Shooting While Disoriented

Imagine this scenario: You go out to dinner and a movie with friends. You have a glass of wine or two with dinner. After the movie, you stop off for a nightcap on the way home. You get home from the movie at 11:00pm or so and, exhausted, stumble into bed.

Three hours later, the sound of breaking glass wakes you. You’re tired, maybe still a little tipsy, moving in the dark. Maybe you have time to grab your flashlight, but even so, you’re more than a bit disoriented. And then the bad guy kicks in your bedroom door.

Let’s suppose that your gun is on the nightstand. Could you deploy it effectively?

I had a chance to simulate some of the challenge of shooting concealed yesterday at my local IDPA match. One of the stages involved sitting in a swivel chair and being spun around for 60 seconds. At the end of that time, the shooter had to stand up, pick up her gun from atop a barrel, and engage one target with four rounds at a range of about three yards.

When it came to my turn to shoot, I sat down with some trepidation. The chair started spinning. About 20 seconds into the spin, I was about ready to throw up from the dizziness. Then the Safety Officer said, “Standby!” and the buzzer went off.

It turns out, it’s surprisingly hard to get a pistol on-target when the world feels like it’s spinning in circles. On the plus side, I didn’t trip or fall over. I noticed as the gun came up that it felt REALLY hard to lift the muzzle, and I can imagine how hard it would be to get on target when fogged by sleep or alcohol. At a range of just barely beyond contact distance, all four shots were in the “down one zone”, a healthy hands-width low and left of center mass. At the distance between my nightstand and my bedroom door, I’m not confident I’d have gotten all four rounds on target.

My point is this: When we go to the range to practice, we’re usually shooting at static targets in well-lit rooms, awake and alert and oriented to our surroundings. So, realistically, our performance at the range is probably pretty close to the absolute best we’re going to shoot. But bad guys will look to take advantage of those moments when we aren’t in top form. They come at night, when we’re tired, disoriented, or incapacitated. They want to catch us off-guard. Drilling holes in paper targets at our favorite static range is great fun, but how well does it prepare us to perform when we aren’t at our best?

This is why I think anyone whose self-defense plans include a firearm owes it to themselves to check out IDPA. I’ve shot two matches so far and observed a third before that, and I found one common thread in the stages I’ve shot is that they require you to do all sorts of things that test your ability to respond to non-ideal circumstances. We did a hallway-clearing exercise yesterday, shot paper and steel targets at 20-25 yards, shot at a target while we were retreating – and the target was moving toward us twice as fast as we retreated.

The stages each IDPA club uses are as varied as the imaginations of the match staff, but you’ll definitely test your skills – and find your weaknesses – shooting IDPA. Although I did better yesterday than I did in my first IDPA match, I can still see areas where I need to put in some serious practice (those 25-yard shots, for example). If you want to use IDPA as a way to train, and not just as a game to play, there are ways to do that.

Whether or not you choose to join an IDPA club, though, you should give thought to how you’ll incorporate these kinds of exercises into your training. The bad guy isn’t going to wait until the moment you’re maximally prepared and ready. Failing to prepare for that reality could be fatal – whether you kick butt at the range or not. What will you do to be prepared?

Photo Credit: stock.xchg


  1. Mrs. Groundhog says:

    I am scheduled to take a low light class in October. One of the things I want to do at the class is shoot without my glasses on. I am very nearsighted; 20/200 in one eye and 20/400 in the other eye. If I ever have a night time intruder, that is how I am going to have to shoot; in low light without my glasses. I need to see how it feels in a safe environment.

    • I’m very nearsighted too, and I’ve shot one or two IDPA stages that required me to remove my glasses. Definitely a good experience and one I highly recommend. I will be looking for more opportunities to practice that. I’d also like to shoot an IDPA match in a skirt and flats sometime, since that’s often what I have to wear in the “real world”lI’d love to hear more about your low-light class after you take it. Perhaps you’d consider doing a guest blog post about it? Drop me an email and let me know what you think.

  2. While I don’t shoot IDPA, I do shoot our defensive pistol matches, which isn’t quite as restrictive as IDPA. We’ve – within the last year – added a monthly IDPA match (held on a different day) to the schedule. While I go to the matches to practice in ways I wouldn’t otherwise be able to, I’ve seen a rise in IDPA shooters who are just out there to “game” it – who see the matches as a sport. I initially found this really frustrating, but have come to realize that even if I’m surrounded by people gaming the stages, *I* don’t have to.

    • Exactly so. I’ve been reticent to check out my local USPSA clubs for that same reason, but someone told me recently, “go to the match, shoot it the way YOU want to, with the gun YOU want to. Don’t pay any attention to your score, and if the gamers don’t like it, f**k ’em!” So, I’ve resolved to try a USPSA match at least once before the end of the year, and I’ll shoot it MY way.

  3. Mark Cronenwett says:

    I commend you for going out and doing the matches, you will learn from it. I shot our local club matches for years, and we do several night shoot matches a year. Very different from shooting in the day time.

    I then started shooting USPSA, and I appreciate the differences (no IDPA clubs in the state) from our local club match. Either way, you win by learning and growing.

    • Thanks for this, Mark! I’m definitely learning every time I shoot, and I try hard to pay attention to the gaps in my skills and not to my score. It’s great practice, and a chance to try my hand at scenarios I’d never experience drilling holes in paper targets at a range.

  4. Mrs. Groundhog says:

    Tammy, this is the class I will be taking in October.

    I would love to do a guest post for you. We will have to talk about it when the time gets closer.

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