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Competition shooting for tactical troops

Some time spent shooting in competition will make you a better tactical shooter

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Photo/Mike Clancy

By Mike Clancy

“When was it you were the best at fighting?” the training officer asked the class. I knew where he was going, so I kept my mouth shut, but my inner voice said, “When you were fighting in karate tournaments.” That was when I decided that as a SWAT troop, I needed to learn how and shoot in competition.

The answer he was looking for was “When you first learned combatives in the academy.” His point being that you had spent time working on the basics and had, if not mastered them, certainly achieved a firm grasp of the dynamics. This works well enough for combatives, but when you apply that thought process to the firing range, at some point, you need to move past just being able to master the qualification course. At some point in your career (hopefully), you will be able to move past standing in front of a single target trying not to go any faster than the people to your left and right.

What did fighting in tournaments do for my combative skills? For one, it forced me to move at the speed of my opponent. For another, it highlighted, sometimes in a painful way, glaring flaws in my skill set. It also gave me the opportunity to practice against moving opponents who did not always do what I wanted them to do.

Shooting in competition can and will provide you with many of the same benefits in terms of training value without the occasional black eye.

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A USPSA stage, with room to maneuver, barriers to shoot around and a good target array.

Photo/Mike Clancy

Where to start your competition journey

There are a few venues that require you to remain stationary: bullseye, steel challenge and Glock Sport Shooting Foundation spring to mind. These are excellent places to start your competition journey. While you do lose the value of shooting and moving, what you gain is exactly that, one less thing to work on for match day. Shooting in a match for the first (or second or third) time can be a bit overwhelming. There are a few safety rules that, if violated, WILL get you booted out of the competition. At the entry-level most shooting disciplines do not require a large amount of specialized gear; shooting in a match or two like this will give you an opportunity to sort out what you do and do not need in terms of additional gear.

USPSA, IDPA and 3 Gun are the types of matches that you will find most prominent when you start looking. These are the ones that will increase your skill to the next level as a tactical troop. The biggest payoff? Shoot and move, sometimes at the same time. In these competitions, you will face off against an array of targets that will need to be engaged from various points on the range. I must say this again, violating safety rules WILL get you kicked out of the match; learn the rules and learn them well.

You will also have to figure out how and in what order you want to engage the targets. Not all, but for most courses of fire, the instructions will tell you where to start and a few specifics (very few). Other than that, it is on you to figure out how to negotiate the course of fire.

Just as in the tactical world speed and accuracy are rewarded, and missed shots are penalized all good reinforcement for shooting better and faster.

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You can expect to be required to shoot one-handed as well as offhanded.

Photo/Mike Clancy

United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA)

The United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) is a straight-up competition shooting. There is not even a pretense of any bit of tactics other than getting to and engaging the targets as quickly as possible. Here is an excellent example; I shot on a stage that simulated going into a house. One of the first things a shooter encountered after going through the door was a target at the end of a long hallway. As a tactical shooter, I wanted to engage that target from the threshold as it was at the time the most pressing threat. However, the way the stage was built, it would bring you right past the target as you worked your way through the stage. Passing the target and engaging it from just a few feet made it considerably easier to score good hits on it than engaging it from all the way down the hallway.

International Defensive Shooting Association (IDPA)

International Defensive Shooting Association (IDPA), as the name implies, does make an effort to make their stages have a semblance of application in the real world. Stage designers will often draw from real-life events, as such you may find yourself in a stage built to resemble a store being robbed. There will be stages where you start not standing and holstered, but seated with your pistol in a desk draw or some other intentionally awkward position. There are penalties for infractions such as not reloading from behind cover and dropping a magazine on the ground with rounds still in it. There is also the somewhat nebulous “failure to do right,” as well as stages you will encounter that require targets to be engaged in a specific order.

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Don’t expect to get to shoot out of a car at every match, but do expect to find some interesting challenges.

