This weekend was a big deal for me. First, it was the first semi-formal Team Custom Gun Finishes Practice Session, which coincidentally was the first time shooting my new Glock 17 since getting the Swamp Goblin treatment. The next day was my first USPSA match of the season.
I had mixed feelings about this match. I was a little concerned about it being a Classifier Match, mostly because I don’t really enjoy them, but on the flip side I was excited just to be shooting again.
The day started off with my waking up feeling sandy-eyed from the time change. I left the house a little later than I intended and wasn’t able to stop and pick up breakfast. This also meant I couldn’t pick up the lunch I planned on purchasing either (3 of us were car pooling and I was picking someone up to meet up with the person driving to the range. My being late would have screwed things up).
We arrived a few minutes early and got ourselves registered to shoot. The temperature was a bit brisk in the shade but pleasant in the sun. After a quick shooters meeting we were breaking into squads and getting down to business.
One of the things about this club that I dislike is their very relaxed attitude of ‘we don’t make shooting orders, whoever wants to shoot can shoot’. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only person that was anal about knowing exactly when I was going to shoot, so we put together a list of names and stuck with that shooting order for the remainder of the match.
When the day was over, I wasn’t happy with my overall performance. I was feeling pretty grim until we got past the classifier stages, at which point I was having a blast and really enjoying myself. When the scores were released later that evening, I learned that I didn’t do as bad as I thought. I placed 18th out of 32 shooters in Production division.
Stage 7: Big Barricade II
My first stage of the day was Big Barricade II (USPSA Classifier: CM06-02), the first of four classifier stages in the match. Aside from a little practice session the day before, this was the first time I had done any competitive shooting since November.
I stepped into the shooting box and air-gunned the stage to develop a plan of attack. With my hands on the barricade, I situated my feet far enough back that I could shift back and to the left to engage the first array of targets. I would then reload, step to my right and engage the second array of paper targets. Last I would reload again before engaging the steel poppers at the back of the pit.
After the Buzzer:
Just as I planned, I shifted back away from the wall and drew my gun. When the gun was out of the holster I was in position to press out and engage the first array of targets (3 targets, 6 shots fired). I then took one step to my right while performing a reload (the reload was a thing of beauty compared to last season) and engaged the second array of paper (3 targets, 7 shots fired).
I performed one last realod, which was a little choppy, and transitioned to the steel at the rear of the berm. After spending a little more than an hour in the car thinking about the match, driving home, I think this very spot played a large roll in how I felt going forward.
You see, I was in match mode and under the pressure of the shot timer. When I pressed the gun out, I began to align the glowing green fiber optic front sight. I thought to myself “This is steel and the sight looks close enough, press the trigger”. The first steel plate went down. I transitioned to the next piece of steel and the same thought went through my mine “Close enough, press the trigger!”. Sure enough, the second piece of steel went down. The same happened with pieces three and four. I had a perfect run on the steel with a “Close Enough” sight picture. At that very moment, I felt indestructible.
When the range was cleared, we walked the stage and began scoring targets. I don’t remember how it all panned out but I was heartbroken to see that I hit two no-shoot targets. I felt like I had a great run and my poor shot placement was going to kill me. The only thing that prevented me from tanking the stage any harder was that my shots just barely broke the perforation on the no-shoot, which left the remainder of the bullet passing through the scoring target. Instead of taking a no-shoot penalty, plus a miss (-10 x 2 = -20 points), I took a no-shoot penalty, plus what I think was a “C” (-10 + 3 = -7 points).
Little did I know, I rocked that stage and came in 2nd place out of 32 shooters in Production Division. The only shooter to beat me out was Master Class (I’m C Class) and he also took 20 penalty points on the stage (He scored 74 points to my 76 but his time was 4 seconds faster than mine). My time on the stage was 16.47 seconds with the third place shooter coming in at just over 20 seconds.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know any of this at the time. I walked to the next stage bummed out and thinking that I tanked the stage. If there was one thing that I leaned about myself on this stage it was that I need to press the reset button when the stage is over. What is done is done and I need to go into the next stage with a positive mindset. Otherwise, I’m just going to defeat myself.
