Moving Along

Starting point

Now, I know that’s the kind of title I might use if I were announcing I was closing down my blog.

On the contrary. I mean quite the opposite.

Those who follow me here, or on Twitter or on Facebook or my other blog, Plumb Mad Dog Mean, know that since last March I have been fighting leukemia. Between that and keeping life going, it’s about all I have had time or energy for.

The last USPSA match I shot was on February 27, 2016. I looked at this match as the last one I would shoot before qualifying for Senior in March. I was right, but it was also the last match I would shoot before being diagnosed with leukemia on March 15.

I must confess, thanks to a suppressed immune system, and not really feeling like going to the range, I haven’t fired a gun since that match. But all of that is going to change.

I have come to realize, the hard way, that life is short. There are things I enjoy in life, and I owe it to myself to devote some time and energy to those, and to enjoy them to their fullest.

So, I have put together a set of goals that I want to reach, before the anniversary of my transplant on June 28:

  1. Post to this blog at least once a week, preferably more.
  2. Post to Twitter and Facebook at least daily.
  3. Devote time each day in my office dry firing. (This is one advantage of working from home!)
  4. Work on my physical strength and endurance so I can compete decently. After all, I have lost quite a bit of weight, and I need to take advantage of that, and regain my strength. I may even try to find a coach or other training so I can get my stamina back.
  5. Start competing regularly in USPSA and GSSF.
  6. Move up from D class to C class in USPSA Production.
  7. Look into other aspects of shooting sports to see if I want to give them a try:
    • Reloading
    • Open shooting
    • 3-gun
    • Sporting clays
  8. Attend the NRA Annual Meeting in Atlanta.
  9. Be more involved in GeorgiaCarry.
  10. Renew my Glock Armorer certification.

So, look for more posts. The ones involving these goals will be tagged Moving Along.

Why Wyatt Earp Is My Hero

Wyatt Earp at 75 c

Wyatt Earp at age 75.

Like a lot of people, I became acquainted with Wyatt Earp through the movie Tombstone. Now, I know it’s not the most accurate, historically, but I will say that Kurt Russell’s portrayal captivated me. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that.

Since watching the movie I have learned a lot more about Earp. One of the things that I noted was that he survived quite a few gun fights, and survived to quite an old age. My take is that this was due in no small part to his shooting style, which was not the norm of the day, from what I gather. The impression I get is that the average shooter was more “spray and pray,” while Earp was in the Hickock mold of “slow and steady.”

This post is about how I moved from “spray and pray” to “slow and steady.” Thank you, Mr. Earp.

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I have been competing in pistol matches for about 20 years now. When I first started competing, I admit, I got into some bad habits. I found that, because of the way scoring was done, and the people I was shooting against, that my shooting speed determined how well I did, more than accuracy. So, I shot fast, and didn’t worry so much about score.

I won some matches.

Don’t get me wrong, I was never fast. But I was faster than those I shot against, who had come up in the Bullseye school, so they pretty much stood in one place, shot targets, then moved to another place. I, on the other hand, learned to shoot on the move, which really improved my times, and thus not my final scores. And I learned to reload on the move.

Over the years, as I look back, I see that I adopted the “spray and pray” style. I went just about as fast as I could, and as long as I didn’t miss too many targets (and my standard for “too many” was very loose) I felt I was doing okay. Yes, I saw that my scores were getting worse, and my classifications were getting lower. But I was ingrained in my style.

Now, time and age have taken toll, and my lumbering has been reduced even more. At last, due in part to writing this blog, and having it in my face, I decided to try to improve. I had to find a way to shoot better.

I finally realized that I could not miss fast enough to win. I had to do something.

I decided to adopt Wyatt Earp’s style, and shoot for accuracy, and not for speed. And the journey began.

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So, how do I improve my score? After all, scores in just about all the shooting sports are measured in time units. Meaning, in the end, my score is a time. So, telling myself that I was going to improve my scores, no matter the time, was somewhat confusing on a lot of levels.

But, how are the targets themselves scored? Let’s look.

NRA D1 with GSSF scoringHere is the GSSF target, the standard NRA D-1. Note that if you shoot outside the A or B ring, you have penalty time added to your score. Shooting C’s is no big deal, but a miss can ruin your day.

The same thing applies to USPSA

USPSA Target with scoringOn USPSA you get points for hits in A, B, C, and D areas, and that is divided by your time. Note that the penalty for a miss is twice the maximum points on the target, or minus 10 points.

So, what I found is that poor shooting – D ring or worse, misses – killed my scores, no matter how well I shot.

I could therefore improve my score – my shooting time – by hitting the center of the target.

Duh.

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So, I changed my style. It took practice, and it wasn’t over night. I had to get used to aiming and getting a good sight picture before releasing the shot. For a lot of people this is no issue, but for me, it took some learning.

