Back At It

2019 has started out well as the year of my return to competitive shooting, and I am working to keep it going.

It started with USPSA at Cherokee Gun Club, and River Bend Gun Club. As I reported before, I decided to switch from Production to Limited Minor, and, while I can’t say I’ve seen a big difference, not having to plan my stage based on 10 rounds is rather nice. I now pack 18 rounds, plus one in the chamber if I need it, and this usually means only one mag change.

The result of this is I am shooting the Classifiers well enough that I think I can start out as a C class Limited shooter, once I get 6 scores. Seeing that I spent 7 years as a D class Production shooter, I feel good about it.

The next news came from the GSSF match in Dawsonville on March 16, where I shot 94.16, beating my best match ever by over 8 points. I did this y have zero Mikes, and by shooting my fastest times ever on 5 to Glock and Glock M.

Of course, being a perfectionist, I look at Glock the Plates and ask why I didn’t do my best ever, there? But it was easy to see – my stages went 10.47 >> 9.21 >> 6.12 >> 6.21. Since this was my first stage, the answer, to me, is warm up. I could have shot it 7 seconds or so faster. But I’ll take it.

So where is this coming from? Dry fire. I’m spending at least 15 minutes a day in my office dry firing, smoothing up my trigger pull. about a third of that is draw and fire, to speed up my first shot and make it accurate.

And, I have to admit, watching myself on YouTube, my next area to work on needs to be to lose weight and speed up. Given I have always had catcher speed, I don’t know if losing the weight will really work, but it can’t hurt.

More to come!

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.

The Cost Of Competing

Recently Walt at Walt in PA and Ron at When the Balloon Goes Up! posted discussions of the cost of pistol competition.

Here is a chart from Ron, showing the five year cost of competing in IDPA, 6 matches a year.

Courtesy of When The Balloon Goes Up

To me, this chart bursts a few bubbles.  The average shooter (that is, me) frets and worries about choosing the right gun, basing a lot of the decision on the cost of the gun, especially as a newcomer. Yet, as one can obviously see, the relative cost of the gun versus all the other costs – ammo, accessories, entry fees, practice sessions – argues that we should pick our guns based on the best gun for us as shooters, regardless of the price.

That is, of course, a very difficult thing to do. After all, we lay out the money for the gun in one lump, and most of the other money gets spent on an ongoing basis, certainly in sums less than what we laid out for the gun. For me, buying ammo a case of 1000 at a time, I spend $250 or so at a time, and it feels like a lot, even though it’s about half of what I spent on the gun.

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Having read this from Ron, I decided to calculate what I spend on my competition over 5 years.

Here it is, for the hardware.

Glock 17 $400
Parts 150
Magazines 60
Belt 50
Holster 60
Mag pouches 40
Hearing pro 30
Eye pro 0
Knee pads 10
Range bag 0
Total hardware $800.00

Some explanation – I bought my Gen2 G17 in 1992. For competition I added a set of Warren/Sevigny sights, a (-) connector, and an extended magazine release. My eye protection was given to me, and I made my range bag out of a bag I got at a trade show.

As for the cost of competing, let’s look at a 5 year cost of shooting GSSF:

GSSF $125
GSSF Match Fees 375
GSSF Ammo 540
Total GSSF $1,040

For 5 years of USPSA:I join on an annual basis, but you could get a 5 year membership for $95. The match fees assume I shoot 3 matches a year. I also assume to shoot 3 boxes of ammo at a match.

USPSA $200
USPSA Match fees 1,200
USPSA Ammo 2,880
Total USPSA $4,280

Again it would be cheaper to join as a five-year member. I assumed an average of one club match a month, although I have access to 3 matches easily. This does not assume any major matches, or overnight travel. I also assumed 4 boxes of ammo per match.

Then, of course, is the cost of practice.  Assuming I shoot 4 boxes of ammo per month in practice, at $12 per box, I would spend $2,880 over 5 years. Add to that the cost of range time. (For me, I shoot at a Georgia Wildlife Management Area range, which costs me $20 per year.)

So, in total, over 5 years, I would spend:

Hardware $800
GSSF 1,040
USPSA 4,280
Practice 2,980
Total $9,100.00

That is a chunk of change, no matter how you do look at it, an average of $1820 per year, or about $150 per month.

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But another way to look at it is fixed cost and variable costs.

Fixed $875
Variable 8,235

At the beginning, one would lay out $800 for hardware, plus $35 for GSSF and $40 for USPSA. Then, you could look at it as the balance of $8,235, spread out monthly over 5 years, or $137 per month, or $32 per week.

Now, it doesn’t seem like so much, which is why I suppose I still do it.

What Is It Worth To You?

I found these questions posted by Ben Stoeger in the USPSA section of The Doodie Project:

What do you guys want to get out of this sport and what are you willing to put in to get it?

Wow. This hits to the heart of this blog, and to me this will take a little more thought and answer room than one post on a forum. Look for my thoughts in future posts.

Meanwhile, here is what Ben’s answers were:

I want to have fun, learn, and compete against the best.

I am willing to make shooting the number one thing in my life outside of eating and breathing.

When someone asked about what his wife thought of this, he clarified:

She knows where she stands. I leave my family behind to go and shoot just like pretty much everyone else on this board, the difference is I don’t pretend to put family first.

