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Is Competition Training?

I shot in my first handgun match in 1978. I won a 5-inch-tall trophy for ‘Best New Shooter’ (I still have it!).

Since then, I have shot in dozens of matches - from state championships to local Law Enforcement (LE) matches. I have shot against world champions and real gunfighters and held my own most of the time, winning/placing more than I lost. I mention this only to say, even though I did well, I learned very little regarding fighting with a handgun from shooting in competition. Shooting in competition is not training for a fight, regardless of how fast you shoot or how many rounds you fire.

So, now that I have alienated many of the readers, let me explain.

First, if you only shoot competition and don’t go armed daily, this article is not for you. If you like to ‘play the game’ and train accordingly, I have no quarrel with you and wish you luck. But, if you shoot competition and believe, because you can shoot holes in ‘paper people’, that you are somehow prepared for a real-world armed encounter, I beg you to read on.

Second, fundamentals are fundamentals. If you aren’t consistent with the basics, you will never be successful. Ever. In anything. While shooting is not difficult, it easy to screw it up. Inattention to the proper grip, sight picture, trigger press, etc., will send shots off target with painful regularity. Those who train solely for competition run the risk of reinforcing those ‘flat/square range habits’ that have failed many in real armed confrontations. Folks who go to the range one or two times a year and shoot 200-300 hundred rounds per session, generally spend their time reinforcing bad habits. I have seen this hundreds of times over the years. All that happens is some form of mental ‘self-gratification’ – “I am shooting and hitting a target; therefore, I am a gunfighter!”

Third, with shooting competitions, in many cases, shooters show up with a gun that has an overly light trigger pull, reduced power recoil springs, ammunition that will barely penetrate a paper target, and holsters and magazine pouches that look like they belong in a Star Wars movie. Now, there are exceptions such as some IDPA divisions, but, in general, the above describes many competitors. As an example, there was a competitor who showed up at a local 3-gun match a couple of years ago, and his guns were as far from practical as you could get. I saw him as he was packing up and asked how he had done. He lamented that his handgun malfunctioned on the first stage, his shotgun had ejection issues and his carbine had some auxiliary parts fall off. My advice to him was the same as Louis Awerbuck gave a young man in a class I attended many years ago. The young man asked Louis what he could put on his shotgun to make him a better shot. In typical Awerbuck fashion, Louis said, “If I were you, I’d take all that (crap) off my gun, sell it, buy ammunition and practice.” ‘Nuff said.

I am not saying competition doesn’t have some positive qualities. It allows:

· Competitors to gather with other like-minded individuals.

· Competitors to work under the eyes of other competitors which many find stressful.

· Competitors to practice fundamentals – marksmanship and weapons handling.

But it is still not practicing for a gunfight.

Some of the drawbacks of competition include:

· Unrealistically light trigger weights

- Who wants a 2 lb. trigger on a daily carry gun?

· Underpowered ammunition

- Handgun ammunition is marginal at best for personal protection, regardless of caliber. Some would say puny or pathetic. Rifles and shotgun are much preferred for self-defense but still somewhat socially unacceptable for daily carry.

· Unrealistic ‘carry’ equipment

- Half the battle in daily carry is secure concealment. Most competition ’rigs’ are hardly suitable for daily carry.

· Unrealistic courses of fire

- Most competition courses of fire are designed to ensure competitors get the most ‘ bang for their buck’ … literally. Max round count is usually the name of the game. For example, I just saw a 52-round course of fire for an upcoming local match. C’mon guys!

· ‘Walk-Throughs’

- This probably bothers me more than anything. Life doesn’t give you a walk-through! And it certainly doesn’t happen in a life and death situation. The bad guy will be the one who dictates where and when the attack will occur; there will be no warning and no, “Shooter ready? Stand by.” command.

As mentioned, one of the scariest things I believe that comes out of competition is the belief that being able to get through a match somehow equates to training for a gunfight. There are some high-level competitors who I have heard say they believe most people would want them on their side in a gunfight. Hmmm …. Not until I see what they can do without rules, in an unknown situation, with normal carry gear, from concealment and no pre-match prep.

I recently spent two weekends training for a gunfight. Thirty-two hours of intense, survival-oriented handgun and carbine skills training. Realistic targets, no round count, decision making, movement, verbal de-escalation, realistic distances, and consequences when shots were missed – 100% was necessary for passing both qualification courses.

Regardless of how the reader interprets what is written here, I am not anti-competition. Quite the contrary. I am pro just about anything having to do with shooting. What I am against is the seemingly prevalent mindset that exists with many competitors believing their ‘sport’ prepares them for a real-world confrontation. Does being proficient at skeet/trap/sporting clays prepare you to use a shotgun in a fight? What about shooting at 500 yards with a precision rifle?

While all these may develop solid fundamentals and marksmanship, they do not prepare you for the unknown situations you will find in the real world. They are simply a starting point, a beginning, a platform to build upon. Get out there and add real world training. Get ready for the unexpected. Some day you may be glad you did.


Comp Rig


The Director's Desk

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