As anyone knows who has been following this blog or shooting with me for any amount of time, I’m a Production shooter. I think if you’re competing in Production, it’s really all about the shooting. Not much more than some decent sights on an old Glock and you’re running the same gear as some of the leaders in the sport. In recent history that is starting to decay a little with the availability of some of the Production legal pistols that are available such as the CZ’s and Tangfolio’s made popular by national champion Ben Stoeger, but it still is for the most part, a stock pistol. I learned to shoot USPSA in Production (and SSP in IDPA) and have really felt that in large part, I have built excellent gun handling skills like fast draws from standard Kydex holsters, blazingly fast reloads while on the move, shot calling, etc, which in total, has given me a very solid base of gun handling and competition skills. However, I have found that my biggest deficits in my USPSA competitive skills are mostly centered around some of the visual aspects and my movement. Watching video of myself from a year ago compared to today I do see a vast improvement in my match performance and my classifier scores certainly reflect that as well as I moved from C class and I’m currently biting on the heels of A class. I am very smooth as I move through the stages of a match and have found that picking very efficient stage plans and executing them well does compensate overall for some of my other weaker points. Without trying to sound boastful, my accuracy I would say is above average, too, if I had to highlight some of my stronger points. But if I had to pick two weak links in my skill set I’d have to say my biggest areas needing improvement would be the lack of visual tracking of my front sight in recoil and although smooth, I need to be moving much faster between shooting positions.
One of the biggest triumphs as a competitive shooter was learning how to call my shots, that is, knowing exactly where the sights were when the shot broke. It’s like my mind takes a Polariod of the sight picture at the exact moment of ignition of the round (for you young shooters just entering the sport, a Polaroid was a camera that snapped an image and printed it there on the spot. You can wikipedia it from your smartphone if you like). Expanding upon the ability of calling my shots, I was able to unconsciously score the hit as acceptable or unacceptable and instantly fire a make up shot if needed. I still get giddy when I think about the mind’s ability to do that. It’s amazing how fast that can happen. If you can’t do that yet, learn how to do it. It’s the bee’s knees.
Although I have learned to call my shots, I have yet to see the second half of that equation, tracking the sights. I do see the where the sights are when the shot breaks, but lose them immediately after that so I’m not seeing the front sight lift out of the rear sight’s notch which means I can’t see the sights coming back down so I can time the next shot. So to explain that in a little more detail, if you were to use high speed video of the pistol firing a shot, you’d see the muzzle of the gun rise under the recoil, stop at it’s apex, change directions and start to move back down to where it was when you fired the shot, but it continues to move downward past where it started until it runs out of energy and changes direction again and starts to move back up to it’s original position where if finally comes to rest. I want you to try to imagine a sine wave with two lobes on it. Why does this matter? Because if you can track the sights throughout their entire trip through that cycle, you can break the next shot the FIRST time the sights enter the proper alignment and save yourself the time it takes the sights to bottom out and return back to their resting position. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but in a game where winners and losers are very often separated by tenths or even hundredths of a second, it’s an eternity. Tracking the sights under recoil is a skill that has evaded me yet to this day, and my split times illustrate that fact every time I fire doubles on a target. She’s a wily and vexing beast, my own personal Bigfoot.
As far as my other skill deficit goes, moving between shooting positions doesn’t seem like something we (or maybe it’s just me?) even think about, just an innate function that happens as we look for our mark indicating the place we’ll engage the next target array. Watching video of myself shooting a stage juxtaposed with the video of a Grand Master level shooter reveals how they finish seconds faster than I do. It’s not one thing they did to beat me, rather they beat me all the way through the stage. Every little efficiency in toto wins the stage. Leaving as you’re finishing up an array or calling a good shot on steel and beginning your exit rather than waiting for the conformation of sound or worse yes, watching for it to go down, is a place where you can shave a full second or more in a single segment of a stage. Then breaking the shot on a target as you (and your muzzle) come up on the next target instead of moving to the next spot and stopping, bringing the gun up and then engaging. Again, another place where seconds are won and lost if performed correctly. And of course, shooting while moving where it makes sense can yield some significant time savings, especially when tallied up over the course of an entire stage. Mastering all of these little things are what separates A shooters from Masters and Grand Masters, all other factors being equal. In fact, I have found there seems to be little to no shooting skill difference between an A class shooter than a Grand Master. Take that in for just a second…I’ll wait. Speaking in generalities here, we learn to deliver a good shot fairly soon in our shooting repertoire, then comes shot calling and refinement of recoil control and the basics of gun handling. This gets us to B class fairly regularly, but then comes the hard part, applying those skills in the most efficient manner as quickly as we can. So I say all of that to say this, learning and mastering the efficiency skills seems to be the next Everest I need to summit.
So, where am I going with all of this and the need for the long winded back story? I think the two major skills deficits that I need to develop are in the visual arena, explosive speed, and efficiently of movement. Nowhere are these skills honed and pushed to their limits than in Open class. Open class starts to de-emphasize the gun handling skills and puts the speed aspects under a microscope. Not to say that fast and efficient gun handling skills aren’t of paramount importance, but that’s not really where gains are made at this level and Division. It’s all about getting your butt moving and to the end of the stage as quickly as possible. Whoever does that while not dropping significant points is going to take the blue ribbon. Now, finally getting to my point for those who have made it this far (thanks for hanging in there!), I think if I switch gears and take a foray into Open class for a while, I might just learn to master, or at least dramatically improve, the two skills that I need to bolster the most. Having an optic that allows me to remain target focused rather than reciprocating between the front sight plane and the target plane is very appealing to me since it made a monumental improvement for me when I went from iron sights to an EOTech on my AR-15. I’m not only hoping to simplify the visual stream of information, but to learn to see more. I’ve heard it said more than a few times that using a red dot optic like a C-More allows the shooter to learn to see more (no pun intended). I’m hoping that I’ll finally learn to start tracking my sights throughout the entire recoil cycle and then be able to apply that to traditional iron sights.
As far as movement goes, my hope by moving to Open class is that I am able to spend more of my energy on learning to move faster. As I mentioned earlier, the aggregate of all the tiny efficiencies will, in large part, start moving me closer to the GM level. And again, once a skill is gleaned and internalized, it can be applied in any Division that I want to compete in, like my beloved Production Division.
Time will tell if this is a good decision and if I’ll even enjoy Open enough to continue to competing in it. I do consider myself a Production shooter at heart and will most likely return to it at some point when I have garnered the skills I hope to discover in Open. So stay tuned! I have a feeling that things are going to get shaken up a bit around here and that we’ll start seeing posts about the acquisition of Open Division equipment and skills. If you’re at all interested in switching to Open, now might be a good time to Like Recoil Sports on Facebook so you’ll see when I post the next article in my “Going Open” series.
Next up, the gear. Time to find a blaster for Open.