New Shooter Learns by Competing

Do they have special guns or trick loads?


We’ve all seen some fast and fancy shooting, sometimes at a County fair, sometimes on television. You sit or stand in the gallery and wonder how these fellows and gals got to be so fast and accurate. Do they have special guns or trick loads? Did they start real young or grow up in the woods with fathers, mothers and uncles that handed down a tradition? You wonder how you can learn to shoot like that and if the road to perfection is just too long of a journey? If you ask some of the living legends how they learned their trade they might give you a line like, “Oh, that’s a long story,” and leave it at that.

Then again you might come across one of the greats who are humble and real. In conversation with Jerry Miculek, (pronounced mih-cha-lak, just to clear up one mystery), the Cajun once confessed his less than spectacular beginning. “There was an old washing machine on the range. I couldn’t hit it from ten feet. I was pathetic, really.”

Jerry Miculek, the fastest double action revolver shooter who has ever lived was, pathetic? Really? How did he engineer such a fabulous transformation? The answer was by working at it constantly finding ways to improve even when away from the gun. Developing exercises that built up his grip and the speed of his trigger finger. After a day’s visit with Jerry, Todd Woodard, Editor of Gun Tests and a standout collegiate rifle competitor in his own right, said, “I might be able to outshoot him but I don’t think I could out work him.”

Like any great athlete getting ahead of the competition and staying there takes dedication and hard work. But, what if you don’t have the time or facility to train like a madman or mad woman? For Jerry Miculek, and so many other greats the road began by competing locally in different forms of competition that meet regularly on weekends.

Club matches such as those held under USPSA, IDPA, or NRA Action Pistol rules value speed and accuracy. Almost anyone can show up with the proper gear and participate. The only real prerequisite is that they exhibit safe handling skills. Fast handling skills come later. You can learn how to blaze the targets by watching others and asking questions but most of all by participating.

In April of 2008 my family and I participated in the Texas Open Practical Shooting Championship held outside of Waco, Texas. We hadn’t been to a match in quite some time and looked forward to the jolt of going up against some of the best in the Southwest. Held under USPSA rules there were nine separate contests or, “stages”. Minimum necessary shots to complete the match were about 250 rounds. Each stage was scored by Hit Factor. This means the numerical value of the hits on target divided by the all important elapsed time from start signal to your last shot fired on each stage. Practical shooting matches are exciting games but not everyone is prepared to get up in front of a crowd and perform.

Nobody else shoots at the same time you do and scores are shouted to the statistician after each run. Some would-be competitors stay away simply on the basis of stage fright. To overcome this some shooters have resorted to taking a course in Public Speaking. There seems to be some connection between shooting in front of friends and strangers and getting up to speak in front of a large group of people.

There is so much to be learned from a shooting match. What works best usually wins. That includes choice of ammunition, choice of gun, trick modifications, choice of holster and of course shooting techniques.

In our squad at the Texas Open was a fellow competing in his first big match. Glenn Scholz came all the way from South Texas to compete with his Springfield Armory XD 40 S&W caliber pistol. Actually, it was his carry gun. Glenn learned a lot about moving with the gun and getting comfortable shooting from different positions at a wide variety of targets. Probably his biggest gain from shooting the match came in the development of his shooting grip. Grip is especially important in the Practical Shooting game because most of the targets require a minimum of two hits on paper. Since scoring is a factor of accuracy and speed the shots have to be close together not only on paper but also in terms of the elapsed time between shots. This means the shooter with the grip that controls recoil the most effectively has a big advantage. Like so many new shooters Glenn started out the match holding the gun primarily with his strong hand, the hand that controls the trigger. He wasn’t really reaping the benefits of using both hands on the gun. Recognizing Glenn’s enthusiasm for the match but obvious shortcoming some of the shooters pulled him aside to one of the safe areas. The safe area is a work bench backed by a berm that serves as a staging area for the shooters. No ammunition is allowed in a safe area but the shooters can work on guns and even practice their draw. Instruction began with one shooter holding Glenn’s gun out in front of him. We had him place the web of the hand, (the pocket formed by the space between the thumb and index finger), directly into the space behind the grip where the contour bends backwards underneath the rear of the slide. Keeping the index finger straight the three remaining fingers wrapped around the grip.

Then the support hand was added. First contact between the gun and the support hand was with the knuckle of the index finger placed directly below the trigger guard. Then the area of the palm below the thumb filled the space left open along the weak side grip panel. The fingers of the support hand wraps around the strong hand. The thumbs are relaxed and left to point roughly towards the target. The idea is not to leave any space between the hands and the surface of the grip. That way the gun can’t move around in your hand upon recoil. It also makes concentrating on a smooth trigger pull much easier. Getting back into the match Glenn applied his new grip and started to put his shots together.

The message is that once you’ve mastered safe operation of your handgun you could spend a lot of money taking a shooting class or you could go to a match and ask the top shooters for a tip here and there. No matter what your level don’t be afraid to get out and join in the fun. Competing builds competence.

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