28 November 2013


Overall, it's been a great shooting year for me, both on the range and off. I have a lot to be thankful for, and perhaps a few things that you might appreciate too.

The IDPA program that I co-direct has been growing: a big match for us in 2012 would have been around 50 shooters. This month, we hosted 75. I'm delighted to be bringing a smoothly running match with interesting and challenging stages to so many, whether they're completely new to the competitive shooting world or they've been around pistol sports since before IDPA even existed. And it's so much fun to have so many people at our match, then go to one of the half a dozen or dozen other regular monthly matches nearby and see my friends there too. I'm thankful for the opportunity to be part of the vibrant competitive shooting community in this region.

I finally made it to Texas and had the opportunity to instruct at the inaugural A Girl & A Gun Club National Conference. It's exciting to be a part of this growing organization bringing women together and I love that AG&AG has made it possible for me to expand my experience as a trainer while I figure out where I want to head with that aspect of my shooting. I can't wait to go back in the spring! I also got to be a student this year, which I always enjoy, apprenticing with Kathy Jackson and being taught how to shoot gooder by Ben Stoeger. I'm thankful that 2013 has allowed me to participate in the national shooting community whether by travel or closer to home.

This year, I've also continued working with, supporting, and being supported by the small, local businesses that I believe are the heart of American gun culture. Over the next few months, I'm looking forward to announcing some new partnerships and projects that are exciting for me personally, but I think that you'll be interested in them too. The entrepreneurship of the small shop going at a slice of business is really neat to watch, and seeing them explode on the regional and national stage while remaining true to their local roots? That's even more awesome. I'm thankful I get to be a part of that on a small scale.

But most of all, this year I'm thankful for all of the good friends I've made on the range - men and women both - whether we're spending time on the range or off. It's been a great year of range antics, Cards Against Humanity, sushi dinners, mad Walmart/Target runs, Star Trek jokes, late night chats, and even new jobs and a wedding. Bumping classes, winning matches, shooting down zero or all As? It all pales in comparison to this. A toast!

10 November 2013

Closing Out 2013

November is when the shooting season has or will slow down for most of us, after the fall frenzy of national championships and before the winter fun of SHOT Show and the IDPA Indoor Nationals.While my season isn't bookended by any of those (yet!), I generally shoot a bit less in the winter too. We don't stop running our monthly IDPA club match over the coldest months, and one of my favorite clubs to just shoot at runs indoors, but my home USPSA club takes a break when the days get shorter and between holidays and just plain cold, we don't get out as much in the winter. I'm really excited to be finishing out my pistol season with a Ben Stoeger class (thanks for the opportunity, Super-Tactical.com!) and as I'm getting ready for it, I've been reflecting a bit on the past year.

During last year's break, I took up a 1911 with mixed results but as I had hoped, my return to my M&P showed some strong gains. At my first sanctioned IDPA match of the season, the beautifully run Think of the Children Benefit Match, I match bumped the hard way to SSP/SS, then matched my class with the classifier I shot in August. With my first major 2013 IDPA goal out of the way in April, I was able to work on my stretch goal of winning a High Lady trophy against the immensely talented women in my region, which I accomplished at the Burt Schaffer Memorial Match and the Liberty Match at Valley Forge [pdf]. My club match results have showed some ups and downs as I've been experimenting with finding my new balance between speed and accuracy but my new normal is so far beyond where I was that a bad match today is very nearly as good as a good match was for me a year ago. At my very first IDPA match back in 2010 or so, I came in so far dead last that we're not really sure that I shot the same match as everyone else and that I only shot it once. I've won SSP there five months running now, with best overall time last month. It's been very slow going to get to where I'm at now, so I'm happy and relieved to report that it's true: speed comes!

