Why is it that Internet opinions are so binary? Black or white, right or wrong, my way or the highway—it’s kind of like politics in the real world.

  • “.45 is the only caliber! Because you only need to shoot once!”
  • “9x19mm is fantastic—if you want to shoot balloons.”
  • “Competitive shooting tactics will get you killed on the street!”

As with anything in life, there is rarely all right or all wrong. I tend to think in terms of better, better still, and even more better. Or on the flip side, I like to consider worse, way worse, and worse than Piers Morgan’s ratings.

Listening to Internet arguments about the merits of competitive shooting, one might think that if you practice competition skills, you’ll instantly burst into flames and self-immolate should you find yourself in a self-defense situation.

A few weeks ago, I was watching an episode of Shooting USA. That particular episode included coverage of the IDPA Indoor Championships. If you don’t know, IDPA stands for International Defensive Pistol Association. In their words,

IDPA is the use of practical equipment including full charge service ammunition to solve simulated “real world” self-defense scenarios using practical handguns and holsters that are suitable for self-defense use. The main goal is to test the skill and ability of an individual.

It’s a competition structured to partially mimic potential real-life defensive encounters. In the interest of making competitions fun and stimulating, the “real-life” part tends to get a little stretched now and then.

For example, at the IDPA Indoor Championships, one stage in particular appeared immensely fun, but just a tad outside the bounds of reality. It was an example of duck hunting gone horribly wrong. The shooter is placed in a duck blind, when suddenly a band of terrorists (or maybe hunting thugs intent on duck-jacking) makes their way across the front of your blind in a tactical rowboat. You have a short window of opportunity to deal with them, as the entrance and exit of the “battle boat” are obscured with weeds or some form of aquatic plant life. Oh, and there’s a hostage in the boat-jacking scenario that you can’t shoot. No word if that’s supposed to represent Uncle Si from Duck Dynasty.

Your mission, and you will accept it as you’re competing in the IDPA Indoor National Championships, is to take out the duck commandos as quickly as you can, without shooting the hostage, and before the boatload of doom escapes into the weeds.

Lest you think this sounds easy, the commandos planned in advance and had sniper overwatch. When you start perforating the rowboat, the accomplices pop up all over the place from their hides, and you have to take them out, too. You have to reload at least once in the process of filling the room with smoke and that delicious powder smell.

Is that scenario a perfect example of having more fun than should be legal? Heck yeah! Count me in! But the odds of you getting attacked by waterfowl terrorists in your lifetime are probably lower than me having a rich diplomat uncle in Nairobi that actually does need help transferring millions to the United States.

From a “tactical” perspective, that type of scenario is not really going to help you much in real life. But being happy and optimistic, I like to look at what value can be gained from that type of recreational activity.

It boils down to the opportunity to practice basic skills under just a little bit of stress. Of course, the stress of competition is nothing like fighting for your life. But having a clock running in your ear, a crowd of your peers watching, and video cameras just waiting to upload your humiliation to YouTube does create some anxiety. You’d be surprised at how just a small dose of nerves can throw off your normally-smooth reloads and malfunction clearances.

Let’s get back to that concept of better, better still, and even more better, and apply that to core skill development.

Before any of us start thinking about fancy tactics and how to deal with multiple-attacker scenarios, we better be confident in the most basic skills:

  • Drawing quickly from concealment when a threat is presented.
  • Maintaining trigger finger discipline.
  • Thinking about what not to shoot at.
  • Front-sight focus for first-shot hits.
  • Quickly transitioning from one target to another.
  • Maintaining awareness of what else is going on around you.
  • What to do when you hear a “click” instead of a “bang.”
  • Taking advantage of cover.

These are some of the skills that might help save your life one day. While hitting high-speed rowboat occupant targets may not, instinctively knowing what to do when you hear the dreaded “click” just might.

Scenarios like the duck commando encounter present a great and fun opportunity to work on some basic gun handling and shooting skills. Why not take the opportunity to get better at them, and have a great time in the process?

Acknowledge from the start that your goal is to have fun, and take away from them good, raw skill practice. When you master that stuff, go find a good tactical training facility to work on the advanced topics.

Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.

Images by Tom McHale

What's Your Reaction?

Like Love Haha Wow Sad Angry

10 thoughts on “Shooting Myths: Competitive Shooting Will Get You Killed on the Street

  1. Well, my response is, why do you have to shoot competitively? Why do you have to gain value from this type of recreational activity, other than looking at your target and deciding how you did? why can’t you find a range and just shoot because you enjoy shooting at targets, for whatever personal reason, without needing parameters to judge yourself against? Why not just enjoy something? After all, we can all look at our target and know what we need to work on. Of course, if you go to a common ordinary little range and pay for an hour’s time, you’re not financially “furthering the sport” which is what so much of hunting, fishing, and shooting seems to be about these days. These undertakings are not about personal enjoyment, they are about helping somebody earn a living helping you have fun or helping you feel proficient or “rewarded by your sport.” That is what US hobbies are about these days–helping somebody earn a living off of your interests. If you don’t believe me–I don’t only enjoy shooting, I enjoy quilting. If you want your socks knocked off, find out what a “Quilt Weekend” with a “recognized expert in the field” will set you back.

