Goal based training

“I want to get better at shooting,” said the student to the teacher. That’s awesome, because everyone who carries a gun should want to get better at shooting. But it’s also really broad, and is the sort of thing that can lead to frustration on the part of the shooter when they don’t feel like they’re progressing towards their goal.

Caleb Area 3

This is why I believe it’s incredibly important to set clear, defined goals. I’ve talked about goal setting and training a lot, and I’m going to continue to beat this drum as long as my fingers still work the keyboard. It’s the only way to make true progress, and the best way to measure progress as well. Let’s take that goal of “I want to get better at shooting” and break down into an actual achievable training program.

Right now, I’m an A-class USPSA shooter. I want to get better at shooting. Okay, what’s better? Being a Master class shooter is better. Immediately I change my goal from “I want to get better” to “I want to be a Master class USPSA shooter.” Now that I know where I’m going with this goal, I can look at what performance I need to enhance in order to get there. Because my goal is focused around classification, the best thing I can do is focus on the skills that are tested by classifiers – fundamental marksmanship and gun handling skills, primarily. Draws, transitions, and reloads. Most classifiers don’t have a lot of movement, so I can omit positional drills from my practice for the time being.

Next I want to break that larger goal down into smaller goals. If I want to make Master, I can identify critical performance areas that I can improve in order to meet that goal. For example, something like this:

  • I want to be able to draw and fire two shots to an A-zone in less than a second from my USPSA holster.
  • I want to be able to do a shot-to-shot speed reload to an A-zone hit in less than 1.5 seconds from my USPSA magazine pouches.
  • I want to be able to transition on close targets in less than 0.30 seconds shot-to-shot

Those are all goals that will help achieve my overarching goal of making Master in USPSA. Now that they’re established, I can then look at what training I should implement in order to get there. For all of these goals, the training would be a mix of dry fire and live fire. Working on draws I’d want to practice dry fire draws both with no par time and with a par time. The idea is to use dry fire to eliminate wasted movement on the draw and build a solid, consistent index where the gun arrives in my eyeline on target. Then I’d take that skill to the range and test it in live fire, again off the clock and using a par time.

The same is true for transitions and reloads. Dry fire is used to eliminate wasted movement and build the speed necessary to accomplish my goal; then live fire is used to refine those dry fire skills in a training environment. Performance tracking is key here, because if I’m not keeping track of what I’m doing on each drill, I won’t be able to measure my improvement and progress towards the goal. I can’t just go to the range, whip out my timer and go on the clock hoping for the best, I need to have a progressive, sustainable training plan.

When I eventually reach those training goals, I need to be able to pressure test my skills, which is where matches come into play. Shooting classifiers and matches allow me to see if the training is producing the expected and desired increases in performance on match day. If it’s not, I need to evaluate both my training plan and mental state to see where I’m going wrong. It could be that my plan itself is good, but I’m struggling with mental focus; or my training plan could be totally wrong for the goal I’m trying to accomplish.

The bottom line is that without goals and performance tracking, training is little more than self-gratification. Pick your goals intelligently, and plan your training accordingly.

HK VP9 shooting USPSA Limited Minor

Matches and good classes are really the best place to test out your gun. Once you’ve established that a pistol is reliable enough for a match or a class, take it to an actual event and shoot it at speed. You’ll learn stuff about the gun that can’t be revealed in dry fire or single lane training. As an example, in this USPSA video featuring the VP9 is that at speed, even with a solid grip, the gun tends to have a lot of muzzle flip. It’s nothing that can’t be controlled, but at the same time it was a lot more bounce than I expected from a 9mm. It actually flips the muzzle more than my .45 ACP 1911, which is odd.

So take your guns to a class or a match. You might be surprised what it tells you.

I was wrong about American Marksman

Last week I wrote a post blasting the new shooting competition American Marksmen for their policy that disqualifies many talented amateur shooters from competing. What I didn’t know at the time was who the creative team behind American Marksman was. As it turns out, the driving force behind American Marksman is my friend and mentor, Michael Bane. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Michael, so I emailed him and invited him to comment on the post. Here’s what he had to say:

Hi kids! Caleb, you know I respect your opinion and your knowledge — hell, you wrote for Marshal and I on DRTV back in the Back When — but I don’t think you see the vision we have here. You know my resume…I’ve been involved in the start-up of USPSA, IDPA and NSSF RIMFIRE CHALLENGE…I’ve shot pretty much every shooting sport, including obscure things like Summer Biathon and odd shotgun sports. My goal here, the goal of everyone at OUTDOOR CHANNEL and Kroenke Sports Entertainment, is to bring a huge number of new people into the shooting sports. I have been involved in American Marksman since Meeting 1, and I have been adamant that it would be a shooting completion…not a slingshot, throwing tomahawks or whatever crap TOP SHOT devolved into. Accordingly, I insisted on bring in Mark Passamaneck as the technical director…Mark and I worked together to create one of the first IDPA clubs in the beginning.