Stage 1: Paper Poppers
My second stage of the day was Paper Poppers (Classifier Stage CM03-05). I was coming off of a big let down on the previous stage and I knew that I needed to put it behind me and start fresh on this next stage. On the walk from Stage 7 to Stage 1, we passed a cooler full of drinks and a coffee can that read “All drinks $1.00”. I stopped, dropped my range bag and popped open the cooler to find it loaded with water, soda, and Gatorade. I grabbed a Gatorade and dropped a dollar into the coffee can.
It is the simple things that make you feel better. You see, I was running late that morning and hadn’t had the opportunity to stop and pick up snacks and a drink for the range. The chilled Gatorade left me feeling refreshed and ready to get back to shooting.
The stage was simple enough, stand in a box and engage either paper or steel. Once the first array was complete, perform a mandatory reload and engage the second array. I opted to go from paper to steel.
After the Buzzer:
At the buzzer, I drew my gun and pressed out to the target on my left. In hindsight, I probably should have pressed out to the target on my right to save a little time (I’m right handed and the gun wouldn’t have had to come across my body twice). After putting two shots on target, I transitioned to my right and put two shots on that target.
I performed my mandatory reload and ran into a slight problem that I’ve been experiencing in practice. My replacement magazine is ready to be inserted into the gun before my empty falls away. I don’t know if this is a good problem to have due to the reloading practice I’ve been doing or if I need to hit the magazine release earlier to give the magazine a bit more time to drop away.
When the reload was complete, I pressed the gun back out and engaged the steel poppers. Much like in the previous stage, I got into the “Close Enough” mindset and began pressing the trigger. Unfortunately, this time the steel didn’t go down so easily. I wound up putting 9 rounds down range to fall 6 pieces of steel.
I was disappointed in my performance and allowed my mood to get dragged down. In my mind, two sub-par stages was going to mean placing far down the scoring list for the match.
When the smoke cleared, we walked down range and began assessing targets. I scored 48 points out of 50 with a time of 10.02 seconds. I knew that the makeup shot on the steel was going to drag me down. In my mind, I performed worse than I actually did (It is odd how your mind perceives how fast you think you went versus watching other shooters). I ranked 12th out of 32 shooters in Production Division.
Stage 2: Oh no
My third stage of the day was Oh No (Classifier Stage CM09-03). Walking up to this stage I was mentally down in the dumps. I hadn’t performed as well as I would have liked on any stage. I went into this stage telling myself to take it slow and make well placed shots. I would rather have great shots coupled with a poor time than the opposite.
This stage was very simple and didn’t really call for a plan. At the buzzer, simply pick up the gun and engage three targets with two rounds each. After that, the time was called and the stage was run a second time, identical to the first string. All I had to do was take it slow and focus on my front sight.
After the Buzzer:
At the buzzer I picked my gun up off of the table and pressed out for my first shot. I saw a nice clear front sight and pressed the trigger. I moved from one target to the next feeling pretty good about my shots. When the first string was complete, I set the gun down and we did it all over again.
By my calculations, my time should have been on the slow side, but my shots well placed giving me a decent score.
It was bad, in fact, it was real bad. Remember back on Stage 7 when I was devastated by 2 no-shoot hits? Well, imagine how I felt when I saw 5 on this stage. I took a ten point penalty for all five hits on the no-shoots and then took another 10 point penalty for each miss (a whopping -100 applied to my final score of 34 point).
I zero’ed the stage and tied for dead last with 5 other shooters. My time, on the other hand, would have been among the fastest at 11.66 seconds (despite it feeling like I was going slow). At this point, my mental tally for poor performance was three stages. I was crushed.
As I stood there, dumbfounded, watching my squad mates shoot, I walked off the stage and headed to the safe table. I thought that maybe my sights shifted or something may have been wrong with the gun. I can’t say that I was surprised to find my gun in perfect working order. It wasn’t the gun, it was me.
I headed back to the stage and thought about what could be going wrong. A thought came to me and I began to wonder if I was slapping the trigger. This was the first match with my new Glock 17. Prior to this I was shooting a Smith & Wesson M&P with a very long and not-so-positive reset. Maybe I was letting the trigger out too far and then slapping it to break the shot.
Stage 3: 4 Bill Drill
My fourth stage of the day was an evil little stage entitled 4 Bill Drill (Classifier Stage CM08-01). When I came around the corner, with my fragile mental game in jeopardy, and saw that stage I had a pure WTF Moment. I ordinarily love distance shooting with a pistol, but in this case I hadn’t stretched out my Glock to see how bullets tracked.
