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Getting Back To The Roots Of Practical Shooting

Getting Back To The Roots Of Practical Shooting

I started shooting practical pistol about 10 years ago, concentrating on competing in the Production Division of the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA). My interest in USPSA wasn’t to become a Grandmaster in my middle age, rather, I got into the shooting sports because they looked like fun and seemed like a good way to integrate an element of shooting under stressful conditions, so I could see how I might perform in the very, very stressful situation of having to defend a life with my pistol. I still shoot the same gun I started out with in USPSA, a CZ75, and it’s proven to be a workhorse for me. Over the last few years though, I’ve noticed that there’s a been a literal arms race in the Production Class of USPSA, as manufacturers have tweaked their product offerings to build pistols that fit the technical definition of a gun that’s legal for USPSA Production, but isn’t really a gun that would be in common use outside of a shooting range.

I also decided it was time for me to improve my practical shooting game, and put the time and effort into dry fire and practice to get better at the sport. To me, if I want to learn something, I go back to its roots. I got into blues by listening the music of the Mississippi, and I got into Mexican food by traveling throughout Sonora, Mexico. Likewise, to me, that means if you want to learn practical shooting, you go back to the roots; that means shooting a 1911 in .45 ACP.

Legacy of the 1911 in USPSA competition
The influence of the 1911 can be seen in USPSA stage design. The need to reload a single stack pistol puts accuracy at a premium
USPSA has Single Stack, a division specifically designed for 1911-style pistols. The rules for USPSA Single Stack make it harder to game the system towards one gun or another, and the holster rules help insure that the same 1911 that you wear on your hip can work just fine in competition. USPSA also began with the 1911, because USPSA is a spinoff of IPSC, the International Practical Shooting Confederation. IPSC was created in 1976 by Col. Jeff Cooper, a legend in the firearms community and the founder of Gunsite Academy. Col. Cooper’s preference for the 1911 is well-documented, and for years the 1911 in .45 ACP was associated with both IPSC and Gunsite Academy. For me to understand practical shooting then, I needed to learn how to shoot it with a 1911 in .45 ACP.

There are dozens and dozens of companies who make .45 ACP 1911’s, but there’s no company that has a longer history of producing 1911’s than Colt. For years, in fact, when you said “Colt .45,” it was assumed that you were either talking about an adult beverage, or a 1911. Colt has introduced a number of new models of 1911s in recent years; one in particular, the Colt Competition, is set up right out of the box as an excellent gun for USPSA Single Stack. The Colt Competition is a solid entry-level 1911, and with features like Novak sights, a National Match barrel and a Series 70 trigger, it’s setup very well from the start for USPSA Single Stack.

Colt Competition 1911
Colt Competition 1911. IPSC was founded when the 1911 pistol was the most commonly used sidearm

The holster rules for USPSA Single Stack are very specific and are designed to favor holsters suitable for daily carry. While tradition might dictate a classic leather pancake-style holster, I went with a double-layer Kydex holster from Red Hill Tactical with a roughened finish. I use Kydex holsters in Production, and as much as I wanted to continue the tradition of the great leather holstermakers of the past, for safety’s sake, I went with a holster style that I was already familiar with.

One of the drawbacks to the 1911 has always been magazine capacity: with just eight rounds in the mag and a typical USPSA course of fire needing 32 shots (or more if you miss), competitors in Single Stack need to carry more magazines than other divisions. With an eye to this, I added eight Wilson Combat magazines to the two Colt magazines that came with the pistol. I also attached three Blade-Tech double mag pouches, to hold the magazines where they’re needed, and filled said magazines with SIG Sauer .45 FMJ ammo for my first practice session.

