I’ve Got An Alibi… Officer

First shot, BANG… 10 ring.

Second shot, BANG… 10 ring.

Third shot, BANG… X ring.

Fourth shot, CLICK… “Dammit.”

That unmistakable feeling when the bowels loosen, sphincter tightens and the tiniest drop of acidic fear splashes against your heart as you realize that something has just gone horribly wrong with your firearm. You have to see what is wrong and how fast you can remedy it so as not to hold up the match. You, my friend, got an alibi. Stress +1.

What, why, who how?

Nine times out of ten it’s certainly not the end of the world. A stovepiped piece of brass smoking happily from your chamber opening, a failure to feed the next round from the mag, or just a simple click-but-no-bang scenario. In these cases a simple clearing of the defective round or removal of the offending brass casing, maybe a little oil here and there and wack…you’re off and running again. Sometimes it’s a little more serious like a squib load. Other times a chambered round that just refuses to extract. Rarely, hopefully extremely rarely, a firearm that simply ceases to work mechanically in any way. No matter which scenario has occurred, you will have to deal with it during a match. Stress +1.

Problem solved, the match that you’ve derailed begins to move on again. You’re now expected to get back into your rhythm. Obey your shot plan. Remember your fundamentals. Unfortunately, what you are thinking of is; “I hope that doesn’t happen again. It shouldn’t happen again because I fixed the problem. I can’t have another alibi so this had better work.” Stress +1.

Now it comes time to shoot your alibi string of fire. Otherwise called your “refire string”, you grasp hold of your loaded mag and wait for the commands. You close your eyes, trying to think of something, anything to get your mind off what this is. While technically it’s just another string of fire and that’s exactly how you should treat it, sometimes the mind is a terrible place. Frantically, you repeat in your head; “No one is staring at me. No one’s annoyed that the match is being held up by me. No one is judging me or my equipment.” The commands begin, you fire your string of fire, it goes okay so you score the low ten and move on with the match.

Know your equipment

Invariably it’s going to happen to you as a competitive shooter. There’s just no avoiding it. Not a matter of if but a matter of when, very much applies here. Accept that sooner or later, you will have to deal with a broken or malfunctioning piece of equipment on the firing line. The first step to dealing with this is to know your equipment and know it well! I can field strip my 1911 on the line at the national championships, in the rain, with my eyes closed. If you know your equipment then you know how things work. When they stop working, or more accurately, they work improperly, you’ll already know what to do to get things rolling again. Having the proper tools on hand can also make the difference between continuing with the match and collapsing to the ground in tears. Cleaning once in a while also helps.

What are you… mental?

Precision shooting is not a physical sport. Not that it couldn’t hurt to do some push ups once in a while and cut back on the Krispy Kremes, but when it comes time to pull the trigger, the only physical part of the game is addressing those fundamentals; stance, grip, breath, sight picture,  trigger and follow through. Past that, it’s all mental. The higher stress levels caused by mentally working ourselves up into a frenzy–even a little one, barely perceptable by others–is enough to screw the pooch when it comes to your game.

I would love to tell you that there is a solid technique taught to High-Masters during some secret ceremony that prevents them from losing their cool during an alibi. And I suppose that there actually could be such a ceremony due to the fact that I am not yet a high-master, so I guess I wouldn’t really know, but let’s assume that it’s all about you, your gun and your string of alibi fire. Like anything else worth doing in the shooting sports, only good practice makes you better. As for alibi strings, only doing them enough will get you past them.

As for me? As a competitor, I find that mentally whistling a tune gets me through an alibi. Not enough of a mental distraction to take me out of the game, but just enough to push everything else away. But that’s just me. Just promise me that whatever you do–don’t avoid raising your hand and taking the alibi when something goes wrong. How many times have I watched other competitors do this because of nerves or embarrassment. Just stop that now. You NEED to take your alibis and refire when necessary.

Go have a match.