Training for Match Mode – Part 1

Before we delve into this subject I want to make it clear that what I am about to say is specific to competition and is something I been experimenting with and developing; and, it is based on Steve Anderson’s Match Mode, Speed Mode and Accuracy Mode concept. I offer this as food for thought and something you might want to experiment with.

Live fire training is a necessity for competitors. While dry fire practice is a great way to increase certain skills, you still need to feel the recoil of the gun. You need to hear the noise and you need to see the smoke. You can’t learn to mitigate the urge to blink and flinch in dry fire. You can’t learn how to watch the sights lift and settle in dry fire. Live fire training is a necessity for all competitors that care about improvement.

I put out an article recently discussing the concept of comparing your skill development to yourself through trending. I followed that up with two articles with a variety of drills to help you to increase your shooting ability. But what about trending ourselves on larger drills or mini-stages? We could perform a baseline run with the timer and then repeat the drill over and over. As long as you repeat the drill setup exactly every time and change nothing, then it is feasible. But let’s be realistic; the time trending on small drills works because the setup is repeatable. Once you get to drills larger than the El Presidente’ your trending is at the mercy of your accuracy with a tape measure, the sun, shadows cast on the target, ground elevation and even the ambient temperature.

But there is another issue at play. When we are practicing for time there is a tendency to go all out. This is actually a good thing and is what Steve Anderson calls Speed Mode. This is important because it allows the shooter to know what if feels like to “go fast”. But it has a humongous drawback – the tendency to train yourself to always go all out. In a match you should be shooting at the level you feel most comfortable and most consistent, you should level, not rushing and trying.   On bigger drills what is needed is a way to trend our improvement while also ensuring we are not rushing or “trying” to do more than our skill allows.

If trending time alone is less than practical on larger drills what are we to do? We score the drill, the same way we do in a match. We still use a timer but the only thing that is important is the start beep and the final number.   But let’s delve deeper and look at why this is important.

As noted above, Match Mode is a term that also comes from USPSA GM Steve Anderson and it makes total sense. If we want consistency in our match performance we need a method to train that consistency. When we score a drill and compute Hit Factor we are balancing speed and accuracy – exactly like in a match. We can take the hit factor data and see how we would have performed in a match.

Remember, in a match we should only shoot when the sights “tell” us the shot will be scored well. When we try to go faster we get poor shots, missing and a gaggle of no-shoots with holes in them. Trying to exceed our current level in a match is foolish.

Example: imagine we have two USPSA Metric targets in close proximity to each other that are 10 yards away from the shooter. Then we have a shooters box 10 yards to the right with two Metric targets 7 yards from the box. The shooter must engage the first targets then move to the shooter box and engage the second set of targets. It is fair to say that the first run people make will be the slowest, but using the method of tracking that is a good thing. After the run, score the targets and compute the hit factor.

If you are unfamiliar with Hit Factor you will find a really good article by Travis Tomasie here.

Hit Factor = Points Per Second

What does that mean?

Simply put, Hit Factor = Points / Time

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Now run the same drill 6-8 times. If you are like most people you will have one run that stands out from the rest – the YouTube run. For our purposes this run, your fastest run, is the stage winner. Now use the remaining hit factors (minus the fastest time) to calculate your average score. Comparing your average score to that one your fastest run you can see how far off your average is to absolute best.

Using this method we can trend the development of our match mode without having to mimic the same drill each time. Neither the raw time, nor the drill is important. The difference between the best run and your average is the key data point. With time you should see your average is closer to your peak run. The closer the average is to the best run the closer you are to performing at your peak level consistently.

I will stop here – for now. In Part 2 we will explore a couple of other benefits of this method and a way I have been able to equalize and bring our best and worst runs closer together.

Consistency – It Matters!

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?

Course Review: Bob Vogel World Class Pistol Skills – Part 2

Handguns are the most difficult firearms to shoot accurately. They have a relatively short sight radius, a relatively light weight, and the user is stuck trying to control the weapon with relatively small muscle groups. This is why trigger control is such a key factor in shooting a handgun well.

Bob Vogel lectures about his dryfire routine.
Bob Vogel lectures about his dryfire routine.

