28 August 2012

Shoot Your Own Match

A few weeks ago, I helped talk someone into shooting her first match. She had come just to watch her friends, but we all thought that as long as she had made the drive with them, she might as well get to put a few rounds downrange. I always have a few areas of advice I like to share with new competitors, but as the match staff, her friends, and the other shooters worked with her all day, I learned a few new things to add to the arsenal of new competitor advice.

A lot of people seem to want to "get good enough" before going out to shoot a match. I firmly believe that with a friendly, well-run club match, anyone with a decent grasp of gun operation mechanics and safety principles is "ready" to try out competitive shooting. While there are certainly matches that as a technical matter may be frustratingly difficult for a beginner, most, if not all, club-level matches are intended to be accessible to new shooters. This doesn't mean that you'll show up to your first match and win/place/show, and in fact, you might be like me and come in so far behind the pack that you wonder if you even shot the same course of fire. But it does mean that you should be able to finish out, or make a strong attempt at finishing out, the tasks set out for you. And if you can't on your first try - you'll probably get there soon after, since now you know what a course of fire looks like in a way you likely can't set up and practice during your private practice sessions. Shooting 3, 4, 500 yards with my carbine isn't nearly so scary now that I've had a match director force me to do it against the clock.

An important part of letting go the idea that you need to be "good enough" to shoot a match is to understand that you must shoot your own match, to meet your own goals. Winning is fun. I don't know anybody - least of all myself - who doesn't like to win. But sometimes, winning isn't most productively measured against other peoples' performance. Instead of racing the clock to beat an experienced, talented shooter for high overall at your first match, find your own standards to push. It might be something as simple as shooting a "clean" IDPA match with no procedurals, no failures to neutralize, no hits on non-threats. It might be as competitive as beating your training buddy in the match or even just on a single stage. I've had matches where my sole aim was to finish every stage. The key is to choose competitive goals that are reasonable in the context of what you want to do with your shooting overall and what you are capable of. Don't pick something you can do too easily, but don't afraid to reach and fail. Whatever you pick, make sure it is for you.

Then when you get out on the range for that match, take control of your shooting experience so that you are shooting towards your goal. Focus on those as you move through each stage or exercise, and don't be afraid to assert yourself with match staff so that you can concentrate on what you need to. If a safety/range officer asks if you're ready to begin, it's okay to say no. Just because a timer is running, you don't have to speed up. Getting 15 rounds to meet an objective doesn't mean you have to shoot all of them even if you stop before you achieve the stage objective. There's no reason to be a prima donna, but there's every reason to politely ask for the assistance you need and to slow down or stop if you need to to be comfortable and safe. As you do so more, you'll find that match staff and fellow shooters are generally happy to help you out or back off if that's what you need instead. If you're not finding that at a particular match, rest assured that there are many others out there where you can find a place.

Finally, celebrate your achievements, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant! I mentioned in a comment to an earlier post that I am proud of a "win" that was merely staying safe while being clumsy and tripping over myself with a loaded gun in hand. This week, I've been really enjoying my success with a single stage with a single target at my last carbine match.  I can't tell you much else about how I did on that early course of fire or in the rest of that carbine match, but those little wins are worth remembering as much as some of my high overall match finishes.

And don't forget that the end of the day, showing up and shooting still puts you ahead of people who never even try. You might even find that as you continue to show up, you'll be able to do so much more than you ever thought possible.