It’s Not The Gun… It’s You.

It took me a little over a year to become obsessed with competitive precision shooting sports.

A years worth of matches, shoulder to shoulder with people who would become some of my best and closest friends, long enough to realize that yup, this is for me. Almost immediately, my thoughts began to wander about how to become a better competitor. I was still making plenty of mistakes. Didn’t have all the fundamentals quite down yet. Technique was shaky. Some of the concepts and even rules still not one hundred percent clear in my mind. Yep, that was my conclusion as well–It’s gotta be the gun. And of course to all you who are smiling now because you remember when you were here too, thousands of dollars later you came to that jagged, rusty conclusion; It’s not the gun… it’s you.

See if you remember this: Shots are all over the place so the firearm must need a better trigger. Shell out money for a new trigger. Shots are still all over the place so the firearm must need a better optic or better open sights. Whip out money to improve sight picture. Shots are still all over the place so probably need better grips. Fork over money for new grips. Shots are still all over the place so clearly the internals all need “smoothing”. Dip into the kid’s college fund to send the firearm off to a gunsmith and pay to have the guts “slicked up”. Get talked into replacing all the springs, too. Shots are now still all over the place…BUT, not as all over the place as they were, so clearly all the cost was worth it. The thought never crosses the mind that it was all the practice and shots downrange that was responsible for the better scores.

Money will make me a better shooter

From the tightest, most high-end frame fitted handgun to the most quality, tuned and teched-out sniper rifle that money can buy, it’s all not worth a damn penny in shot value if you don’t have the skill set to accurately send a bullet downrange. That first gun that I started out with all those years back, we’ll it’s since been stripped back down to factory standard. Completely cannibalized for its parts to be used on other guns. It was not too long ago that I brought that old friend back to the range with me for a laugh and guess what? Yup. Shot a pretty typical score for myself with a “basic gun”. So what was the difference? Fundamentals, baby. Fundamentals and practiced technique.

She/He has a better gun than I do

The perception of whose gun is better than who’s is a brain worm that affects us all. The concept of “I gotta get me one of those” represents a place where we all have been, silently snarling as we covet the firearm of the person to our left or right. It’s unfortunate that the firearm we have in our hands seems to always take the back-burner of been-there, done-that. The sobering truth that most frequent upgraders find is that they almost never get enough time with the gun they HAD to have before needing a different one. While this is not always the case, the truth is that if you shoot better than your gun can, your scores will suffer until you find something better. If the gun shoots better than you can, your scores will suffer until you catch up. The answer always comes back to the basics.

You don’t suck

There’s a fundamental to practicing the fundamentals that fundamentally is not fun. Dry-firing is not fun. Focusing on your stance, grip, sight picture, breathing, trigger control, posture, position to the target, focus, hold and follow-through is boring. And yes, there are a few more fundamentals there than the typical ones you hear about (I have found that coaching juniors necessitates this). But you must beg the question, when I run into trouble on the firing line–non-mechanical trouble–what is it that you do to recover? Complain that you suck at shooting? No. You go back to the basics and make sure you’ve covered all the bases.

I told a story to the juniors while we were discussing stance and posture, about how at a match, all of a sudden my shots were going low. The windage was dead on where it should have been, but the elevation was low. Shot after shot–low, low, low. Reaching the saturation point of my frustration and one more low shot away from pitching the gun with all my strength downrange (it probably would have gone low), I instead put the gun down and reset. Starting from my toes and working up to my head, I addressed everything that were the building blocks of my shooting fundamentals… until I got to my shoulders and realized that something didn’t feel right. I had been so caught up in the match that I never realized that I had started dipping my head down into my shoulders as I brought the gun up, and hence, the low shots. Starting from scratch and adding a small head-lift to my shot plan, nary a low shot since.

A firearm doesn’t really care who pulls its trigger. The gun is going to do what the gun is going to do. If it’s built correctly, it will do it better than some others can. It’s the shooter that has the hangup about the tech and it’s the shooter that needs the skill set to use the gun in the proper way. All too often we forget this and get it backwards. A good shooter knows how to make the most of what a firearm can do on any level. If we take the time to remember and apply what we now take for granted, the tech seems a little less shiny way back on the bench when admiring what we did on the target.

But that new Aimpoint would be really frigging sweet, right?

Go have a match.