Practicing For The Fight

Gun games will get you killed! Sure they will. It is sad to say that this is a common opinion held on the interwebs. Somehow going out on a Saturday or two a month and getting a high volume of rounds on multiple targets, on a flat range that has been made as dynamic as safety will allow isn’t worth anyone’s time. We hear that fights don’t have rules or courses of fire. By shooting matches we are screwing ourselves by building in so called “Training Scars”. Now I do agree that practical shooting is not fighting and competitions are not places to learn how to fight in a dynamic situations, but what I really don’t agree with is that fights don’t have rules.

You’re a good guy, a “law / rule abiding citizen”. Because you are not a lawless dirt bag your actions in a fight will be regulated by Ethics and Morals. Not to mention Geography, Architecture, Tools and the Law of the Land. Every fight brings along it’s own set of rules, even if it‘s only one of the contestants that abides by the rules of Morals, Laws and Ethics. LEOs and the Military have procedures, Rule of Engagement, tactics, and training to better understand and exploit these rules. So we should also train to have these rules factor in and even hinder our decisions and options, thus making us work harder to produce a better outcome. This is where the square range falls short.

The truth is unless we are participating in some sort of Force on Force training we are being cheated from the actual fight experience. Think about it. Even in our defensive firearms classes we have range rules, drills, administrative procedures, range limitations, logistics and time restrictions. In a lot of respects it sounds like a match where we are not keeping score. Are the skills taught in these classes vital for self defense training? Hell yes! Should we immerse ourselves in defensive firearms tactics and manipulations? Also a resounding Hell Yes! We have training limitations which put us behind the proverbial 8 ball. We can’t safely recreate the fight so we must break our defensive skills down into drills, in which we can use to improve and document our progress. Practical firearms matches serve as a venue to forcibly put some of those skills to test.

Shooting stages that push our skill sets in areas we don’t want to practice or don’t have the necessary equipment to train with will  only be to our benefit. Matches may require weak hand shooting, shooting on the move, maybe shooting moving and even running targets. Those are skills that need to be practiced and perfected. I have yet to attend a self defense course that did not emphasize Strong or Weak Hand shooting as a vital self defense skill. Same goes with shooting on the move. So when we compete let’s not shrug off our poor performance by saying “it’s just a game” . If we take that attitude we are fooling ourselves into thinking that when our life is on the line magically those skills will be there, sorry gang they won’t be.

We all want to feel tough. We all want to think we can handle the gun like a boss. Most of us have found out that just because we attended a class or two doesn’t make us John McLane or even Bob Vogel. In fact one of the unwanted side effects of classes is we can get a false self image of our actual ability. Thinking we are more competent than we actually are is more dangerous than having a realistic self image of our ability. Shooting against others on a even playing field can check our egos in a hurry. I would rather know what shots I can make on command with my pride on the line and not the lives of my family, friends or myself.

Just try to remember to take the reps where you can get them. Most gunfights are short, violent and chaotic, so our skills most be as sharp as possible to prevail. Remember every gunfight is a competition, there are winners and losers. There is a time limit in gunfights, it’s just a unknown par time. Hits matter a lot. Most winners hit first. I’ll wrap this up by saying get good gear. Discipline yourself and dry fire. Learn to manage your mind and take the lessons competition will teach you. Attend defensive firearms training classes to learn weapon manipulation and tactics. Apply all the above, then dominate the fight.

Stay safe and click at the wall,

Tom Nelson

Match Debriefing


My 2014 IDPA season is over with having competed in the Utah IDPA State Championship. Like all the matches hosted by UDPL it was well put together and the COFs were well planned and executed. Now I actually walked away from this state match feeling okay, which is a big difference from previous large matches I have shot. Last year’s Utah State Match I put on a poor performance which left me well in the rear of the top shooters competing that year. This year however with a ton of practice and a better mental game things turned out a little better.(Third Overall)

Critiquing your performance is essential to your improvement. This year I have kept all the results of the matches I have shot on my tablet to compare with the previous matches. Also the in-match notes and post match thoughts I write down. The GoPro has been awesome in documenting the stages and helping me remember what I was thinking via a first person view. I review all the data to build my training regiment. I use mainly the mistakes during the match and leave the positives behind. I don’t want to fall into a “I’m so great cycle” and end up just doing what I’m good at. So let me break down my match for you.

IDPA is a awesome practical pistol game because of it’s scoring system. You don’t need to win every stage you just need to be consistent in your stage execution. So I will spare you all the stage run times and so forth but I will give you my stage rank and the ranks of the shooter ahead of and behind me to prove this point.

Stage Ranks

1st place ESP shooter- 2,1,1,1,2,2,1,1,1,3. Now that kind of consistency will win you a lot of matches. Almost all the elite shooters in the sport put up runs like this.

Tom 2nd place ESP shooter- 4,2,4,1,3,3,4,7,4,13. This is what you call a controlled crash. Just like Arby’s, it’s not the best but it’s also not bad enough for you to stop coming.

