Shooting for Success at Major Matches
Shooting a major match is one of the funnest, rewarding, and motivating things a shooter can do. To step out of the comfort of your local club and shoot against many shooters of many skill levels is a great way to see where you are as a shooter, and more importantly areas of your shooting that can be improved. There are many aspects of a major match that may deter a shooter from taking the leap and registering for a major match. Things like time off of work, expense, travel arrangements, lodging, and ammo pose a logistical problems that are not usually an issue at local club matches. Beyond the logistical issues shooters often have anxiety about leaving their comfort zone and shooting against better shooters. In this article I will give some tricks and tips for getting you to your first major and how to shoot your best at it.
For starters you have to pick a major to shoot. Most long running matches tend to have a flavor associated with the match. I can tell you if you travel to Universal Shooting Academy for the Florida Open USPSA match, you can expect a very technical and hard match. I would not suggest starting with a match known for lots of hard shooting or memory stages. Talk to people at your local club who travel and see what they have to say about majors they have shot. Typically a state championship match will shoot like a big club match. Some easy stuff, some hard stuff, but most of the shooting will fall somewhere in between.
Once you have decided on which major you want to shoot you can start working out all of the logistics. Never get a new piece of gear for a major match. Run what you always shoot, and never switch ammo for a major. Several times I have seen shooters decided to swap this or that out “for the major” only to have it not work the day of. Backup equipment is always a good idea, but if you don't have extra of everything do not worry. I guarantee someone at the match will have an extra of anything you might need, and happily lend it to you. I cracked slide on a gun at a major match and had several people immediately offer me their back up guns.
Travel and lodging can be expensive. If money is tight there are several ways to save money on travel and lodging. Carpooling to matches is an easy way to split the cost of travel and possibly lodging. Ask around your club and more often than not there is someone who is willing to split gas and hotels with you. Camping is another way to really cut corners. Many ranges will let you camp on site for the match, and if you are okay with roughing it a bit that is a great way to save money. I camped for a Production Nationals one year and it added a lot of fun to the whole experience.
On to the actual shooting of the match. If it is possible plan on showing up the day before you shoot. This is your time as a shooter to walk the stages and get familiar with the way the range is laid out. Spending time walking stages before hand allows for you to come up with a rough stage plan that you can begin to visualize. Some stages are straight forward and do not need much time to figure out. However if you encounter a memory stage spend as much time as you need the day before finding all the targets and working out a stage plan. Some people use a notebook to take notes, I do not do this personally but it is not a bad idea. Match booklets are usually available before the match. I would cation paying too much attention to them. Very rarely does a stage look anything like the sketch in the match booklet.
On match day the most important thing to do is to treat the match like a marathon. Do not try and burn every stage down. What will happen is your scores will be very inconsistent and probably much worse overall than just shooting at whatever level you are at. If you are a C class shooter you should not try and beat the stage times of the Grand Master on your squad. Just shoot at your normal comfortable pace. One of the best parts of a major match is there will probably be many shooters of your class, and at the end of the match you can see how you stack up to those shooters. Recently I had a friend who was a C class shooter tell me after a major match he felt like he shot very poorly. However he had some very good shooters on his squad and in C class he placed very high. Ignore the pace of other shooters and shoot your match.
Shooting major matches can be a very rewarding experience. Challenging yourself will only make you a better shooter. If you have not shot a major yet I encourage you to get out and try one. As long as you shoot your pace you will have a great time, and come away motivated about practicing for the next major match.
By Eric R. Kamps