USPSA training stage

Since we’ve been focusing pretty hard on 1911 lately, I’ve been revisiting a lot of my old 1911 content. Here’s a video from the Automatic Accuracy class I took back in 2013 with Ben Stoeger and Matt Mink as I was training up for Single Stack Nationals. The gun is a Colt 1911 CCG in .45 ACP. Mags are Wilson ETM, belt/holster is all Safariland.

American Marksman doesn’t want any actual marksmen to compete

Have you heard of American Marksman? It’s a new shooting competition where amateur shooters have a chance to win $50,000 in an interesting competition. You can read the official rules here; the idea is local shooters can qualify at their home range, then if they shoot well enough they can move up to the national competition, which will be televised and could win $50,000. Seems pretty cool, right? Except for this one little part about eligibility:

If you have ever placed in the top 10%, in any category, at any of the events listed below, you are not eligible to participate in American Marksman.

Amateur Trapshooting Association – AIM Grand Championships
CMP – CMP National Trophy Rifle and Pistol Matches
GSSF – Any GSSF event
ICORE – ICORE National Championship
IDPA – Indoor National Championship, US National Championship
International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association – IHMSA World Championship
IPSC National Championship – Any
Military – Any Branch that picks its member based on marksmanship ability (ex – Navy Seal Sniper)
National Bench rest Shooters Association – Long Range Nationals, SR Score Nationals, LR Score Nationals, Group Nationals
National Skeet Shooting Association – World Skeet Championships
National Sporting Clays Association – National Sporting Clays Championship
NRA – National Matches at Camp Perry, National Small-bore Championship, Collegiate Rifle National Championship,
Collegiate Pistol National Championship, Precision Pistol Competition (National Police Shooting Championships), Action
Shooting National Championship
NSSF Rim fire Challenge – World Championship
Outlaw 3 Gun – Any Outlaw 3 Gun match
Precision Rifle Series – PRS Championship Match
SASS – National Championships Winter Range, Mounted Shooting National Championships
Steel Challenge Shooting Association – SCSA World Championship
US Clay Target Association – USA Shooting National Championship
USPSA National Championships – Multi-Gun Nationals, Single Stack Nationals, Revolver Nationals, Production Nationals, Carry
Optic Nationals, Limited Nationals, Open/Limited 10 Nationals

There’s another piece of their eligibility requirements as well that makes me shake my head:

This tour is built on the idea that amateur shooters should have the chance to compete, improve and win. The guidelines below describe how American Marksman classifies an amateur shooter:
Does not have any level of sponsorship (under a shooting contract of any kind, receive product, cash or match entries from a third party)
Has never placed in the top 10% of national level or higher competitive shooting event in any division or category.
Has never been ranked in the top 10% in any national competitive shooting organizations classification system.
Is not a member of a shooting team that is selected based on shooting skill.

So, it’s pretty obvious that they don’t want any professional or sponsored shooters playing their game, which I guess is fine. I mean, if I was going to have a competition to crown someone “the American Marksman” I’d probably want the best shooters in the country to try out for it, but whatever, it’s not my 50 grand.

So you’re probably think “well, I’m not a sponsored shooter, but I’m a USPSA master, so I could probably dust this competition and make some sick cash!” Yeah, not so fast, bucko. My friend Thomas from Precision Response had that exact thought, so he sent American Marksman an email. Here’s the response he received:

Hi Thomas,

Based on the sponsorship criteria provided me, you are correct. You would still be eligible.

As for the second part of your question, you are also correct. Anyone who is a GM or M in USPSA, or an M or EX in IDPA is NOT eligible for this competition. (emphasis added)

Please let me know if you have any other questions!

Best of luck!

You read that right. No IDPA Masters or Experts, and no USPSA GMs or Masters. That…well let’s be honest, that tells me everything I need to know about this competition, and what it says is they’re not interested in getting good shooters. It also tells me that they don’t know anything about the skill disparity between an IDPA Expert and a USPSA Master. I mean take me for example, at my best in USPSA when I was shooting regularly and training regularly I was a high A-class shooter, and I’m an IDPA Master.

Now, here’s the thing. You know what I want to see? I know there are plenty of talented A-class USPSA shooters that aren’t classified in IDPA, and if that’s the case I want all you people to register for this competition and wreck shop. This is actually your chance to make some money, so I want you to get out there and kick ass. Because that’s the only thing that will lend any sort of legitimacy to this farce of a competition. Because by intentionally excluding the most talented shooters in the nation, they’ve created a competition where the winner gets the best participation trophy ever. I know for a fact I won’t watch it when it gets to TV, because I don’t want to see a bunch nobodies compete for a bunch of money, I want to see the best shooters in the world duke it out. Since American Marksman isn’t interested in showing us that, I want all you A-class sonsabitches to get out and there and register for this. Wreck their curve!

