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Exercise Your Freedom | How To Fail

Exercise Your Freedom | How To Fail

“There are two kinds of shooters: Those who have, and those who will.”

Fail, that is. That was A1F contributor Tom “Hoser” Freeman’s response when I admitted to a fear that I might commit a safety violation that would end my very first tactical pistol match prematurely. Hoser advised me to just go slow, get my hits and make sure I didn’t DQ my first match.

A DQ (“disqualification”) is the ultimate fail in tactical pistol competitions like USPSA or IDPA. A safety violation, such as improper muzzle control, lazy trigger finger or unsafe gun handling, will get you sent home. However, if you attempt to stretch your limits and compete at a high level, a DQ is inevitable.

This column is a celebration of that failure. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying anything new. In fact, you should get good at failing, because we only learn from failure. If you don’t believe that, watch a baby learning to walk. 


In 2012, my auto racing/shooting buddy Rick Walford and I drove to that first match in Aurora, Colo., in time for the new shooter safety briefing. Prepping for the first stage, I visualized my course of fire and loaded my pistol at the “Make Ready” command. I drew at the beep, engaged the visible targets and turned to sprint to the next shooting position. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying anything new. In fact, you should get good at failing, because we only learn from failure. If you don’t believe that, watch a baby learning to walk.

“Stop, stop, stop, stop!”

Game over, man. When I turned left and began my reload, I “broke the 180” (meaning I rotated the muzzle past the imaginary line that divides downrange from uprange). Despite Hoser’s warning, I had DQ’d in my first match—in my first stage, yet.

To make matters worse, another squad had finished their stage early and was waiting on us to finish. Therefore, half the day’s competitors were now silently watching me do a “Game of Thrones” walk of shame … shame … shame … back to my Jeep.

A voice in my head kept me from just going home: “You came here to learn, dimwit. Go learn.” Now a gunless dimwit, I returned to my squad and spent the rest of the day running the Nook they used for scoring. The other shooters noticed; several shared stories of their own first perp walk. Carrying on had been the good move.


During 15 years of racing sports cars, I have failed often. When I began competing in practical pistol, I couldn’t drop the habit. Racing cars or guns, I’m a gamer, always looking for the speed secret that others might have missed. It can get me into trouble.

At an indoor match last year at Colorado Springs’ Whistling Pines Gun Club, the last stage was in dim lighting. The stage designer, Robert Christie, jokingly asked us if we had our flashlights. No one took him seriously except me.

I carry a Surefire light, but I had no way to mount it on the gun and I couldn’t do a mag change with it in my weak hand. So I improvised. When the "Make Ready" command was given, I reached up and turned on the light I had jammed on top of my head, under the bail of my earmuffs. When the laughter subsided, it occurred to me that, succeed or fail, this would make a good story.

It failed like fiber-flavored ice cream. The first target was brilliantly illuminated, right up to the first shot; after that, I only saw 500 lumens of muzzle smoke. I went from 6th to 28th place, but I learned something about shooting with a light—a lot of us have lights mounted on handguns, but how many of us have actually used one? 


Sometimes there is entertainment value in failure.

Earlier this season, I was on a squad with Frank Winn, our Guns & Gear editor. Frank is a true mentor, a friend to anyone with a question. However, as a stage designer, Frank is an evil man who should not get any pudding. He had designed a diabolically simple stage where shooters were forced to engage targets left-right, left-right as they advanced haltingly downrange. As I watched shooters shoot slow (and move slower), the walk-on college sprinter in me thought, “Hey, I can sprint downrange while taking the targets on the right, reload at the end, and sprint back while taking the targets on the left. Then I can both shoot and move fast!”The first target was brilliantly illuminated, right up to the first shot; after that, I only saw 500 lumens of muzzle smoke.

I shared my ambitious plan with my good friend Frank, who, being the cautious range officer that he is, urged me to “go for it.”

Our squad fell quiet, eager to see how this would pan out; some had been present for the epic flashlight fail. At the beep, running faster than I could aim and shoot, I ran past one of the targets … umm, slightly before shooting at it.

“Stop, stop, stop, stop.” In a final touch of irony, my good buddy Frank, who had encouraged me to pursue my high-wire act, was the one who DQ’d me for breaking the 180 again. Rick, who had witnessed my ignominious first fail in Aurora, was watching: “Frank was dejected, but you had the biggest grin on your face.” 

The two were not entirely unconnected. I managed to guilt Frank into buying me a cup of coffee Monday morning.


We recently bumped into a friend of ours at that same coffee shop, who had DQ’d his last match and was too embarrassed to return. We shared our own sagas of shame and urged him to come back, and he thanked us for letting him off the hook. After all, ending a match early is bad enough; do you really want to compound it by not returning?


If failure is inevitable (and it is), you might as well make friends with it. Swallow your pride and take in the teachable moment. After all, there is no equivalent in tactical pistol for throwing your tennis racquet or wrapping your 5-iron around a tree. Shooting doesn’t tolerate those who can’t cope with failure, because we race guns and the stakes are high. So just get over it, already.

Get out there and fail. And when you DQ, unload and show … maturity.