    1. I have a wife that quilts; I already know what a quilt weekend or a quilt week get-a-way costs. This is why I have less ammo than I would desire to have.

    2. I have never seen such negative comments in such a short space. We are still relatively free in this country, No one is forcing you to play games that others enjoy. Don’t like them, don’t participate. Really pretty glad that I don’t know you.

  2. Humm…Well I had to read the one comment that was here three times before i could get passed going, What? After three times I think I have figured it out. Now please give me a moment to explain. I do not know this poster and I certainly do not mean any disrespect so if any may be implied, know that it is not my intent.

    So they wrote, “Why do you have to shoot competitively? Why do you have to gain value from this type of recreational activity, other than looking at your target and deciding how you did? Why can’t you find a range and just shoot because you enjoy shooting at targets, for whatever personal reason, without needing parameters to judge yourself against? Why not just enjoy something?” Well first of all we can and do ‘just enjoy’ things. That is why even competitive shooters like to get away from time to time so to speak, and just shoot. However, who are you, or anyone else for that matter, to assume that shooters that shoot in competition are not having fun as well? The fact is that it is human nature to be competitive. It always has been, and as much as there are those that would try to suppress it, it always will be that way. Competition is fun to those who embrace the spirit of competition. Competition builds character. It teaches you how to deal with life. With your accomplishments and well as with your failures, and how we deal with those determines our disposition. It is why I just about get enraged at people that say things like, “Well let the kids play but lets not keep score so as to not hurt anyone’s feelings.” Screw that. Someone better get their feelings hurt and they better learn how to deal with it. You aren’t always going to be on the winning side and the top dog. If you don’t learn how to deal with and learn from your failures, then you are in for a lot of disappointments throughout your life, not to mention you may end up being a spoiled brat.
    It has been my experience that those who possess the attitude that is portrayed in that post, never learned how to deal with defeat and became sore losers. This is why they don’t like competition, and they seek out reasons to justify their disdain for it using excuses like, “somebody’s getting paid.” So what if they are? If you are financially able to support your hobby, whatever it is, who cares if somebody benefits monetarily as long and you enjoy the spirit of the competition? It is absolute arrogant presumption to say that these undertakings are not about personal enjoyment just because you cannot enjoy them. We do not force our recreation on you. If you don’t have the ability to enjoy the competition, then fine don’t compete. But don’t look down on us because we can..

  3. Competitive action shooting helps create muscle memory that serves incredibly well when stress and therefore adrenaline levels go sky high. You fight as you trained…for a reason. The skills that you hone in action pistol competition go a long way toward benefitting you in any lethal encounter. But, if you “train” or compete in a “game,” it’s hard for your muscle memory to discriminate between what’s real and what are game rules. That’s why slaughtered police officers have been found with expended cartridge cases in their pocket, because they were taught to police their brass after a shooting session, not look for additional threats. IDPA is a “game” with many rules that don’t help for lethal encounters, such as having to do a “tactical reload” even if a magazine is empty with a round chambered. Why save an empty mag??? So you don’t get a penalty? The biggest penalty is dying. The best action pistol shooting are those events with a bare minimum of rules, with an eye to survival.

  4. The scenario was, that you seen a boat full of anti-hunting types driving down the marsh randomly shooting into duck blinds. As they approach your blind you are ready for them and not with #4 steel from your shotgun. The guy that pops out after the boat goes by is the first person in the boat that jumped out to return more fire and save his dogs (targets bouncing in on the right) that are now heading in your direction in full attack mode. I only know this because I personally planned that stage for months trying to keep sharpshooters in the game and give the masters an opportunity to take a risk and gain an edge. Think of IDPA in skill-sets, how could/would/should one deal with two or more threats at the same time, can you shoot well while moving? Can you make tight shots near NT’s, can you hit moving targets?, can you operate in a low light or no light environments? Can you prioritize targets? Can you make a long range pistol shot if the situation calls for it? Can you function under pressure (the clock/peers/cameras and personal drive to do well all add it)? One would hope never to have the need to validate these questions on the street but would one even be prepared to if they never tried on the range? Shooting in a single lane on a range far too often with restrictions as to rate of fire, min/max distances, holster restrictions (no-draws allowed), no variance in lighting and no chance at engaging multiple targets don’t lend well to training or testing your skills. The creativity of the IDPA stage designers allow many different opportunities for these different “Skill Sets” to be tested even if you know you’re not there to win, let’s face it Jerry and Bob have it locked down pretty tight and the ladies know that Randi will take high lady for many more years to come…. Your purpose there may to to beat a buddy, test yourself against others in the division, test out some of your skills under the stress of the timer that you’ve practiced for a few months or to just enjoy the day with a loved one as a hobby. The important thing is that you are out there shooting, taking classes or competing… just do it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *