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Shooting for Success at Major Matches

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

When Gear Matters and When It Does Not
When Gear Matters and When It Does Not    

      Gear everyone has an opinion on it.  Is gun X better than gun Y?  Is this bullet better than that bullet?  In my opinion this kind of thinking is a huge waste of time, and ultimately distracts from what is actually important.  I am going to outline how I feel is the best way to approach gear.
      First you gear needs to run. Period.  If you go to a match and your gun does not shoot for any reason you need to fix that.  I don’t care if you really love your gun, it has to run.  The most common reason for a gun not to run is ammo.  I suggest finding a combination of bullet, powder, and primer that works and stick with it.  All bullets are more or less the same.  Find something economical and available and make as many as you can.  However if the problem is actually your gun it has to go.  You will never realize your potential as a shooter if you are constantly clearing jams.
      Second I suggest using equipment (gun, belt, magazine pouches, etc) that are popular in you devision.  I shoot Production Devision in USPSA, and I feel all striker fired guns are more or less the same.  A Glock and an XD are more or less the same gun.  Do not spend too much time thinking about the minutia of grip angle or cocking serrations.  Those things will never matter more than practice with the platform.  However, do not try and fit a square peg in a round hole.  I would not suggest shooting Open Devision with a Glock 19 MOS.  Yes you can buy a compensated barrel for it and run an optic but are you really going run against a gun purpose built for it.  That kind of gross disadvantage will hamper you from reaching your potential.
Now you are probably thinking if gear doesn’t matter why not just buy whatever is cheapest and go.  I will say you have to like your gear and have faith in it.  If you want a CZ in the worst way then by all means buy that CZ.  By having gear you like you will want to practice and have the confidence to do well at matches.  Just remember you cannot buy a GM card and the only way to get one is routine practice.
      Finally I will talk a little bit about after market parts.  There a lots of companies making lots of gun parts that may or may not be better than what you have.  I believe that certain after market sights give a substantial advantage to aim fast and accurate.  I believe certain trigger parts can provide a “better” trigger pull that will translate into more accuracy and speed.  That said more is not always more.  The difference between shooting a double action revolver with a 12 pound trigger pull and a custom 2011 with a 2 pound trigger makes a world of difference in shooting fast and accurate.  The difference between a 4 pound trigger and a 3 pound trigger is basically not noticeable, and you are wasting you time constantly searching for a better trigger pull.  Also more is not always more.  
      So what is the take away from all this?  Its simple, you need gear that works all the time, gear you have faith in, and you need practice.  Often people are delusional and say things like “if I only had a better trigger i would have shot better” and for the most part they are wrong.  The equipment is the smallest part of what makes a great shooter.  If your goal is to be great then set up your gear and focus on building skill.  Everything else is just background noise.

By Eric R. Kamps
Routine

Routine


     If you are a competitive shooter and want to get better you need a routine.  There is no way around it.  No one walks into the competitive shooting arena as the best, and if you want to be better you need a routine.  Now that said your routine needs to be tailored to your goals.  If you want to make C class the amount of work required is less than winning a national championship.  Here are some thoughts on establishing a routine and sticking to it.

      Logistics, without a doubt are the part of shooting I hate the most.  I am chasing some lofty goals in shooting and the supply of bullets required is daunting.  Whatever your goal figure out how much ammo, travel, matches, and gear you need to reach that.  Once you have that figured out stick to it.  If you need 8,000 rounds to make C class find a supplier and buy that.  If you need 100,000 rounds to make GM you need to find a way to do that.  Of course reloading is the easiest way to get the ammo you need.  Figure out a load and buy in bulk.  Try not to change things up if possible and find friends to help with the orders.  As competitive shooters we all need bullets, primers, and powder someone will know someone who can help you getting one or all of those.

Practice, this part of the equation is dependent on you. Dry fire offers almost unlimited amounts of practice with the only cost being you time.  On the simple end you can download a phone timer and start there.  My suggestion is to form a group.  Find a couple of people chasing a similar goal and check in at intervals explaining what your are doing.  It keeps you honest about your work and is great motivation.  For example every other day you and your buddies commit to doing 30 minutes of dry fire, when they check in you will be reminded to gun up and put in the time.  Beyond dry fire set aside time at regular intervals to live fire.  I know everyone has constraints on time, ammo, and range time.  You do not have to hit up the range every day, but doing something regularly will pay huge dividends.  If that is once a month or once a week depends on your situation.

     Honesty, you can lie to your friends but don’t lie to yourself.  If your grip is suffering in dry fire you have to tell yourself that.  I am not saying to be unreasonably critical of yourself, but really everything needs work.  Also isolate what you are working on.  If a drill is all about speed then letting the rest suffer is alright.  If you are focusing on bringing it all together for match mode training, then you have to look at each aspect of shooting.  

     Finally you need diversity.  Avoid getting stuck in a rut of just working accuracy or speed in practice. This is where if you can practice with other people really pays off.  Lets say you really fast but suffer at tight shots, then find an accurate shooter and practice with them.  Bust out of your comfort zone.  Shoot outside your main discipline and go in with an open mind.  That old guy that shoots bullseye probably has some good points about trigger control you can bring to your game.  You do not have to go at that painfully slow speed but there is always something you can learn.

     There it is.  It may seem like a lot, but you have to tailor this to your own goals.  The equation works for the new shooter or the seasoned GM.  There is no wrong level of participation but you have to understand different levels of commitment equate to different results.  Shoot straight, shoot often.


By Eric R. Kamps