SAFETY AND PRACTICAL SHOOTING: THE QUESTION OF SAFETY - Watching your first practical shooting match, you may wonder how safe it is. You see competitors draw from holsters, negotiate obstacles, use different positions to engage multiple targets, make rapid reloads, and generally shoot the course with more speed and precision than you thought possible. You wonder, “Is this safe?” Read More
THE FOUR LAWS OF GUN CONTROL: If you learn nothing else from practical shooting, learn the four laws that are the foundation of all safe gun handling. Remember...Someday you will have an "accidental discharge!" The only questions are when, where, and how. If you are obeying the four laws of gun control when it happens, it will be scary. If you're not, it could be tragic. Read More
SAFE DRY FIRE PRACTICE AT HOME: When you get home after your safety check, you’ll want to practice what you learned. DON’T DO IT YET! Safety comes first in this sport. Read More
REVIEWING DRAW & FIRE SEQUENCES: There are a number of different draw-and-fire styles. This style is simple and basic, something to get you started. As you practice, think about water. Smooth, flowing motion, economy of motion, direct movement, and focus on the FRONT SIGHT. Read More
PRACTICING AT THE RANGE: SPEED vs. ACCURACY - Students often ask how to get fast. We advise them to forget fast and concentrate on accuracy at first. They can’t get fast enough to make up for misses, but they can get carried away and have an AD. Speed will come with practice and increased smoothness. Don’t worry about it. Read More
YOUR GUN, GEAR & ACCESSORIES: You can get started with very little equipment: a safe gun and holster, two ammo carriers, a belt, and several hundred rounds of ammunition. Frequently you can make arrangements to borrow equipment. Read More
The Question of Safety
Watching your first practical shooting match, you may wonder how safe it is. You see competitors draw from holsters, negotiate obstacles, use different positions to engage multiple targets, make rapid reloads, and generally shoot the course with more speed and precision than you thought possible. You wonder, “Is this safe?”
If you are the average gun owner, don’t go home and practice what you saw. Owning a gun doesn’t make you skilled. You need safety training first. Check with your local club about their procedures for integrating new shooters. Generally, most clubs will require some sort of safety check before letting you shoot, but that varies from club to club. When you go through that safety check (or attend a USPSA Safe Handgun Competitor course) the person who runs you through should go over the basics of how to draw safely, how to move safely, and how to reload safely. Building on those basics, you can become a formidable competitor. If you overlook those basics, you could get yourself, or someone else, seriously hurt.
Safety-consciousness is our hallmark. The primary responsibility of a range officer is to assist the shooter and help ensure safety at all times! The safety rules under which the range officer works are the foundation upon which he builds in order to discharge his responsibility. These safety rules are probably the most stringent to be found in any shooting sport. There is no margin for error when it comes to SAFETY and no leeway is allowed. A range officer has complete authority on the range. Our shooters have programmed themselves to reflexively practice safe gun handling under stress, and they demand it of others. Our clubs check out new shooters to ensure that they have the minimum skills needed for safe match participation. They will help you to become a safe shooter and to receive the proper instruction to compete safely.
“I’ve shot hundreds of matches, literally, and I’ve never seen a bullet-related injury. Sometimes people sprain their ankle, but I’ve never seen a bullet wound. IPSC shooting has as near perfect a safety record as any sport could have. “Obviously there is a potential for a great deal of danger in this sport, but the shooters adhere to strict safety rules and are disqualified if any safety rules are broken. I really can’t think of any other sport that has as good a record as IPSC shooting.” — Mickey Fowler, Beginner’s Guide to Combat Shooting
Careless shooters get disqualified. The habitually careless will find other shooters quite intolerant of sloppy gun handling. They expect to compete under safe conditions and demand safe actions by other shooters. That is why our sport has such an excellent safety record.
Gun control is self control.
Like rock climbing, river running, or sky diving, our sport contains an element of danger. Unlike many of these other sports, the “disaster factors” are all under the shooter’s direct control. Control of the firearm is always the shooter’s responsibility.
