As a shooter and trainer I constantly seek new ways to describe what is important and why. I’m not the greatest shooter in the world but I do hang out with those guys and gals and I can hold my own. What makes great shooters great? Is it natural ability, practice time or desire to be the best?
For the third year now, I’ve had the opportunity to shoot the NRA World Shooting Championship (WSC). It is one of my favorite competitions of the year. You could say it is “Top Shot” for everyone and anyone. In three days you can compete in 12 different shooting disciplines and find out how you stack up amongst those in the shooting industry—from the bottom to the top.
It takes a special kind of person to register for the WSC. Special meaning, someone who is not afraid to put their skills to the test in front of everyone. Special also because they are willing to do this with unfamiliar guns and ammunition on courses that are also generally unfamiliar. Honestly—it couldn’t be more of what I would want in a competition.
Shooting this match the past three years I have won beautiful guns that I consider trophies. The cowboy action guns are what I go for on the prize table. Not looking for monetary value or something to use, but something I can cherish for years after I am unable to do these activities anymore. But, what makes me more successful than a majority of the competitors?
Right now I’m successful at shooting. Certainly not gifted—I’ve never been a natural at shooting—nor do I practice. Some folks call what I do “match practice.” “Match practice” is practicing by shooting matches. I shoot several matches a year and that is my practice. Aside from teaching classes and shooting when teaching, I don’t practice. I do have a desire to be the best I can be and here’s where my point is made.
If you want to be more than a “shooter” (one who safely discharges firearms), some food for thought. Three important skills can make you a better competitor in the shooting world. These are the skills that I focus on whether shooting, teaching or competing. In no particular hierarchy or order they are all interrelated.
Firearms manipulation skills: This means the way you “run the gun.” Focus on how you manipulate any firearm whether it is a revolver, semi-automatic pistol, AR-15, bolt action, shotgun, etc. Knowing how to load, unload and keep any gun in action and firing is important. The worst stage for me every year during the WSC is cowboy action. If I own the guns, why? Quite simply—because I don’t take time to practice and train with those very specific platforms. Single action pistols, hammer driven shotguns and lever action rifles. But what about the other guns? I am very specific about how I run the other guns, so action-style shooting with them is not an issue. Manipulation skills need to be automatic while my brain worries about solving the problem.
Gear manipulation skills are necessary to success. How you work with the things that compliment your shooting is important. For instance, during the precision rifle stage there are barricades to shoot off of and support bags to use. If you don’t know how to effectively and efficiently use those objects on the stage they become ineffective to you and a time consuming hindrance. Slings, red dots, scopes, spare magazines. All of these things are considered gear and you need to know how to use them to enhance your shooting. I heard it said best as “the street is a poor place to improvise.” This means that the first time you have to do something or use a tool should not be the day you need do it best or to save your life. Simple skills like picking up a magazine from a 55-gallon drum and getting it in the gun. Gear manipulation!
The fundamentals of marksmanship are last, and certainly not least! Your fundamentals need to be firmly set in place. Whether with iron sights, red dots or magnified optics—know what you need to see to make a hit. Triggers are as varied as the guns they are on. You can’t expect success with a double action only pistol using the trigger finger placement and trigger pull you use with your .22 target pistol. Know what you need to do to get the hit. Fundamentals change from gun to gun. The grip you use for your double action revolver doesn’t necessarily translate to the single action cowboy .45. I know because it’s where I struggle. Remember? But my fundamentals are solid. Grip, platform, trigger management, sight alignment, sight picture, recoil management and follow through. Follow through is as important when shooting an unfamiliar gun as anything else.
I could spend hours talking about these skills and you may need hours working on them. But now you know a large part of why I’m a successful shooter. Hopefully, I’ve pointed you in a direction that helps your shooting. If you’ve read this and are at the WSC next year—please stop and say hello. I won’t be surprised if you do better than you expected.