For perhaps 40 years I have read of a debate that I believe exists largely in the minds of the glossy-cover gun comic book editors. The gist of the story is to have the reader enjoy a debate between instructors and competitors. The instructor might say that competition teaches shooters bad habits. Some of these habits are counterproductive to combat shooting they say. Some may make ridiculous statements such as competition places too much emphasis on using the sights and speed loads. I call BS on that. If complete familiarity with the handgun and being in control of the trigger and firing the piece accurately are counterproductive to combat shooting I think we are not reading the same Bible. Competition shooting is a great thing. All the best shooters I have seen, have been competition shooters. If there is any primary shortcoming among my students when they hit the first range day, it is a lack of familiarity with the handgun. It is just lazy to show up at the class not knowing how to load, unload, how to work the slide lock and safety, and know how the pistol functions. You need to know how to decock the handgun. You will not see these defects from folks who have engaged in handgun competition, but in service officers who are often only slightly familiar with the firearm. A good measure of gun handling is gained in competition shooting. At least some degree of competitive stress is introduced in International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) and International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) shooting. And let’s not forget the original purpose of the national matches—training soldiers and peace officers on the handgun. Training is more difficult to find than a competition. You will have to find an instructor and book the class. IDPA matches and IPSC are just around the corner in many areas. The beginner level course we take to earn a carry permit is minimal. Truly good training by Ayoob, Gunsite, Saurez, and a few others requires travel and may be expensive. They are very worthwhile, no doubt about that. But expensive. And even after you take the course you should continue your development. Competitive matches are not expensive; you only need the gear and a good attitude. Folks who have won these matches are very good shots and are eager to help a novice.
IDPA, in particular, teaches the balance of speed and accuracy. You may even learn to get off the X and take cover when you need to. Training schools are good, but the time is finite. You go, you train, you come home. IDPA is unlimited. You may go to several matches a year. The only way to obtain and maintain skill is to practice and practice often. This means competition. You will need motivation. Competition shooting will push you to get up to speed and grow as a shooter. The timer doesn’t lie. You need something to reference your progress. Firing against yourself on a static range may give the shooter a false sense of confidence. IDPA stresses drawing from concealed carry. The act of drawing from concealed carry safely and moving into the firing stance on command is better training than drawing when you decide to draw. Folks that think they are pretty good shooters sometimes do badly in their first IDPA match. They would do worse in a life or death situation. High-speed handgun manipulation is one demand of competition. Accuracy is another. The accuracy problem in personal defense situations usually isn’t severe but then it could be. We should pursue the combination of speed and accuracy. Competition demands practice before the match and dry firing a lot to keep your skills up. Practice manipulation of the slide lock safety and magazine release often. Can you fire on the move, clear malfunctions, and reload without staring at the pistol? A middle-level competitor will do on demand. They are good, very good, but not the best – yet. Competition also demands a higher level of fitness than range work. If you cannot move to cover quickly or kneel and go to prone to escape incoming fire, then you need to get to where you can. If you cannot return fire from the barricade and cover, you are not yet a formidable shooter.
Training for armed conflict is serious business. As stated many times, 500 repetitions is a reasonable standard for proficiency at a single skill such as drawing from concealed carry. The draw from concealed carry must be smooth and the holster secure in the same place without shifting for draw after draw. How often have you seen a report on someone shooting a non-deadly threat when they reached for the handgun instead of the taser? (Or so they say- I take this with a grain of salt.) Repetition in training and proficiency at arms cures such missteps. I think perhaps the only drawback of competition shooting may be the use of large and heavy handguns with light triggers and large sights rather than realistic carry guns. I most often carry a Commander size .45 and that is what I shoot in IDPA. I do not have a huge magwell or a gas pedal safety. As a young officer, I remember officers qualifying with the six-inch barrel K 38 or a Model 27 and then carrying the lighter four-inch barrel Combat Magnum. Just the same – they could shoot! If they shot the Combat Magnum as well at 25 yards as they fired the Model 27 at 50 yards- and qualification included a 50-yard stage-they were in good shape for defending themselves. I think that competition shooting with the carry gun is a good program. Instead of spending money on an expensive competition pistol buy two service grade pistols. In a year or two, you will expend perhaps 5,000 rounds of ammunition in practice. That may be more than the cost of the handgun. Magazines and recoil springs will be replaced. And you will be on your way to real proficiency.
Keeping things straight
Competition stresses speed and the fastest shooter wins—that is a wrong perspective. The fastest accurate shooter actually wins. I have seen many blow off a match by going too fast and missing. I have known quite a few men who were very good at shooting people. Many were Vietnam veterans. They crossed over from military to police life well and were some of the most level-headed excellent officers I have ever worked with. The primary reason they survived is that they are able to act even though someone is trying to kill them. They do not take time to study the situation they act on the threat. If the range officer is just raising the whistle and you fire before everyone else, that is bad manners and you have lost the match. But that is exactly the mindset that wins armed encounters. It is more about a balance of speed and accuracy than pure speed and always will be. Competition will teach your body, but the mindset must be developed until clear deliberation is present.
Share your ideas about competitive training and combat in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice, and is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills, and others. He is a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications also. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.