Photo/Mike Clancy

Multi-Gun, 3 gun, 2 gun

Expect a multi-gun match to run like a USPSA match. All the same rules and scoring with the added complexity of transitioning from one platform to another. The advantage here is that it will make you shoot with more than just your pistol, and for those of you who carry a shotgun but never train with it, this can be an eye-opener. One small thing you will have to adapt to is dumping an empty weapon. Stages will have a place for you to set down or place your rifle/shotgun after its part in the stage is finished. No carrying or slinging a weapon as you traverse the rest of the stage. The safety concerns should be obvious.

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Change mags on the move!

Photo/Mike Clancy

The drawback to multi-gun is the time it takes to reset the stages. If you have not thought about it, after each shooter makes their run through the stage, several people will go through the course of fire and score your targets. Then, they record your time, and after that, your fellow competitors will put posters over the holes in the targets, and rest anything that needs resetting. A typical USPSA/IDPA stage could be 15 yards deep by twice as wide, so it does take a few minutes to score and reset everything. On a multi-gun course, if you are shooting at “rifle” ranges, 100 yards and longer, just adding in the amount of time to walk the extra distance can add up.

Precision rifle

An up-and-coming style is precision rifle. For those of you on sniper teams (or even in a designated marksman role), this is a fantastic way to move your training from just laying at the 100-yard line and shooting a few groups to a much more dynamic format. Match specifics may vary but you can expect to shoot, move and shoot some more. You will be forced to shoot from improvised and awkward positions at unknown ranges – all things that you may be called upon to do in a real-life encounter.

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Work the angles. Shooting around a barrier, or from behind cover are skills that translate into the law enforcement world.

Photo/Mike Clancy

Pros and cons of competing

To sum up the pros and cons (yes, there are some cons) while competing in shooting will help you move your skill set to the next level, there are a few points to keep in mind.

First and foremost, it is not tactical! The goal of every competition is to score more points than everyone else. Accomplishing this objective may mean not using cover or other tactically unsound practices. While there will be barricades to shoot around, no one is going to expect you to pie around a corner or treat the barricade as anything other than an obstacle.

Some people may get bent out of shape when you drop a magazine with rounds still in it as you transition to the next firing position. There is a point there, but if in a real gunfight dropping a magazine with only one round remaining allows you to get into position and engage the bad guy with a full magazine instead of being forced to reload under fire, was that really a bad move?

If you really want to, or can only afford to, shooting using your duty belt and weapon is allowed. USPSA recently rewrote some of its rules so now there is not an issue with where your magazines are positioned. On the other hand, you may want to shoot a more competition-specific setup. This will negate the training value a bit, but competitive-type As will always want to score higher.

Entry fees are usually nominal. The 200-250 rounds you shoot in a typical match are not that much more than most people will shoot on the range, but at today’s prices, that can add up quickly. This is especially true if you want to improve and start practicing more (more practice is better for all aspects, but still adds to the overall cost). Also, as noted in the paragraph above, if you start wanting to “buy some points” and upgrade your equipment those costs just add up. Better sights, crisper triggers, lighter springs...

Why should you not shoot in a competition? Tactics, cost and time. There are many things you will do in competition that are not necessarily the best way to do things on the street. Discarding long guns and magazines with rounds still in them, as well as not taking your time to properly and completely pie a corner, stand out at the front of the pack. Cost and time are other reasons not to shoot in competition. If you have access to your department range (more freedom of movement than a civilian range) for the same amount of ammunition cost, you can shoot on your own time for the same money minus the match fees.

Some time spent shooting in competition will make you a better tactical shooter. Just keep in mind a few of the sport-specific aspects (don’t get kicked off the range) in order to enjoy and improve.

While not painful, there will be a match score posted. If you are a competitive type A personality a score toward the bottom will “encourage” you to do better.

About the author

1SG (ret) Mike Clancy has been involved in tactical operations since the late 1980s. He is currently a member of the Bay County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team where he serves as an assault squad leader. Contact him at Special thanks to Dr. Sean Normand.