G&A Perspectives: Every Shooter Disqualifies, Even the Pros

3_Gun_shooting_competition_DQCompetition shooters are entertaining to watch and learn from, but it's important to remember that everyone is human. Experienced athletes fail at some point in their career, and even pro shooters are equally susceptible.

The consequences of failure in any sport often result in known safety hazards. Every sport has its risks, and some have more dangerous consequences than others. For example, fastballs peg baseball players, snowboarders break bones and racecar drivers crash at high speeds.

The shooting sports aren't immune to danger, but the safety measures put in place at organized events are there for a reason: to reduce the risk.

Safety Rules Are Never a Broken Record

I'm not a professional competitive shooter, but I've been shooting for about 25 years. I've competed for about 10 years and consider my abilities above average.

Until my recent embarrassing disqualification at a 3-Gun Nation match, I never (knowingly) violated any gun safety rules.

When the four rules of gun safety start sounding like a broken record, that's when you need to recognize that it's time to slow down and get back to basics. In case you forgot, here are the four fundamental rules of gun safety from the words of the late Jeff Cooper:

  1. All guns are always loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.

Missing the Target

One valuable thing I've learned from working among the ranks of shooters, is that our pride oftentimes obscures human reality. We love to share success stories of amazing long-range shots, and romantic accounts of harvesting trophy animals from exotic places. We marvel at sub-MOA rifles and beautiful guns, but don't mention the times when we missed our shot on a Boone & Crockett buck or disqualified from a competition. Don't get me wrong; professional shooters and gunwriters are very talented individuals, many of whom I consider close friends. But I would be wrong and equally ignorant to tell you those people have never pulled a shot off target or come home from a hunt empty handed.

My 3-Gun DQ

After driving seven hours to the RockCastle Shooting Center in Kentucky, I spent the night in a local hotel and woke up before sunrise the following day to compete in an important match: the 3-Gun Nation Midwest Regional.

This was one of the most prominent events in my 2014 competition schedule. Even though I had shot thousands of rounds in competition during the past year, I was unmistakably nervous as I suited up for the match. This was my first time at RockCastle and I was paired with professional shooters so I could take photos and write a story for Guns & Ammo about their abilities.

After a safety briefing, our squad assembled at the first stage of the match and began taking turns shooting the course and resetting targets for the next competitor. I was also taking photos and casually speaking with nearby shooters.

Soon enough, it was my turn. With my adrenaline pumping and several pros spectating, I carried my shotgun to the designated 55-gallon barrel to load up. The barrel was pointed downrange in a safe location for loading and unloading. With my semiauto shotgun properly stationed in the barrel, I started shucking 12-gauge shells into the 8-round magazine tube. When it was time to chamber a round, I drew the charging handle back and released it to load a round into the chamber.

I did a quick chamber check to ensure I loaded a round, but the chamber appeared empty — turns out it wasn't. At that point, I believed the bolt had not grabbed a loaded shell from the shell lifter during my first attempt at loading the shotgun. So I erroneously pulled the trigger, thinking I would drop the hammer on an empty chamber and cause the shell lifter to unlock and lift a shell to be loaded into the chamber. Instead, I blew a 12-gauge birdshot hole into the barrel and was immediately disqualified '¦ and downright embarrassed.

I clearly violated Cooper's rules, no excuses about it. I should have just cycled the action again without pulling the trigger. Fortunately, no one was hurt from my negligent discharge because proper safety measures were in place.

The first round I fired at the Midwest Regional was my last. I had just made the biggest error of my shooting career in front of the pro shooters I'd idolized.

Now I know how it feels when the prom queen trips during her grand introduction, or how it feels to miss a shot at the trophy animal of a lifetime. As I write this article, the sweat stains on my shirt and chewed up fingernails are a telltale sign I'm reliving the embarrassment. But the message I'm sharing with readers here is more important than internalizing a horrific moment.

Hazard Prevention

After the incident, I unloaded my shotgun and remorsefully returned to the group of pro shooters on the sidelines. To my surprise, I wasn't alone.

Each of the pro shooters offered words of encouragement and began telling stories about the first time they disqualified from a major match. Likewise, their stories had a theme in common: when something went wrong, the safety measures in place prevented a dangerous situation from becoming a disaster.

If a focus group of the best shooters in the sport have each made errors, chances are less experienced shooters are prone to making similar mistakes.

So, how can we prevent hazardous situations in competition?

  1. Always follow the basic rules of gun safety
  2. Adhere to commands from the range officer
  3. Know your skill level
  4. Go at your own speed
  5. Practice and feel comfortable with your equipment before competing
  6. Everyone is a safety officer: When in doubt, call STOP or CEASEFIRE
  7. Don't be afraid to ask questions
  8. If you fail, learn from your mistakes
  9. Spread awareness by sharing your mistakes with others
  10. Don't let mistakes keep you from competing again

Keep Your Head Up

Don't let a disqualification keep you from competing. Load up your mags, get out to the range and use your failure as motivation to succeed. You'll be a better shooter, even if you feel like the prom queen who rolled her ankle in front of the entire graduating class.

Disqualifying from the match and driving a total of 14 hours for such a poor outcome was incredibly disheartening. However, my poor performance resulted in the inspiration to reach out and educate other competitors with this article. My mishap is a valuable experience to prevent other shooters from making a potentially lethal mistake.

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