Mark is a top 3-Gun competitor, trainer and match director. He has shot USPSA, IDPA, RIMFIRE CHALLENGE, is the founder of Carbon Arms and a lifelong hunter. He has also served for 2 years as the match director of the NSSF RIMFIRE CHALLENGE World Championships. Frankly, he is one of the finest match directors/match designers in the world today.

While I appreciate the work it takes to succeed at a specific shooting discipline, shooters made the choice to shoot those disciples. My goal — my job, if you will — is to “grow the pie,” change the baseline for the shooting sports. My job is not to reward people who worked hard to succeed in sports in which there is no money.

After years of ratings, I am in the unique position of having a “data base” of what people are interested in watching. I can tell you categorically they are NOT interested in “professional” shooters. Not even a little tiny bit. In fact, with a few notable exceptions (ahem…the Miculek family), if I put a professional shooter on the screen, I can hear remotes clicking across the country.

The reason there is no money in “professional” shooting is there are not enough people in the sport to support a professional cadre in any true sense of the word. If you got into the shooting sports for any reasons other than fun, the camaraderie and the personal challenge, with the added bonus of learning a skill that could contribute to saving your life, you are in the wrong sport. IF you want more money in shooting, get more people in shooting…which is, parenthetically, what I’ve been trying to do for decades.

I sat down with Mike Foley, the new Prez of USPSA, this morning to see what we can do to move that sport forward. I am in regular contact with Joyce Wilson at IDPA and NSSF on the Rimfire. This season on SHOOTING GALLERY we’re featuring IDPA, 3-Gun and part of the Precision Rifle Series.

My producing partners Tim Cremin (GUN STORIES WITH JOE MANTEGNA; THE BEST DEFENSE) and John Carter ( SHOOTING GALLERY and SHOOTOUT LANE) and I will be in charge of the televised finale for AMERICAN MARKMAN…we have more experience than anyone else in the world on producing shooting sports programming. Period. It will be spectacular.

And it will be amatuer.

Your friend,

Michael B

I took the time to read that through and digest it, and I have to say that it changed my opinion on American Marksman. Yes, I still think that Master class and GM shooters should be allowed to compete, but now I understand what they’re trying to do. I think that the ultimate goal of creating an accessible and interesting shooting competition that puts the lens on true amateurs has value. What’s especially interesting to me is Michael’s data backed observation that with very few exceptions, the gun owning public doesn’t care about professional shooters. It’s one of those things that you can easily forget about when you’re deep into the competition shooting world. Outside of the Miculeks, Dave Sevigny, and Rob Leatham, the professional shooting community is basically unknown to the general gun owning populace.

To wrap things up, I was wrong about American Marksman. I wish all the best luck to Michael and his crew with American Marksman. I’ll follow along as the show progresses. I still think if you’re an A-class USPSA shooter and unclassed in IDPA, you should enter! Take a swing at 50k!

IDPA Classifier in 50 Seconds

Still throwing it back to some of my favorite 1911 videos. Here’s a run through the IDPA classifier that took less than 50 seconds…in raw time. After points down it wasn’t too bad, right around an 80. So I dropped about 60 points. Shot with the best 1911 I’ve ever had, the Colt 1911 CCG.

The Folly of Chasing Gear – Competition Version

In the last 18 months I have changed my competition gun 3 times while chasing the elusive “perfect” pistol so allow me to spin you a yarn on what not to do.

First, I must note that I am FAR from the first person to write or talk about this subject.  Ben Stoeger had a Podcast about it and the guys at Triangle Tactical have warned against this more times than I can count. But I can be stubborn and had to learn these lessons hard way.  It is my hope that you are not as stubborn as I am, and that you won’t repeat my mistakes.

Oh the circuitous path I took.

When I started in competition I wanted a gun that would work for competition, but also work as a defensive weapon.  With that fallacy firmly in mind I went out and bought a Glock 34 – a fine competition gun by the way –  then I sold it almost immediately for the XD-9 Tactical I wrote about in “My Time With An XD”.  With my “competition” gun on hand, I geared up with a Comp-Tac International Holster, a cheapo mag pouch and a 5.11 Belt from Bass Pro Shops.  The gun worked fine (the cheap mag pouch – not so much) but after a few matches I had a nagging “what if”; a “what if” that was only fueled when I got to dry fire Ben Stoeger’s Stock II and then shoot both a Stock II and a SP-01 that belonged to other people.