In USPSA-land, I finally shot my first major, the Mid-Atlantic Sectional, which I also staffed. It was a great experience, and I'm looking ahead to adding more USPSA majors to my schedule in 2014. Unfortunately, I haven't had the opportunity to shoot a classifier since May, but my match percentages are significantly up and I even made my first ever class win. With my improved technical shooting skill, I've discovered that I can now spend more time on stage strategy and other aspects of the mental game so that I'm benefiting more fully from some of the past classes I've taken as well as a few coaching sessions specifically focused on visualization and neural based training. I'm really glad that I've kept the notes with the wisdom of my prior instructors because while I wasn't able to understand how important it was then, it's becoming more valuable to me now. My stage breakdown skills in particular are improving, and I'm now able to find more creative solutions that - literally - take me outside of the (shooting area) box.

It's not been all roses for me in the 2013 season, though. I'm disappointed with the Single Stack classification I picked up in the spring, even knowing that gun malfunctions were a major factor. My IDPA classifier time is continuing to improve, but not nearly at the rate I've been hoping for. Clearly, I need to stay busy with dry fire over the winter. And I haven't been out with my rifle much, in spite of building the Purple Zebra. So, for next year: more dry fire, more rifle (and maybe a branch out into High Power, CMP, or some other form of precision rifle shooting), and perhaps a return to the 1911 after all, now that I've acquired a full size 9mm that's been to Sean Reed at CDI Custom and back home to me just this weekend....

05 September 2013

The Sisterhood of Shooting

While I don't avoid my identity as a woman shooter, it's not a perspective I've focused on here because I believe a lot of the beauty in shooting is not gendered. That said, this community is where I've found some of my best female friends and, indeed, sisterhood, which is why I invited my good friend, Tracy Hughes, to help capture what it is about getting together on the range that makes us want to get together off the range.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about "the Sisterhood" with regards to gals who enjoy shooting. The fact that I’m guest writing for Beauty Behind the Blast is, itself, a testimonial to "the Sisterhood.”

The Urban Dictionary defines “sisterhood” as “a bond between two or more girls, not always related by blood. They always tell the truth, honor each other, and love each other like sisters.”

Annette Evans (the Beauty) and I (the Therapist) couldn't be more different on the surface. We come from different cultural backgrounds, more than 20 years separate our ages, she’s petite and athletic and I’m, well….I’m neither of those and we are in very different stages of our lives. One thing, and one thing only pulled us together…shooting. But once we started talking about shooting, we discovered that there are entirely more similarities than there are differences between us like the love of the color purple and eclectic music choices on our MP3 players that range from Mozart to Slayer.

And so it is with the sisterhood of shooting. There is a bond between women that shoot that defies definition. The sisterhood is made up of different backgrounds, religions, ethnicities and viewpoints but get us on the range or in a discussion about guns and none of that seems to matter.

We Support Each Other in the Sport
Just like biological sisters, we support each other as sister shooters and competitors. We talk about competitions, new holsters, training and anything else gun related. We seem to know whether we should push each other or hold each other’s hand. And although many times, we face each other in competition, we celebrate each other in victory.

We Support Each Other in Life
It’s not all about the range or the guns. Although we bonded over the guns, we’ve taken the time to learn about each other. We check in to talk about families, jobs, illnesses and day to day challenges. Recently, when my mother passed away, girls from all over the country were text messaging me, emailing me or calling me just to let me know that they were thinking about me, praying for me and there for me if I needed a shoulder. Their messages held me up and really got me through a tough time.

I still haven’t been able to pinpoint why this sisterhood is so tight. It could be that we, as women, cannot always talk about our love of firearms or perhaps just don’t feel comfortable bringing that up in casual conversation. It could be that we have so many other things going on in our lives, like careers and kids and school. Shooting becomes the common recreational outlet and we don’t have to feel weird about enjoying it when we’re among friends who have the same kind of fun.
In addition to Annette, there are so many gals that I never would have had the honor of knowing had it not been for firearms and shooting. And now I can’t imagine life without them in it. Firearms have made us more than friends…we are a sisterhood!

I know a lot of people think about guns as just a violent tool, a "guy thing", or just a mysterious machine in some kind of vacuum. Firearms for me, though, have been a route to empowerment, enjoyment, fun, and friendship. Getting to know Tracy, and other women like her, is one of the best parts of going to the range!