I should mention here that I grew up in Western Canada: while I grew up shooting guns, I didn’t grow up shooting pistols, and I’ve had very limited experience with the 1911 before now. After sending just a few rounds downrange, I began to understand why people love the 1911 so much. The trigger on this entry-level 1911 is fantastic compared to other guns. Even the trigger on my Pre-B CZ75, a DA/SA gun known for having a great trigger, isn’t as good as the trigger on this firearm. A surprise trigger break is very easy to achieve with this gun, and the rest is very short. The recoil of the .45 ACP round is obviously greater than the 9mm of my Production gun, but the weight and shape of a full-size 1911 make it easy to manage and it’s very easy to punch out the center of your target at seven yards, even under rapid fire. One thing I did notice is that because 1911 magazines are narrower and don’t flare out at the top like the double-stack magazine of a Production gun, reloading the 1911 at speed takes a lot more precision and concentration than a Production pistol.

With 200 rounds of warm up ammo through the gun, it was time to head to my local pistol club, for my first match shooting Single Stack. One thing I noticed right from the start this that a full setup for Single Stack is heavy, even heavier than the setup for my steel-framed CZ75. This is because in Single Stack, I’m carrying a full-sized 1911 plus six or more magazines loaded with 230-grain FMJ bullets. I didn’t quite waddle from stage to stage, but I did notice the extra weight on my gun belt.

When IPSC started out, the 1911 was the gun that most-closely mimicked what you carried on the street, so the rules of IPSC were set up with the 1911 in mind. While the rules have changed over the years, the bias towards the 1911 in .45 remains. USPSA bases it scoring in part on how powerful the round the competitor is using. 9mm pistols are typically scored as Minor Power Factor, and pistols shooting .45 ACP are scored as Major Power Factor. The scoring rules of USPSA are a bit arcane, but simply put, the scoring of Major Power Factor guns is a bit more lenient than Minor Power Factor pistols. This comes in handy as I’m shooting a stage, because a solid A-zone hit on a target and a follow-up shot that falls further away on the target into the target’s C-zone penalizes me less with a gun like a .45 ACP 1911.
“Shooting Single Stack is already having a profound effect on how I shoot USPSA” 
Another leftover from the 1911’s influence on the shooting sports is how stages are designed. While a given stage on a match might require up to 32 rounds to complete, the stage is set up so that no one shooting position has more than eight scoring shots. Because of this, shooting a match in Single Stack is much like it is in Production. If my feet are moving, chances are I’m slapping a new magazine in my gun. However, in Production, I was limited to 10 rounds per magazine, which meant that I had a couple of rounds left over to deal with any missed shots. In Single Stack, that margin of error is gone, and as a result, I am paying a lot more attention to accuracy because I want to avoid a standing reload at all costs.

Here’s another example of how shooting a gun in Major Power Factor with eight rounds in the magazine changed my stage strategy. The leftmost steel popper in this photo actives a moving target on the right that briefly opens up the full target, then swings the white no-shoot back in front; the right steel popper activates the turning target on the left, and behind both poppers is a paper target that can only be engaged from this location.

Because of the lower recoil of the 9mm round, and the 10 rounds in my magazine, my strategy shooting Production on this stage would have been shoot the left popper, then the rear paper target, then shoot what’s available on the trapping target, shoot the other popper and move on: The turning target is a disappearing target and therefore is a no-penalty missed target.

In Single Stack though, things change. My time between shots right now is longer with a .45 ACP than it is with a 9mm Production gun, which means I won’t have as much time in between shooting the poppers to activate the targets and having to engage the targets they reveal. Also, there are eight scoring hits from this port, and I have eight rounds in my mag, which means I can’t afford a missed shot. The way I shot this location in the match (and it worked out pretty well) was right popper, turning target, rear paper target, left popper, two open shots on the right target before the no-shoot closed up, and away I went to the next shooting location, changing magazines as I moved.

Shooting Single Stack is already having a profound effect on how I shoot USPSA. It’s making me pay much more attention to accuracy than with my Production gun, and I find that while I am slow, I am also usually in the top third of points per stage at any given match. I am perfectly fine with that, and knowing that I am shooting a match in much the same way that IPSC and USPSA have been shot since their founding simply adds to an already exciting sport.

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