I have heard the lines of “that competition stuff will get you killed” to “this is tactical training”. I have seen egos of cops that could not handle being beat by a civilian. I have seen Tactical Tommy show up at the range with his drop leg holster ready to compete. Shooting competitions are not tactical training and tactical training on most levels fail to bring on the amount of stress needed to be truly authentic. I want to address the cross overs. How does competition benefit the defensive shooter?
A little bit about myself: I have a pretty extensive background in law enforcement and firearms instruction for law enforcement. I have been on the SWAT Team for 14 years now and have made more entries than I could attempt to count. I am also the lead training officer for the SWAT Team. However, I am by no means what I would consider an “expert” in the area of gunfights. I am quite familiar with functioning under high stress situations. I have trained using non-lethal training munitions many times. And I have trained many different people and witnessed their reactions from the different scenarios they are faced with. With that being said, I believe I am more experienced than most.
In 2005, I was involved in my first shooting. A guy involved in another shooting attempted to run me over with his truck. I shot the truck twice. One round was fired as I attempted to get out of my patrol car and I got caught by the door. That round went down the side of the truck. The second round was center mass of the suspect, but the round did not defeat the metal layers of the bed and failed to enter the cab. Luckily, it all worked out in the end. The suspect went to jail and I got to go home alive. It was this experience that I learned that I was not nearly as good as I had previously thought I was. So, I began to search for more information about being involved in stressful situations such as the one I had just been in and how to improve my shooting. I was involved in a second shooting in 2011, with three other SWAT Team members. In that one, a murder suspect pulled a pistol and went to meet his maker.
I began shooting competitively about nine years ago. A great firearms instructor once told me that if you want to be a good instructor, you have to compete. He said it didn’t really matter what you competed in, as long as you competed. I started in IDPA. I think that is a pretty good starter competition. It does not require a lot of special equipment and it is not gear heavy to begin. Then I moved on to 3-Gun as it became more popular and I was looking for a way to test my rifle skills. I was looking for some more overlap training from my work to a hobby. And I believe competition has made me a much better shooter and instructor.
Fast forward almost 10 years and I am training the SWAT team at work, while training for and shooting 3-Gun competitions every chance I get. I take what I learn from each experience and try to realize what skill is more important for sport and what is more important for the cop on the street or in SWAT. Some of this can be related to the concealed weapon holder. First is the draw. Mine was horribly slow when I started competing. I mean it was around 2.5+ seconds, crazy slow. I did not know any better at the time. Let us start the comparison: In a pistol match you will draw your pistol from the holster six to ten times a match on average. So if your draw is a 1.7 second draw and the average is 1.5, you are only giving up at most 2 seconds for the whole match. If your target to target transitions are .5 seconds and there are 50 target to target transitions in a match, then decreasing your target to target transition by .1 seconds could yield you 5 seconds. If you drop your draw to first shot by .1 seconds from 1.7 to 1.6, the most you could gain would be 1 second for the whole match. So, what should you spend your training time on for competition? ……………. Target to target transitions.
Now, defensively what is more important? If you are drawing your weapon as a reaction to someone firing a shot or some other action that is threatening, you are already behind the time curve. Fact, the average shooter can shoot three rounds a second or about one round every .33 seconds. Let’s do some math, 1.5 second draw divided by .33 seconds for the average person to shoot. That means if the “bad guy” gets your reaction by shooting, they will fire 4 to 5 rounds before you fire your first shot in return. Now looking at that, how important is a fast draw to first shot? I think it is very important.
This is one way to compare the same skills and how their value is different from competition to the real world. So why not spend time only working on self-defense skills? Because, shooting competitions gives you a place to test your skills under stress. For most people, shooting under any kind of stress is hard to create. Most law enforcement officers do not get the amount of training under stress that they need. Shooting competitions offer that every weekend around my area. The stress of performing on the clock, performing in front of other people, and performing to your own expectations is difficult. Where else can you get tested like this? Is this gunfight level stress? NO! I am not trying to say that it is, but it does help give you experience functioning while under some amount of stress.
When you get pretty good at shooting competitions, you then are not thinking about gun operation. That just happens. You think about where you need to be, where to put your foot to set up a good position, how to best transition from one gun to another, what is your holdover for each long range target. Being a good competition shooter does not make you a master gun fighter. But, taking “tactical” classes and watching the best Special Forces operator’s videos does not either. There is nothing wrong with learning from tactical guys. I love teaching tactics. But if you are thinking about how to shoot your gun when you should be thinking about tactical advantage or you are thinking about tactics and can’t hit the target without the conscious thought of how to shoot, you will probably not do well in a gunfight.
Competitions push you to operate your firearms’ systems at a subconscious level. That is the level you want to be able to shoot when you are faced with a deadly threat. I want my mind free to think about the closest point of cover, whats behind my target in case of over penetration, and where to go to draw them away from my family or friends. If you are reacting to violence occurring to you or around you, then you should act to stop that violence as quickly as you possibly can. You will operate at the lowest level MASTERED. That is correct, MASTERED. Not “I did it a couple of times in training” or I practiced this one day. You will be able to do the things that you never make a mistake with.
So the short version is, competition shooting makes you a better all-around shooter. It adds depth to your abilities. I highly encourage you to go compete. You will learn to operate your firearms at a subconscious level and be better prepared for trouble when it comes. And, it is a ton of fun! Come join us at a match.
For more on this topic please check out our friends The American Warrior Show podcast hosted by Mike Seeklander. In Episode 13 – The Great One – Inside The Mind Of Professional Shooter Rob Leatham, Mike and Rob discuss the same topics.
“for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Romans 13:4