Any accident means that one or more safety rules were violated. That is why we demand that you accept full responsibility for your actions. It’s your gun, you’re shooting it, and you have full control of the “disaster factors.” If you can’t accept responsibility, this is not the sport for you.
If you learn nothing else from practical shooting, learn the four laws that are the foundation of all safe gun handling. Remember...Someday you will have an "accidental discharge!" The only questions are when, where, and how. If you are obeying the four laws of gun control when it happens, it will be scary. If you're not, it could be tragic.
FIRST LAW... THE GUN IS ALWAYS LOADED!
EVERY TIME you pick up or draw a gun, inspect it in a safe manner (control your muzzle) and always treat it as a loaded gun.
SECOND LAW... NEVER POINT THE GUN AT SOMETHING YOU ARE NOT PREPARED TO DESTROY!
The only safe way to operate is to assume the worst case scenario: Pretend that your “empty” gun is going to function perfectly. When you press the trigger it will FIRE! Since you are prepared for that, you only point the gun in a safe direction. This way when brain-fade does result in an AD, it will be into a safe impact area and there won’t be a tragedy.
THIRD LAW... ALWAYS BE SURE OF YOUR TARGET AND WHAT IS BEHIND IT!
Bullets can penetrate lots of things. Identify your target before firing. If you are not sure, DON’T shoot! Make sure there is a safe impact area behind it before firing. For home practice, find and aim only at a BULLET PROOF BACKSTOP. Plasterboard walls and outer walls are not bulletproof. A .45 bullet will easily travel through several rooms before stopping.
FOURTH LAW... KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOUR SIGHTS ARE ON THE TARGET!
Almost all of the accidental discharges during a match are caused by placing a finger on the trigger when not ready to fire.
Some examples: Finger on trigger during reloading, during movement, during the draw, and during jam clearing have all led to accidental discharges and disqualifications. Finger on the trigger during reloading or movement calls for instant disqualification (you don’t have to AD) and two ROs are watching for just that.
When you get home after your safety check, you’ll want to practice what you learned. DON’T DO IT YET! Safety comes first in this sport.
FIRST, MAKE A HOME SAFETY INSPECTION Most of your house or apartment is unsafe for dry fire practice, particularly if there are people wandering in and out of the rooms around you. Apartment dwellers have a real problem— wherever they look there are thin walls and people. Floors, ceilings and walls are NOT BULLETPROOF! Look around until you find a solid wall that will stop an accidental discharge. A basement room below grade would be ideal. Only practice in this safe area.
GET THE SAFETY HABIT It’s the mark of the pro. Remember how smoothly your instructors handled their guns; how they checked and rechecked the condition of the weapon; how their muzzles seemed to stay pointed into the berm?
ALWAYS INSPECT THE FIREARM BEFORE DRY FIRING
The first drill should always be CHECK YOUR FIREARM: Draw, point in a safe direction, ease the slide back to check for a loaded chamber or magazine, ease it forward, AIM at a safe impact area, and press the trigger. No BOOM? OK, begin your practice.
Check EVERY time you pick up a gun, even if you just set it down.
CHECK IT! CHECK IT! CHECK IT!
You don’t have to fire a round to improve. Ten to fifteen minutes a day spent in practicing and refining your draw and fire, flash sight picture, reloads (empty magazines!), pivots, etc. will pay off in increasing smoothness and speed.
Dry firing does not bother a good Colt, but dropping the slide on an empty chamber does nasty things to that nice trigger job. If the gun is empty, EASE the slide home, and keep your hand away from the muzzle when you do it.
Make yourself a set of miniature targets and no-shoots out of paper bags (6" wide, 8" long and a 2" B zone). Check the stages for the next match and arrange the miniature targets on a SAFE WALL for dry-firing and practice for the match.
