Competition Will Get You Killed On The Streets Of Iraq, Part Deux

First it was the Army, now it’s the Marines.*

The most dramatic recommendations from the fiscal 2015 Marksmanship Symposium at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, in October call for studying the overhaul of the Corps’ service rifles.

But those comprise only a small fraction of the overall approved and proposed changes that affect everything from ammunition to ranges and basic tables of fire used for annual rifle qualifications.

Some changes already have been approved, including revisions to the tables of fire for rifle training and qualification and the launch of three-gun style competitions for Marines throughout the fleet.

Parting thought: If you shoot 3 Gun with a service rifle, does it invalidate the “This is my rifle, this is my gun, one is for fighting, the other for fun” rule?

* Yes, I know, the Marines actually started this kind of program before the Army did, but I wrote about the Army’s program first, Mr. Pedantic Know-It-All.

Getting paid for what you know.

make_readyI had an idea while listening Ben and Luke talk about Apprentice/Journeyman/Master shooters during this week’s Triangle Tactical podcast. Would people pay to have their match performance reviewed/critiqued by a GM level shooter?

Imagine this: You and five other people pay $25 each to shoot on a squad with Rob Leatham or Shannon Smith or Mike Seeklander. Each stage would be filmed from both the shooter’s point of view and another camera. You’d get advice on stage strategy before and during the match, then a group debrief to go over the video a day or so later. As an added bonus, for $100 more there could be an hour long, one-on-one debrief where the match is dissected in detail. That’d put between $150 and $850 in the pocket of the shooter for two to eight hours work. Not bad.

If you’re a GM shooter, the trick would be, of course, to make sure that you provided valuable feedback back to your customers, something that is difficult if you don’t know how you provide feedback to yourself..

Competitive Shooting Will Get You Killed On The Streets Of Iraq.

Army Marksmanship Unit

Or, you know, not.

Master Sgt. Scott Satterlee is really good at shooting things. He’s a member of the U.S. Army’s elite 1st Special Forces Group based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. He’s also a nationally ranked competitive precision rifle shooter—and one of the military’s best marksmen.

Satterlee says he has learned a lot about firearms in the world of competitive shooting. It’s influenced how he shoots—and why he came to recognize flaws in how the military prepares soldiers for war.

He’s the operations sergeant at JBLM’s Special Forces Advanced Urban Combat Course. After years of combat deployments around the world, training soldiers and shooting at civilian weapon ranges around the United States, he thinks it’s time we radically revamp the way we think about firearms training.

Read the whole thing. Suffice to say that a bona-fide Tier One Operator got a wake-up call when he stepped into the box at a practical shooting match.

Hat tip to Phil Wong of Gator Farm Tactical for the story.

Match Report: USPSA at SWFPS

Had a chance to shoot an actual, honest-to-goodness USPSA match over the weekend, my first since October of last year. The match was held at the Southwest Florida Practical Shooters range up in Ft. Myers, about an hour away from my house (man, I miss the days of having 3 good ranges within an hour’s drive…). The range itself is a nice little gun club, with 5 bays, a 200 yard rifle range and stand for shotgun.

And man, it felt good to shoot some actual honest-to-goodness USPSA again!

The stages were nicely designed and the competition pretty decent, with two Master-Class Open shooters on my squad. I had been working a bit on my draw and my moving while reloading before the match, so I was curious to see what effect that would have on my times. In addition to this, I’ve been digging into Beyond Fundamentals quite a lot recently (having just re-bought it in Kindle Edition so I don’t lose the durn thing again), and I was interested in seeing what effect that would have on my shooting.

Here’s video of stages five and six.

First impressions: I’m quite happy with my movement: I’m setting up nicely for ports and  moving in and out of shooting positions quite well, sometimes TOO well, because I left a popper standing (a popper that fell in calibration, of course. Sonuva&@#$!….). Stage strategy is good, as is adjusting between the difficulty of the targets, for the most part. I still need to work on focus with my long shots, but other than that, I can see progress. Maybe not the progress I want at the speed I want, but progress nevertheless.

Update: Looking at the scores, I came in second in Production on stage six.

Out of two Production shooters in the match.

I was beaten by an A class shooter who ran it two seconds faster than me with 6 more points. The good news is, I know where I can pick up those two seconds (moving out of shooting positions faster) and where I can pick up the six points (better hits on closer targets).


