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Competitive Shooting and the Tactical Shooter

Greetings from the surface of the sun! Well, maybe not exactly, but late July and most of August in west Texas feels like it could be… 

So, in my Kit-Derp blog a while back I promised to write about the whole competitive shooting vs tactical training issue. Looks like it’s still pretty much a hot topic, judging by the bullshit being spouted by internet ninjas on various websites lately! Not to mention what I hear from cops I hang out with here and there. 

Speaking of hanging out… I have to say my choice of people to hang out with lately has been gravitating toward a very different demographic… they’re not just folks who like to shoot guns, but people who like to shoot who also like to fly airplanes (they’re called pilots).  Part of the reason I think I like hangin’ with pilots is that the bullshit level is REALLLLLLLLY low. And I’ve concluded that part of the reason for that is that you can’t become a pilot by reading books and magazines and by hangin’ out on the internet. You actually have to DO stuff. Stuff that’s pretty hard to do, that requires critical thought, coordination, planning, and expenditure of your hard-earned cash. And after you do all that stuff, you actually have to PROVE IT. You have to pass a series of really difficult examinations to demonstrate that you can actually fly an airplane competently, safely, and not kill yourself or your examiner. 

Funny thing: having to do all that stuff seems to reduce the Idiot and Bullshit Factor  (which I will hereafter refer to as the IBF) by about 99% in any discussion I’ve had with pilots, not just on the internet, but also in Real Life.

Now, I’m not saying that we should have a federal regulatory body like the FAA to regulate all gun owners and firearms users… but if we did, I expect the IBF would go waaaaaaaaaaaay down on internet firearms discussion boards!

But to get serious for a moment here, there is a parallel to this pilot competency reducing IBF in the shooting world as well, but among my tactical friends it’s not recognized very well. It’s called competitive shooting

“Nonsense!” my tactard acquaintances bark, puffing out their kevlar-clad chests. “If you shoot competition, you’ll do that same stuff in a real fight and get yourself killed!”

Uh-huh. I see that happen all the time, folks.


Despite the fact that I hear this criticism almost every time the competition discussion comes up, I’ve never once seen a tactical shooter get into a jam because he did something stupid in a real fight that he’d learned in competition. On the other hand, I have seen (and heard of even more) cases where a tactical operator made a blunder in the Hot Zone because he had a training deficiency and/or an equipment malfunction that could have been eliminated easily by regular shooting “under pressure” (i.e., shooting in competition). 

Here’s a short list of things that competitive shooting will do for you as a shooter:

1. It will make you shoot more.  Totally true, bro. If for no other reason than to avoid looking like an idiot in front of “civilians”, everybody who shoots competitively practices more. Maybe not regularly, but 3 or 4 days before the match you’ve committed to, you’ll drive out to the range to put a couple boxes of ammo thru paper just to shake the cobwebs out. If you do that, even if it’s only 4 matches a year, you’ll likely double the round count of the average cop in America.  And guess what? Shooting more is good for your competency with your firearms!

2. It will make you shoot faster and more accurately.  Nobody who ever got into a gunfight said, “Man I wish I’d been slower and more inaccurate when I returned fire on that wannabe cop-killer.” And while folks sometimes quote Bill Jordan’s “Speed is fine, but accuracy is final,” quip. Which is true, but remember that he was the guy who could put a bullet in the bull in 0.27 seconds! Listen up: the guy who shoots fastest and most accurately wins every match. EVERY MATCH. Even if you don’t want to win the match, the atmosphere of competition rubs off on everyone, and so everyone strives for faster, more accurate shooting. You can’t help it… it just rubs off on you! And when you couple this desire to be faster and more accurate, guess what? You will actually get faster, and more accurate.  Which means that if you ever get caught up in a gunfight–God forbid, you should strive to be in an Officer Involved Shooting, not a gunfight, every time–you’ll default to your baseline level of training, which will be faster and more accurate than it was before you got into competitive shooting. 

3. It will make you “one with your gun”.  Shooting in competition trains you to deal with gun-pukes under stress. Listen, if your gun malfs when you’re out plinking with your buddy on the back 40, you can say to hell with it, throw the thing in the bed of your pickup and get out another gun to play with. In a gunfight, not so much. And ditto in competition. Example: I took my Remington 11-87 tactical shotgun to a 3-gun match one time and it “larned me a lesson”. The ammo I’d brought was the new low-recoil stuff my agency had just issued us. I loaded up and started runnin’ and gunnin’ with my pistol, then my rifle; I was smokin’ the targets and feelin’ fine. Then I picked up my shotgun, chambered a round, nailed the first target, and had a jam. Wham-bam, I cleared it, fired again, and it jammed again… the gas generated by the low-recoil shells wasn’t sufficient to cycle the action fully, and I was stuck with a single-shot shotgun, and 6 more shotgun targets remained! What did I do? I dealt with it! After each shot, I rolled the shotgun, cleared the stovepiped case, manually loaded a fresh shell, blasted the target, rolled the shotgun, cleared the stovepiped case, etc. When I was done, I had cleaned all 8 targets with 8 shots, and my time was still faster than some of the guys in that match. (Needless to say, I switched back to regular shotgun loads after that stage!) Talking with my buddies after that stage was done, we were all asking ourselves what might have happened if we took that ammo in our shotguns on a hot entry? Can you imagine the pucker factor, trying to clear that jam in a narrow hallway with bullets flying at you? My point is this: every gun is capable of puking, and they tend to do it when you really need them not to. If you learn how to deal with gun-pukes under the stress of competition, you’re far more likely to be able to deal with a gun-puke in the middle of a firefight. 

4. It’s a great way to make sure your kit works.   Most tactical guys who refuse  competition will sooner or later give me this line: “That’s game-gun gear. I use real-world gun gear.” Well, duh, Fred Flintsone! There’s nothing in the rule book that says you can’t shoot with your duty rig. One sport, IDPA by name, has a special category for cops who shoot their duty rig in matches, and I’ve seen guys in both 3-Gun and IDPA matches do it! When I shoot a 3-gun match, I usually use the same guns I carried on duty, set up the way I carried them when I wore a SWAT uniform.  I wear a chest-rig that duplicates the magazine placement of my tactical armor vest. I’ve even shot a couple matches in full SWAT gear. And by doing so, I learned in a hurry what kit and which modifications were good, which were bad, and which were going to get folks killed. A couple of these lessons I learned were passed on to the other cops on my SWAT team, and after they tried them out, they spread to the entire department. 

There’s more, but I won’t labor the point any further. 

Here’s the take-home message, boys and girls: people who do real stuff in real time when there’s real consequences on the line tend to learn very quickly what is IBF versus what truly works. It applies to FAA-certified pilots, and it applies to firearms professionals. The Derp-addicted wannabe’s will never get this. 

Do yourself a favor: if you haven’t tried competitive shooting, give it a shot. You won’t lose anything, and you just might gain a whole lot of knowledge, experience, and competency. It’s a win-win!