Training With Purpose

abe-axe-quote“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

I love that quote. And I’m not sure if there is a better way to describe the mindset that typifies the serious USPSA shooter than that phrase. Sure you can just blast quickly and often and find yourself in C class, but getting beyond that and into the upper levels of the sport takes takes work, and more specifically, work with purpose. Now that I’ve stated the obvious, let me expand on something that recently occurred to me when thinking about my abilities as a shooter and how I typically approach my training. Spoiler alert, I do a pretty poor job at it.

In the past I’d take a class and see some improvement, or spend countless hours dryfiring, yielding only marginal gains in performance, all the while I’d have some new shooter race by me in skills and classification levels. I’d chalk it up to natural ability, or having more time for training, etc, but in reality I think they don’t shoot better, they train better. I’m not seeing their process, only their results. Now again I’m stating the obvious when I say you have to set goals and train to achieve it, but I believe doing this incorrectly has been a fundamental flaw in my approach and my downstream results. In short, I’m not sharpening my axe, I’m wasting my effort polishing the metal or rubbing oil into the handle, which does little to effectively cut down the tree.

So what do I mean by all of this pontification around training, goal setting, and approach? Let me give you an example of a poor goal;

“I want to make Master this year.”

What does that even mean? I have a desire to get better? What is actionable? How does that help me achieve making it to M Class? The fact is it doesn’t. I’m just whacking away at a hapless tree with a dull axe with that kind of goal.

So then, what is a good goal? Well it’s an actionable plan that enables me to make Master Class that goes beyond stating my desire to merely make M this year and sets up a strategy to get me there with actionable steps towards a quantifiable goal. Whew! That’s quite the statement, but I want you to go back and read that a couple of times. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Staying with the “I want to make Master Class this year” example, let me put it in terms that might actually enable me to make Master Class.

Let’s first start off by defining “Master Class.” What makes up a Master Class shooter? How fast does a Master Class shooter draw, reload, split times, transition times, doubles at 25 yards, typical match points and penalties, etc. Now that “Master Class” has been quantified, you know what your times and abilities need to be, thus you now know what you must train yourself to do and must identify the drills that you can use to elevate your skills to the Master Class level.

So now that you’ve stated where you want to go, isolated the skills associated with that goal, quantified each component of said skills, and identified drills to improve each skill, there is one last thing you’ll need to do, and that is to get your baseline and measure your progress. You need to get a log book, spreadsheet, cocktail napkin, whatever, but you need to track your progress across each Master Class skill you’ve identified which begins with hitting the range, running through each drill and logging your current times/abilities so you can set your training priorities. I’m sure you’ve seen shooters who go out and practice the same things over and over, addressing only the skill/drills that they enjoy shooting while neglecting the ones they don’t enjoy doing. Personally I would stack rank each skill and “weight” it in importance among the other skills you’ve listed. For example, shooting weak hand only to a specific standard vs. getting .25 second transitions on 10 yard targets. Although both are important, which one are you going to run into more often in a match or classifier? What is your baseline for each? Knowing the weight or importance of each skill as well as the delta between your ability and the goal time should also be considered when building your personalized training plan which further points you towards the skills you need to bolster vs. the skills that you can already perform.

Up until recently I have really been “practicing” in the dark, randomly picking a drill and blindly blasting away at it without knowing what I need to get out of it or even recording my times. Running hard without knowing where you’re going isn’t likely to get me much further than I am now, at least not quickly. It is now time for me to sit down with the diamond file and carefully sharpen my axe, transforming it from a hammer into a razor.

Closing the Door on Open?

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Simply simple…

Last year I decided to dip my toe in the Open Division waters for a season to see what I could add to my overall shooting repertoire and get me over the hump in Production (you can check out my Going Open Series for details). I seemed to have plateaued just under A Class in Production and wasn’t getting past 73%. It seemed to me at the time that I needed to focus on vision and basically, moving faster, so Open Division seemed like the logical place to enter so I could learn to get my butt moving. In other disciplines I’ve competed in the past, moving from iron sights to a dot optic was dramatic, as I seem to work very well with being target focused, so it was an easy sell for me to skip Limited altogether and again, jump into Open.  With that rationale in mind, I mothballed my G34 and picked up a STI TruBor.

I have to say, holding a well oiled machine of precision and speed, there is just something alluring about running an 2011 Open race gun. No slop, tight tolerances, triggers that run with simply a gesture towards them; what’s not to love. Well, reliability, tons of maintenance, drifting optics, and losing the dang dot, just to name a few. Answering the siren’s call to go to Open isn’t all unicorns and lollipops, at least not for me. Spending more time troubleshooting than target shooting was really getting old and an unreliable optic was getting me close to throwing the whole thing in the nearest river. Any part that goes on a 2011 comes about 17 feet oversized and must be milled down and fitted into place in order to replace that part, a far cry from the easy to maintain Glock. I swear, I’d probably need a file to put a sticker on my STI. Half the rounds through my TruBor was probably trying to get it sighted in again. You’re probably picking up the subtle tones of frustration in my voice by now, right?

During a recent match I had a malfunction where the gun stopped running, I pulled the slide back to see a round still in the chamber and another round trying to go into battery, classic double feed, right? Trying to get it back online I first tried to tip the gun upside down to shake out the extra round and then as required, you must eject the magazine to allow the slide to move forward without stripping off another round so you can try to free the round stuck in battery. I pressed the magazine release at the same instance I pulled the 170mm magazine out from the bottom, and as I ripped it out, the slide went forward and a slam fire ensued from the cartridge that was still in the chamber. I am ever diligent about muzzle control/awareness so the gun discharged harmlessly into the berm next to a target. No harm, no foul, right? Well, sort of. An AD is an AD and I was DQ’d, not that I was going to keep running an unsafe gun. I holstered, quickly tried to find the ejected rounds/cases (unsuccessfully) as to not hold up the match, and headed strait to the safety area after finding the match director. I had to know what the heck just happened. Unfortunately there was no smoking gun (no pun intended) and I couldn’t induce it to do it again. After watching the video it’s obvious that my finger is up and away from the trigger guard and it wasn’t pilot error. The trigger doesn’t seem to follow the slide so I figure I had a stuck firing pin, or the primer on the stuck round was high or deformed enough to detonate under the force of the slide itself. I’ll probably never know, but it was shipped back to STI for diagnoses. No word yet from them, but I’m sure it’ll be a while before I hear anything back from them. Stay tuned.