3rd place ESP shooter-3,3,2,3,12,2,17,3,17. Where I lost to him the damage was minimal but his stage losses to me were catastrophic. I trailed 1st by 40 seconds and beat 3rd by 15 seconds. Now It was a mistake filled match on my part but I didn’t fall apart on large stages or make enormous mistakes. 3Rd’s loss to me was based on two stages alone. Consistent execution was the difference.

My plan was to to make the best use of my accuracy and be way more aggressive in my stage plan than I have ever been before, but not to the point where I was writing checks my hands couldn’t cash. If you want to improve your stage performance start with little rolls of the dice and not betting the house. The bets I lost on Saturday where procedural based or recovering from a violation so I would not receive a PE. But in most cases when I recovered from the error the cure was worse than the disease. I would spend more time correcting the error than what the penalty was worth. The points down came from getting ahead of myself on the stage plan and not focusing on delivering the shot that was at hand. A friend noticed that I fired a lot of extra shots throughout the match. When I examined the video I noticed after a stage where I had large amounts of Points Down I would make sure on the proceeding stage to fire extra shots at medium to difficult targets to ensure minimal points down. What it cost me was extra reloads on stages that didn’t need them, thus increasing my overall time. The final thing I need to address is my footwork when setting up into a position and when rounding cover.

Once you have identified your match issues the next step is to work drills into your dry fire that put that issue into play. It doesn’t have to be the main focus of the drill but must be a noticeable step, then see how the cookie crumbles in match scenarios. Getting better in this sport depends on reps, confidence and strong mental discipline to put process at the top of the list when that buzzer goes off and not the plan. My goal is to deliver a perfect draw, then position myself, get a good sight picture, press the trigger without disturbing the sights and rinse and repeat until there is nothing left to shoot. Process is not shooting this stage faster than the previous guy. Process is speed math, not speed reading. Just work it one problem at a time.

Stay safe and click at the wall,

Tom Nelson

Cross Training

Laying in my bed after a session of dry fire, I check the old YourFace and see some topics to write about. Robert Wyatt, who is a friend of mine and a great shooter suggested a inside joke topic of ” Why you should stick to shooting one gun for more than a month?”

I have been well know to swap between guns from match to match and even sad to say from stage to stage. To my credit I have stay consistent in my placement in club matches with my swapping ways. So tonight I will not answer Robert’s question but write about how this gun cross training can make you a better shooter.

This year alone I have shot these pistols  in matches local and even in Canada. CZ 75B Omega, Beretta 90-two, S&W M&P, Glock 17 and I have a FNH FNS Longslide on the way that I will shoot the year out with.
All these guns are similar and yet to the gunslinger are quite different,  cocked and locked 75b to the Double-Single 92, the striker fired Smith and the lower grip angle of the Glock. But really since the 1911 all modern pistol have the same layout, give or take a decocker here or a slide release there. Which really makes the jump between them minimal.

Now working with so many different guns can kick you in the ass, but only if you don’t put some work in before hand. Here are some of my reasons to cross train with multiple handguns.
1. Fundamentals are devoid of any firearm allegiance. Most casual shooters have picked up a friends gun and taken it for a spin only to come back and say “I can’t hit Sh!# with it”, or it “doesn’t fit me.” A good shooter regardless of firearm will be able to apply proper marksmanship skills and deliver a well placed shot. Shooting a new gun or a safe dweller will take what is now a unconscious effort and bring it to the forefront of your conscience mind. Thus reminding you of the what it feels and looks like to apply those marksmanship fundamentals.

2. Swinging the weighted bat. Now we all know of a few guns that are lacking in refinements, such as my Beretta 92. Long double action 11 pound trigger, 3 dot sights, a mag-well that is not beveled and just big enough to fit the magazine. It’s a lot of fun to watch your screaming fast reload come to a dead stop because you missed the dead center of the mag-well by a millimeter.

It sucks and is awesome all at the same time.

It sucks and is awesome all at the same time.

A tough gun to run is like a batter’s weighted bat in the on deck circle. It’s heavier thus slower to swing but makes the batter’s bat speed increase with his lighter game bat. That double action pull makes you get a better finger placement on the trigger. It makes you press evenly and smoothly, so you don’t pull the shot off target and you build grip strength.  That mag-well makes you work on indexing your mags correctly and helps you slow down at the critical points of your reload. Drawing a different gun can help you work on the angle and starting position of your grip. As soon as you go back to your  modern and lighter striker fired gun it will feel like a Ferrari 458 and not a Honda Odyssey.

3. Teaching others. Nothing is better than actual experience. It would be nice to help out that new shooter who was wrangled into that Sig 220 Super Combat Elite Dark Scorpion for his first gun and is putting the first round into the dirt at each stage, or those 4 out 5 women who walked out of the gun store with S&W Air Weight. Knowing how to pull that heavy and long DA trigger would be a boon to that shooter. The different ways the manufacturer zeros the sights on a  gun, where to hold the sights. Which aftermarket mags work and which are like being robbed 30 bucks at a time. Even if it is that super light striker spring that won’t set off that CCI primer, at least you can make difference and save that shooter a couple hundred bucks and a trip to the gunsmith.

Less never was better than more.  One trick ponies can’t win all the races and variety is the spice of life. So buy them all and let the learning  begin.

Stay safe and click at the wall,

Tom Nelson