With my Smith & Wesson M&P, shooting Federal 9mm ammunition (115 Grain), I know that as I get farther out I need to hold lower on the target as the rounds tend to rise. Not wanting to guess wrong, my plan was to put the sights on target and not hold high or low.
After The Buzzer:
When the buzzer sounded, I drew my gun and pressed out on the first target. I took my time and focused on my fright sight, then pressed the trigger. After the shot broke, I focused on the short reset of the Glock trigger and pressed again. My shots felt good and I was beginning to think “I’ve got this“.
After six rounds I reloaded (not in any sort of hurry) and began shooting strong hand at the closer target. I applied the same fundamentals here, focusing on the front sight and pressing the trigger. After six shots the first string was ended and we started all over again, this time using our weak hand for the latter portion of the stage.
I got a lot of muzzle flip when shooting weak hand and I think it threw me off a little. It isn’t a skill I practice very often, but I focused on making well placed shots and worrying about the time later.
After the range was called safe, the range officer immediately began talking to me. “It is hard to tell from here but I think your rounds were lifting and going high over the far targets” he said. Sure enough, he was right. Fortunately, I must have held a little lower on the second string because more of my rounds were on target at 35 yards.
I didn’t do very well on this stage and took a serious hit with 5 misses (50 penalty points). The misses came in the form of distance on the first string and weak hand shooting on the second string. I placed 17th out of 32 shooters in Production division (It is also worth noting that 12 people tied for last place by zeroing the stage).
Stage 4: Get To The Elite 8
I walked away from the previous stage thinking that I’ve managed to tank the entire match at this point and that I should just enjoy the day. The weather was beautiful, the smell of gun powder filled the air, it was just and all around great day for shooting. I passed through a fence and rounded the corner to see the first non-classifier stage of the day. At that moment the gloomy clouds over my head lifted and I could almost hear a choir singing their hearts out.
I smiled, dropped my range bag on the ground, and went off to find that cooler and another cold bottle of Gatorade while the squad ahead of us finished up. I came back to the stage feeling good, with a smile on my face, and got down to business.
According to the stage description, we were to sit on a chair with our gun holstered until the buzzer sounded. At that point we could engage the targets as we saw fit. My plan was going to be to rise, take two steps forward and enge an array of three targets. I would then shift left and move down an alley to find two more targets on the left.
My plan was to run the gun dry and reload from slide lock as I moved into position to engage another array of three targets. I would then progress further down the alley and engage a final array of paper targets, again running my gun dry. I would then reload while moving into position to engage two poppers and a plate rack.
After The Buzzer:
When the buzzer sounded, I jumped out of my seat and moved towards the first array. I came in a little sloppy and had to re-adjust to get around a no-shoot. I moved left and engaged the first target as planned but found myself re-adjusting to shoot around another no-shoot.
I moved to the third array while reloading and didn’t hit the slide release button fast enough. I lost a little bit of time but made quick work of the paper in this array. I moved into the fourth array, just as planned, and performed a reload between it and the last array of steel.
The steel went down fairly fast but I made a bonehead move at the end. I missed on what I thought was my last round and performed a reload. I took down the last piece of steel with the round that was in the chamber the whole time. I knew the second I hit the magazine release button that I still had a round in the chamber but I must have miscounted. It didn’t cause me to lose much time at all but it made me chuckle when it was all said and done (actually, the range officer and I had a laugh over it when the range was called safe).
Even with the lost time of an extra reload, fumbling with a slide-lock reload, and coming into an array sloppy, for the first time that day I was happy with my performance. I scored 130 points in 29.96 seconds, earning me 10th place on the stage.
I walked away from that stage mentally rejuvenated and ready to do some more shooting.
Stage 5: Final 4
Coming up on my sixth stage of the day, all I could do was laugh. Our squad’s rotation order had me up first and I had no idea how I was going to plan out this sea of shrouded steel. To make matters worse, as I tried to formulate a game plan and run through the stage, there was a line of people in front of and behind me doing the very same thing.
I lost track of what I was doing after bumping into a couple different people and just opted to wing it. I knew that it wouldn’t be the best thing for me to do in terms of time, but I intended to start at one end and work my way to the other.