At this point, shooting is just not fun anymore, a bad place to be for my favorite sport. The next match at the time was a classifier match that I considered skipping since I didn’t have a backup Open gun, but I wanted to spend the afternoon with my buddies, so I relented and pulled out the Glock, took it to the match. I figured I’d blow the classifiers to the point they wouldn’t count against me since I hadn’t shot an USPSA match in Production in over a year, so why not? Shockingly enough, it was like riding a bike in a lot of ways. I’ve always said that I am a Production shooter at heart, and would return to my trusty G34, which just feels like an extension of my body. The angle just works for me and wherever I look, the sights are just there. Although I had changed my grip somewhat, I did seem to drag a lot of what I’d learned from Open back into Production, most of it good. I managed to blow out a few of the classifiers and miracle of all miracles, accidentally and surprisingly, bumped myself into A Class in Production! And even more importantly, I had fun. Maintenance free, always goes bang (and only when it’s supposed to), easy going fun. Ahhhh….back to Production.

At this point, I’m going to stick with Production for a while, which should be easy since I have no idea when I’ll have my pistol back from STI, but even then, I want to keep things simple and fun for a while. Besides, I still have lots of work to do in Production. Even though I now have an A card, my competition hasn’t stayed still. The Production B class shooters are much better than I am at the moment so have my work cut out for me. These guys are animals.

Movin’ On Up – A Class!

What card do you have? Aaaaayyy!
What card do you have?
Aaaaayyy!

In a strange turn of events I found myself at a USPSA classifier match shooting Production with my G34. It was about a year since I shot it, but my Open gun was offline so I didn’t have a choice but to shoot my Glock. I was worried that I’d tank my percentage so I registered as Limited and thought I’d just shoot for fun since there was no chance of me not pooching the stages, after all, I’d been shooting a race gun with a dot for a year. But as I was stepping up to the line I realized that all of my stage planning, at least for the field courses, I’d planned for 10 round magazine changes and didn’t have time to re-plan my runs, so I thought what the heck, I’ll just shoot Production and asked the Nook wielding RO to quickly switch me to Production. I pretty much tanked the field course getting used to iron sights and sight focus again, but like riding a bicycle, you fall right back into line with a Glock and I shot the rest of the match pretty well (for me).

On the drive home I started crunching the numbers and was truly shocked to realized that I has stumbled into A Class! Oh irony. I busted my buns trying to get out of B Class and punted myself into Open, only to flub my way into A Class because my Open gun was at the shop. Whatever, I’ll take it! A card now in hand!

Back to the Basics

basicOne topic that I’ve probably spent a lot of time thinking about, at least initially, was my grip. I seem to have a hard time finding the way the gun is supposed to fit into my hands and is probably the biggest reason for moving from the M&P platform to the Glock. The M&P felt good in my hands regardless of it’s position, which is actually a bad thing in my opinion. I want the gun to only feel right when I have my hands in the exact correct position, and feel terrible any other way. That way, I know that I have the correct grip the instant I begin to draw and can correct it, or at a minimum, know that it’s going to enter my vision with the sights out of perfect alignment so I’m expecting it to appear that way. Makes sense, right? Well, it sort of is, but not always optimal. Let me explain.

When I switched to the Glock I knew that I needed to make it an extension of my body, and that is done through lots and lots of perfect practice. The best way to achieve this in the shortest amount of time is by doing enough dryfire that it is burned into the subconscious and you never need to think about it again. The problem with this is that if you burn it in to your mind in a less than optimum configuration, you just roll with it and never question it again. The sights are always where I’m looking, my grip is good to go. In my case, this “error” was the insidious cause of some other serious limiting factors that I just couldn’t seem to master. I know this is a little long winded, but hang in there, like talking to my mother-in-law, the story is going somewhere.

So again, let’s go back to the point when I got my first Glock, suited up, and began to dryfire it with the primary goal of having the sights appear precisely where I was looking. Take note, this was the beginning of my years of limiting errors! When I would draw on a close target, the sights would be all out of whack, usually off to the left and low. Having a long range precision rifle background, the concept of Natural Point of Aim, or NPA, is paramount to building your position on the rifle. If you force it, it’ll never be consistent and that is amplified when you’re shooting 1000+ yards so it becomes an obvious error. To find my NPA with my Glock, I would close my eyes, draw to the target and see where the sites were when I opened my eyes. I changed my grip and tried it again and again until I had the sights in perfect alignment every time I opened my eyes. At the time it seemed logical and my draw was dang quick since the sights were dead on as soon as I pulled it. The issue with this is subtle, but had huge implications downstream to my overall performance. The reason why is that to achieve that draw to perfect sight picture, I was gripping the gun incorrectly. If you can imagine looking down to the top of the pistol, my right hand was rotated counter-clockwise around the grip pretty significantly. Again, this doesn’t seem to be a big deal, but let me explain why it’s one of those foundational errors that is amplified down the line.

I know it’s an obvious statement to say the grip is important since it is our interface with the gun, but we’re not just holding it, we’re operating it, and to operate it well we need to pull the trigger without disturbing the sights and manage the recoil. The better we do those two things, the more accurate our shots, and the faster the gun returns to a neutral position with the sights aligned, ready to repeat the cycle. With my poorly positioned strong hand grip I could certainly get the gun on target quickly with the sights aligned, but the rest of the requirements were missing. First off, my support hand was pretty much just along for the ride and my strong hand was doing most of the work resulting in a poor trigger pull when shooting quickly. Once the shot broke the recoil management was also being executed poorly which caused much more muzzle flip than was necessary causing a big delay in having the sight picture I needed to take the next shot. Furthermore, tracking the sights was much more difficult since the thing was bucking uncontrollably. The poor grip really introduced a series of cascading errors that all added up to a very poor, or at least very limiting, performance.
Anyone who has read my post on why I started shooting Open to improve my Production performance knows that I just couldn’t seem to get the downrange results I knew I was capable of getting, and this revelation is really a direct result of that division change. How did I figure this out? Well, it was more a series of events that came together for me and being observant to what was happening allowed for things to become evident.

