I recently put out a post on my Facebook page asking for topics you’d like to hear me babble on about. The first offering (and actually most frequently asked question lately) was for me to explain what I think about prior to shooting. I have a series of “statements of facts as I see them” that I repeat over and over. I have said them so many times that I’m sure my husband Tim hears me mumble them in my sleep. I’m not going to tell you what they are because that part doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I have something to help me focus. I’m not saying it’s made me a better shooter, but it has for sure helped me be a less distracted one.
One specific question I was asked was, “what do you think about before you tackle a stage?” Prone shooting is usually a matter of having a good first round wind call. Everything else is off your belly. I’ve shot off of many of the types of props used in national level matches before, so I usually start by trying to figure out the best way for a left-handed shooter to approach that prop to give me the best view of the target without contorting into some sort of pretzel. Sometimes that means shooting the stage right-handed. A very wise man once told me, “your rifle doesn’t care if you’re comfortable.” It’s just a tool. Find a way to make the position work where you have the best sight picture. And don’t listen to other shooters when they start talking about how they’d do something 180 degrees different than how you had it planned out in your head! If you have a game plan, run with it.
There have been many times at competitions, both local and national, where I’ve been sucked into a conversation with buddies about calibers/actions/politics/food/beer and lost track of where I was in the shooting order. Next thing I know, I’m on deck and haven’t even figured out a game plan yet! Has that happened to you? I’d bet a beer that it has at some point. Shooting matches are definitely social gatherings. We all like to catch up with our friends and shoot the breeze. What better arena to do that than with like-minded friends in the great outdoors? “A social event interrupted by occasional gunfire” is how Gunsite Academy refers to their annual Gunsite Alumni Shoot. No truer words could be said to describe what we do with our weekends!
So… how do you stay focused and still have fun? In a word, it’s practice. Jim See wrote an article a while back about how he trains. I took a lot of important information out of that article. He has a friend run him through a course of fire fitting of a competition but that friend gives him little or no prep time and runs him through on a par time. I think that’s a perfect way to work through first-stage-of-the-match-jitters. Here’s something totally honest: my hands shake for the first three or four stages of every match. Honest to Pete! So I’ve been using Jim’s tip to work through those nerves.
As many of you know, I’ve taken a few classes at Rifles Only. Owner Jacob Bynum starts most of his classes out with a little bit of time in the classroom where he discusses safety as well as the basic fundamentals of marksmanship. One of the items that stood out for me was a comparison between shooting and driving a car. When you first got behind the wheel of a car, you were probably nervous and your hands were sweaty. A few years down the road, you’re changing the station on the radio, talking (hands-free of course) on your cell phone, and driving within the speed limit down the highway without giving it a second thought. Much of what we do in the shooting sports is the same way. We start off nervous, unsure of our skill, unfamiliar with the in’s and out’s of our chosen sport. After some practice with friends, we might seek out and pay for some organized training. We learn the fundamentals and see why we may have not been able to spot where our misses went. Important stuff, by the way. So now we’re pretty good at hitting targets at several distances while shooting prone. We’ve gained confidence with those skills. We then move up to shooting off stuff like truck beds, and barricades, and tires. The more we practice, the more confident we become at hitting targets within, let’s say, 500 yards or so. So we make the targets smaller. What do you know? The more you practice, the better you get at hitting those smaller targets too! So you increase the distance. You find you’re able to shoot 1MOA targets at many distances. Perhaps you don’t impact every single time, but you’re a lot closer than you were when you started out!
I use the term “building blocks” a lot at my actual job. It’s as simple as it sounds. You learn a new task, practice that new task until you’ve perfected it, then you move to a live scenario to assess how well you’ve learned said task. Dry fire practice does a lot of that for me. If I’m practicing at the range, especially when I’m planning on doing to some live fire training, I’ll dry fire quite a bit before I ever even insert a magazine into my rifle or pistol. I’ve caught myself flinching more times than I can count. If I can consciously recognize what I’m doing, it’s much easier to practice correctly and stop those bad habits right then and there.
The mental preparation part has to come from within. I try very hard to not beat myself up for a missed shot because there’s not a damn thing I can do about it once the trigger is pulled. No amount of whining about it after the fact is going to make it an impact. I have the voices of much smarter people than myself who play like a recording in the back of my mind telling me that exact same thing too! Move on to the next shot. I like to say I’m still a work in progress in this area, but I’m getting better! Plus, it’s really immature to have a temper tantrum over a poor trigger press or poorly build position.
Speaking of that, how many times have you heard someone as they come off the line berate themselves for shooting a course of fire poorly? They’re still focused on it hours later. Ever ask them how they shot on the next few stages? Out of curiosity, have you ever looked at their scores at the end of the day? I try my best to block those voices out because negative feeds on negative. Again, the shot is gone. If there is no information to be gleaned from that miss, then move on and focus on the next shot or stage. After the course of fire, I review what I did correctly. That’s it. I wish there were some big secrets I could pass on, but I don’t have any. Honestly, you could learn all of this same stuff from reading any number of self-help books. I had a good friend call me a “planner”yesterday. I hadn’t thought of myself that way, but I suppose I really am just that: a planner. Then again, I’m a Virgo so I like lists and order and organization even if I’m incredibly messy in my approach. Logic rules all. What I do after I shoot has just as much to do with what I do before I shoot too I guess. That’s when all those OCD-inspired lists come in handy!
And for Mauritius Donaldson: I’ve liked a lot of different types of hearing protection. I used to wear Dillon Hearing Protection almost exclusively but I’m clumsy and kept breaking them. I switched to Howard Leight hearing protection recently. I’ve also used ESP‘s and SoundGear in-the-ear hearing protection. I have trouble keeping a good seal in my left ear though due to my cheek weld, so I mostly use those for pistol shooting. All good choices in my opinion.