The Reality Of Shooting Practice

 On June first, I shot the Tri-State Regionals precision pistol match here in New Jersey. We began the match with the CMP .22-EIC match, during which I had major malfunctions with the .22 gun I was using and was forced to retire it before the match even moved out of the slow-fire stage. Despite the unfortunate malfunctions (not my “regular” gun), I took it in stride and moved onto the .22 match. All in all I shot ..22 just fine–an 838 if I am not mistaken–not my highest score, but fine. I figured it was a good way to set up the rest of the days shooting, now that we were moving onto centerfire. Out came the Springfield 1911… and it all went to hell from that point on. What is the reality of shooting practice? The reality is, that if you don’t practice, the results can be a disaster.

How bad was it?

I shot the centerfire and .45 matches like hot garbage. Not your run-of-the-mill warm trash during the summer before pickup day. No, we are talking back-alley dumpster behind the Chinese takeout, during a seven-day heatwave, smack in the middle of a city garbage strike. It was putrid–you get the point. At first, I kind of laughed about it. Just some classic low-left trigger jerks, the occasional wrist-breaks and a sprinkling of elbow-bends causing that “loop-de-loop” of the gun muzzle as the trigger gets pulled. As the centerfire match went on though, the laughs became deadpan stares, which became eye-rolls, which became an emotionless drain of all energy and focus. Finally, I was forced to stop and think to myself… when exactly had been the last time I shot .45 in competition? The answer… September 2018 during the outdoor state championship. Eight months.

Practice? Who needs practice?

I need to practice. There are some shooters who can go an entire year without picking up a gun and then pick it up and rattle off 9’s, 10’s and X’s like it was only yesterday, but not me. I’m the kind of shooter who forgets how to ride the bike unless he rides constantly. I can rebuild my skillsets fairly quickly with continued practice, but the practices weren’t there. So why didn’t I practice? Well. I’ve got a laundry list of excuses I can offer you, but considering that I wrote a PSM Blog Post entitled; “Precision Quest”, where I call people out for their excuses in shooting poorly, I can’t be a hypocrite. Suffice to say that my home range has been under construction until yesterday (literally) and I will table the other excuses. It was my fault I shot terribly.

So what? Everyone has had a bad match.

Yes. Everyone has a bad match. Precision shooting is a game of up’s and down’s. It’s the NEXT shot that’s important because there’s no way to change the last one. These are the things that I tell my junior pistol team all the time as some of them celebrate championship victories and others suffer gut-crushing defeats. We take it in stride. We will practice harder. We push it out of our heads. Saying these words are one thing–living them is another. What I would have given to have had a coach whispering these words of encouragement into my ear as I made that long walk of shame up to a target that might as well have been shot by a first time shooter. Without encouragement, it’s easy to fall into despair. It wasn’t until midway into the .45 match that things started getting a little better… just a little. That was when I faced the choice of either quitting the match, or figuring it out and working the problem. Considering the fact that NJ precision competitors do not quit–I worked the problem and asked myself what I would tell one of my juniors if they were facing the same results? The elbow–it must stay locked. If it is unlocking, adjust your stance to take the load off your chest muscles and onto your shoulder. The wrist–with the elbow locked, the wrist can take care of itself so long as the grip is contained to the middle and ring fingers. The trigger–don’t pull it–move it. Even, steady pressure that builds until the shot breaks. The fundamentals. Trust the fundamentals.

Did it work?

The scores started creeping back up. 86, 88, 90. Groups moving back toward the center of the target and becoming tighter. And then… the match was over. Refocusing on the fundamentals did help, but why with the right frame of mind and use of those fundamentals did it show results? Because every shot performed correctly was practice. My mind and body were reminded of what worked and what didn’t. Each shot was another wrung of a tall, steadily sinking ladder. Keep firing with proper form and the right frame of mind and up you go. Neglect the fundamentals or don’t fire–don’t practice at all–and you sink with the ladder.

The Reality Of Practice

The next big match for me are the Nationals at Camp Perry. Sure, there are other local matches that are available to shoot before that, but I can’t get to them. My time is already committed to work, family, etc… Is that an excuse? No. I do not consider the obligations of life to be excuses. But what about practice? Yes, that I can do and I have set a schedule for myself and the NJ Junior Pistol Team that we are practicing twice a week at least until nationals. The garbage match of last weekend was a stern, unyielding reminder to practice what I preach as a shooting coach and also a firm kick in the ass to remind me that the only way to achieve something is to work hard for it. I have a solid month of hard work ahead of me.

Go have a practice.


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