The first thing I noticed was the position on the pistol. I was shooting with Keith Tyler and asked him some question I don’t even recall about my about my grip. He suggested that I get the gun strait back in the web of my hand, and imagine squeezing just the contact points on the front and back of the grip with my strong hand, and just the sides of the grip with my weak hand (I’m paraphrasing). I built that grip with the gun already out shooting groups (not from a draw), and HOLY COW! The gun wasn’t jumping around like crazy anymore! I could EASILY track the dot and see it move up, jiggle about for a moment, then return right where it began. It was amazing! Now that’s what I’ve been hearing about! It really was great, and simply amazing to see how my grip on the gun made such a drastic difference. Since my hand wasn’t rotated around the front of the grip so much, I could easily hit the magazine release, too. But the trouble in paradise was that I just couldn’t seem to get that grip while drawing from the holster. I felt like I would have to choose speed or accuracy since I just couldn’t seem to nail that grip from the draw, and spent a ton of time trying to find my dang dot. I tried shooting match in that mode and would spend seconds a stage hunting for my dot. Back to the drawing board.

The second thing that helped me figure things out was during the class I was taking with Steve Anderson last weekend.  During the Six, Reload, Six drill, which we were only dry firing at this point, I noticed quite a bit of movement of my dot. It was oscillating outside of the A zone and would take me quite a bit of time to settle the dot before I had a good enough sight picture to break the shot. I had returned to my old grip for the speed, but was already hating what I was seeing. Trying to wrangle the gun so the dot would settle down, again, this is dryfire, I got frustrated and just squeezed the hell out of the grip and it settled down the dot, but it was hard to pull the trigger quickly or without disturbing the dot. So I tried it with squeezing like mad with my support hand, and relaxing my strong hand and BOOM! Like magic, I had speed and accuracy! I stopped doing the drill and just stared drawing with that feeling, and then tried it with my strong hand in the position that worked so well for me when I was shooting with Keith Tyler. What I discovered, is that if I got my strong hand where it NEEDED to be, then got my support hand in the right position to really squeeze the sides of the grip, and if my strong hand was relaxed, that the dot what where I was looking and the grip was optimal for controlling recoil, which lead to excellent sight tracking. In a nutshell, it was fast and facilitated a great visual stream.

One thing to note is that getting this grip was contingent on getting it my hands in the perfect placement and event then, only puts the dot where I’m looking if I’m squeezing about 80% with my support hand while keeping the strong hand light and relaxed. To get this consistently I had to find a few index points along the drawing process to ensure success. I know that after a lot of focused dryfire I will burn this into my subconscious, but I have years of bad practice to overwrite. For now, I have to remember to come down with my strong hand like a “U” on to the beavertail while bringing my support hand to my chest. Then I pull the gun up high, “chop” the trigger guard with my support hand, the roll it into position while pushing the gun strait out and picking up the dot. I know that sounds strange, and trying to put the feeling into words leaves a lot out of the descriptions, but I’m sure you get the point.

So at this point, I think I have what I need, at least foundationally, to build upon the rest of the skills that I need to be successful in USPSA. I hope that in a few months I will have burned this in, it’ll be without thought, and the rest of my game improves dramatically since I should have a good foundation to build upon. I’m also excited to see how this affects my progress once I go back to Production since my progress has slowed down and I was just hovering outside of A class. I do find it somewhat ironic that I’m spending all my focus on something as basic as simply holding the gun, but it seems that I have built my house upon sand and need to go back and firm things up before I can really put the pedal down.

Quick Update

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I’m back baby!

First off, I’m sorry for the big gap in posts! It’s been a hard year to shoot for me, but I’m starting to get back at it. That being said, I have been able to shoot a handful of matches, take a Marksmanship class with our local Keith Tyler, and another class with my personal favorite instructor, Steve Anderson. I’ve also changed up some of my gear and want to share that with everyone as well, so don’t worry, I’ll expand upon all of these recent events and give you my take and take aways as well in my next round of posts, so stay tuned!

Shooting Stats For 2014

My, this year has just disappeared on me and I can hardly believe that in a matter of hours it will be 2015. Didn’t we just get to 2014? As usual this is the time of the year where we reflect back over the last 12 months to see how we measured up to the goals we set last year, review which goals we accomplished, pontificate on the goals we didn’t meet, as well as set the goals we’ll strive for over the next 12 months. So let’s kick this thing off by looking back a year ago and seeing what goals I set for the 2014 shooting year and how much progress I made towards meeting them.

Year End Goal Review

  • I moved to Open. Although I had the desire to move to Open, I didn’t actually think it would happen this season, being that it is dang expensive to play at this level, and I was having a ton of fun in Production. I had two tricked out Production Glock G34’s, a great load for them, and lots of spare parts and knowledge on the entire system. So why switch? In a nutshell, it was a bit of an experiment to see if I could glean more visual information and learn to move faster throughout the stages. I did elaborate on the rationale for the move in my post, Open For New Skills in case you want to read about all of the details. And why switch now, in the middle of the season? Well, that’s just my ADD shining through.
  • Perhaps the biggest goal I set for myself, and didn’t quite meet, was earning my A card in USPSA Production. I did however get pretty darn close, 72.73 percent, and if I had continued to pursue it, I’m confident I would have gotten my A card in 2014. The last Production classifier I shot was in September, so realistically (and perhaps optimistically?) I would have had plenty of time to get it. I was shooting pretty strong percentages there at the end before I jumped ship over to Open as mentioned above.
  • I wanted to get more coaching and training this year to help accelerate my ascension towards GM and as far as meeting this goal goes, I knocked it out of the park. Since I was the primary party responsible for setting up some USPSA classes for our local shooters, I had the opportunity to train with some of the best instructors and competitors in the world. I was lucky enough to receive a Dry fire Tune Up and participate in two classes with Steve Anderson as well as a class with Ben Stoeger. The skills I learned from these classes where simply transformative and a total game changer for me. I couldn’t recommend getting some formal training scheduled any higher to supercharge your game.
  • I wanted to participate in some major matches and see how I functioned under the pressure, as well as see what an area match was like. My son’s birth happened to coincide with the Area 1 match, so I wasn’t able to compete in that match, but I did however make our local sectional match which was run very professionally and was probably closer to an Area match than a local match. It was the first time I’ve ever had to shoot a chrono stage and have my gear inspected. I’ve always played by the rules when it comes to the Division regulations and power factors, but it was a little unnerving when you’re under the microscope and you’re hoping that you didn’t miss some little detail or realize that your chronograph isn’t accurate. I’m happy to report that everything was just fine and there were no surprises. On a side note about the pressure of a major match, I really didn’t have any issues with it since for whatever reason I’ve never really been affected by pressure. When the timer starts I just sort of go into match mode where I am laser focused and any conscious thought is absent. Paradoxically, this is one place being ADD serves me well since one of the byproducts of ADD is hyper-focus.
  • Accuracy being a fundamental tenant of shooting is always a good thing to improve upon. I wanted to be able to engage any target that could be conceived, no matter if it was small, distant, enclosed with no-shoot targets, or any combination of things that I might encounter, and do so without any uncertainty. To that end, accuracy practice has been a part of my training regiment and has paid huge dividends in matches. Being able to knock out mini-popper in front of no-shoot targets at speed, even at distance, is one of those things that win or lose stages. In fact, the last match I shot had the USPSA Classifier, CM 03-10 Area 5 Standards, and most of the people zero’d the stage. Not to sound boastful, merely trying to demonstrate the results of so much accuracy practice, I won the stage which was extremely accuracy centric. Now I’m not so crazy to think that I have mastered accuracy by any stretch of the imagination, and this is a skill that I will continue to focus on and hone my capabilities during every practice session.
  • I rarely shoot IDPA, but I do love competitive shooting in just about every form. And while IDPA is not as dear to my heart as USPSA, I really do enjoy it when the opportunity arises to compete in a local IDPA match. One of my goals for last year was to shoot an IDPA classifier and make Expert. I finally had the opportunity arise to shoot the classifier and I handily made Expert.

