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Competitive Shooting: Use it to Hone Your Training

“Are you competing to create training scars, or are you competing to hone your training?”  -David Maglio
This pithy bit of wisdom from my warrior-brother and longtime training partner is the Word of the Month from Tactical Anatomy Systems.

I have been shooting action pistol competitively for 15 years, and hope to be shooting action pistol sports when I’m 80. It’s an incredible way to maintain your proficiency with your chosen weapon(s). I’ve had arguments with folks who refuse to regard competition as a component of your training, and aside from the willfully ignorant people whose minds are made up, I’ve persuaded more than a few to use their competitive experience to hone their training. 
Competitive shooting forces you to put your skills and your equipment up against a clock, and in front of witnesses. Unlike your private training time at the range, in competition there are no self-bestowed “mulligans”. You perform, and your results are glaringly indisputible. You hit the targets, or you didn’t. You shot the course of fire in XX seconds, period. And if you have a friend video-record your runs, you can analyze the things you did right or wrong afterwards and adjust your training accordingly.   
I have recently taken up 3-Gun competition, and in the course of doing so have been challenged to revisit some of my choices: of guns, of holsters, of ammunition, of sights, the whole gamut.  In the process, I have revisited my ongoing defensive firearms training and have found some things I need to change, and some things to keep as they are.  
Understand that I am not shooting 3-Gun to win matches, although I hope to shoot and place well each time I shoot. I am shooting these matches to challenge myself to keep as proficient as possible with my chosen weapons: pistol, shotgun, and rifle. I do not shoot “race” guns. I shoot guns that I carry/own for personal defense, or guns as similar to my personal defense weapons as possible. 
For instance, I have switched from a straight kydex holster to a Blackhawk SERPA holster for competition. Two reasons: first, I have come to value the retention feature on this holster for personal carry… I never want to have someone take my gun from me. But the second reason is also valid: I don’t want to have my gun fly out of my holster during a competition, as it did to one of my friends a few months ago. He had cleaned the targets at Position A and was running with his rifle to Position B when his pistol popped out of his holster and hit the ground. Fortunately, the gun didn’t fire when it hit the ground (it’s happened, people, despite the claims that it can’t!), so all he got was a match disqualification, no GSW’s thankfully. He now uses a holster similar to his duty holster when he shoots 3-Gun. Your gun will NOT pop out of a Level-3 retention holster! 
Shooting competitively using your daily carry rig, or gear as close to your daily carry rig as possible, makes great sense. It forces you to use your daily carry equipment under the stress of competition. And those of you who haven’t had the experience of shooting in competition, it is VERY stressful. Not as stressful as returning fire on a felon who’s trying to kill you, of course not; but it puts far more pressure on you than your weekly target practice sessions. 
So, you may ask, what am I shooting at these 3-Gun matches? My pistol is a Lone-Wolf customized Glock 17 Longslide 9mm, action customized by David Maglio (a trained and certified Glock armorer) with a NY-1 trigger and 3.5 pound trigger connect. The trigger setup is identical to my personal carry Glocks, a G19 and a G23. The sights are also very similar to my carry pistols. I carry it in the previously mentioned SERPA holster, just like the SERPA I use for my carry guns. My rifle is a Smith & Wesson M&P M4 carbine with 16″ barrel, using a Burris Fullfield Tactical 1-4X optic with red dot and reticle in a Larue Tactical  QD mount. When I pack up after the match, I dismount the Burris optic and replace it with an Aimpoint Comp3 optic in its own Larue QD, my preferred CQB battle sight. It takes less than 10 seconds and my zero is always correct with either sight. (The only reason I don’t use the Aimpoint in competition is that I can’t see the damn targets at 300+ yards with it.) But truth to tell, if I had to fight with the Burris sight on my rifle, it would be transparent to me in functional terms. The red dot on the Burris is the same size and color as the red dot on the Comp3. Lastly, my shotgun is a Remington M&P 11-87 12-gauge, with 6-round magazine. The same shotgun that sleeps beside my bed ever night. Yes, all the other guys have 9-round mag tubes on their scatterguns, and only having a 6-round mag costs me precious time when I’m shooting competition, but I don’t want to create a training scar.
So, getting back to David’s quote at the top of the page: what exactly is a training scar? I first learned the term from my friend Dean Sparks, who used to run the firearms program at the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy. A training scar is something you build into your shooting skillset without meaning to that puts you at a disadvantage in a real gunfight. And being at an unexpected and unnecessary disadvantage when your life is on the line can be fatal. 
Ken Hackathorn famously said, “Train the way you expect to fight, for you will surely fight the way you’ve trained.” This is true in competition and in combat. When the adrenalin hits your bloodstream, you WILL not be a thinking person, you WILL revert to your level of training. If you’ve trained appropriately, you will overcome your adversary. If you’ve unintentionally trained a maneuver or “skill” inappropriately, you will default to it when the shit hits the fan. It might only cost you a couple of seconds, but your adversary can put 15 rounds into your body in a couple of seconds. 
A well-known example of a training scar occurred at the Newhall Incident, where California Highway Patrolmen were found dead with their spent revolver cases in their pockets. When training, they had been required to put their empty cases into their pockets to save on range upkeep and maintenance… and when they were fighting for their lives at Newhall, they reverted to their training, and wasted precious seconds they could have used to reload their revolvers by carefully extracting their empty cases into their hands, then putting them into their pockets. The desire to save time picking up brass at the range had unwittingly created a training scar that cost good men their lives. 
If I shoot 3-gun with a 9-round magazine, I will get used to shooting a shotgun that holds 9 shells. And if I should get into a fight with my 6-round home defense shotgun and run it empty, I may well spend precious seconds racking the gun to put a fresh round that doesn’t exist into the chamber instead of dropping the bitch on the ground and transitioning to my blaster!!  (Pat Rodgers taught me a great drill at his 3-day Advanced Carbine class a few years ago: have a buddy load an unknown number of rounds into your rifle magazine, then on signal engage the targets. When your rifle runs dry, let your rifle hang and draw your pistol/blaster and clean up the rest of the targets. Don’t waste time trying to clear a malfunction when you’re in combat. I use this drill every time I train with my rifle. You just never know.) 
Okay, that’s my thoughts on competition, training, and training scars for today. 
Keep your weapons ready, folks. And remember your most important weapon is your mind. Train it well. 
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