31 August 2013

The Purple Zebra

I've been shooting my beloved LWRC M6A2 AR-15 for many years in both CQB-type and longer-range events, but in the last year a number of factors combined so that I could build myself an all-custom AR. I call her the Purple Zebra because, well, you'll see in a moment. First, I'd like to thank the biggest supporters I had in putting together this beautiful rifle, in no particular order: the guys at Lanco Tactical were patient with helping me buy the pair of bare uppers and lowers that started the whole process, J.J. Schroeder at Brownells helped me with all of the fiddly detail parts I needed to finish the build; Brian Torkar of Full Bore Firearms did the fabulous custom paint job; and my husband, Mark, helped me with some of the research and some of the brute force I needed to get the rifle assembled (not to mention his patience with the final bill!).

The heart of my rifle is, of course, the matched stripped upper/lower. Last winter, Lanco did a limited run of aluminum receivers without anodizing or other finish. I picked up two pairs, with consecutive serial numbers. The one is what you see here; the other will be Mark's when he decides to build it out. After I purchased those parts, a few months apart from each other, I began looking for a Cerakote shop and found Full Bore Firearms. Around the same time, I picked up the last pieces to be painted: a Samson Evolution 7" handguard and a Rainier Arms Match barrel  in 10.5"/.223 Wylde with a 1:8 twist. I selected the Evolution because it is one of the lightest free float handguards available and I knew I'd be picking up weight elsewhere in the build. The barrel length was chosen because 10.5" is about the shortest it made sense for me in a rifle, and we picked the caliber to accommodate the widest range of .223/5.56 ammo possible. The Rainer Arms was both a nice quality barrel and in stock, and the twist will maximize longer range performance for the barrel length. Once I had these major parts, I gave the entire package to Full Bore Firearms.

The Cerakote is a custom zebra-stripe pattern in Bright Purple and Stone Grey for the upper/lower receivers and handguard. The barrel is plain Stone Grey. While these parts were with Full Bore Firearms, I began acquiring the other parts I'd need to finish the build. First up was an Adams Arms Carbine Length Lite piston system kit. My LWRC is also a piston-based gun, so I wanted to stick with it. Also, I don't like cleaning. And I may be slapping a suppressor on the Zebra one day.

As I got closer to the projected date when I would receive my NFA registration, I worked with J.J. on the laundry list of other items I would need. Since I already had and was comfortable with the Magpul CTR buttstock, that was a natural choice for this rifle: lightweight, adjustable, and a mechanism I am familiar with. Similarly, I picked out a Magpul MIAD grip (which you don't see in the pictures above as it is currently backordered). The MIAD with the smallest front and back straps fits my hand well, and the straps can get the Brilliant Backstraps treatment...again, just like what I already have. I also ordered a Norgon Ambi-Catch identical to what I installed on my LWRC many years ago. As a left-handed long gun shooter, parts like that are essential to any rifle I use regularly.

Some of the parts I picked were new to me, though. For my ambidextrous safety, I went with the BAD-ASS selector with a standard and short lever. The standard lever is installed on the right-hand side. I splurged on the trigger and got a Geissele Super SSA-E. Geissele is a local-to-me company that supports the shooting sports generously, and they have some of the best triggers on the market. It wasn't a difficult decision to pick Geissele - just which specific model. My lower parts kit otherwise doesn't have anything out of the ordinary. On the upper, the Adams Arms kit came with a bolt carrier. I added a WMD Nib-X bolt and standard firing pin/etc. I also picked out a BCM Gunfighter charging handle. I haven't felt the need for an ambi charging handle before, but figured this would be a good time to try. The rest of the upper parts are standard parts.

After my NFA stamp came back, I retrieved my upper, lower, barrel, and handguard and began assembling. Fortunately, I have generous friends who lent me the necessary vise blocks and wrenches to go with the regular gunsmithing tools we keep around the house. After assembly, I've popped up a generic muzzle brake I had in the parts bin to protect the threads while I decide what to do for a muzzle device, and for now, I have my SWFA SS 1-6x24 optic in an AD-RECON quick-detach mount on top. I'm also deciding if I want to add a Grip Stop or similar to prevent accidentally burning myself on the gas block.