So looking back at last year’s goal, I’m pretty happy overall with what I was able to accomplish given the amount of time I had to devote to practice and if I were to think of the most significant things I learned or did to improve my shooting, I’d have to say it would be all of the dryfire practice, focus on the mental game, and moving to Open. For almost six months I dryfired for close to an hour a day. The amount of improvement I experience over the last year can be mostly contributed to all of the dryfire. Not that it wasn’t without it’s challenges, since I didn’t get nearly the amount of live fire sprinkled in between dryfire sessions I had a introduced some pretty big training scars. I had to learn how to dryfire properly so I didn’t create more issues while in live fire. But overall, it is the best training you can do and it’s free.

If you’ve taken a class from Steve Anderson or listened to his podcast you no doubt have heard about the mental component of shooting ad nauseam. Learning how to properly visualize a stage and burn in that program so as to be shooting subconsciously is a pretty amazing thing. I just call every shot while shooting the stage while on cruse control, only judging if a shot was acceptable or not acceptable. If the shot was deemed not acceptable, a follow up shot is delivered instantaneously. And the most amazing thing about this process is that it happens at a speed that would not be possible if conscious thought was involved, fractions of a second.

Speaking of speed, the move to the Open division has already yielding speed increases for me. Although I’ve only been able to shoot a few matches with my Open gun, I am definitely seeing the types of speed increases that prompted the division change in the first place. As expected, shooting while moving has been turbo charged since I am always target focused and the red dot of doom is always just lingering in my visual path, at least if I’m doing my part correctly. But the biggest and somewhat unexpected speed increase has been from being able to shoot sooner. Since the dot is just about always available, I am able to start engaging targets as soon as possible, which sounds obvious enough and not like a tactic that is reserved for Open shooters. For me, I am able to begin engaging targets as soon as I cross a fault line, or the instant I pass a vision barrier I can start breaking shots. Reviewing video from my Open matches I see seconds being shaved from stages as I move into a new position from a full sprint and start laying waste to poppers before I have even slowed down to clear out everything from that location. That is one of those skills that dawned on me somewhat recently while watching video of the Super Squad at Nationals. Those guys are amazing to watch and seeing them execute the shooting cycle as soon as their sights pass over a target is pretty inspiring. So for me at least, I’m learning some skills that I hope will now be available to my shooting repertoire regardless of what division I’m shooting. What a kick in the pants! I know that my primary rationale of shooting Open is to improve my overall skill set, but wow, is sure is a ton of fun.

Gear Considerations

While putting together my shooting stats data (see image below) the biggest thing I noticed was that although my shots fired total was similar to previous years, the gear was significantly different than previous years. Most of my shots fired, roughly 74%, were though my Production Glock G34’s and 16% of shots fired were through my new Open STI, leaving only 10% of shots fired going to the occasional rifle or 3 Gun match. This is mainly due to my commitment to USPSA. I only have so many cycles to dedicate towards competition and my time is more limited than ever, so as much as I miss competing in some of the other disciplines, I really had to thing about my priorities and progressing in USPSA is where I want to improve the most, so that’s what I spend my time training, and those are the matches I attend. It does however pain me to see my “new” long range precision rifle collecting dust in the safe which I saved for years to get, and never use. One day…

A couple other noteworthy things about this year’s status is that there was no .22 shooting as in previous years, and the gear has changed significantly. You might thing the lack of .22 shooting is due to the gross lack of rimfire availability, but in reality, when I got a chance to train, I rolled with my actual gear since I happen to have more ammo than time these days. And as far as gear, as much as I really loved my M&P’s, the Glocks simply displaced all of them except the M&P .22 pistol. The rest of them were sold for lead.

If you have been following me for any amount of time you might have seen that I set out to build the Ultimate USPSA Production Glock and shortly after I built the New Ultimate USPSA Production Glock that had some significant changes in the trigger/striker system as well as the move to the Taran Tactical sights. I love the pistol. So much so that it made it even more difficult to move to Open.

Other gear changes were pretty minor. I standardized on CR Speed magazine pouches everywhere they were legal to use. I moved to the AA belt from the CR Speed belts I’ve been using since they are a bit wider and stuff stays put, although I still use the thicker CR Speed internal belt, even with the AA outer belt. I just seem to like that combination the best.