By “trigger control” I mean the ability to press the trigger to the rear without disrupting the sight picture of the firearm that you’re shooting. It sounds simple enough, but on a handgun we run into a physics problem right off the bat. The typical handgun weighs around 2.5 pounds fully loaded. The typical trigger pull on a handgun is well over 2.5 pounds. Glock triggers are often discussed in terms of their connector rating (standard for many years was 5.5 pounds) but in reality once you add in resistance from the springs the weight of the resulting trigger pull is usually around 1.5 pounds heavier than the rating on the connector. So to pull the trigger to the rear on a Glock you’re exerting force on the trigger that is more than double the weight of the pistol itself…which means the pistol is prone to move around in your hand (disrupting the sights) as you attempt to fire it. A solid grip, of course, helps stabilize the pistol against the torque you are applying to the trigger but the faster you try to shoot typically the more torque you are applying to the trigger.

Then, of course, there is the phenomenon of anticipation. When a handgun is fired the physics involved drives the muzzle up and back once the bullet has left the barrel. Most shooters will also note that there is movement away from the dominant hand…so a right handed shooter will likely see that the weapon moves back and to the left. We naturally want to fight that by trying to pull the gun back down on target. Anticipation is when we start to fight the recoil before the bullet has left the barrel, pulling the pistol down and away from the strong side. This results in low, left shots from right handed shooters.

To have any hope of hitting anything, it’s crucial for a shooter to learn how to properly press the trigger to the rear and not get ahead of the actual gunshot with their attempt to control the recoil of the pistol. How do they learn this? Dryfire.

Mr. Vogel spent quite a bit of time talking about his dryfire routine both as part of his usual lecture and in response to questions from the students in the class. People often think that top level shooters fire hundreds of thousands of rounds in a year but that’s not always the case. Mr. Vogel told the class that while he does train with live fire more than the average shooter, the majority of his skill was built with dryfire exercises at home. His approach to dryfire is unique, as he’s the first person I’ve encountered who doesn’t teach resetting the firing mechanism of the pistol for each trigger pull when dryfiring. As you can see in the video he’s doing a significant percentage of his dryfire training on a dead trigger.

 When I saw this it was so foreign to what I was used to that my prejudices kicked in and I thought there was no way on earth pretending to pull a dead trigger could possibly be useful. Then the rational part of my brain reminded the rest of it that Mr. Vogel has a lot more titles to his name than I do so perhaps paying attention would be wise. As the old saying goes, if it seems silly but it works, then it isn’t silly.

Mr. Vogel stressed intensity in dryfire training, meaning doing every bit of it as if you were on the range firing live ammunition. This means training to acquire his grip just as he does when the gun is loaded and even when working with a dead trigger “pulling” it with the same intensity and focus he would have during the real thing. It takes mental discipline to “work” a dead trigger like it’s the real thing, but believe it or not after a little bit you get the hang of it.

 The dead trigger pull also turns out to be a useful diagnostic tool. While I’ve shot Glocks quite a bit over the years, I haven’t really used one in a class where I was pushing as hard on speed and accuracy as I was in Mr. Vogel’s class. Shortly into the first day it was clear that the majority of my shots with my Glock 34 were grouping to the left. I had zeroed my pistol with the Warren sights well before coming to the class but I thought perhaps they had been bumped or loosened up some with the live fire and needed to be adjusted. I was just about to break out the sight tool when Mr. Vogel had us aim in on the targets and try dryfire on a dead trigger the exact same way we would be pulling the trigger at speed if we were doing a Bill drill. Still struggling with the concept in my mind, I did manage to do it right once…and when I did, I saw the front sight jump to the left.

 Part of the reason for this push to the left was that I was actually tensing up my shooting hand right at the last little moment of trigger pull, something I didn’t even realize was happening during live fire or even with my typical dryfire practice. It was invisible until I tried working with intensity against a dead trigger. (If it seems silly, but it works, then it isn’t silly.) Some folks also find that the nature of the Glock’s trigger, particularly the overtravel, tends to manifest this push to the off-side. I figure it’s probably a combination of that Glock factor and my own mistakes magnifying it to the point that my shots grouped to the left extreme of the A zone and into the C zone.

I’ve since tried the same drill with my other pistols (H&K P30, S&W M&P, 1911, revolvers) and it’s only with the Glock that I have this tendency to torque the gun to the left as I’m trying to pull the trigger. Lots of other shooters experience the same phenomenon, enough so that some sight manufacturers actually offset their sight notches slightly to compensate for right handed shooters pushing shots to the left with the Glock. It’s clearly something that I need to work on even if I never fire another shot from a Glock pistol.