A Lifetime Of Learning

Tam links to an interesting question posed to a group of seasoned professional firearms trainers: If you knew that your one-day class was going to be the only firearms training your students received, what would you teach them, and why?

A long (and frankly boring) discussion of sighted fire versus point shooting promptly broke out, and while I’m not anywhere near the level of competency of most of the people who chimed in, here’s my thoughts on how I would train a random schmo from the street, knowing it was going to be the only class he/she would have, ever.

  1. Mindset / Situational Awareness. Simply put, pay attention to what you’re paying attention to. The punch buggy / slug bug game is a great way to learn to watch your surroundings, and all that’s at stake is a sore arm.
  2. Safety. Not just the four rules, but get them used to touching and safely handling their gun. I’d make sure they knew how to load and unload their gun and get them used to the idea that guns are to used, not just owned.
  3. Draw. Not just a standard four-step draw, but (after much practice) close retention as well, with shooting from retention as part of that drill.
  4. Front sight / trigger press. We know how to point to something from six months on, but pressing a trigger properly is something most people have to learn. Better to put the bug in their ear sooner rather than later.
  5. Realistic target placement. 7 yards, max, with an emphasis on 10 feet right on up to bad breath distance. No 25 yard mini-poppers, ever.
  6. Cover. Cover = time, and getting the idea that getting things in the way of your attacker that reduce his/her chances of getting to you is a good thing because it reinforces item #1 up there.
  7. Moving targets. People tend to not like to get shot, and the tend to run away while returning fire at the people who are shooting at them. Something (maybe a target mounted on top of an R/C truck) that re-creates a person running away from his/her failure to properly select a defenseless victim would be a good graduation exercise.

One more one more thing about the marketing of practical shooting

Thinking about yesterday’s post and how shooters talk about their matches, can a shooter at, say, Area 2 tell someone at the match the specific things they need to do on the last day in order to win? Something like “Yeah, I have stages 11 and 12 to shoot today, and I know I’m 24 points down going into today, but those stages play to my strengths and I think I can beat Nils/Dave/Rob/Jerry/Max today if I get my hits.”

Probably not. First off, because no one knows for sure who won a major match in USPSA until all the points are totaled, but secondly, I’m not sure a shooter CAN talk about their strengths in that context.

An example.

Growing up, I was a HUGE fan of downhill skiing’s “Crazy Canucks“: They brought a fresh sense of abandon and macho recklessness to a sport that had been dominated for years by effete Eurotrash, and you always knew what you were going to see when they hit the slopes.

What are the differences between how Jerry shoots a match/stage versus how Max or Rob or K.C. shoots it? Do they have a distinct style? What is it? Can they talk about it to others? And if they can’t, how can we expect media/marketing people to talk about such things and bring more people into the sport?

Negative Image

“The sport of practical shooting is speed-biased and negatively charged.”

Steve Anderson

Thinking even more about marketing and the shooting sports, how DOES one talk about what they’ve done on a stage, anyways? Grab any GM (or anyone else, really) right after they shot a stage and ask them how they did, and you’ll get something along the lines of “I think I did ok. I had a few extra shots on the spinner and I bobbled a reload, but other than that…”

I don’t know about you, but that ain’t exactly ESPY material to me.

Part of the problem is, I think, how we talk about what we do at a match. We remember the low points because that’s when our focus (not concentration) is broken, and that grates on us like a raw nerve. We expect to shoot a stage well, and when we make a mistake, that’s what sticks out in our minds. But we don’t celebrate when we excel because we expect that every time we step into the box.

An example.

A few years ago at Area 2, I watched Taran Butler trip and fall butt-first during a course of fire. Not only did he not drop his gun and not DQ himself, but he took two shots thru a port on his way to his feet, both Alphas.

I can pretty much guarantee you that move wasn’t a part of his pre-shoot walkthrough, and DANG, it was amazing to watch.

If things go correctly on a stage, it’s because our pre-visualization and focus, which are both highly intuitive and therefore hard to talk about. “Yeah, so I was like, in the zone, and I saw my shots and ran the stage well and got my hits” isn’t the sort of interview that pops up on the sports portion of the evening news.

Other sports don’t have this problem, or don’t have it has badly: Downhill skiing is a sport that definitely requires focus and intuition to perform correctly, but a skier can talk about what they need to do in order to succeed in concrete terms before and after a run; “Yeah, the snow here is kinda rough and wet, so staying on my edges in the turns will really pay off further down the slope”. Knowing this, we as the audience can begin to make expectations about what we’re going to see and cheer on a good performance because we now what a good performance will look like. This rarely happens in the shooting sports, because of the intuitive nature of what makes a good performance on a given stage.