Looking Forward – 2015

Now that the calendar show 2015 at the top, I needed to think back over last year’s goals, think about what I want to complete this year, and align my new goals, gear, and training regimen to meet my needs this season. So what do I want to accomplish this year? What challenges do I have that may interfere with my goals? What gear and consumables will I need to reach my goals? How do I need to train, etc. Normally I’d start out by stating my goals and moving from there, but one significant difference this year is that my challenges need to be stated to so as to set realistic goals that hinge on my capabilities. Sure I’d like to make GM in Open and Production this year, but I simply don’t have the resources to do it.

The biggest challenges I face this year are centered around my physical capabilities and the amount of time I can devote to shooting. We all struggle with the time element, especially us with children, and we just reset the counter 6 months ago with our second child, so it’s even tougher than before to carve out time to train or shoot a match. Even finding time to dryfire has been impossible lately! But the most significant detriment to my shooting this year is that I’m about to undergo a major surgery that will most likely have me sidelined for the next six months. Yep, that’s not a typo, half the damn year I’ll be unable to participate in sports, at least at a competitive level. At least that’s what the surgeon is telling me. So with that in mind, what’s realistic for me to accomplish in 2015?

  • To not lose ground. Not being able to shoot for six months is sure to take it’s toll on my performance so anything I can do to try to slow the decay will not only keep me from moving backwards, but once I’m back in action will allow my training time to go towards learning new skills and making improvements towards new goals.
  • I want an A card in USPSA. I don’t really care if it’s in Production or in Open, but I want to an A or two on my card. Most likely it’ll be in Open, but hard to say right now.
  • Improve accuracy. I know that’s vague and it’s hard to quantify that statement, but it’s something that always has room for improvement.
  • Improve fundamentals. Again, vague, but I have had some challenges around trigger control and recoil control that seems like is a byproduct of lots of dryfire and very little live fire training. This needs to be fixed and a plan to do so integrated into my future training plans.
  • Speaking of training plans, I need to develop one. I haven’t made the most of my training, dry or live, because I haven’t taken the time to assess my current skills and tailored my drills to bolster my weaknesses. Once that’s done, I need to schedule it, dry and live.
  • Shoot an Area match.
  • Take a class. If time and resources allow, I’d like to get Steve Anderson back out for his Advanced class this summer.
  • Get faster. Faster static skills like draws, reloads, etc. Faster moving skills like shooting while moving and shooting the instant I enter a new position. Faster splits and transitions.

So with that, I think I’m all set to get things going for the 2015 shooting season and hopefully will be back to shooting much sooner than expected. I’ll probably be able to shoot Speed Steel much sooner since I don’t have to move and might even be able to do it with crutches. We’ll see.

And without further adieu, here are my actual shots fired stats from 2014. Sorry it took so long to get to it.

 

shooting-stats-2014

Going Open – Got the Gun

XE2-4267
The new Open platform: STI TruBor

For better or for worse, I’m moving from the Production Division to the Open Division in USPSA. If this happens to be your first time here you can check out my previous posts on why I’m changing divisions and what I hope to accomplish by doing so, and my decision process on selecting an Open gun to compete with, which lands you back to this point where I discuss acquiring my new Open gun, a STI TruBor and some of the customizations I’ve made to get started.

Once I made my decision on getting the STI TruBor I thought I could simply “buy” one, but actually finding one to buy turned out to be more challenging than expected. Anyone who knows me can attest that patience is not exactly my strong suit and getting my paws on a STI TruBor became more of an obsession than it probably should have been. Luckily my personality flaws pay off from time to time and after spending the afternoon calling STI dealers I was able to find a TruBor in 9mm Major in stock at Brazos Custom Gunworks. As it turns out, call it divine intervention, a happy accident, or what you will, getting it from Brazos was a stroke of good luck since they build some of the best Open guns on the market and provided me with some great advice on getting started with the TruBor. So besides getting the TruBor itself, I wound up getting 2 140mm magazines, 2 170mm magazine, their Big Mouth magwell, and their “drop in” trigger group.

A few days later I have everything in hand and a friend who is a competent 2011 “mechanic” ready to help me get everything I ordered installed and tuned up the next time I see him. Having a new Open gun is bad enough, but having a new Open gun and a bunch of new parts for it was just too much for me to resist tinkering with. So instead of waiting for my friend to help me get my TruBor dialed in, I opt to spend a couple of hours watching YouTube videos learning how to dissemble and reassemble a 1911. Being that this is my first 1911/2011, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I had no idea how to even get the slide off of it, let alone do any major part replacements. But the Siren’s song of the TruBor proved to be too much for my resolve to withstand, so my desire to tinker won out over common sense. Off to the bench to apply my new YouTube PHD (er, probably more like GED) in 1911 smithing on to my hapless STI. All kidding aside, I sincerely enjoy turning my own screws and having a new platform to discover was quite enjoyable as well as prudent since I ultimately do need to know how to maintain the darn thing. A short time later I have the Brazo’s Tuned Trigger Group and Big Mouth Magwell installed and safety checked. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m used to striker fired pistols or if the 2011 with the Brazos trigger group is the culmination of pixie dust and unicorn tears, but the trigger on this thing in nothing short of amazing. Not too heavy, but not too light. Nice and short with just the right amount of weight with a very precipitous break. In other terms, it’s the bee’s knees. I’m salivating at the thought of shooting this thing. And maybe it’s just because I’m used to shooting Production with a Glock, but I’m not sure how you can possible miss a reload with the huge magazine sucking funnel that is the Big Mouth Magwell. This should be fun. I’m already getting excited.

The new Open setup.
The new Open setup.

Next I spend a little bit trying to get the feel of the pistol in my hand, how it should be held to maximize access to the controls while allowing a good index and natural point of aim. This turns out to be a little ambiguous and I wind up getting a little frustrated with exactly where and how I should be gripping it. If I hold it in a position where I can easily reach the magazine release button my index is off by quite a bit, but when I adjust things for a good index the controls don’t really line up for me. This might be due to my own personal ergonomics or that I’m just so used to my Glock and it’s idiosyncrasies that it has ruined me from using anything else. For example, when I grip a Glock, I’m getting the web of my hand as high as possible to the bore axis as I can to aid in recoil control, and I squeeze the living snot out of the thing to ensure a good and consistent lockup to bolster my recoil management as well as facilitating both accuracy and the fastest possible splits I can produce (which I’ve a gotten down to .15 on occasion). When I apply this philosophy to the 2011 it has the unintended consequence of not disengaging the grip safety on about half of my draws. Experimenting with my grip, the tension, and the position, seem to all have other consequences as well resulting in either issues with using the controls reliably or a terrible index. Before I get to frustrated with the “bad” ergonomics I remind myself that this is the first time holding a 2011 and practice fixes all. After all, I have done about a billion draws with my Glock, and it too felt foreign to me at one point as well with it’s aggressive grip angle and unique beavertail and controls. I finally decide to go with the grip the allows the fastest index and will adapt the controls to accommodate my unique needs. I’m certainly going to need an extended magazine release to allow me to drop my mags. I’m glad I can do pretty much whatever I dang well please to my gun in the Open division!

