So you have a little confidence under your belt and you're considering competing in your first shooting match. But you're very nervous, since this is uncharted territory for you. This is very common, and I personally know the feeling well, but I have yet to meet someone that participated in a match and decided they never wanted to do that again.
Don’t be intimidated by what you see on television. Think about the gun shows on TV being like the NFL or the NBA. Those are the pros. The local competitions are more like little league. Yes, some participants are excellent shooters; they compete and do very well larger competitions and use the local matches to prepare for them, but the smaller local matches are more about personal growth. Most participants see it as improving your own score, not comparing their score against other participants. Any stress consists of what you place on yourself, not what other place on you from a competitive standpoint.
If you’re considering signing up for your first match, go watch one first. If you have a better understanding of what to expect, you’ll be much more confortable during your first match. Get familiar with the range, the stages and variety of targets, the commands, and the people. Before you even go to watch, do your homework. Many local clubs hosting the event will post the various stages and directions on their website so the shooters can mentally prepare for the match. Print them out and bring them with you so you can better understand what is going on. Also, review the Bulletbytes glossary; it lists some of the common commands and terminology that are used at competitions and at the range in general.
So you’ve checked out a match, and have done some homework…now what? Practice! Not just shooting, but more importantly, handling your gun. Safety is always a priority, so it is crucial that you know how to safely handle your weapon. Before the day of the match, get some dummy rounds and practice drawing your gun from your holster. This may sound simple, but if you’re not used to drawing your weapon with live ammo in the chamber, you should safely practice with dummies on your own ahead of time. The most important part of pulling your gun from the holster is finger placement. Do not place your finger on the trigger unless you are ready to shoot, meaning you are lined up with the target ready to pull the trigger. When you draw your gun from the holster, your finger should be placed straight forward against the gun, up high above the trigger area. The finger stays there at all times until you are ready to engage a target. When you are finished shooting, the finger goes back to the straight, pointed position, up to and including the time that you return the gun to the holster. Finger placement is the most important part of avoiding accidentally discharging the weapon.
On the day of the match, be sure you are prepared, and arrive early to help calm nerves. The range can get very hot very quickly so be sure you have packed sunscreen and plenty of water and a snack or two. A minimum of 3 magazines is typically recommended, along with a sturdy belt and holster, and good ammo that will not jam on you. During the check-in process, you register and sign a waiver, and you will most likely be paired with shooters of similar experience and classifications. After the sign-in, there is typically a “new shooters briefing” which explains the rules and commands of the match. If anything is unclear, don’t be shy, speak up! If you have a question, it is very likely that other new shooters at the briefing may have the same questions. After the briefing, entire group gathers for a general shooters briefing, then is dividing into squads of 10-15 shooters each to start the event.
There is a pre-designated number of stages (typically 5 or 6), and each stage has specific instructions explaining what to do. The RSO, or Range Safety Officer, is responsible for explain the “course of fire,” for keeping the range safe for everyone, calling the commands, and communicating with you directly when it is your turn. The RSO will stay with you during your turn, so if there are any problems, don’t panic, the RSO will help you. On average there are typically 5 to 10 targets per stage, but the number of targets can greatly vary. Each target usually requires more than one hit; the rules will specify what is required. Sometimes you are limited to how many total rounds you can fire per target, and other times you can continue shooting at a target until you feel comfortable with the results. Matches run differently depending on the host organization, but I find the most enjoyable matches to those scored on a combination of accuracy and time, such as in IDPA matches. The balance of accuracy and time helps better develop the shooter’s skills, and makes it more of a true sport.
Once your entire squad finishes a stage, the squad moves to the next stage, and the new course of fire is explained by the RSO. Typically the shooters shoot in the same order at each stage; if this is your first match, be sure to communicate this with the RSO prior to beginning the first stage so he/she can place you near the end of the line-up. Your turn is much easier if you’ve had the opportunity to watch other shooters before you go through the stage.
After each shooter takes his/her turn which is typically 30-60 seconds depending on the stage and shooter level, the RSO may ask you to “tape.” Between each shooter, the targets must be prepared for the next shooter by taping the bullet holes that the previous shooter created. Make sure the RSO has declared the range safe to move down range; never ever go down range until the RSO has given the command that the range is safe.
Match results are usually posted on the host’s website within a few days so you can see how you scored. At the end of the day, hopefully you will feel proud that you have successfully participated in your first match. After a match, I usually feel frustrated that I didn’t perform at the level I wanted (which just encourages me to practice more), but the enjoyment of participating far outweighs those frustrations. I hope you find the matches as fulfilling as I have, and continue to participate in future events.