IMG_4830It was with dreams of greatness that I sold the XD and proceeded to buy a CZ P-09. (the one in the photo)  I had decided that I “needed” a DA/SA competition gun and already owning a 2nd generation P-07 I knew of CZ P- series awesomeness.  Truthfully, deep down I knew I would end up with a metal gun, but I wanted to prove the DA/SA was something I could master and compete with first.  What better than the bigger brother of a gun I already owned, right?  It didn’t take long to fall in love with DA/SA and prove to myself it was the way I wanted to go.  Thoughts confirmed, I pulled the trigger (pun intended) on a Tanfoglio Limited Pro.

In all of that swapping and monkey motion I learned some valuable lessons.

Losing money (gun) – I liked the XD, but it was never going to be what I really wanted.  I knew if I fell in love with competitive shooting I would want a metal gun. I should have bought the CZ P-09 first.  That would have given me a chance to run a DA/SA at the high round count class with Ben Stoeger and I would have ultimately saved money.  I don’t regret buying the P-09; but I do regret the money I spent “learning” the XD, only to part ways with it 9 months later.

Losing money – ancillary equipment – You just changed guns?  Great! Now you can buy a new holster, spare parts, sights, trigger job, extra mags, and grip tape.  If you are really lucky, your existing mag pouches won’t work (read: Tanfoglio Large Frame) and you get to modify what you have or order new ones.  If there is a shining spot it is the fact you can re-coup some of that gear cost by including it in the sale of the gun.

Ammo “wasted”?–  It is nice to say we learn from every round shot, but wouldn’t it be nice to do that learning on a platform you will keep?  Then you gain both the knowledge, as well as trust in the platform.  I put about 1k through the P-09 before I moved to the Lim Pro and while I love the P-09 and plan on keeping it, it would be nice to have that ammo back to live fire practice with the Lim Pro.  This desire to have the ammo back is an order of magnitude greater when thinking of the XD.

Tracking Improvement –  I am better now than a year ago, but I know it is not all the gear.  I will proudly admit a 44 ounce gun with a 2.5# trigger is amazing and make for easy controlled pairs, but I must also admit that much of my improvement has been due to a refined trigger control, more efficient movements, and seeing what I need to see.

To better illustrate, you can’t go back and start over with your beginner skill level every time you change gear.  As you run and learn your new gear you are also adding to your current skill level.  The simple fact is the improvement you realize from the gear change is over-stated in your mind.

Rebooting, again and again –  Oh, you have your mag changes down to 1 second?  Great!  Now change platforms and tell me what happens!  Every time you change gear, you back up some and have to relearn draws, mag changes, transitions, and on, and on.  Sometimes it is small – like going from the P-09 trigger to the Lim Pro and sometimes it is brutal.

Pick a gun and stick with it – It seems that in most cases this is the best bet.  But as with most things in life, there are concessions to be made.  If you are starting out with a Ruger P89, you would probably benefit more from a gear change (update?) than someone starting out with a Glock G17.  Similarly, if all you own is a G27 then by all means shoot it while planning for an upgrade; but I suggest staying with a G22 or G35 so the familiarity remains.

Are there gains to be made by changing gear?  Sometimes; but, first you need to evaluate your current skill level against the gains you will realistically see in the near term.  I have dry fired an awful lot this year, likely enough to be a high A class in USPSA, but I am not because most of my dry fire time was spent learning new gear and not refining a specific skill.

My advise?  Decide if what you currently own will work and be realistic about it.  A Glock 17 will take you to Grand Master in USPSA and Distinguished Master in IDPA, where as a Hi-Point probably won’t.  If you want something better that’s fine, but I suggest you shoot what you have and save up to get what you really want the first time to minimize the re-learning.  Bouncing around only waste time and money.

If you don’t want to listen to my experience, that is also fine; I just ask you withhold your shock when you look back and realize the money and/or ammo spent.

Lest anyone think this applies only to competition shooters, I have done CCW swapping as well; but that is a story for another day.

Training again and it sucks

After taking (now) 8 months off from any sort of shooting sports training, over the holiday weekend I finally sacked up, loaded up some guns and ammo and went to the new Badlands Gun Range here in Sioux Falls. A quick note on the range itself, which I’m going to talk about later on, it is by far one of the nicest facilities I’ve ever had the pleasure to shoot at. Right up there with the NRA HQ range or West Coast Armory in Bellevue. But anyway, back to training.

Smith & Wesson M&P9 in PHLster Skeleton

I took two guns, my M&P9 with RMR that I’ve been using as an EDC, and an M&P9L Pro. I had a couple of specific training goals: check the zero on my RMR, and then use the Pro to work on draws to a low percentage target and reloads. Zero on the RMR gun is fine, and it functioned well with a magazine of carry ammo, so it basically got loaded up and sent back into its holster for the duration of the session. The reason I had the Pro out is because it’s the only gun I currently own that’s legal for IDPA SSP and ESP both; and we also have a CORE version of it if I wanted to get silly and play Production Optics (I want to get silly and play Production optics).