Getting used to a red dot optic, in this case it’s the C-More that came with it from the factory, did take more effort than I imagined it would. I’m just so used to pulling my focus back to the front sight that I habitually do it whenever I draw a pistol. It’s almost like it’s just part of the draw and takes considerable effort, or at least conscience thought, to always keep my eyes target focused. I also noticed that I don’t really need to have the pistol in a strait line that extends from the target to the front sight, through the center of the rear sight, all the way back to my right eye. I know that it sounds strange to mention this, but it took some time to adjust to the fact that I can have the pistol, or more accurately, the optic’s dot “centered” in my “cone of vision.” At first the dot was being slightly obfuscated to my left eye by the frame of the C-More’s lens. With a little dry fire it was remedied in short order, but I did find it interesting that moving to a dot optic on a pistol could present so much more change than I realized, and how much I do to accommodate iron sights.

Front view of the C-More
Front view of the C-More

Next thing on the agenda was to actually shoot the thing and see if it even functions, and functions reliably. Again, the TruBor is setup for Major power factor, so its recoil spring weight and compensator are designed based on the immense amount of energy it assumes it will be receiving from very high pressure ammunition. It is no wonder that my 9mm Minor loads, which for Production are well above the minimum power factor requirements, failed to cycle the TruBor. Even if they could manage to cycle a Major power factor pistol, the likelihood of it happening on a brand new pistol that hasn’t been broken in yet is even less likely. Being optimistic, I tried using factory 9mm ammunition with similar results and it wasn’t until I tried my +P+ personal defense rounds was I able to get it to cycle without an error. Man, this thing is tight! With the understanding that until I handload some Major power factor ammunition it wasn’t going to cycle, I worked on sighting in my C-More while hand cycling each round. There would be no record setting split times today, but I was still able to verify the functionality of my new trigger group and shoot a few groups with it which I’m happy to report, were absolutely stellar. The gun can shoot. In fact, I really had no issues coring out the center of my targets, and even small steel targets at 50 yards seem to just bow to my new STI. It is very impressive and exciting to have a pistol that I can fire this accurately this easily. Very big grins erupted on my face at this point.

While identifying and acquiring my new Open equipment, I was simultaneously scouring the internet for powder that would not only facilitate great performance from my gun and compensator in a 9mm Major handload, but was also available for purchase. As luck would have it I was able to find enough Accurate Arms #7 to allow me to develop a load and practice a little bit so I could get comfortable with this new paradigm before I attempted competing with it. The plan was to finally make A class, which I’m right on the cusp of getting, or at least finish up this season with my Production system and train over the winter with the STI. But a little peer pressure goes a long way, and my personality flaws being what they are, I found myself pressing out the very first 9mm Major handloads for my TruBor…the night before the next match. Ya, I know. Not exactly the smartest decision I’ve ever made on a variety of levels. Normally, my underlining match philosophy is, “Never change anything before a match, except perhaps your underwear.” But what the heck, it’s a club match and regardless of how I’d place I know that it was going to be a great time. Throwing caution to the wind, I did show up to the match the next morning with my new gun, new load, new magazines, new holster and pouches, etc. As you probably guessed, it was technically an epic disaster that would have normally left me grumbling afterwards, stewing on why things went off of the rails. But since I had the already accepted my fate before I shot the first (new!) round, I left the match, grinning ear to ear with no regrets.

There were few noteworthy items about the match, which will live in infamy as the “Blaster Disaster,” worth mentioning. First off, shockingly enough, the gun ran great, that is when it had the opportunity to fire a round, it dutifully did so. I didn’t help matters and was personally responsible for my own demise. On the very first stage I loaded one of the massive, ammunition spewing magazines that are legal in Open division, into the gun, but didn’t actually chamber a round, thus producing the loudest sound a gun at a match can emanate, the click of an empty chamber. D’OH! There is just so much going on with a non-Glock. I was so concerned with remembering to turn the optic on and engaging the thumb safety that I forgot to do the most basic of things, rack the slide. I knew as I fired the first shot of the match, er, didn’t fire the first round of the match, that it was going to be very entertaining for my squad members.

My friend graciously brought a magazine release extension for me and we hit the safety table to install it after my brilliant performance on the first stage. That should help speed up my magazine releases…more so than I realized. He also gave me a monster, tuned magazine to try out as well which would be perfect for the next stage since it allowed me to cram over 30 rounds into it. Ya, that’s right you Production guys, over 30 rounds!

Wait for it… wait for it… Ya, you see it coming, too.

I started up range and had to run to a barrel where my shiny new TruBor lay, ready for action. I fed it the new magazine, swelling with high pressure rounds, ready to attack the poppers down range from me, viewable only through a small port just above the barrel. It was at this point a couple of items became painfully obvious to me. First off, it would have been prudent to have sighted in my dot for the new ammo which was not printing anywhere near the place my Glock ammo was printing. And secondly, the gun, under the influence of recoil was moving in a way that perfectly alined my thumb with the new extending magazine release button.

Queue the Benny Hill music.

The gun would fire, miss the target, recoil up and back until my thumb would involuntary hit the magazine release, and violently vomit out my magazine. That’s a lot to take in, so to get full entertainment value out of that last line you should go back and read it again, and then visualize the scene as it unfolded during the match. Now that’s comedy. Luckily I was shooting right over the top of that barrel where I picked up the pistol so it was easy enough to pick back up for another cycle of embarrassment. I assumed at first it was the new magazine that I borrowed, untested, and it was incompatible with my gun. So I fed it a new magazine with similar results. I did manage to finally graze the targets and picked up the pile of magazines that now lay under my pistol, and headed down the path of the rest of the field stage, dropping magazines all along the way like some sort of demented Hansel and Gretel story. I did figure out what was happening and corrected it to complete the stage, but not before leaving a trail of mostly full magazines in my wake, leading all the way back to me and my epic fail. Having been fortunate enough to been filmed during my performance of a lifetime, I surely have watched that stage dozens of time, erupting in laughter every single time. Greatness. So ya, I went back to the safety table and removed the new fail button in short order.