Interesting.

More to come . . . .

Practice Makes Perfect, Part 2 – The Presentation

This is the second in my series of posts about practicing for competition. It is intended to lay out what a competitive shooter (me) can do to build muscle memory and improve pistol shooting. I should say by way of disclaimer that this isn’t a primer on practice for self defense – that will come in a later series. But a lot of the skills we will practice here will be useful for self defense, so this is where I start.

In competitive pistol shooting, seconds count. I’ve watched a lot of shooters at all levels, and one thing that separates the top shooters from the others is the time it takes to get the first shot off.

There are two parts to this – drawing the gun, and making the first shot. For some sports that start at a ready position not in the holster, like GSSF or Ruger Rimfire, this is distilled to the latter part.

I’m not going to go through the parts of the draw stroke, because a lot of people better than me have covered this in a lot better detail than I could. I suggest going to Youtube or Google and searching for “draw from holster” or similar.

BEGIN PRACTICE

Remember the mnemonic SPARSafety, Purpose, Action, Reflection. In this case, the purpose of the session will be to hone getting the pistol from rest to a first shot in the fastest time possible.

DRAWING FROM THE HOLSTER

To practice this, don your normal holster rig, and, if you’re practicing for IDPA, your normal cover garment. As with before, make sure your gun is unloaded, and all ammunition is removed from the room. This is especially vital if you will be practicing with magazines.

Starting with your hands in the desired initial position (relaxed or surrender) start out by drawing very slowly and intentionally, pressing out, and getting a good sight alignment. Press the trigger, and make sure the sights stay aligned. Concentrate on getting all the parts of the draw perfect. Speed is not the issue at this point.

Slowly increase speed until you are perfectly drawing as fast as you can. Then slow that  back to 3/4 speed for most of the session.

Perform this with as many different hand positions as you can think of. Work on these with both hands, and with your strong hand and weak hand alone. Remember, you will see this in a stage, as well as a classifier or qualifier.

STARTING WITH THE GUN SOMEWHERE OTHER THAN THE HOLSTER

Many USPSA stages start with the gun unloaded on a table or somewhere other than in the holster. So it make sense to practice this. I usually practice it several ways:

  • Standing, gun unloaded on a table. Grab the gun, insert a magazine, rack, press out to aim, and fire. Repeat.
  • Seated, as above.
  • Standing, gun unloaded on a table some distance away, magazine on a different table, some distance away. There are two ways to do this, grab the magazine first or grab the gun first. In a perfect world I grab the magazine first, but I practice it both ways, since I never know what sill come up in a stage.
  • Standing or seated, with the gun in a drawer. This one is used a lot in IDPA stages.

STARTING WITH THE GUN AT READY

I devote the most practice to this, because this move is the most versatile. Think about it – starting with the gun at ready, I press out to the target, aim, and fire. This is what happens at the start of a GSSF stage and a Ruger Rimfire stage, but it’s also what happens every time I move from one shooting position to another in USPSA or IDPA.

This is where I have cut out the most wasted time, and I’ll share with you how. Watch a lot of shooters and you will see this: from ready, they press the gun out, bring it up to eye level, overshoot, bring it back down, overshoot, bring it back up, get the sights in alignment, and shoot.

What you see if the gun going out, then up, then bobbing up and down a few times until it stops. Then, they take aim, and fire.

What I learned to do is to bring the gun up to eye level as I press it forward. When it gets to eye level, I am still pressing out, and I am aligning the sights. Once the arms are extended, the sights are aligned, and I fire. Using a shot timer, I can go from ready to a first shot on target in less than a second. The key is to start aiming as the gun goes forward, and when the sights are on the target, fire.

As before, work on these with both hands, strong hand and weak hand.

PUT IT TOGETHER

Once you are comfortable with all these parts, put together a practice session, based on your upcoming competition. Here’s an example:

  1. From ready, press out, fire. Start slow and work up to full speed. 20 reps.
  2. From ready, strong hand, press out, fire. 10 reps.
  3. From ready, weak hand, press out, fire. 10 reps.
  4. From holster, draw, press out, fire. Start slow and work to full speed over 10 reps.
  5. From holster, draw, press out, fire, strong hand. 10 reps.
  6. From holster, draw, transfer to weak hand, press out, fire. 10 reps.
  7. Unloaded gun on table, standing: insert magazine, rack, press out, fire. 10 reps.

Again, there are countless permutations, and you can customize them to the matches you are shooting, and to the areas of your game you know need improvement.

REFLECTION

Now, as you put away your gun and holster, make note of what went well in your practice session. I like to keep a journal, and keep track of the drills I’ve worked on. When I find I have trouble with one, I can track my improvement, and make sure it gets fixed.

Next time: Sight Alignment and Trigger Control

Glocking Tall

After shooting the GSSF match on Sunday, I was on Twitter, and I did a simple search for “GSSF.” one of the tweeters who showed up the most was @GlockingTall, who is Andy at the blog Glocking Tall.

One thing led to another, and Andy asked me to contribute a post about the modifications I’ve done to my Glock for GSSF. Check it out.

Thanks, Andy, for having me, and I look forward to contributing more about Glocks in the future.