Of Skills Drills and Negligent Discharges

20130105-204706.jpgDon’t worry, the negligent discharge wasn’t mine…but it brought home a lesson I had underscored at the range today.

As those who follow my page on Facebook know, I shot the IDPA Classifier today for the first time. (Side note: If you aren’t following me on Facebook, I invite you to join the discussion there; I share lots of stuff that isn’t large enough to warrant its own blog post.) For those who don’t do IDPA, the Classifier is a standardized 90-round course of fire that tests many of the common skills needed to compete in IDPA: drawing and re-holstering, shooting on the move, shooting from behind cover, and reloading your firearm quickly. Whether IDPA skills translate to real-world lethal force defensive encounters is a subject of perennial debate, but in my view of things, anything that makes you more accurate and confident in your gun handling skills is a good thing.

In any event, I had a great time, and came home from the range with a bunch of lessons, both good and bad, bouncing around in my head.

First, the good news: Although I didn’t score as well as I would have liked (I’m now officially classified ESP/Novice; I missed Marksman by about 40 seconds – or, if you prefer, 80 points), I can definitely see that the training oand practice I’ve put in has really helped. A recent IDPA match included a stage that reproduced one of the strings from the classifier, and I improved my performance on that string by almost 40% from that match.

What else did I learn?

  • When it comes to safety, you can’t afford even one second of inattention. This was the most important lesson we were all reminded of today, and it came at an unfortunate (though luckily non-tragic) cost for one shooter. He was clearly unaware of what his gun and his trigger finger were doing, and while turning around to ask the Safety Officer a question he discharged a round inadvertently. Needless to say, the result of that was a more-or-less automatic disqualification from the match, but it was also an important reminder. The fact that the round went into the berm and not into, say, one of the bystanders was more a matter of luck than design. The lesson, then, was simple: When you’re handling a firearm, even one second of inattention can be deadly.
  • Find skills you need to improve, and set tangible, measurable goals and practice regimens to help you achieve them. I need to really work on longer-distance shooting. I did a lot better at the shorter-range strings of fire, and (to be frank) I did terrible on the longer-range shots. So, I’ve set a new training goal for myself based on these results: For the next three months, no more than 20% of my range work will occur at distances shorter than 15 yards, and at least 25% will be at 25 yards or farther out. I’d like to see my “points down” on the longer distance strings decrease by at least 25% when I next shoot the Classifier in July. If you don’t assess your shooting performance and set training goals for yourself, you’re missing an opportunity. It’s easy and tempting to always shoot the same 7-yard bulls-eyes, but this is not how we improve. Set goals, and make them ambitious; they should be attainable, but you should have to stretch yourself to attain them. Otherwise you’re just making holes in paper, which is great ego food but lousy training.
  • Don’t underestimate the impact of adrenaline on your shooting ability. I hadn’t shot an IDPA match in a few months, and so I forgot about the impact of that sudden rush of adrenaline when the buzzer goes off (which stands in for the adrenaline surge when a bad guy makes his move). As a result, my first three strings of fire or so were all over the place. After I got a bit more re-acclimated to that adrenalized feeling, my shooting steadied and subsequent strings were much better. If you’ve never shot a competition or received stress inoculation training before, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can reproduce under stress the same level of marksmanship you achieve with paper targets on a range.
  • Know how your gun works. I’m not just talking about knowing how to run the weapon and clean it. I think there’s a definite benefit to knowing all of your firearm’s pieces and parts, what they do, and how they fit together. This will help you understand the WHY of clearing malfunctions, which will help you understand the HOW. Plus, if something goes wrong and your gun stops working (as it did for a squad-mate of mine today) you’ll stand a fighting chance of getting it running again. One of my training goals from today’s match is to enlist help from someone to fully detail-strip the guns I shoot most often and explain to me what the parts do, how they work, and what exactly is happening inside the gun when they fail to work.
  • Training goals are important, but so is celebrating progress. I didn’t score as well as I’d have liked today, but I still found lots of celebrate. As I said above, my performance on the long-distance strings, while abysmal, was much less abysmal than the last time I tested the same skill on the same setup. But that wasn’t the only place I saw marked improvement. My reloads are definitely getting smoother and quicker, and I’m consistently releasing the trigger. I wasn’t getting clothing hung up as much during re-holstering as I’ve done in the past, and my draws and re-holsters are getting steadily smoother. I also noticed significant gain in the area of trigger control, something else where my effort and practice is paying off. No matter whether your performance on any given shooting day is better or worse than you’d like, always find things you can celebrate as well as ones you can improve upon. Always recognize your successes, and always celebrate them.

What about you, dear readers? Did you do any shooting this weekend? Did you put a bunch of holes in paper just for fun, or did you do things which really challenged you and tested your skills? If the latter, what training goals have you developed based on your experiences? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Edited to clarify my actual score.


  1. Excellent coverage. I like it that you learned from others’ mistakes. Keep at it and you will see a big improvement come July. Plus some match wins in between.

    Plus everything you touched on has application to self defense, which is kind’ve the point, isn’t it?

    • I’ve always figured that learning from others’ mistakes is just as valuable as, and usually less painful than, learning from the mistakes of others. šŸ™‚ And while I think there are some things we do in IDPA that one might not use in a defensive encounter (such as the oh-so-small steps some take when advancing and retreating), I also think that shooting IDPA – especially with actual carry gear – is a great opportunity to practice useful defensive skills. IDPA isn’t training, but it’s good practice to supplement our training.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. A group of people have been coming to shoot with me each weekend for quite a while, but we have missed the last two weeks due to snow at the range. The road up there is never plowed. I do a lot of dry fire stuff anyway, but especially when I can’t get to the range. Hopefully, by next weekend we can shoot, but I’m going to try to get the bunch to come to my house anyway if it snows again. If we use the plastic simulators, we can get a lot of tactical practice done between pots of coffee. šŸ™‚

    • “If we use the plastic simulators, we can get a lot of tactical practice done between pots of coffee.”

      Absolutely, and what a fun way to spend a day, too! If I lived closer, I’d invite myself over. šŸ™‚

      • Sure would love to have you join us. You’d have a lot to teach my bunch, absolutely.

        And sometimes we have cookies with that coffee.. or banana bread. Looks like I’ll have to eat the loaf I made Friday all by myself. sniff… One lady is out of town and another has a sick child, so I guess we’ll try again next weekend. šŸ™‚

      • Sounds like fun. Definitely a goal for the not too distant future to get out your way. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit many of my mom’s cooking skills, but maybe I can talk her out of her apple cake recipe before I come. šŸ™‚

        I hope the other ladies are grateful to you for your devotion to duty in not letting the banana bread go to waste. šŸ˜‰

      • “I hope the other ladies are grateful to you for your devotion to duty in not letting the banana bread go to waste.”

        HA HA! I probably won’t even tell them! Actually, almost everyone brings something one time or another and we usually have far too much. The gentlemen usually polish it off, so all is not lost.

        Apple cake? I have an incredible recipe for spice applesauce cake, but I have not made it in more than 20 years. I like it too well!

        I’ve been toying with the idea of another blog, just to exchange recipes and cooking ideas. http://www.thepriceofliberty.org/WREmission.html I’m afraid there are almost as many women around who don’t actually cook as there are women who don’t shoot.

      • I’d definitely check that blog out if you started it. I’m actually on an email group that is nominally about martial arts and self defense, but shares recipes and stuff often enough that some of the group’s members jokingly refer to it as “a foodie discussion list with a violence problem.” šŸ™‚

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