Now practice smoothly drawing, aiming, pressing the trigger, and shifting between targets. Top shooters use mental conditioning and visualization techniques to improve their performance. Plan how to shoot that stage. Try a walkthrough. Go through the motions. Experiment and refine your movements. It works.
There are a number of different draw-and-fire styles. This style is simple and basic, something to get you started. As you practice, think about water. Smooth, flowing motion, economy of motion, direct movement, and focus on the FRONT SIGHT.
This description is based on a .45 automatic in a strong side holster. Revolver users need to make changes as necessary.
GRIP... Your gun hand approaches the stock from above. It grips the pistol in a full firing grip. The thumb rests on the safety. The trigger finger is OUTSIDE the holster, parallel to the slide, ready to point at the target.
At the same time your other (weak) hand moves into the GRAB position: forearm horizontal, fingers cupped, ready to mate with gun hand. Keep this hand clear of the path of the gun.
CLEAR... The gun is drawn up out of the holster until the muzzle just clears. You can feel the energy being stored in the shoulder, like the winding of a spring.
POINT... Your eyes are focused on the target. Now point your extended trigger finger at the target. Your shoulder drops, releasing energy as the gun punches DIRECTLY at the target. (No bowling) Meanwhile, back at your other (weak) hand...
SMACK & CLICK... Your other hand travels out and up from below to meet the gun hand. Make sure that the moving gun NEVER points at your weak hand. They smack together and interlock into a solid two-handed grip. Thumb flicks safety down (off) and (1) rests on it or (2) continues down. (This is determined by the size of your hand. If option one gives you erratic performance of the grip safety, then try option two. In both cases one thumb is captured by the other thumb.)
SIGHT... Gun moves to eye level and the eyes shift focus from target to front sight to obtain the flash sight picture. The front sight is in sharp focus, the target behind it is fuzzy. The center of the first pad of your trigger finger rests on the trigger.
SURPRISE BREAK... While you are focused on the front sight, your trigger finger presses rearward. When the gun fires it should be a surprise. If not, you blew the shot. Continue to focus on your front sight. You want to line it up for the next shot. Avoid the desire to peer over the sights at the target (and miss).
THE RANGE READY POSITION... Take your finger off the trigger and return it to the “pointer” position on the frame. Flick the safety ON as you lower the gun. Thumb rests on top of safety. Grip remains the same; pressure eases. Break at the elbows and bring your upper arms in until they rest against your chest. Your forearms and gun are level. The gun points downrange into the berm. You can move in this position (muzzle always pointed safely downrange) and rapidly raise the gun to fire.
GETTING SMOOTH... Speed comes from smooth motions. Smooth motions come from economy of motion. All surplus movement is eliminated. The gun moves from holster to “on target” with no wasted effort. To learn and practice this, watch yourself while you draw in slow motion. Examine and experiment with each segment of the draw. Eliminate all waste and unsafe movements. Soon you’ll begin to feel a smooth flow of movement. You can do this at home without firing a round.
SPEED vs. ACCURACY... Students often ask how to get fast. We advise them to forget fast and concentrate on accuracy at first. They can’t get fast enough to make up for misses, but they can get carried away and have an AD. Speed will come with practice and increased smoothness. Don’t worry about it. Concentrate on mastering the basics. Find a speed that will allow consistent “A” hits at 10 yards. Mentally emphasize smooth hand movement to the weapon, smooth presentation to the target, front sight focus. Gradually increase the speed until your group opens up.
Slow down again until all hits are in an acceptable group. Then move back to 15, 25, and 50 yards and repeat the process for each range. This will give you a sense of the pace needed to get results at various ranges. See the appendix for a set of shooter development exercises. Don’t worry about times until you master safety and smoothness.
If you are forced to practice at a “shoot one - load one” range where drawing is not permitted, practice your presentation from the ready position. It works.
A mastery of bullseye shooting pays off for a practical shooter. Everyone has a different body geometry. Developing a personal shooting style takes research and experimentation. You are searching for what “feels right” for YOU.