Building my own AR has been an alternately fun and frustrating process. There're a lot of conflicting opinions out there on the 'best' parts to get, and actually assembling it can take a lot more mechanical aptitude than I usually am able to muster up. I'm glad I bought a complete AR first and learned to shoot and maintain it so that putting this one together was much more mentally manageable for me. Now that I'm done, though, the feeling of accomplishment is incredible. I can't wait to go to the range with this gun, and finish out the last details of the build!

12 August 2013

On Dry Fire

I believe strongly in dry fire, more so in the last year or two than ever before. While I've improved steadily since picking up my first gun and slightly faster since I started shooting competitively, dry fire has made my gains come even more quickly and dramatically. Some of my dry fire routine is very focused, based on books and posts from various top shooters and working a particular set of techniques or par times. Some of it is more random - gun pickup and manipulation drills, for instance, or picking a single issue I want to work on. After setting up and making sure I'm following my safety rules, I almost always warm up with 5 (or 10, or 20 or 25...) draws to an IDPA or USPSA target set up against my dry fire backstop. Standard draw, surrender draw, draw from concealment, turn and draw, draw on the move...doesn't really matter, although I'll usually start from the simplest and move to the more complex. Some nights, that's all I do.

However, as you might have been able to tell from my sparse Facebook posts and my even sparser blog posts recently, I haven't been able to concentrate on dry fire or shooting in general as much as I'd like. I've been out at my regular monthly matches but haven't shown up at many extra matches this summer. Some of it is the ammo crisis, but some of it is also due to stress from my personal and professional life. While staying in practice is important from both a self-defense and a competition perspective, there are times when practice makes permanent in negative ways. When I'm sitting on the couch after work and can't summon the brainpower to decide on dinner, dry fire may not only be unsafe, but unproductive. It's not helpful to my shooting to put in dozens of repetitions of a sloppy draw or a bad sight picture. On some of those nights, I've consciously decided not to dry fire rather than set back my progress and increase my frustration.

But we don't always get to shoot matches or defend ourselves when we're feeling at our peak physical and mental condition, and we should allow for that in training. It's important not to stray into the trap of only practicing in ideal conditions. Practice is not a demonstration of perfection. It's working towards perfection. Perfect practice doesn't mean that every draw and every trigger press is flawless. It means that you're paying enough attention to know what you're doing wrong and what you need to do to improve, and to make those fixes as you work through your dry fire routine. That can mean just putting your head down and making it through only 5-10 minutes of slow-motion basics if that's all you can muster up the energy for at the end of a long day. On many of those blah evenings, I've consciously decided I must dry fire and scaled back my routine accordingly so that I wasn't overwhelmed with how much I planned to work on. Some mindful practice has been better than no practice at all, and it's made my mental game stronger because I am practicing getting my head into the game no matter what my mood is on the range. And just like a bit of live fire time can drain stress away, spending some quality time behind a dry gun can have the same calming effect.

21 May 2013

On Classifications, Competitions and Winning

One of my early posts here was about shooting your own match and finding the "win" that matters most to you. At some point, moving up in classification or winning matches becomes important or at least interesting to many of us. I believe these are important goals even if we aren't interested in "being competitive" for the sake of bragging rights.

Classification is not just a way to compare yourself to other shooters. It can also be a tool to objectively measure progress and discover weak spots in your skills. The core of IDPA's classification system is based on each shooter's performance in a single specified course of fire. As your total time decreases, your classification increases from Novice through Marksman, Sharpshooter, Expert and finally, Master. Trying to reach a specific classification is a tangible goal that can help keep you motivated to practice more, and actually making the class you're going after can create a great sense of accomplishment to reward your efforts. Even if you don't make a specific class goal, you can still see if your overall skillset is improving by tracking your classifier total, stage and string times.

