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.

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

Match Checklist

Courtesy of Everyday No Days Off
In the course of seeing how bad the video quality was from the Memorial Day Steel Match, compared to the HD video I shot earlier, I edited my Match Checklist this morning to add my HD camera. I use this checklist to remind me of what I need to do, and I typically start it a few days before the match.
I thought I would share it with you. Here’s the checklist. Feel free to copy it for your own use.
Clean and inspect
q  Detail strip Bruce, inspect all parts, safety check
q  Install (-) connector on Bruce
q  Clean Bruce as needed
q  Lubricate
q  Inspect magazine bodies, springs, and followers
q  Inspect belt, holster, and magazine pouches
q  Inspect and clean hearing protection and eye protection
Prepare
q  Load magazines
q  Make up sports drink
q  One water bottle in freezer
q  Print directions to the range
Pack
q  Bruce
q  Liberty
q  Magazines
q  Extra ammo
q  Clean towel
q  Sweat towels
q  Eye & ear protection
q  Knee pads
q  Hat
q  Sunscreen
q  Bug spray
q  Rain gear
q  Granola
q  Lunch
Load car
q  Shooting bag
q  Armorer case
q  Camping chair
q  Extra ammo
q  Gun cart
q  Golf umbrella
q  Water and sports drink
q  Directions
q  Still camera
q  HD video

Competition as Training, From Someone Who Should Know

Competition is good. It helps you practice your gun handling skills, and it exposes you to a stressful environment which at least simulates a real world encounter. In the world of pistol competition, there always seems to be a lot of discussion about which pistol sport is more “defensive based” and more “real world” – USPSA or IDPA.

USPSA is the United States Practical Shooting Association, which is the US member of the International Practical Shooting Confederation, or IPSC. It was founded in 1986 as a way to codify the pistol matches that were springing up across the USA.

IDPA is the International Defensive Pistol Association, and it was founded in 1996, as a response by some who felt that IPSC competitions were getting too far from the intended purpose. Namely, the founders didn’t like the IPSC trend toward “race guns,” or guns purpose built for competition, and felt that there should be a sport that required the use of normal carry guns, with stages based on more real world scenarios.

The debate continues today.

Serendipitously, I came across this interesting passage the other day:

The object of practical pistol skill is not to win trophies, but rather to stop fights. Muzzle brakes and reduced loads are backward steps and not to be regarded as progress. When we see the terms “race gun” and “carry gun” as representing two different instruments, we learn that some people at least have lost sight of the object of the exercise.

This comes from none other than the founder of IPSC and its first president, Jeff Cooper.

Interestingly, he goes on.

It is important not to become dogmatic about this.

Whoa. Dogmatic doesn’t even touch some of the “discussion” I hear.

He concludes:

If there is a better way or a better weapon, let’s have it. But I have not seen this developing in pistolcraft, at least not recently. Those of us who have studied the matter deeply understood this a good many years ago. We will change when we are shown why we should, but not until then.

In this light, the recent trend in USPSA toward the Production division is certainly welcome.

So, if you’re serious about shooting, you should be competing, both to build defensive skills, and to do so in a stressful environment. It seems clear that it doesn’t matter which sport you choose, as long as you keep your goals in mind. The rules may be different, but the goal should be the same.

If we get away from the original intent, however, we risk making it into something it isn’t suited to be, and something it wasn’t meant to be.

Evolution of My Holster Rig

My competitive holsters, from 1993 to present.

About a week ago, I was asked by Walt in PA about the magazine holders I use for USPSA competition. I told him that I have been using the standard Glock Magazine Holder ever since I got into competition, for a number of reasons.

First, it’s what I use for every day carry, if I use a mag holder. Second, it’s lightweight and cheap. So cheap, I’ve never found anything else that meets my needs, for the price.

While my choice of mag holder hasn’t changed, I can’t say the same about my holsters.

The picture above shows my competitive holster collection, as it has evolved from 1993 to today.

When I bought my first Glock 17 in 1992, I went that same weekend and bought a very inexpensive nylon, one-size-fits-all holster, and I used that holster for club competition for about 3 or 4 years. It’s made by Gould & Goodrich, and I don’t know the model number because that part of the tag is missing now. The inside is a nice suede.

When I took up IDPA in 1995, I bought an Uncle Mike’s Kydex paddle holster. Because I carried my gun at about 4 o’clock at that time, I adjusted it to the maximum forward cant that I could. I still use it for IDPA.

At that time, I used a stiff leather belt, laced through my belt loops, as a gun belt.

Then, in 2002, when I took up USPSA, I changed from a 4 o’clock position to a 3 o’clock position, right on my hip, and I bought an Uncle Mike’s belt slide holster. About that time, I found a Bianchi competition belt on sale, and I started using that. I like the competition belt because it’s a little more rigid than the leather belt, and I can take the belt off and on a lot easier.

In 2005 or so, I started experimenting some with my draw stroke, and I changed my technique a little. Before, I moved my hand below the gun and swept it clear with the fingers, then grabbed the grip as I brought the gun to bear.

However, I found that this technique didn’t yield a consistent grip, so I changed, so that my first movement was to grip the gun with my strong hand, high, with a good shooting grip. Then I would draw the gun, while bringing my support hand in.

I found that the belt holster made the gun ride just a little too high, and someone suggested I try an offset holster, that mounted the gun lower.

Uncle Mike’s belt slide holster, left, versus BladeTech DOH holster, on the right. Note that both belts are at the same level. The gun rides almost 3 inches higher with the belt slide holster.

I ended up buying a BladeTech “DOH” double offset belt holster, that’s adjustable for cant at two points. After some experimenting, I have it set at a neutral position, not canted in any direction. I wear it right behind by the point of my hip bone, per the Production Division rules.

I find that the 3 inch difference between the belt slide holster and the DOH is enough to make my grip a lot more consistent.

Yes, I still have all these holsters, and many more. But that collection is for another day.