vowed to improve my accuracy and give up the faster speed, only to find that absolute accuracy eludes me. D’s and misses still infest my scorecard, and I don’t like it.

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Beyond that, this got me to thinking about competition in general, and, eventually, to the Grand Question of competition: Why do I compete?

The obvious answer is that it improves my shooting and increases my chances of prevailing in a gunfight, should the time ever come. In fact, this lies at the heart of why the major shooting sports organizations  IPSC, USPSA, and IDPA, were created in the first place.

So, going deeper, how exactly does it increase my chances of prevailing? How am I a better shooter?

And that’s when I got a shudder. Can I prevail by shooting as fast a possible, just as long as I get hits?

I doubt it.

In fact, I ran across this observation by Lt. Colonel Jeff Cooper that eventually confirms the correctness of Walt’s strategy over mine:

Anyone who studies the matter will reach the conclusion that good marksmanship, per se, is not the key to successful gunfighting. The marksmanship problem posed in a streetfight is ordinarily pretty elementary. What is necessary, however, is the absolute assurance on the part of the shooter that he can hit what he is shooting at – absolutely without fail. Being a good shot tends to build up this confidence in the individual. Additionally, the good shot knows what is necessary on his part to obtain hits, and when the red flag flies, the concentration which he knows is necessary pushes all extraneous thinking out of his mind. He cannot let side issues such as fitness reports, political rectitude, or legal liability enter his mind. Such considerations may be heeded before the decision to make the shot is taken, and reconsidered after the ball is over; but at the time, the imperative front sight, surprise break must prevail.

Thus we have the paradox that while you almost never need to be a good shot to win a gunfight, the fact that you are a good shot may be what is necessary for you to hold the right thoughts – to the exclusion of all others – and save your life. This may come as a shock to a good many marksmanship instructors, but I have studied the matter at length and in depth, and I am satisfied with my conclusions.

According the the Colonel, Walt would stand a better chance of prevailing because his devotion to good hits, and knowing what it takes to make them, is superior to my practice of settling for a lesser hit, faster. This is not because Walt’s hits would be more fatal than mine. It is more because, in the heat of the fight, Walt’s concentration on what it takes to make a good shot would give him the concentration to see the fight through to the end, while my strategy would leave a crack, however slight, that might cause my concentration to falter, with bad results.

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So, I know now that I must, at last, get serious about marksmanship and accuracy. My life may some day depend on it.

And, who knows, my competitive scores may even improve.

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