In USPSA, the classification system pools shooters together to tell you where you are relative to others. In that sense, it is very much a ranking system. USPSA categorizes percentages into Grand Master, Master, and A through D classes, but you can track your percentage within each class. Due to the number of scores that are calculated into your classification, your percentage may only inch up over a season or even years but the trend of your scores over time and your results  in some types of classifiers over others can tell you quite a bit. You may not have made the bump into B yet, but moving from being a 45% C-class shooter to a 55% C-class shooter is still significant. And if your results are consistently lower in strong-hand-only stages or stages with required reloads, then you know what you need to work on next time you dry fire.

Similarly, trying to win matches isn't just about trophies and prizes. As you shoot with a community of competitors over time, you will get a sense of who is at about the same level as you are, and who you aspire to shoot like. Matches can be an outside measuring stick to help you and your friends continue to compare skills and to push each other. It's not about wanting to beat others and come out on top of the pile, but about benchmarking your progress against a standard - your friends' performances - that is more tangible than what shows up on a shot timer. I've found that through regular matches, my shooting buddies have improved as a group, making all of us more efficient and more accurate than any one of us training alone might have achieved.  This sort of friendly competition isn't mean-spirited and you can continue to celebrate each others' results even if you are disappointed with your own.

Classification and competition aren't always viewed positively. I don't agree that chasing classes and wins is necessarily a bad thing, though, because they can be proxies for understanding how your skills are developing and tools to encourage you to continually improve your abilities. You might not make Master and you might not win High Overall, but the journey of working towards those types of goals can help make you a stronger, more well-rounded shooter.

28 April 2013

It's Not Enough To Take Just One Class

While I shoot year-round now, the "start" of my season is the same as for many other people - early spring. From my last post, you know that I kicked this year off with a (ahem) bang, at the A Girl & A Gun National Conference. Just a few weeks after, I had the fantastic opportunity to host and assist with a Cornered Cat Defensive Handgun for Women class. An interview published last year talks quite a bit about the class itself, so I wanted to offer a slightly different perspective.

Kathy Jackson's class wasn't the first time I've been in a defensive shooting class...or, for that matter, the first time I've taught defensive shooting skills. Competitive shooting is most of what I do with my time on the range, but I believe that quality training of any type is a good thing because every instructor will bring a different focus to the firing line. Focused rounds down range that refine technique and skill will always be a net positive in some way whether you want to win your next match, be able to use a firearm effectively in a defensive situation, or just have more fun at the range. Having that experience with an experienced instructor will give you an outside eye to objectively assess what you doing wrong (and right!) and provide you with new skills and drills. Some of you may be very disciplined when you go to the range in coming up with and practicing even the things you don't like or aren't good at, and using video and a critical eye to assess your shortcomings. For myself, I find being in classes are a good way to spot-check my progress and to push myself to do things I might not try or perfect otherwise (*cough* shooting with taped up sights...). And being able to do it in a training setting can be a good way to get comfortable with a skill before you are under increased stress from a timer or from an attacker. With the current difficulties in getting ammo, I also find that making my range time more intentional means that I don't feel like I'm just throwing money down the barrel.

I especially like to think of classes and coaching as ways to keep filling my toolbox. For example, Kathy teaches a thumb over thumb grip technique that's not like one I've ever really used. I don't shoot a revolver (with the attendant potential problems of cylinder gap), and my hands aren't sized so that straight thumbs can extend past the muzzle on a micro-pistol, so I've generally ignored the grip as an option. Hearing her rationale behind it helped build it as a better tool in my toolbox. I may use it myself in the future, pass it on to one of my own students, or even just use that rationale to help me articulate why I'm not using it or recommending it in a specific situation. All of those outcomes are valuable, sometimes particularly the latter one. Not every technique or drill is right for every person or situation, but it's good not only to have options but to know and be able to justify why one is better than another at a specific combination of individual and moment. Becoming thoughtful about your shooting in this way will help you solidify your confidence in what you're doing behind the gun. And that self-confidence is what will make you a more beautiful, better shooter over time.

