Over two million people a week watch Top Shot on History Channel. 3 Gun Nation is in its second season, and TV networks are scrambling for more shooting shows. Shooting shows are becoming more popular as “Gun Culture 2.0” becomes more popular and more popular and people look to the practical shooting sports as a way to hone their defensive firearms skills.
And I count myself as one of this crowd. I didn’t get into the shooting sports because I grew up around guns, (though I did quite a lot of shooting in my youth), I shoot because a) it’s FUN and b) I want to protect my family’s life. I am fortunate to have a home range that is ground zero for USPSA in my area, so I thought I’d write a quick guide for everyone out there who want to get into practical shooting but don’t know where to start.
A quick word: I’m not “high speed, low drag” (the opposite, in fact…) and I’m not a Tier One Tactical Operator, I’m just a guy who thought practical shooting might be a fun way to get in some firearms training, so this advice is coming from someone whose first time at a match wasn’t that long ago…
What you’ll need:
A serviceable and safe handgun, minimum caliber 38 spl./9mm. Almost anything out of the box in those calibers is good to go as is.
A safe holster on a belt. Nylon may (MAY work), Kydex or leather is better. No drop-leg, shoulder, cross-draw or small of back holsters.
Magazines or speed loaders and carriers for same.
Ear and eye protection.
What does this mean in real-world terms?
$500-700 for a new pistol. Glock, S+W, CZ, Springfield, whatever. Get something you like, know how to use and are comfortable with. If you’ve recently bought a pistol for home defence, it should work just fine.
$50-100 for the holster and magazine carriers. Bladetech, Safariland and Blackhawk! are all good brands to look out for.
$50-100 in spare magazines or speed loaders. Yes, you can compete with just two, but no, you don’t want to.
$10-50 for a range bag to carry everything. Something big enough to carry all of the above yet easy to lug around with you from stage to stage
$40 and up for ammo. Here we get to the really expensive part of practical shooting. A typical match for my club is 4 stages, each with about 25-35 rounds fired. Add in misses and the need to keep your spare magus full and you’ll soon see that bringing 200 or more rounds to a match is a good idea.
Pre-match training. Know how to use your gun and use it safely. You don’t need to be Annie Oakley, but you should know how to load it, how to unload it, how to deal with loading or feeding issues and most importantly, the basics of gun safety. An NRA First Steps is a great way to get the basic training needed, and I recommend for all first-time shooters.
Is it worth it?
Oh yeah. A practical shooting competition will quickly show you how well you perform under semi-stressful conditions with a firearm. Under the artificial stress of the timer, simple things like reloading an empty pistol become the hardest thing you’ve ever done, and hard things like hitting a 25 yard head shot become nigh-impossible. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the more you become confident in your firearms-handling abilities.
This is the reason I do this, (well, that, and it’s FUN) and it’s the same reason why humans have used games to train for combat since the days of ancient Greece. We train to be good when it doesn’t matter so we can be good when the highest stakes we have are on the line.