Try different ideas and techniques. Get a practice notebook. Write down the exercise, your scores and comments. You can track your progress and improvements.
You can get started with very little equipment: a safe gun and holster, two ammo carriers, a belt, and several hundred rounds of ammunition. Frequently you can make arrangements to borrow equipment.
Don’t rush out to spend. You’ll save money and avoid mistakes by asking questions before you spend. USPSA offers numerous divisions that use very different sorts of handguns. The money and time you save through study is more than worth the effort.
What do the experienced shooters use? Ask them about their guns and gear; they’re happy to help new shooters. Learn from their experiences. Most veteran shooters have gone through a pile of holsters and gear before finding the right ones. Get a number of opinions and ask before you do any spending. When you are ready to spend, check the advertisers in Front Sight magazine for good buys. Be sure to let them know where you saw their ad.
Wear adequate clothing. Practical shooting is an outdoor sport practiced in all weather. In pouring rain or six inches of snow, the match goes on. Dress to stand around, as well as shoot. Pants should allow you to bend and stretch. Your shirt should fit tightly so loose fabric doesn’t foul your draw. Wear comfortable shoes that provide good traction, allow you run, and allow you to start and stop quickly.
Your gun must be serviceable and safe, not fancy, trick or custom. Those are all options. Start with a gun you selected for personal protection. A few matches with it will tell you a lot. It needs to make "minor" caliber (.38/9mm) to compete for place and prize -- more on that in a minute.
Stop holster wiggle; use a gun belt. By the end of the first match you know what holster wiggle feels like. Mounted on a thin dress belt, the holster clings to the gun as you draw. A thick belt mated to a good holster is the solution.
The practical shooting holster. It’s a marvelous safety device. It’s the result of thousands of man-hours of actual practical shooting competition—a relentless test of guns and gear. It must cover the trigger guard and hold the gun securely as you climb and jump, yet release the gun easily when you draw.
Eye and ear protection is essential. Protect yourself against flying objects and noise. Pretend that the guy next to you has double-charged a round and buy good gear.
Ammunition carriers. There are many different designs for magazine and speed loader carriers. Most work. Some are more elegant than others. In our sport, all equipment must be worn on the belt.
Spare magazines and speed loaders. You can start with two, but most shooters seem to wear four or more.
Brass bag. A personal sack for spent brass is handy. One of the other shooters will be detailed to pick up brass after you shoot. Likewise, you should be prepared to pick brass and help tape targets when it’s your turn.
Gun case. Protect your gun by transporting it in a case. Check and comply with your local laws regarding transporting guns. Generally, if the gun and ammo are locked in your trunk and not accessible, there should be no trouble, but it’s up to you to check.
Accessories tote bag. It’s a place to store and carry all those bits of equipment and ammunition. The tote bag is like a purse. Contents of one bag: spray cleaner, sight black, ear muffs and plugs, pens, brass bag, spare magazines, score cards, membership/classification card, scoring overlays, rule book, wood dowel for squib loads (to punch a bullet out of a barrel—ONLY in a designated safety area, of course), knee and elbow pads, rain jacket, extra batteries, thermos and lunch.
Reloading equipment. A modern progressive loader is recommended. Virtually all practical shooters reload to cut ammunition costs and tune their load to their gun. However, reloading, like shooting, is a complex business. Educate yourself about reloading, then research your needs carefully before you buy. When shooters make mistakes on the reloading bench, those mistakes can have serious consequences. Normally poor ammunition simply causes malfunctions, but double charges (a double-dose of gunpowder) or squib loads (no powder at all) can be dangerous. Double charges give no warning, so make sure you wear good eye protection on the range. Squib loads, however, make a distinct sound. The primed case in a squib load makes a distinct “pop” instead of “BANG” when fired, and leaves the bullet stuck in the barrel. DON’T FIRE THE NEXT ROUND! If the gun goes “pop” you STOP!