31 March 2013

Working the Range

If you've shot or observed even one match, or watched some match video on YouTube, you're probably already aware of the most visible staff: Safety/Range Officers. While they're an important part of the shooting sports, they're part of a much larger team, including a team that isn't just there for match days. In an early post, I talked a bit about the work that goes into just one one-day event, but there's so much more...and sometimes, just saying thanks isn't enough. As we head into the warmer shooting season, I want to say a few words about range maintenance and work generally. While there are range facilities and shooting organizations with paid staff, many clubs and events run on the shoulders of passionate volunteers. You may not be aware of the many skills and the amount of grunt work that allow you to enjoy the shooting sports, or what you can offer to keep your club running on a day to day basis.

Last weekend, I was delighted to participate as an instructor at A Girl & A Gun Club's National Conference, where I taught a range of competitive shooting classes both on and off the range, as well as live fire sessions on target transitions and alternate shooting positions. With over 100 women attending from across the United States (and the UK!), plus speakers, instructors, staff, and vendors for the two and a half-day event, you can imagine the logistical nightmares involved in putting together what amounted to a combined professional conference and major match. It's easy to think of and appreciate the event planning and other "big" tasks that go into pulling off this type of three-ring circus, but it's also important not to forget the smaller things like putting together swag bags or stapling up targets. And while firearms-related skills are certainly an important part of this type of event and organization, it's not just that. You don't need to be a master-level shooter to be able to help with financial management, coordinate sponsors and vendors, design programs and swag, or make emergency runs to the store...and all of those things are just as necessary.

Special events aren't the only thing that need all hands on deck, though. My home club, like many shooting clubs, is almost entirely volunteer-run. As with a regular for-profit business, ranges need administrative work like managing bank accounts, reviewing membership applications, handling legal and insurance paperwork, and coordinating scheduling - along with physical upkeep and upgrades from the mundane work of keeping the clubhouse clean and the security system running to overseeing range safety improvements and target installation. We draw on the expertise of many members' "day jobs", including donated professional time, and it's always helpful when someone lets us know that they have knowledge, skills or access to resources that help in those areas. It's not just the white collar types of skills either. We've been very thankful in the past year or so for members with heavy equipment who are able to move the massive amounts of dirt required to expand and upgrade shooting bays. Don't be fooled into thinking that special skills are needed for all that needs to be done, though. The biggest tasks we tackled at the work day we had this weekend just needed people who could wield shovels, rakes, hammers, and drills - nothing more complicated than what you might need to do around your house. For those of us who have physical limitations, there are similarly important tasks needed year-round that can be as simple as stuffing envelopes for membership renewal letters.

Shooting is a lot of fun, but there's a lot of work that's necessary to keep our events and our ranges open. If we all kick in a few hours here and there, then we all get more time to get to the making loud noises part. How many non-shooting hours have you put into your range lately? What skills can you bring to your home club?

05 March 2013

The Winter of My 1911

Many shooters, competitive and recreational, take a break during the colder and shorter days of winter. Even for those of us who don't shoot at outdoor ranges, the holidays and other obligations often make it tougher to get out to the range between October and March. While I don't shoot as much over the winter as I do in the spring and fall, the match I co-direct does run year-round as do several other local matches. I also try to take advantage of my extra free weekends to get in some off-season practice and to fit in a few more private students than I usually have the time to take on during my competition/training season. I also like to use winter as a time to set my shooting goals for the upcoming year. One of my most popular posts has been about shooting your own match, and this quiet time is a good time to consider what that means to you moving forward.

As I ended last season, I was concerned that my improvement was starting to plateau. In order to combat that, and to give myself an opportunity to broaden my skill set generally, I decided to switch competition platforms. I committed to spend the winter months shooting a 9mm 1911, with a plan to go after classification in both USPSA Single Stack and IDPA Enhanced Service Pistol in the spring classifier matches that traditionally run in my region. Even with the slightly slower pace of matches, I thought this and consistent dry-fire practice would force me to learn enough about shooting this gun to be able to make a more informed decision about its positives and negatives, both in my hands and generally. My 1911 is a Commander-sized model with an extended magazine release, a slightly over-sized ambidextrous safety, and a beavertail. It also has a larger and beveled magazine well than is normally standard, and aggressive checkering on front and backstrap and under the trigger guard. Mine happened to come with these features stock from the factory, but it's a pretty complete collection of common modifications I've seen to the platform. About a month into the winter, I also switched to a pair of VZ Grips Slim Gator Back grips generously lent to me by a friend.

