Featured Photo By: Lance Cpl. Stephen C. Benson

Competition shooting has been increasing in popularity in the last several years for obvious reasons.  It’s fun, useful, and it gives us plausible excuses to buy new guns.  There is; however, a lingering doubt about the utility of competition shooting.  Many tactical gurus claim that it will get you killed on the street, citing various differences between a competition and a shooting, but will it really?  That is the question we are going to answer in this article.

If you Google competition vs tactical shooting, the top result lists 5 differences between the two.  Let’s just say that there’s a reason I’m not linking to it.  I’m hoping no one ever reads that kind of crap.

Listen, I’m not here to rag on another brother in blue, but it’s patently clear from reading the article that he doesn’t have a clue, and probably has never participated in a shooting competition.  The article does do a great job of summing up the nonsense that some “tactical trainers” claim are the downfalls of competition.

The author claims that all targets are single shot only.  This isn’t true either in IDPA, or USPSA, but steel targets are generally one shot.  So the vast majority of targets require more than one shot.

Next the author claims that a “goofy overhand” grip on a rifle is not practical for the streets.  According to him, the only proper method is using a vertical fore grip, allowing you to pull the rifle into your shoulder pocket, which allows you to control recoil.

Look at those goofy Delta guys.  Someone should teach them not to C clamp the barrel!

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It is clear that the author has little shooting experience with a rifle, because a C clamp is ideal for controlling recoil and muzzle flip, which is why most competition, and high level tactical shooters use it.

Lastly there is the big elephant in the room.  Competition doesn’t use cover.  Well this is partially true, IDPA requires use of cover, but for the most part the author is correct.  This is the perfect way to sum up the ignorance of some tactical trainers when it comes to competition.

Competition is not Combat.  Competition trains the mechanical shooting skills of combat.

Most people reading this article are no strangers to the inside of the gym, so let me give you a good analogy, explaining what I mean.  All of us know that strength training with free weights is a vital part of being healthy and strong, but I have never once come across a bar that is perfectly balanced and loaded with weight, requiring me to lift it out on the street.

If we don’t have to do that exact task on the street then why are we doing it in training?  Because it has vast utility, and will help us out in the real world with any number of day-to-day tasks.

This is what tactical gurus do not understand.  Competition shooting does not replicate combat, it trains you in the mechanics of combat shooting.  The requirements for weapons manipulation, target transitions, and shooting speed are much higher in competition than they would be in the street.

This is not only good, but vital.  If you do find yourself in a self-defense scenario, I promise you that your motor skills, and shooting ability will degrade.  It doesn’t make any sense to think that when the adrenaline is coursing through your veins, and you have a real fear of death, that you will magically shoot better than ever.

A little math will help to explain why you need a reserve of shooting capacity.

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Let’s say that at 10 yards you can shoot 5 shots into a 10 inch group, in 3 seconds from the holster, while you are on the range.  A pretty realistic goal for a proficient shooter.

Now, let’s put you in a dark alley where you see a man at the same distance pull a gun from his coat, and start walking your direction.  You now have a legitimate fear of death.  I’m going to conservatively estimate that your shooting capability will drop by 30%.

We’ve now opened our diameter up to 13 inches.  That is roughly the width of a normal size man’s chest.  So if you have any deviation from center, in this critical environment, you’ve missed your target.

If you were able to put those same 5 shots in a 6 in group, in the same time frame on the range,  it then becomes roughly an 8 inch group on the street. This allows for much more rounds on target.

Competition Vs Tactical Shooting: Asking the Wrong Questions

The other common argument I hear is that your muscle memory from competition will cause you to do tactically inadvisable things, like stand uncovered, hosing rounds.  Let me give you the perfect rebuttal to that.

If you’ve ever seen someone put into a force on force scenario either UTM,  airsoft, or paintball, you will see that suddenly they start to use cover, they hunch their shoulders, and make every effort not to get shot.

This is much different from just watching someone move through a shoot house, where you see none of that, because the participant knows there is no pain coming their way.  Check this video out to see what I mean.

If you act differently when you know you might get bruises for tactical errors, how will you act when you know errors cost blood?

I think all of us know that we can’t only favor one side or the other.  If your job requires you to carry a gun, or you do so for self-defense, then you should get some tactical training, you’d be a fool not to.

You would also be equally foolish to think that attaining a high level of mechanical skill with a weapon is useless.  Lastly, ask yourself this, who do you want on your side when things get loud, an IDPA master shooter, or a guy who shoots a couple of times a year, and never misses a chance to search and assess.


This article is written by Jake Jackson, who owns  Tier Three Tactical, a website which focuses on fitness, tactical training, and equipment.  Jake is a former Marine Officer, and current police officer in a major metropolitan department, on the east coast.  He maintains that nobody really knows where those made in China stickers are actually made.