After way, way too long, I finally went and shot a USPSA match. I shot Production division, which meant I could only have 10 rounds in the magazine and external modifications to the gun are restricted. I could also have shot in Limited using the same gun, and I would have been able to load my magazines to capacity. The “downside” for some shooters would be that there are more modifications allowed in Limited. The actual level of competition in either division was irrelevant to me, as I had no expectations of victory.
The other shooters in the squad were incredibly friendly and patient with me and the other first timer. They were generous with advice and their time, explaining what was going on and why. They explained things like stage planning and some of the details involved, including how to think about the stage itself. I learned a lot more than I shot and had a great time doing it. I also took those lessons learned and started developing homework for the next match.
Let’s talk lessons learned, in the format that was beaten into my head during my time in Uncle Sam’s service.
Issue: Speed of Movement
Discussion: Moving from one shooting position to another on the clock is a big part of USPSA. This requires quick, efficient and in some cases explosive athletic movement to get to the next shooting position. My movements were not fast enough or aggressive enough. This type of quick burst movement with direction changes is not something I practice, so I was not confident in my movement and didn’t commit hard enough.
Solution: I need to be more assertive in my movements. Essentially, I need to put more effort into them and improve my explosive, athletic movement and footwork capabilities. This means training, and it needs to be in addition to strength training and cardio.
Discussion: Reloading is a big part of USPSA. Shooting in production, with it’s limited magazine capacity, meant performing reloads was more likely than if I’d shot Limited division. The more often a shooter has to reload, the more important the efficiency of reloads is. My reloads are not smooth or quick with my P-07. [Note from Matt: I’ve reviewed the CZ P07 and since performed several performance enhancements, it’s a great pistol and I was glad to see MLC pick one up]
The magazine well is smaller than my carry gun and requires more precision. It’s not that I missed, it’s that the angle the mag was going in ended up needing to be corrected when the magazine got stuck. Every reload ended up costing time because every reload required me to adjust the angle of the magazine.
Solution: I need to spend more time practicing reloads. Additionally, I need to practice them while moving my feet in order to simulate reloading on the move between shooting positions.
Issue: Stage Planning
Discussion: One of the more experienced shooters at the match said that USPSA is all about solving the problem. A stage is a problem, and you have to apply your equipment and capabilities to solve that problem by putting hits on the targets in the fastest, most accurate way possible.
To say that is one thing, but the devil is in the details. Where to start (if there is an option), where precisely to put your feet, when to reload, how to get to the next shooting position and what order to shoot the targets in are just some of the factors that come into a plan.
One of the big eye openers was when that other shooter introduced the idea of not shooting to slide lock and reloading based on what the stage requires, not what is left in the magazine.
In a specific example I botched, I had an array of two targets, then an array of 5. The suggestion was reloading after the first array so I would have 11 rounds in the gun for the second array. In my head, I knew I was supposed to reload between those first two arrays but for some reason I didn’t and had to reload right in the middle. That was a waste of time, since I could have reloaded while I was moving between arrays and not shooting anyway.
Solution: Get more comfortable with the idea that the magazine does not need to be loaded to full capacity, nor does it have to be shot until empty. I also need to get more serious and focused about coming up with a stage plan. Focusing and visualizing are key parts of this and things I did not do well because I was watching everyone else, trying to figure out what was going on.
The Importance of Competition
There’s a cycle I’ve noticed. First, you learn a skill. Whether it’s from a class, a book, a website, etc.
Then, you refine and improve that skill with practice. Dry fire, range time and exercise to strengthen those body parts needed for that skill are the means to that end.
Then comes testing the skill you’ve learned and practiced. The best way to do that with out the targets shooting back is competition.
Competition gives you a realistic assessment of your skill set in a number of ways. The first is that the stages are arbitrary. You don’t get to pick them, unless you’re running the match, so there’s no subconscious favoring of your skills and avoiding your deficits. The second is that you aren’t testing your skills in isolation. It’s a common refrain amongst experienced shooters that they thought they were pretty good until they went to a match and saw what “good” was.
Seeing how you stack up against other people is incredibly important for building a realistic assessment of what you could actually do in the worst case scenario.
Skill development is a cycle. Competition shows you what skills you need to work on, taking you back to learning a skill that then gets refined. Besides the “software,” or the skills that you personally have, competition is a great place to test your gear. Everything from holsters to mag pouch placement to your selection of footwear are all put to hard use, on the clock, and can be a great way to test your kit and improve it over time.