So let’s look at the actual training. 8 months off is a long time, so I needed to set some baselines first to see where I was at. First drill was straightforward, shoot Dot Torture at 5 yards. 49/50, and the only reason I dropped a point was because the first shot out of the holster I wasn’t quite aware of the gun’s POA/POI, so the first round went low. Everything after that was where I wanted it to be. Not bad.

Smith & Wesson M&P9L Pro

Up next was 2 shots to a 3×5 card at 7 yards. I set the par time to a generous 3.00 seconds to start with, which I was able to beat pretty easily. I’ve always like the way the 9mm M&P Pros return in recoil, which makes running this drill a bit simpler. I dropped the par to 2.5, then 2.25, and finally 2.00, all working from an open top holster without concealment. I struggled a bit around 2.00, which isn’t too surprising, given how much time I’ve taken off. But honestly, I was feeling pretty good. I was getting my hits, my draw was nice and smooth, everything felt awesome.

Then I started working on reloads. Oh my dear giddy aunt, I suck so bad. Sure, I can reload the gun smoothly…but quickly? Nope. My shot to shot reloads were all over 2.00 seconds, and try as I might I couldn’t get there. I was actually starting to get really frustrated with myself, because my reloads sucked pretty hard. I know how to fix it though…lots and lots of dry fire. In fact, dry fire is the best place to fix reloads, because you can remove a lot of the distractions and focus entirely on the fundamentals.

My first training session coming back from months off definitely showed me a lot. My accuracy, the fundamental of my marksmanship hasn’t degraded. I can still shoot itty-bitty groups really slow, which is nice I guess. I can still run the gun itself pretty quick, I turned in a 1.88 bill drill as my last exercise of the day. But I can’t reload the gun worth two bags of dog crap, and that’s a big problem. If you’re shooting Production or IDPA, reloads are important. You’ve only got 10 rounds in the gun, which means almost every IDPA stage will involve a reload, and most USPSA stages will have an average of 3 per stage.

Guess that means I’ll be doing some dry fire today. The point of the story? Downtime was good for me, it really was. I needed it, but if I want to get back to where I was and even get better, I’m going to need to hit the dry fire pretty hard.

Why bullseye is the most popular pistol shooting sport

If I asked you, dear reader, what you thought the most popular pistol-based shooting sport in America was based on participation, what would you say? IDPA? USPSA? GSSF? Well, if you picked any of those, you’d be dead wrong, because the answer is bullseye.

Colt National Match Cold Cup Series 70
Colt National Match Cold Cup Series 70

Yep, good old fashioned boring bullseye. Why is that? Is just because of tradition? Or is there something more to the fact that the Camp Perry Nationals had over 600 shooters last year?

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Ruger GP100 Match Champion with Adjustable Sight

Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. (NYSE-RGR) is proud to announce the new Ruger® GP100® Match Champion™ with adjustable rear sight. This new model shares all of the same great features of the original fixed sight model, but now includes a white outline, windage and elevation adjustable rear sight which, when combined with the fiber-optic front sight, creates a great sight picture that can adjusted based on the type of ammunition being shot.

ruger gp100 match champion adjustable sight

The GP100 Match Champion is a six-shot revolver chambered in .357 Magnum that is designed for the competitive shooter, with a 4.2-inch slab-sided, half-lug barrel with an 11-degree target crown for competition accuracy. The polished springs and hammer strut, combined with the trigger and hammer shims, provide an exceptional match-tuned action that produces a smooth, double-action pull with a crisp and consistent let-off. A chamfered cylinder and custom Hogue® stippled hardwood grip with dual speed loader cuts enable quick reloads, making the Match Champion ideal for personal protection, competition, and IDPA matches in particular.

ruger gp100 match champion adjustable sight-2

“Since the introduction of the original fixed sight Match Champion, customers have been asking for a revolver with all the same great features and fully adjustable sights”, said Chris Killoy, Ruger President and COO. “Our goal in building this revolver was to allow the use of a wide variety of ammunition for the competitive shooter while maintaining all of the great custom features in a factory produced firearm,” Killoy continued.

The Altar of Competency

The ability to perform a skill on command regardless of circumstance is the highest level of that skill

This can be as broad as you like, or as narrow as you like. But it’s really the only thing that matters if you’re training for a skill. Let’s say your goal is to be able to perform a successful Triple Nickel Drill with a revolver. The Nickel is 5 targets, two shots each, at 5 yards, with a mandatory reload somewhere in the sequence. It doesn’t matter how many clean runs you put together on your practice range by yourself, it only matters if you can do it on command when it counts.

That’s an example of a Triple Nickel, but I don’t want people to get too focused on that drill itself. What I’m talking about today is “on command performance.” It’s the goal of every serious athlete, and if you’re serious about shooting it should be your goal as well.

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