You see, part of what happened as I grew older, shooting for speed without much care for accuracy, was that my eyes were getting older, to the point where I could not focus on the front sight. Now, to a “spray and pray” shooter that didn’t matter much, as I was shooting as soon as I had any sight picture at all. This led to a lot of misses.

But a couple of years ago I decided to change that, by getting some contact lenses that let me see the front sight. Now, I had to learn how to shoot again, the right way, and it has taken me a little while to learn how to get a good sight picture before releasing the shot.

It has taken a lot of dry firing to teach myself to do that. A lot. And a lot of slow fire practice. And a lot of slow transitions.

The results have been impressive, to me any way. The first milestone came this spring when I shot my first clean match – one with no misses at all. Then came a match this summer where I actually shot a perfect stage – I knocked down four steel targets with one shot each, and shot all the paper targets in the Alpha zone. I was almost giddy.

Yes, there are those who will point to all Alphas and say that I am not shooting fast enough. Right now, that’s okay. I will learn to speed up, but not right away.

I still shoot on the move, and my scores are showing the improvement. I suspect that my Classifier scores will help me move up to C class in the next revision.

Since then, I have repeated the No Mikes performance in each match, most recently in the GSSF Glock Annual Shoot at Conyers, GA, last month. This GSSF match turned out to be the best GSSF performance of my life. I’ve been shooting GSSF for 18 years, and this was the best.

So now, I think of Wyatt, and I “take my time” and shoot for score.

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Now, to lose weight, and get faster. Who knows where I can head next.

Coming This Weekend – the Hero of Canton Meets the Gunny

Gunny X blurredThe Glock Sport Shooting Foundation holds a number of matches throughout the US – by my count, 47 in 2013. If you won your category in any of those matches, you get invited to a special match, held at the Glock Annual Shoot at the South River Gun Club in Conyers, Georgia, called the Gunny Challenge. This event is hosted by Glock spokesmarine R. Lee Ermey, and is a shoot-off for the coveted Gunny Challenge Cup.

This year, the Gunny Challenge will be co-hosted by actor Adam Baldwin, who appeared in Full Metal Jacket, Independence Day, and several other movies and television shows. He may be best known as Jayne Cobb from Firefly.

Here is Glock’s official promotional banner. Personally I like mine better.

Gunny Challenge IXI have reported on the GSSF and Gunny Challenge before, and I will be there Saturday. If you plan to be there, please drop me a note,send me an email, Twitter, or Facebook. We’ll meet up.

Match Report – USPSA River Bend Gun Club April 2013

I’m sorry this post is so late!

A couple of weeks ago I shot the regular monthly USPSA match at River Bend Gun Club.

It was my first match in some time, and I tried to concentrate a couple ofstrategies.

STRATEGY: ACCURACY OVER SPEED.

In my younger days I shot for a couple of years in a non-affiliated club, where the scoring was score divided by time. I found I could shoot fast enough to win with poor shot placement. Plus, with my eyesight, I was never able to see a sharp front sight, so I never developed good sight discpline, and I developed some poor habits as a result. In USPSA and IDPA, this plan doesn’t work.

Another thing I learned is to use all the resources available to me when preparing for a stage. This was brought to light on the first stage I shot:

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Do you see it? I didn’t either. Here it is:

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From this direction, it’s hard to see, but there is a paper target behind the barrier that is visible if we move to the left. When I first walked through this stage without reading the course description or looking at the diagram I thought that target was a no-shoot that was in place to keep me from shooting a close target to the right.

But later, walking through after pasting targets for another shooter, I noticed this view:

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where it is obvious that this target is an active one that I needed to shoot.

The moral: Look at the stage drawing, read the description, and pay attention.

Wow, there it is.

RBGC 4 13 Stage 1

It’s a good thing I wasn’t the first shooter on this stage or would have had two Mikes and a Failure To Engage.

In any case, the strategy of accuracy over speed, and I did something I had never done in all my days of shooting USPSA – I shot a stage clean. All Alphas, and two steel on two shots. Yes, I shot about 10 seconds slower than the match winner, but I’ll take it.

STRATEGY: STICK WITH MY GAME

Sometimes I let other people’s way of shooting a stage influence how I do it. But I find I shoot better if I stick to my game.

An example came in this stage, which consisted of four paper targets on the left, mirrored with these on the right, and a Texas star in the middle.

RBGC 4 13 Stage 3

Most people in Production shot it this way:

  • Two shots on 3 targets on the left, around the barricade, then a mag change (6 shots).
  • Through the center window, shoot the paper targets, then the Texas star. That’s 9 shots of they are perfect. Change mags.
  • Then repeat the first string on the right targets.

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For me, though, I know I have had a bad time with Texas stars, historically, and I don’t want to end up with a mag change from slide lock, shooting through the center window.

So, here’s how I shot it.