Consider this video of Travis Gibson doing a monster run at Superstition Mountain a few years ago.

Would 15 seconds of “This stage has many targets that pop up and then disappear, so the key to victory here is shooting them as they appear and not wait around for something to shoot” allowed us to judge Travis’ performance and the performance of other shooters on this stage? Probably. Is it something that the shooters themselves could talk about prior to the match? Maybe. Is it something they’ll talk about after the stage is shot? Probably not.

So much in life is about setting expectations and then using them to judge performance, but we’re still struggling to show the non-shooting public what to expect at a shooting match because we as shooters don’t know how to talk about our expectations. If we can walk off a stage and brag about the good things that happened, we can make our sport more attractive to the casual shooter and non-shooter alike.

All In The Family

If you’re a member of a shooting club, eventually you’re going to run into shooting-club politics. The bullseye people think the practical shooters are a bunch of unsafe yahoos, the F-Class shooters want the long range on the same day that the 3 Gunners want it, and NOBODY can figure out those freaks that shoot smallbore silhouette.

One of the shooters last week wore a “SW Florida Marksman of the Year 2014″ t-shirt to the match. Now I have no idea how he got that shirt, but it got me thinking: What if clubs held a “Top Shot” competition of sorts that put shooters of all the disciplines at the club against each other? What if the bullseye guys had to (gasp!) move with a gun in their hands? What if the 3 Gunners did some 5 stand? What if the precision rifle shooters shot silhouette?

The divisions themselves would supply all the firearms for their stages and the points would be equally weighted between each so you’d have to put in a good showing at everything to be crowned “King of the Hill”, (and it would work better if there were cash and prizes on the line), but I’m thinking it would be a way to get people out on the range and trying new stuff.

Match Report: SWSFA Handgun Challenge

I travelled up the I-75 Saturday to shoot the Handgun Challenge match at the SW Florida Sportsman’s Association. The match rules are a hybrid of USPSA and IDPA and are light weight, unobtrusive and make a lot of sense. The match was very low-key and laid-back, and started with something I’ve never done before, a man-on-man shootoff.

Yep, a half-dozen years in this sport, and I’ve never shot a shoot-off, mainly because I’d shot so long out at Rio, and no matter how good you’d do there, you’d end up shooting against Rob or Angus or Nils, and that was the end of that.

But at this match, I did pretty well. I ended up in the final round (there was about a dozen shooters there), but I had my @ss handed to me by a little kid who was much faster and better than I am.



The other part of the match was one stage you could run through multiple times with multiple guns. I ran through it twice with the same gun: Once normally, and once REALLY concentrating on accuracy in order to go down ten points or less. Here’s video of me on the concentration run.

I had no presuppositions for this match. I’d never shot it before, I’d never been to this range before, I had no clues about divisios or rules or whatever. My pre-match strategy was literally “Ok, let’s see what happens and go from there”. In short, I was as close to the Zen ideal of a “beginner’s mind” as I’ve been in the last few years, and just relied on innate, unconscious shooting.

The stage design also encouraged this approach, as aside from headshot at the end, there weren’t any really tricky targets, and the course of fire was easy with no memory games needed.

What’s REALLY interesting is the time/score between the “unconscious” and the “conscious” run. 2 years ago, in order to shoot my best, I needed to concentrate hard on the A Zone/ Down Zero zone and get my hits, because that’s what I found led to success.

Today? Not so much.


I’m almost TEN SECONDS up faster on the stage running it with my unconscious mind and almost four and half seconds up faster with points down figured in.

Remember when I said I think I’ve reached the point where Brian Enos’ book can help me? I think I now have proof that I was right.

So what’s stopping me from shooting unconsciously all the time?

  • Stage Design: Anytime there’s multiple opportunities to shoot the same target from different locations or blow past a port, I need to think about things and that slows me down.
  • Precision Over Speed: I still slow down and *think* about hitting long-range or precise shots, and the time to think about slowing down takes as much (or more) time as focusing on the front sight and making the shot. I’ll still need that front sight focus as I progress, but I think I can shift mental gears quicker over time, improving my score.

Other than that, I’ve very satisfied with what I see and where I am. On to bigger and better things.

Update: Edited for clarity.