This winter, I learned that while single-stack guns like the 1911 are often recommended for shooters with small hands, they still may not present the best fit. Even with slim grips and an extended magazine release, I do have some issues reaching the controls and finding the mag release for reloads. I'll be getting slim grips with a "scoop" or "super scoop" to help combat that problem. I also have had to work hard on some very subtle aspects of my trigger press, as the slide trigger on the 1911 is a bit different from the hinged trigger on my M&P. Because the geometry of the grip is such that I do have to reach to get to my standard trigger, I have to be very careful not to nudge the gun as the trigger breaks. A short trigger may fix the issue, but in the meantime I've been doing a lot of wall drills and my personal variations on the dime/washer drill - something that will certainly benefit me when I return to my M&P.

My 1911 has been a return to 3-dot sights for me, which I'd left behind over the summer when I switched to a red fiber front/straight black rear sight set on my M&P. The front sight blade on my 1911 is also quite a bit fatter than on my M&P, and fills more of the gap between the rear sights. All of the lessons I've had in focusing on the front sight, and really seeing the perfect sight alignment became even more important with these 3-dot tritiums. Just lining up the dots isn't enough, especially with distance shots....a lesson I fully intend to transfer back to every other gun I shoot.

One of my initial concerns had been whether or not I could adjust to using a manual safety, since this is my only non-.22lr target pistol with a manual safety. It was almost entirely a non-issue. Over a handful of nights in dry-fire, I made a minor adjustment to my right thumb during the grip acquisition phase of my draw stroke. By pointing it a bit higher as my hand came down on the grip, my thumb naturally ended up on top of the safety, clicked it off as my hand rotated the gun towards the target, and stayed in place to ride the safety. I don't find that the slight change in where my right thumb starts on the grip acquisition to affect my draw of a gun without a manual safety. As a bonus, it's trained my right hand to really get high up on the grip, which has improved my recoil control.

When I discuss gun choice with new shooters, I often steer them away from the 1911 as a first gun, partially because they have more complex maintenance requirements than many more modern designs. While my 1911 was reliable all winter, I was forcefully reminded me of this when it more or less screeched to a grinding halt functionally, with no warning. I shot it last Monday for a short IDPA match and had no problems. On Saturday, my planned USPSA Classifier Match [pdf], I had an odd feed issue with one magazine in the 4-magazine field stage I started with. I then proceeded to shoot 6 classifier stages with malfunctions in every single stage ranging from simple stovepipes to doublefeeds to the unique - and as far as I know, unnamed - experience of looking down and seeing a round in the chamber, a round trying to feed, AND a casing stuck on the extractor. Not the best thing that's ever happened to my classifier scores, and the type of problem that's not easy or fast to diagnose and fix on the range during a match. It certainly gave me a lot of practice with my mental game, though.

I've learned a lot about 9mm 1911s in the past few months. And while I respect and appreciate the platform more now than I did, I'm also pretty sure that I don't like it as a long-term option for me. I think I'll still return to it occasionally for fun though, or to work again on the skills it's made me focus on. And I'd definitely recommend trying something new for a few months or a year to anyone looking to break a plateau. What will you try?

14 January 2013

On Building New Habits

Politics aside, Beauty Behind the Blast is intended to be a blog about shooting. As with most sports, the new year is also a time many people choose to start or recommit to various shooting-related goals. With the price of ammo going up and availability going down, dry fire is probably becoming increasingly popular. Between that and the travel time to my range, beefing up my dry fire routine is one of my primary New Year's resolutions. Unsurprisingly, this isn't my first foray into trying to make dry fire a  regular part of my routine, but I've been working on new approaches I'm hoping will make this attempt stick - and maybe give you a few ideas if dry fire is one of your resolutions too.