I did wind up installing a much heavier magazine release spring that allowed me to use the extended magazine release button without it puking my magazine out unexpectedly. Between the heavier spring and positioning the button’s angle a little differently, I thankfully haven’t had any more premature ejectalations.

C-More mounted at 45 degrees
C-More mounted at 45 degrees

Another thing that happened a couple of times, which was not by any means the fault of the STI, was what is lovingly referred to as the C-More Shuffle.  This phenomena is where you extend the gun, ready to lay waste to a target, fully expecting to see the dot sitting out there leading your eye to the A zone. But when you don’t extend your pistol quite right, or try to pick up the dot from an awkward position, the dot evades detection leaving you standing there, clock ticking away while you wiggle the gun around in bigger and bigger circles in the desperate hopes of luring the dot back out of hiding so you can begin shooting. Again, it’s very obvious and entertaining for your squad mates when this occurs to you. I guess they know it’s a lack of experience issue that I’m sure they’ve all experienced when they began shooting with a dot optic. Regardless, it’s pretty funny to see video of yourself when that happens, at least when you’re just getting started in Open.

While we’re talking about optics, the TruBor comes equipped with a C-More red dot optic that sits atop a very nice mount that is attached via the frame of the gun. The issue I have with this arrangement is that the distance between the center of the barrel and the dot is actually quite vast, producing about a 2 inch offset between the two at close distances. This is nothing new to me since I’ve had years of experience with an EOTech equipped AR, but it has little effect outside of 25 yards. But since most of the shooting in USPSA is within 25 yards, the dot’s offset is in play most of the time. One of things you can do to limit the amount of offset is to get the dot as close as physically possible to the bore, so there are different C-More mounts available to facilitate that, each with it’s own advantages and drawbacks. If you mount the C-More at 90 degrees from normal, you do get the dot back down to a more manageable distance from the bore, but the base of the mount and the body of the C-More add about 1/4 inch of visual obstruction to the left side of the gun. Another option that is available is the 45 degree mount which does get the dot down low like the 90 degree mount, but since it sets at a 45 degree angle it’s much less of a visual distraction. One downside of the 45 degree mount is that the C-More’s dot adjustments are located on the right side of the base which is impossible to get to without removing the slide. I decided to go with the Barry’s 45 degree mount and once I finally got it zero’d (which was a huge pain in the rear), I have to admit, it’s pretty awesome.

The last thing I wound up changing was swapping out the Brazos Big Mouth magwell for a Dawson Precision Ice magwell. Since it’s a little taller on the top, it helps push my hand up into position a little better.

So that’s pretty much it for now, but I do have a couple of things that I’d like to do to it at some point. First off, I’d really like to have a slide racker installed, it’s a trip to the smith for that since a dovetail has to be milled into the slide to provide a spot for the racker to be mounted. The other thing I’d like to get is a shorter trigger paddle so I can get more of a 90 degree bend to my index finger. Both somewhat minor, but will certainly happen at some point.

All that’s left now is for me to start some serious dryfiring to get the index ingrained into my subconscious and make the 2011 an extension of my body to the extent that my Glock is now.

Stay tuned as I update my progress with the new gear and division. I’m sure it’ll be more fun…for my squad members.

Deal Alert! Brian Enos’ Practical Shooting Audiobook For $1.99!

enos-book

I just happened to do a search for “Enos” while browsing for new audiobooks on Audible.com and was not only shocked to find Brian Enos’ de facto book on competitive shooting, Practical Shooting : Beyond Fundamentals available, but available for $1.99!

This book is required reading at least once a year for me as well as just about every other competitive shooter I know of. So if you haven’t read it yet, this is a great opportunity to get it, in audiobook format, for 2 clams.

Here’s the link to Practical Shooting, Beyond Fundamentals on Audible.com.

Going Open – Getting the Gear

truborIf you happened to catch my previous post on going Open For New Skills, you already know about my recent experiment on moving to the Open division in the hopes of learning to see more visual information as well as bolstering my speed of movement throughout the stages. Time will tell if this turns out to be a good decision or not, or if those (hopefully) newly acquired skills can be backported and applied in Production division.

So, I’m going to shoot Open, but first I need to retool and that means it’s time to pick an Open division gun to compete with, which has not been an easy decision by any means. As I see it, there are really only three paths to consider when buying an Open gun, so let’s cover the pros and cons with each option since this is what I did to finally choose my new competition pistol.

The easiest way to dip your toe in the Open division waters, besides borrowing an Open gun from a buddy that is, is to use what you already have, right? Many a Glock shooter have equipped their G34 to compete in Open by adding a KKM barrel with a compensator, some big ole magwell, and a red dot optic like the C-More RTS or the Leupold Deltapoint. And to be honest, it’s not really a bad way to go, at least to get started quickly and on the cheap. Besides being the least expensive option it’s also the easiest option when it comes to time on your gunsmith’s bench and overall maintenance. As you may have seen from my earlier articles on building the Ultimate Production Pistol, and the building the New Ultimate Production Pistol, I already have the perfect foundation for such a project. Heck I would still have a Production pistol to compete with even if I did convert one of them over to Open, after all, I do have two of them. I have all of the spare parts, the magazines and mag pouches that are the same. I am already intimately familiar with the entire system and know how to work on everything myself. Switching between the two divisions would be monumentally easier since it’s the same dang gun! Even now as I type this it still sounds like a brilliant option, a no brainer, right? After outfitting the gun and the magazines to hold more ammunition the cost can still be held under $1000 and I would have a very nice and competitive Open gun. So what’s the problem then? Let me start my explanation by saying that the following opinions are based on my observations and research, and of course I’m speaking in general terms as well, so don’t please don’t get too wrapped around the axle and start flaming me. Again, I’m just explaining my thought process on how I arrived at my decision.

