Monday, September 8, 2014

USPSA Lessons Learned

I learned six valuable things at my local USPSA club match yesterday:
  1.  In USPSA, I can leave the "shooting area" all I want without penalty; it'll only cost me if I fire a shot while out of bounds.
  2.  If a stage requires me to start with gun and "all magazines" on a barrel or table, it's probably worth it to put magazines into a pouch after the buzzer unless I want to hold 'em. I seriously considered firing the first two magazines strong - hand - only, and I did fire one that way, but I stuffed the third mag in my front left pocket as I went. Only afterward did I find out that retrieving that mag from a pocket forward of my centerline should bump me into Open with the raceguns. Oops.
  3.  My ability to call shots has improved,  and I shot all alphas faster than I've shot alpha - charlies and alpha - mikes in the past.  Dry fire and working with a timer are paying off. This is no time to stop.
  4.  Speaking of things that paid off, handguns are not magical. They have to be sighted in like any other missile launcher with sights. After I installed night sights from Warren Tactical, I continued to shoot Dot Torture at 5-7 yards like my life depended on it, but I didn't take the simple expedient of putting up a paper plate at 25 yards to figure out what sight picture I need to see to hit a plate at that distance. Of course, there was a classifier stage with plates at about 15 yards, and I shot over the top of several of them before I sort-of figured it out (I also shot into the morning sun without a hat, which is dumb.)*   To rectify the situation, I had to go back to my roots and shoot those paper plates. Sure enough, the Warren Tacticals hit precisely at the top of the front sight at 25 yards. If you try to center the front dot on the plate, and you accept a sight picture that puts it on the top half of the plate, you will miss high. If you use the sights as designed, this stock Glock 17 is pretty accurate at 25.
  5.  I need to train myself to move with the gun. I discovered this very important lesson by disqualifying myself on the second stage of the day. I needed to draw and move left, shoot four targets, then sprint right and shoot four more before dashing back to the center to move forward and take seven more targets hidden from view. Unfortunately, I was focused on getting a reload accomplished during each if those sprints, and when I ran left and brought the gun up for a reload in my right hand, I broke the 180. I was, of course, immediately stopped and disqualified. I took a break to bag up my gun and gear, then took over the scorekeeping for the rest of the morning.
  6.  DQ sucks (I don't even eat at Dairy Queen) but it's not the end of the world, particularly when you're trying to learn the sport. I picked up some ideas as I walked around watching everybody else shoot, and I still got to walk-through all the stages multiple times. It wasn't the way I would have chosen to spend my morning, but hey, at least I didn't throw a tantrum.

This actually didn't put me far off on my goals for the day. I wanted to call all my shots, and I did that until the disqualification. I wanted to look for alpha sight pictures and make up any shot worse than a charlie, and I did that (briefly.) I wanted to learn the sport and learn about this particular match, which I'd only shot once before. Done.
The failure was creating an unsafe condition. That's not acceptable, and tonight will be my first dry fire in the backyard where I'll run sprints from box to box keeping a SIRT safely downrange. Eventually I'll incorporate reloads into this kind of back-and-forth movement. I think being outdoors may create enough of a difference that I have to practice it that way at least some of the time; another shooter mentioned that training indoors with two big white walls makes it easy to miss the 180 when you go outside, and most of my USPSA experience is indoors in a single-bay range running one stage per week.

So, the real question: is this making me un-tactical and un-ready, as one weird knife maker used to say? Will I get killed on the streets? Well . . . maybe.
I think I know the basics of the differences between "tactical training" and "sporting competition." But I do think techniques you don't use under pressure are generally unlikely to be available under pressure. If you think you'll "just go crazy and gouge out his eyes" when some guy who fights every weekend decides to tie you up and smash your ribs, I'm skeptical. I feel the same way about my ability to run a pistol. When I can draw from concealment rapidly and securely and place accurate shots on demand, fix malfunctions on the go, reload quickly on demand and call shots under time and pride pressure, then it'll be time to worry about whether practicing the sport needs to take a back seat to practicing fighting. In the meantime, nothing I do for USPSA keeps me from practicing unarmed, learning more about OC spray, or working out how to be more aware and less likely to be caught behind the eight ball.
There really is a quantity of fun, simple enjoyment for enjoyment's sake, that makes it easier and better to train and practice. I predict that I'll get better at running a pistol by having fun in USPSA. If you don't need that, more power to you.

*Either practicing in hats and getting dependent on them will get you killed in the street, or failing to wear a hat in the street will get you killed in the street, but the hell of it is that I can never remember which one. It's a damned nuisance.


Gladorn said...

I'd been out of shooting for a bit and thus I've not been to any USPSA matches in years. That changed this weekend.

I did fine, not excellent. I learned that when shooting through a window (or any other type of barrier) to not have my pistol come in contact with the wood. I kept getting jams and I thought it was the magazine. (My local club has never put on such an extravagant course, so there were a few things missing.)

I don't stress over too much about what class I am in, or what score that I get. I'm there to have fun and to get some practice in. We've all broken the 180 at some point. Just another learning experience.

Unknown said...

Exactly. I've been thinking a lot about my classification for a bit, but someone mentioned on the Brian Enos forums the other day that he didn't understand the race to be classed higher. If you practice classifiers and exclude the rest, he argued, you're basically practicing standing gun manipulations and marksmanship. Those aren't bad skills, but they don't capture everything it takes to win in USPSA, so why bother? No sense, from his point of view, in rushing to be a black belt if you can't compete on a level playing field with the black belts--and conversely, no shame in being a blue belt if you're doing well as a blue belt. The classification will come with time, and it's of no real value outside USPSA anyway.

That's where I think I was differing from him . . . I wanted to be an A shooter for the sake of being an A shooter. But I am not one, and the question is, should I bother to chase that, or just learn the game and have fun getting better at the entire game? Which one suits my purpose better?

Unknown said...

(And . . . . do I know my purpose?)

Gladorn said...

Purpose? I thought that getting to the range and having fun sending lead downrange was the purpose!

On a serious note, anything and everything you do in firearms makes you a better shooter. One of our firearms instructors only shoots once or twice a year, yet he qualifies at 98% or higher every time. I practice and practice, and I can barely break 92%. But I know that due to all of my practice that I'll shoot just as good when I'm moving or crouching or what have you because I've practiced it on a regular basis. (I may have slacked on the match circuit but I've taken a bit of advantage of a few LE tactical ranges and training.)

Why do you have a gun? For self defense, hunting, or competition? Me? I'm getting old. I'm done with worrying about what other people think. I do what I think is fun. I do what makes me happy, even if it's breaking out the 5 shot snubbie just to watch all of the gamers' have heart attacks.

The rules... Yeah, you got bit by an obscure one. I'm sure that got a few other people also. (Now if the scorer enforced these rules is another story.) I can't give you an answer. I am working at increasing my speed and accuracy, and maintaining my safe handling of firearms. In my honest opinion, your two possible goals are not incompatible. Over time, I get on target faster and my accuracy increases. (I get a lot of Alpha/Mikes, so I need to work on my follow up shots.) By working on getting better at the entire game, you can work your way to an A shooter. To paraphrase Robert Pirsig, it's the sides of the mountain that supports life, not the top.