Student or Dry Fire Hero?

Dry Fire. It is both proven to work and often misunderstood. It applies to competition and to concealed carry skills. Many swear by it and some (foolishly) scoff at it. Many times we hear people mention dry fire without actually explaining what it means so let’s get on the same page with regards to what dry fire is and isn’t.

Maggie Reese

Simply put, anything you can do to practice with your firearm that doesn’t require live ammo can be performed in dry fire. Dry fire is NOT aiming at the TV and pulling the trigger. It is not lying in your bed and aiming at the ceiling. You can use dry fire to improve your trigger with the proper regime. Check out the White Wall Drill for more information.

  • Want to get your draws smoother – practice in dry fire.
  • Want to speed up your reloads – practice in dry fire.
  • Want to improve transitions – practice in dry fire.
  • Want to improve recoil control – LIVE FIRE, NOT DRY FIRE!

Dry fire allows us to work on a great many skills without expending any ammo or driving to the range. However, dry fire is not a replacement for live fire.

I dry fire roughly 4 times a week for 30-40 minutes per session. Some will see that as a lot and some will see that as too little. In all honesty, I should be dry firing more to achieve my personal goals in competition. Although with those dry fire sessions, I try to get in one live fire session a week. This isn’t always possible but it is important. It keeps your dry fire honest. It is really easy to fall into the trap of dry firing exclusively and becoming a dry fire hero. In all likelihood, you go to the range and realize the skills are not as polished as you thought.

You might have a sub 1.0 second draw time in dry fire but if you have never got up on the 3 yard line and actually practiced it with live ammo and a timer, you don’t really know. Likely, you won’t be as fast; your conscious mind (see, there it is again) will take too long getting the perfect sight picture vs an acceptable sight picture.

It is easy to dry fire your way to speed, but you must still look for every weakness in live fire and find a way to execute it better. If not, you will be quick in your dry fire dojo but in live fire and/or a match, you will be stuck at your current level.

Don’t mistake this to mean dry fire isn’t important; because it is.  Dry fire without live fire confirmation, in the form of mini-drills against a timer, will not take you to the level you desire.

Are you a competitive student that looks for ways to improve using both dry fire and live fire or are you a dry fire hero; burning down drill after drill in your basement but never verifying a thing at the range?

Are you overlooking some easy improvement in the name of a quick dry fire par time?

Where are you and where do you want to be?

Mitigating Match Pressure

Today’s subject is a brief discussion about match pressure. If you shoot competition, you already know match pressure is real. So how can we control it?

Shelley Rae on the move

You dry fire frequently on a regular schedule. You exercise before live fire to get your heart rate up. You feel prepared to handle the match stress. However when you get to the starting box and the RO says “Shooter ready”, you get nervous, jittery and fall apart. Your heart rate quickens and your palms sweat. Unless you are a top shooter and/or have years (decades?) of experience under your belt, it will happen to you.  So what are we to do?

The reason is simple to diagnosis and hard to correct. You are over thinking and your conscious mind is tripping you up. Yes, the physical effects are caused by adrenaline and body alarm response but those are driven by your brain. You are your own worst enemy at the start of a stage. You work through different scenarios in your head; the “what ifs”, the good and bad from your last stage, how you are going to attack the stage and then you heard the magic words: “Load and make ready”.

“The consciousness of self is the greatest hindrance to the proper execution of all physical action” – Bruce Lee

It is my hope that most of you will find nothing new about this phenomenon. If you are a member of the Brian Enos Forum (and you should be), then you are likely aware of Mr. Enos’ competition beliefs but he is not alone.  USPSA Grand Master, Steve Anderson, has a wonderful podcast that is almost exclusively about the mental game. Let us not can’t forget Olympic Gold Medalist Lanny Bassham and his book, With Winning in Mind.

Of course reading their works, their “Zen” if you will, won’t do much on its own.  You need something to drive your focus when you are in the shooters box. Something you can take with you to both dry and live fire practice. What that “something” is will be up to the shooter. For instance, I focus on my breathing and try to listen to the surrounding noises and activity when awaiting the glorious sound of “Shooter ready – Standby”. If at an outdoor match, are there birds chirping? Are there leaves rustling? Try to focus on something that YOU can use to help calm the conscience mind.

