The shooting sports have enjoyed massive popularity in the last decade, with firearm owners on the rise while registered hunters fall. If they're not hunting, what are these new gun owners doing? Data suggests they are buying guns for self defense and target shooting.
Shooting competitions have long been a part of the American shooting sport in the spirit of raising a nation of riflemen. Many sports feature an emphasis on dynamic shooting and practical skills that emulate situations one may encounter for self defense or hunting situations.
Many of these sports have divisions that allow shooters to compete with inexpensive stock equipment - such as their carry pistol or hunting rifle - without being compared against the serious "gamers" with highly specialized equipment. I believe this is a great move towards encouraging skilled shooting practices.
If you own and use guns for any reason, I highly encourage you to at least try a couple shooting competitions. On the fence?
1. Safety is Drilled Into Everybody
If you walk away from a competition with nothing else, you will feel a deep respect for the adherence of safety rules. Match coordinators and shooters are rigid and unyielding about safety compliance. The results are strict, but ultimately they have to be. Everybody at a shooting match is there because they love the sport. They all know it's inherently dangerous and can turn deadly with a second of inattention. They all not only want to see everybody go home safely, they want to be able to continue practicing for years to come. They will do whatever they need to do to make that happen.
Certain members ( usually employees of the shooting range or members of the hosting club ) will be designated as range officers, there to keep control of the match and organization and to watch for all safety protocol. However, all shooters present are responsible for these duties as well. At every match I have ever been to, all shooters have the right to halt all shooting if they perceive anything is unsafe. A "cease fire" command from any shooter is as good as a command from the match director themselves.
The standard 4 rules of gun safety are a given at any time during a shooting event, but many rules go beyond this. There is typically a designated clearing area where a cased and visibly unloaded firearm will be cleared, and given a chamber flag or re holstered. The guns will not be loaded again until the shooter is preparing under RO supervision and about to shoot their stage.
Violating any of these rules is often enough to immediately disqualify you from shooting the match. Violating them flagrantly may result in you being asked to leave and not return to the establishment.
Other violations include:
- Loading a gun with your finger on the trigger
- Moving positions with a finger on the trigger of safety not engaged
- Moving positions with a bolt action rifle in the closed bolt position
- Discharging a firearm unintentionally
- Dropping a firearm
- Unholstering or Loading a firearm except under explicit commands
- Walking forward of a live shooting range for any reason
If you cannot follow those rules, you will be immediately disqualified regardless of how much money you spent, how far you drove or how much time you got off work. This is a good thing. It keeps everybody, even the brand new shooters, safe and encourages a culture of watchfulness and accountability. Being disqualified itself might be a great learning experience. Owning a gun does you know good if you can't use it without endangering yourself and others, and being disqualified is a relatively safe (although embarrassing) way to drive this point home.
2. It forces you to confront mistakes
It doesn't matter how much of a professional you are, you will make mistakes.
You will enter a stage with a half loaded magazine and get a "click" during a crucial string of fire. You will enter a long distance stage with your elevation set wrong. You will forget the target order halfway through a stage and lose your rhythm, or not fully seat a magazine and cause a feeding malfunction.
At the shooting range, this usually doesn't register as a big problem for us. We reload the magazine and restart the drill. We clear the malfunction and pick back up on our target.
During a competition, the environment is very different. You are being watched by everybody. You are on the clock and may have only seconds to clear the stage. You must identify the problem, create a plan, fix it, and get back to where you left off. You will almost never have a chance to plan for this.
Under the pressure of competition, you find out how familiar you are with your equipment and how adaptable you are. You must identify the issue, and then you might have to engage in some mental troubleshooting to decide what's caused it. Maybe you can recover and salvage the stage for a decent score, making up some lost ground. Your preparedness and flexibility will determine this. Maybe the malfunction is so bad it cannot be remedied on stage or presents a safety issue. Then, the only thing to do is to make the firearm safe, discontinue shooting and call for assistance. Having the grace to do this and maintain safety will be a well respected move even if it costs you the stage or the match.
There's a saying among competitors that "everybody has a plan until the buzzer goes off". This is to say that planning is difficult and may go out the window even when things go as planned. Faced with a mistake in the middle of a competition, you must assess the situation and intelligently proceed. This will show you the limits of your skills and highlight areas to focus on before you return for the next one.
3. It Will Highlight Gaps in your Training
What's one thing you know you need to train but hate doing? Everybody has one. Offhand and un supported rifle shooting? One handed pistol shooting? Malfunction clearing?
Whatever it is, it's likely there's some aspect of your training that you hate doing and might sometimes give yourself a pass on. Let's face it, range time can be rare and expensive for some of us. We want to get the most out of it and sometimes it's more fun to stick with what we're good at.
It's easy to do yourself a disservice and downplay the gaps in your training... Until you come up against your weak scenarios in training.
Shooting in front of other very skilled shooters and putting results down on paper has a funny way of making a person feel inadequate. When you're at a shooting competition and you hit a snag, you can feel the pressure weighing on you. Maybe it's seconds lost on a sloppy reload, a less than optimal score on a rapid fire target, or an embarrassing amount of failures to engage at an action pistol match. When it happens, you will feel it.
The great thing about these moments is you lose nothing from the experience and you gain insights on how you can come back a little bit stronger the next time. That's important information whether you want to start winning competitions or just want to be more comfortable with your hunting rifle or carry pistol.
4. You will meet great people
Part of any sport is the community that surrounds it. I have always met great people at any shooting event I have participated in. They have been more than happy to give me advice, loan me equipment, record pictures and video for me while I was shooting, or do just about anything else asked of them.
The people you meet at shooting competitions will result in long-term relationships that you will be able to benefit from far into the future. In my experience, they are nearly all people who are serious about safety, fun, and helping the community. Even if you don't want to shoot professionally, getting to meet up with a group of great people and share in a hobby that we all love is a very rewarding experience and I highly recommend it.
What types of shooting events do you like to participate in? Which ones are you looking to try? Leave a comment! If you liked this post, you might also like 5 Reasons a .22LR is an Important Marksmanship Tool.