After The Buzzer:
When the buzzer sounded, moved to the far left and planned to shoot everything I could see from that position before moving to the port on the right. I did the same from the next port, then through the one after that, and ended on the stage on the far right.
The only real issue I had was a failure to fire. I performed a tap-rack malfunction drill and the next round fired.
After holstering my gun, the first words out of my mouth were “Did I get em’ all?“. Unfortunately, I didn’t get them all and left 3 pieces of steel standing. Even with the 30 point penalty, I came in at 22nd place. It wasn’t as good as I had hoped but I was in good spirits and had fun shooting.
In the future, I need to work on planning out memory stages. I had a hard time keeping track of what targets I engaged from which position. In the end I lost track of three targets in the shuffle.
Stage 6: Sweet Sixteen
The last stage of the day looked pretty straight forward but fun to shoot. Before us we had two start options and four wall openings to shoot from. My plan was to start on the left and work to my right, rolling in to engage targets and back out towards the next array. If done properly, I could shave off a little time and maximize my movement.
After The Buzzer:
At the buzzer I drew my gun and rolled into the first opening. I engaged the targets that were towards my right and transitioned to my left. By doing so, I could back away from the array while engaging the closest target on the move. A no-shoot in my way hung me up a little but I rebounded quickly.
I dropped a magazine and inserted a new one as I moved to the second shooting position. I forgot my game plan for a second as I lost track of my next target behind a no-shoot. Like before, I rebounded quickly and got right back on track. Before exiting the array, I made one last shot to makeup for one that I felt landed into hard-cover (which doesn’t score).
I reloaded on my way to the third array and began shooting when my target was in sight. I shifted from right to left and took my last shots as I baby-stepped my way out of position and towards the last opening. I reloaded one last time and had a little trouble with it. This left me standing directly infront of my next target as I finished my reload. Once reloaded, I completed the array and eded the stage.
I had a couple of hiccups on this stage but I was happy with my performance overall. I scored 150 points in 33.10 seconds, earning me 9th place out of 32 shooters in Production division. The simplicity of this stage, coupled with a little finesse and plenty of movement, was a great way to end the day.
What I feel I need to work on:
I’ve spend a fair bit of time refining my reloads. When it came to match time, I defiantly saw a large improvement. The issue that I’m running into now is that since I’ve switch to a Glock 17 from my Smith & Wesson M&P, the magazines seem lighter and fall out of the gun slower. On more than once occasion I had to stop mid-reload and wait for the magazine to drop out of the gun the rest of the way.
I either need to work on depressing the magazine release sooner, to allow the magazine more time to drop, or I need to not turn my wrist so much, so that the magazine has more of a straight drop instead of sliding down the magazine well on an angle.
Dip and Swoop:
I’m pretty sure that this isn’t an actual shooting term, but I don’t know how else to describe it. I didn’t realize it until another shooter pointed it out to me. If you watch closely at some of the videos above, when I transition from one target to the next, I swing the gun down in a small arc and sort of swoop into the next target.
While I’m sure this practice only adds fractions of a second to my transitions, I’d like to refine my transition to a straight line from one target to the next. I’m not even sure what I’m achieving with this dip and swoop, perhaps in my mind it gets the gun out of the way and lets me see the target before I move on?
I need to spend a bit more time with my Glock 17. In the heat of the moment I was treating the trigger the way I did my M&P and it just doesn’t work the same. I need to take advantage of the short reset and not drive the trigger home to break the shot. I think this will come with time on the range (Trigger won’t reset in dry-fire).
I came away from this match with a clear realization that my mental game needs a lot of work. Regardless of how I perform on a stage, I need to press the reset button and go into the next stage with a clear head. If I perform poorly on a stage and go into the next worried about it, I’m only going to wind up defeating myself. The same is true for when I perform well on a stage, I don’t want head into the next stage feeling over confident.
If I do a mental reset after each stage and treat each stage as its own match, I think it make things flow more smoothly. I also think that I need to create a mental checklist that I run down every time I step up to the line to shoot.
- Bend your knees a bit and shift your weight forward
- Get a good grip on the gun and draw
- Press out to the target and get your eyes on the front sight
- See the front sight clearly
- Press the trigger
- Take advantage of the short reset
- Press again, remember, smoothly