I will admit that this is not as easy to do as it is to talk about. When I manage it effectively, my speed and accuracy are at their peak; but when I fail to manage it, my times suffer and I make mistakes. Those mistakes are not a negative as long as you recognize each failure and learn from it. That is the key! Anyone can recognize they made an error but those who can use that recognition to learn will get better and ultimately quicker. You must never see your errors as a failure but as declaration of a weakness. An identification of where you need to practice.   Ironically, this applies to life in general and not just shooting.

Another thing a person can do, which I have used with success during the stage, is to view each shot as the only shot.  “Issha Zetsumei” is a Japanese phrase that literally means “one shot and expire”.  It points to the fact that each shot should stand alone.  Do not worry about your score!  Focus on the front sight. Press the trigger. Watch the front sight rise. Repeat. Don’t shoot faster than you can see, but at the same time, only see what you need to see.

So there you have it.  If you want to control match pressure you have to learn to control yourself. Shoot your game and let everything else go. The score will take care of itself based on your level of skill.  Don’t shoot faster than your ability and don’t shoot slower than you need.  Shoot your game, shoot at your level and have fun.

And most important, remember to have fun. After all, it’s just a game.

2014 IDPA BUG Nationals

Apparently if you don’t practice at all, you shoot like crap.

Okay, let me back that one up a bit. I shot the 2014 IDPA BUG Nationals this past weekend in Springfield, MA. As usual, the NE crew put on a great match, making the most that they could with the stage limitations for Back-Up Guns. BUG stages are limited to a max of five rounds per string, no reloads (which I do think is dumb), no drawing, etc. It’s hard to come up with multiple fun stages with those limitations, but the crew at the S&W matches do a great job.

small revolvers for big things

To rewind a little further, prior to shooting this match my preparation consisted of sighting in my gun and making sure it was hitting where I wanted it to with my match ammo, the excellent Federal 148 grain full wadcutter. There are a lot of reasons I could offer as to why I didn’t prep for the match, but the truth is usually the best choice: I didn’t take this match seriously. Not because I dislike the match or anything like that, I just…didn’t really care how I shot. I knew that Jerry, Josh, and Joe would all be there in the revo category, and the odds of me beating all three of those guys to take the win even if I trained like a maniac are slim and none. Plus, I had sales meetings in the region which are actually important to me, so I wanted to focus on prepping for those.

As a result, I shot exactly like I trained: crappily. Oh sure, my base skill level is good enough to not get completely blown off the ball, but overall my shooting was pretty terrible. I dropped a ton of points, made stupid errors, didn’t trust my own vision, had procedurals, and even straight up drilled a couple of rounds into the hardcover of a target and didn’t bother to take a make-up shot when I had one available.


I could list my litany of mistakes, but the one thing I’m really not proud of is when I lost my cool for a second and barked at an SO. We were on our 3rd from the last stage, and I made a mistake that earned me a procedural and a couple of other penalties. I knew it the second I did it, and having already been on the range for 10 hours (more on that later) I just didn’t care to hear the explanation of my penalties, so when the SO started to explain in detail how I’d f***ed up, I just snapped and said “I know, I don’t care, just write ’em on my sheet and let’s get going.” It was rude, and I genuinely feel bad about that. I hope he reads this, because I don’t remember his name to formally apologize via email, but if you’re the SO I snapped at on Stage 5, I really am sorry. That was a dick thing to do.

My terrible performance had an interesting side effect on me. I had planned on BUG Nationals being my last major match before going on hiatus from majors for 2015, but I shot so bad that I don’t want my last major to be that. I just don’t. I’d rather go train hard for Indoor Nationals in Feb and shoot as best as I can, even if I get beat, than go out in a match where I half-assed it and didn’t care. Turns out what I needed to re-ignite the competitive spark was to get my ass kicked. Go figure.

One last thought on the match itself – this year had major stage flow issues. Two squads that were positioned well never encountered major backups, however the remaining squads ran into serious bottlenecking issues that were caused by having two pretty lengthy and involved bays running back-to-back. In fact, there were too many stages this year. 14 stages with an average of three stings per stage of 5 rounds takes too long; and the match could have been just as good if two of those stages had been deleted entirely. Yes, that would have lowered the round count to around 150, but who shows up to a BUG match expecting to blaze 300 rounds anyway?

At the end though, it was still a fun match. In a way, I’m glad I shot like garbage, because it reminded me that I do care about my performance at these things. I enjoyed shooting the stages, and thought that they were generally pretty creative and decent, I just could have used two or so fewer stages to get us off the range a little bit quicker.