In this day and age, between training schools and various competitions, there are any number of places out there that run gun games of varying practicality. Some, like the USPSA competition, are pretty blatantly competitions that drop much of the practical aspects of shooting. Others, like IDPA, are more practical in their outlook to a certain degree, banning the more gamed aspects of the competition in favor of more practical scenarios. A good example of this is the general limiting of speed holsters and guns built specifically for competition. Of course, these types of rules do little to stop folks who truly want to compete from finding every edge, however slight. But for the general shooter, these competitions offer a very good opportunity for practicing practical concepts.

It’s All In The Mind

What makes a competition, a competition? State of mind. Shooters who go into these matches thinking of them as a game, or as a competition against someone else, invariably the value they present is lost to the attitude of “how do I beat the guy next to me?” However, take a step back and really think about what these competitions offer: Shooting on the move, using concealment and cover, target identification, and situations designed to force you into shooting outside of your comfort zone. Even the 3-gun competitions are going to push you well outside of your comfort zone in terms of practicing weapon transitions and reloads.  Going into these shoots with an eye towards these challenges and a healthy desire to compete against yourself, the game becomes far more practical.

By approaching these competitions with an interest in exercising your skill set, and having the right mindset about what you’re doing, a great deal of practical experience can be had. Of course, they can’t completely prepare you for the real thing. No amount of training will ever be enough for that. but being under the stress of improving your times, and reacting to threats (real or imagined, in the case of competition) helps you better change your mindset towards being aware of your surroundings and how to appropriately use cover and concealment.

The More You Sweat In Training

Anyone who has been in the military knows that the old adage “The More You Sweat In Training, The Less You Bleed In Combat” is true. Once you start practicing the fundamentals of what to do in a gunfight, and move it from a mental exercise to a physical exercise, the muscle memory and the habit of looking at scenarios from a tactical standpoint become more second nature. If you only think out scenarios in your own head, you tend to look at the world in the same way you always do, and unconsciously, you can bias the scenarios in your own favor. By working them out to where you have to physically do it, you’re putting yourself into the scenario and are faced with your own limitations, physical and and mentally, and can overcome them.

By participating in these competitions, it takes training to a new level. You’re not faced with only the scenarios you can come up with and think might be likely. You’re forced to overcome scenarios you didn’t think of, and face challenges that the organizers, sometimes trying to be funny or sometimes just plain sadistic, set up for you. This adds the challenge of not knowing what’ll happen or what the layout is, giving you a dose of reality.

Gun Games: Practical Carry Practice
Ever wonder what you might have to do if you were injured?

What Works and What Doesn’t.

Another valuable aspect of competitive shooting is the ability to try out gear when having to use it in less than perfect environments. Think that IWB holster works well when you try it on? How well does it do if you’re crawling out from behind cover to engage a threat? Think those fancy grips work great? Do they provide you the needed traction when you’re sweaty and in that awkward pose?

Competition addresses the fundamentals of gear as much as of the shooter. What looks great on paper will quickly be picked up or dropped by how well it works under pressure. When carrying concealed in the real world, we make tradeoffs on what kit we carry, which ultimately leaves us deciding between speed and accessibility and the steps we have to take to get the gun on target. Many competitors will use gear that is specifically bought to be better for competition. However, going into these things with your every-day holster and gun, carry setup, and method of dress will quickly bring up areas where your rig falters, giving you a safe way to figure out a better way to do it.

IDPA is especially good at this: Instead of allowing most shooters (outside of Open division) to set their gear up for speed, the rules try to limit shooters to every day carry and practical use rigs. IDPA’s rules state “if it’s not comfortable or useful for all day wear and concealment, it’s not permissible.”

Even IPSC/USPSA shooters have the option to compete in divisions where the focus is less on being the fastest and more on fundamentals.

Bottom Line

Competition is fun. There’s no denying it, and it forces you to become a better shooter in the process, which helps in the long run. However, never forget that training yourself to be the best by watching your fundamentals and approaching these types of shoots from a practical standpoint to increase your own skills, rather than teaching yourself to cut every corner possible to win, will give you an edge if you’re faced with a real world situation in which you have to defend yourself.  The limiting factor to how much good these competitions do is entirely in the mind of the shooter and their approach. Keeping your mind on skill development and not entirely on winning will open you up to improving your overall abilities. Plus, these competitions offer great outlets for getting feedback, and happen often enough that the person’s skills can be readily tested and kept current.

Have fun practicing, and practice to win. Classes help a great deal, and putting those skills to use will better make them stick in the brain and muscle memory. All too often we take a class, then forget what we learn just when we need it most.