We took a shot at some of the perils of caliber selection last week, and in the process discovered a new one: The partisans of various caliber camps are as vigilant and uncompromising as ever. Unalloyed agreement is all they’ll accept, and no other art or artifice will appease their sundry deities. Ah well.
But let us also be clear: Modern projectile architecture has rendered this a less paramount choice than it once was, and we won’t abandon our efforts to say that—or anything else—in a reasoned, engaging way. As we said then, we repeat now: Be cautious in the advice you take, get and continue good training, and carry what you shoot best within the limits that the Carry Life necessarily implies. Few things will preserve your enthusiasm for shooting and upgrade your skills better than training you genuinely enjoy.
Today we’re fleshing out another carry choice that relates to the “shoot best” business. Less obvious, perhaps, but with bigger potential dividends is how you train, and few things will preserve your enthusiasm for shooting and upgrade your skills better than training you genuinely enjoy. That “enjoyment” refrain would wisely contain some sort of competition.
As a practical matter, we’ve observed that this may be a harder step than choosing to carry in the first place, or selecting a caliber and firearm. Adults are especially inclined to find it difficult, and we doubt there’s any need to soft-pedal the “why:” It’s a test of character to get shellacked by somebody 30 years your junior. (Not exactly fun, in other words. Been there, done that. Recently. Like, last night.)
The flip side, though, especially if you’ve got solid basics, is that only the most expensive and demanding training will give you a chance to put as many things together as competition. And unlike literal training, the chances are good that there are multiple venues going on within an hour of where you live, several times per month, and for $20 or so “per.” If that sounds like it could happen a little more often than attending a course, then you’re reading us loud and clear. Good handling in all senses is the goal. Getting outside your comfort zone while still making the shot and being safe is essential.
A couple of precursors ought to be considered. You should expect a fair bludgeoning about safety, for instance. Do yourself a favor, and bone up on the subject beforehand. Know what things like the 180 Rule and the ammo vs. gunhandling “lockout” are. These can seem a bit abrasive to some older shooters who learned safety in a different social context (usually hunting), but get it through your head—they are better. In conjunction with the NRA Safety Rules, competition practices and range commands extensively overlap the more general provisions, and have an astonishing track record—when observed—of preventing mishaps of all degrees.
Next, don’t feel the need to be too aggressive. We’re mammoth fans of USPSA, for instance, but recognize it isn’t for everyone. If you’re reasonably mobile and have sound fundamentals, however, don’t sell yourself short: We know of several folks who took this up after age 60, and found it well within their capacity. We know many more who are keeping it up after 60. There are many other choices too, like International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) and our competitive newbie favorite—Steel Challenge Shooting Association (SCSA).
We also know people who hesitate due to gear “issues.” Lacking either new, or expensive, or both isn’t a barrier—though “safe” may be if your equipment is somewhat unusual or aged. Vastly more important, however, is the vetting your rig will subsequently get from competition. We tend to baby our equipment in lane-style practice, but there will be no such opportunity when the buzzer sounds. (This is a fairly good way to choose gear and caliber, by the way. If you don’t see the apple of Uncle Bob’s eye—or of Uncle Bob’s UperDuperGunBlog, for that matter—at matches, there’s probably a pretty good reason.)
Checking discipline rules for carry-applicability in terms of your present gear is also wise. IDPA is generally the best fit to the literal Carry Life, but absolutely not the “only.” Good handling in all senses is the goal, and getting outside your comfort zone while still making the shot and being safe both matter. USPSA is likely to have the most numerous and aggressive movement challenges, and SCSA will press you for careful trading-off between speed and accuracy. Not once in forty years have we heard an acknowledged expert say caliber was more important than shot placement.
Remember that good gear is not necessarily the same—especially when you start out—as expensive gear. Carefully spent, a solid shooter can start with zippo and earn a Nationals slot with less than $1,000. (No, ammo would not be included in that figure, doggone it.)
There’s a way in which our urging you to compete connects with our caliber considerations, and here it is: Like it or not, defensive shooting in the carry context is usually handgunning, and handgunning is a decidedly perishable skill. Whether you’ve the meat hooks to handle a .45 ACP with hot-rod hollow-points or only a .22LR, not once in forty years have we heard an acknowledged expert say caliber was more important than shot placement. If there was a second factor, that wasn’t caliber either, but rather the ability to make shots under pressure. A simpler version is none the worse for being reprised—the goal of all your training should be the ability to make an acceptable shot (and maybe more than one) when you must, not just a perfect shot when you wish.
This is what competition can give that many can otherwise never obtain: The wind will blow, the rain may fall, your firearm may be filthy, and the light bad, but the timer—of one sort or another—may still go beeeeeep. What happens next is up to you.
Go compete a little, and Carry on.
Frank Winn has been studying arms and their relationship to tyranny, meaningful liberty and personal security all his adult life. He has been a firearms safety/shooting instructor for more than 20 years, and earned state, regional and national titles in several competitive disciplines.