While I'm only a few weeks into this round of making dry fire part of my routine, I think it's likely to be more successful because there are many parallels to how I made exercise a habit. Over three years ago, I decided I needed to work out more regularly. Since I'm still hopping on my elliptical five days a week, there must be some lessons to be learned there. I've broken them down to five key areas that I think made my morning run a sustained success and that I'm working on applying to my evening dry fire: finding effective motivation, making it a part of my day, finding a repeatable routine, allowing myself false starts, and - circling back to the first area - discovering that I enjoy the results of my work more than I dislike actually doing the work.

It seems pretty obvious, but it helps to have a reason for your new habit - one that you can articulate clearly. There's no universal right answer here because it has to be something that speaks just to you. Maybe it's wanting to be more comfortable with your gun. Maybe it's making sure that you have the handling skills necessary to effectively shoot in self defense. Maybe it's wanting to bump up to the next classification or place higher at your next match. For me, I find it helps to have a specific motivation. The first couple times I tried to make my daily workout stick, vague goals like "be in better shape" or "lose some weight" weren't really helpful. The motivation that worked was much more concrete: rehab my blown knee and make sure I was strong enough to reduce joint pain and prevent future injuries - or at least make sure that future rehab was easier. Similarly, I have a "story" about what I want to do with my shooting, and the goals I want to meet, to motivate me with my 2013 dry fire resolution.

All of the best intentions in the world aren't enough, though - if they were, all of us ladies would be our ideal size and weight, with the perfect wardrobe, and the most personally fulfilling careers. Therefore, like having a concrete goal, having a concrete plan to meet that goal is important. While there are many resources on specific dry fire routines, I want to concentrate on a few of the underlying process parts. First, it's important to build time into your regular routine for your new task, and to reduce as many of the barriers as possible to getting started every day. Second, your new task needs a doable, repeatable routine. My run is the first thing I do every morning before work, and I go so far as to lay out my exercise clothes the night before so that I don't even have to be fully awake to get started. I also have a set workout for every day of the week: If it's Monday, it's my day for a 5K.

Since I can't cram more into my mornings, I've decided that 7:30 each evening is the time when I'm most likely to be a lazy bump on my couch. I set a recurring task on my phone to buzz an alarm every night at that time to tell me to dry fire instead. On nights that I don't dry fire, I have to make a conscious decision to turn off the reminder. I've also done my best to reduce my excuses by setting up my gear to be as dry fire-ready as possible: holster, mag carriers, and belt are set up with an extra pair of pants, extra mags are pre-loaded with dummy rounds, targets stay set up against my safe backstops. I just need to step into a different pair of pants and open my safe (or snag my airsoft pistol) to get started. I've also done the preliminary homework to review a set of drills and pick out the ones I'll do, so I don't have to think about it when I get started. While there are some fantastically complicated exercises out there, you probably won't do them if they require more time to set up than to run through.

You've set your goal, gotten everything in order to dry fire, but then you skip a couple nights...maybe even a week or two. What next? Don't let it discourage you. Pick tonight to be the night you re-start the routine. False starts happen - sometimes because you get unmotivated, sometimes because your day job gets overwhelming, sometimes because you get stuck in a whirlwind of social life, sometimes because you get injured. That's okay. Take a deep breath, get your schedule cleared out, set your gear back up, and get back on the horse. I also keep myself on track by deciding in advance what allowable excuses will be. I commit to working out every day I go to work or work from home, but not on days I take off or am on the road early. Similarly, I've decided I will dry fire at least five minutes every night that I haven't live fired and that I get home at a reasonable time. That way, a night or even a few nights off in a row won't derail me.

And at the end of the day, a lot of making a good new habit stick is to make sure you want the results more than you don't want to do the underlying work. It's what stops us from having that brownie for a snack, because we really want to look good next summer. It's what keeps us hitting the books and struggling through classes, because we really want to get that degree/certification/license. And it's what inspires me to dry fire and practice, because I'm really looking forward to making my 2013 shooting goals. What about you?