As inexpensive and easy as it would be to convert one of my G34’s over to Open division, (and as much fun it would be for me personally since I love to tinker with them) I passed on this option because I don’t think it would be as competitive as a “out of the box” Open gun. I love my Glock, and if I could only ever have only one gun I would select a Glock without hesitation, but when it comes to Open, and my reasoning to move to Open in the first place, I think there are better options than a converted Production gun when it comes down to raw performance.

My Glocks are the picture of reliability and even though I never seem to have the time to clean or maintain them, they always go bang. They never let me down. But since I already have everything to load 9mm cartridges I opted to stick with 9mm for my Open division gun’s caliber knowing that I’ll have to change everything about the load to move my power factor from Minor to Major. Trying to get an Open Glock to Major power factor in 9mm has to be the biggest problem I’ve noticed that people that have selected this option to experience. Again, just my own observations here, but when we desire to earn the extra points Major provides us as well as getting the most from the compensated aftermarket barrels we’ve outfitted our Glock with, the reliability we’re all used to starts to deteriorate rather precipitously.

The last reason I didn’t switch my beloved platform over to Open is that I wondered what all I could learn from moving to the 2011 platform. After handling a buddy’s STI Open guns I realized a few things that solidified my decision to move to the 2011. First off, it’s an entirely different animal. I know that seems obvious, but you have to realize that I’ve never owned a 1911/2011 before so I’ve never even used a thumb safety on a pistol. The thing is just foreign to me. The grip angle the weight, the manual of arms, and ultimately, the philosophy of the platform is completely different than what I’m used to, which is not a bad thing. What can I learn by going to such a radically different system? Time will tell.

So by now you know that I have decided to move to the 2011, for better or for worse, as my Open division platform. Now comes the tough part, stock or custom? If money wasn’t a factor we’d be done and I would be holding a new Gans or Brazos STI and that would be the end of it. But since I have yet to put Warren Buffet out of business I have to make a decision based almost solely on the financial aspects of my budget and try to get the most, dare I say, bang for my buck.

After flat out molesting my friends’ custom Open rigs and thus summarily sending my lust into orbit, I know right away that I want a custom Open STI with all of the trimmings. But my budget is unfortunately closer to the Open Glock conversion than it is to the awesome custom blaster. But the gears in my mind start turning, trying to figure out how to acquire a gun of this caliber (no pun intended) with the money that I can redirect from my kids’ college fund (sorry guys, we can’t all be astronauts). I know that a new custom system would be almost double of what I can spend so that’s out of the question, but perhaps I can get a gently used custom system with the budget I have earmarked for this foray into Open. So I start looking in the Enos forums and immediately realize that I have no idea where to even start looking to buy an Open gun. I see lots of stuff for sale with questionable logic around how things are setup, round counts, hack jobs and Frankenguns by gunsmiths I’ve never even heard of. Being a new realm for me I come to the realization that I don’t know what I don’t know and if I attempt this purchase own my own I’m boned. I also soon realize that Open guns, much more than anything other division’s gun, are highly customized per the owner’s personal tastes. Ask 10 different Open shooters how an Open gun should be setup and you’ll get 10 (or more) answers. The used custom gun options is starting to look less desirable to me at this point because I’m just too unfamiliar with this brave new world. Heck, I don’t even really know which gunsmith I’d take it to, which ones would even take it on, or would even bother with me since they all seem to be overloaded as it is.

Time to step back and reevaluate my options.

I know that I would rather not convert my Glock to Open, I want a 2011, I can’t afford to sell the farm and get a shiny new custom gun, I would rather give birth to a flaming porcupine than roll the dice on a used Open gun, so my options are getting pretty limited at this point. All of the aforementioned options being taken off of the table really only leaves one viable option for me. Getting a stock 2011.

Again, speaking in generalities here, most of the custom 2011 pistols that I dream of are built from, at least in part, stock 2011’s. So I start to research what stock 2011 pistol options are available to me. Just about every custom 2011 pistol I have gun-lust for are built on the STI 2011 as their basic foundations. I figure that if I start with a stock STI I can eventually have it turned into the custom pistol of my dreams if need be, and/or I win the lottery. Now I need to decide on what STI model that best suites my needs…which again, is a bit of a leap of faith since I have no idea what I prefer. I boil it down to short and fast, or heavy and more controllable, or in less abstract terms, the STI Match Master or the STI Trubore.

Initially I lean towards the lighter, faster Match Master since I would love to speed on my side for transitions, but at the cost of better recoil control. Since the Trubore is heavier due to it’s longer barrel I can conceivably expect to have it handle recoil better, thus produce better split times. My split times are one of my least optimal skills and if the Trubore can help in this area, it is very appealing. One other likely benefit is because of the Trubore’s longer barrel I can expect a higher muzzle velocity than the Match Master’s shorter barrel given the same load. Being that I plan to shoot 9mm Major and the types of powder even available that will fit into a 9mm case and still make make Major power factor, I’m going to need all of the help I can get. So with that criteria established, the Trubore tips the scales in it’s favor and I, for better or for worse, pull the trigger (ya, the puns are getting worse, I know) and order a shiny, well sort of since it’s blued, new STI Trubore in 9mm Major. To say that I’m as nervous as I am excited about this option is an understatement, but I really do think that given my goals, my research, and my constraints, it is the best option as my Open gun. Time will certainly tell whether or not this was the best choice or not since some of my options here and the rationale behind them are hotly debated as well as highly variable depending on each person’s experience. After all, from what I can tell, it’s very hit or miss weather a stock STI will run reliably or not based on a myriad of factors from the caliber selection, to the powder that’s currently available, to the individual gun itself. For every person in the forums that say their stock STI had tons of issues out of the box there is a person who has no issues whatsoever and runs it that way to this day. We’ll see, eh?

All of that being said, my intent here was not only to provide an explanation of I arrived at my Open gun selection, but to also serve as a resource to anyone who is considering the move as well and could use another voice on the matter (or further muddy the waters?). So stay tuned as I post the progression into this new arena, and how I adapt my training and my equipment to accommodate.

Next up, getting the gun, setting it up for my shooting style, developing a load that will optimize the performance of the compensator while making Major power factor and reliably cycling the gun, plus magazine selection, pouches, holsters and more! So 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.

Open For New Skills

I am speed... (image from uspsa.org)
I am speed…
(image from uspsa.org)

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.