  • From around the left barricade, shoot the four paper targets. Yes, it means I had to lean out to get the last target, but I can make that shot easily. Change mags.
  • Then, go to the right of the barricade and repeat on the four targets there, and change mags.
  • Then, through the center window, shoot the Texas star with a full mag plus one.

Again, staying with my strategy paid off. Not only did I shoot the Texas star with a full gun, my accuracy over speed strategy meant I shot the Texas star in 6 shots, which gave me the 8th best score of everybody.

All in all, I thought I shot well for my first match of the year. The one down spot for me was on the classifier. Since classifiers are the means by which USPSA shooters are sorted by class (hence the name), it stands to reason that I need to shoot better on them to move up.  What killed me was a miserable performance in weak handed shooting. There were five targets, and we shot three strings of one shot per target. The first string was freestyle, the second was strong hand only, and the last was weak hand only.

No, this isn't me. I suck at weak hand shooting. Time to fix that.

No, this isn’t me. I suck at weak hand shooting. Time to fix that.

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On a related note, I found this video on line from Randy Gamble, who shot in my squad. Enjoy.

Getting Serious

Let’s face it, none of us is getting any younger. Without details, let me say that if I were a pro golfer I would be on the Senior circuit. So the time has come for me to decide – am I going to move forward, or continue where I am and accept a gradual decline into the sunset?

I’m moving forward.

Fortunately, I have some experience to draw on in my quest for improvement.

Once upon a time, when Old Tom Morris was a kid, a friend gave me an old golf bag and set of irons. I went and played, and I was hooked.

In the next three years, I went from nothing to a 14 handicap. How? Immersion, practice and dedication.

I got involved. At first I traveled around our area, playing public courses, but soon I joined a club. I took lessons, bought good equipment, and practiced, practiced, practiced. And my scores got better. I learned new techniques. What was difficult before got easier.

Then I learned how to build golf clubs from parts. I also fitted clubs for others, and I still play with wedges and a putter that I built. Now, this is one area where my shooting has already paralleled my golf, because I am a Certified Glock Armorer, and I am well into learning how my other guns work and are put together,

What was the theme that tied all these improvements together?

Investment

There are several things I can invest in for my shooting future. First, I have always shot matches as a guest of the club where I was. This also means, when I want to practice, I have to go pay a daily fee at a range. So, I plan to join a club, so I can practice more, and have access to lessons and instruction. I am now looking at my options and hope to report something soon.

Next would be to invest my time in practice. I’ve written about this here before, but I am going to establish a real regimen, and stick to it.

Next would be in equipment. Fortunately, my equipment isn’t an issue right now. Yes, there are better guns out there, but, to borrow an analogy from my golf game, by the time a $1,000 driver would do my game any good, I wouldn’t have to buy them because a sponsor would give them to me. It’s the same here. I’m not limited by my gun, and by the time I shoot better than my gun, Glock or Smith or somebody will offer to give me one, provided I don’t remain anonymous.

Next would be involvement, and I’ve already taken some steps in this direction, by sending in my application and money to take an RO training class here in the Atlanta area this summer. Frankly, I think I am long overdue. In golf, I found that knowing the rules backward and forward helped my game immensely. I know it will here too.

I will invest in some coaching, too. There are a number of good shooters around here who teach.

So, look for future posts on my practice regimen and other plans.

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.

Teaching the Next Generation

The Dauphin, ca. 2010

The other night at dinner, my son, the Dauphin, told me that, after giving the subject a lot of thought, he would like to take up competitive pistol shooting.

Needless to say, I am pleased, and excited. We talked about the different sports – GSSF, USPSA, IDPA, Steel Challenge – and which he would like to try first. Our conclusion was that GSSF would be a great start, given that it doesn’t require drawing, reloading, or moving.

However, there are only 3 GSSF matched in my area in any one year, and the next one won’t be until next February. It became clear that he really wanted to get into shooting quickly, and USPSA, with 3 matches per month in our area, gave the best opportunity for that.

So, we talked about what skills he would need to learn, and we came up with a training plan to get him competing the quickest. There are basically two phases – dry fire and live fire – and the two phases may naturally overlap depending on how fast he learns.

The skills he will need to learn include drawing from a holster, changing magazines, moving between shooting positions, and shooting on the move. Here’s how we saw him training and learning:

Dry fire Live fire
Drawing
Trigger control
Moving
Magazine changes

He can even do a lot of the moving-and-shooting training using his air-soft gun.

Next, I will post about the specific drills and skills he will be practicing.

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I will admit a certain caution in taking on this training program. Some time ago, my wife and I were learning to snow ski, and I tried to teach her what I knew. It was not pretty. Suffice it to say that, once I exhaust what I know about drills, I may skip the drama and go straight to paid instruction. Fortunately, in my area there are a lot of good teachers.

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Some day, soon, he will score better than I in a USPSA match. I’m not sure how I will feel when that happens.

Stay tuned.