October 20, 2022
Within the tactical community, there is often an undercurrent of dismissiveness toward professional competition shooters. The argument goes, because a competitor shoots and moves differently in “a game” than in a gunfight, they would likely forget their tactics if confronted with a deadly threat. Well, that’s absolute rubbish that should be relegated to the dustbin of disproven dogma. Any endeavor where a gun owner is actually learning to shoot faster, more accurately, and move deliberately while communicating, should be lauded. Competition adds stress to non-lethal shooting by putting shooters under the watchful eyes of others with the real possibility of losing. Sport shooting is a good thing and should be embraced.
While it is impossible to replicate the stress of a gunfight through competition, subjecting yourself to the stress experienced in competition shooting is a valuable practice. It forces you to effectively manipulate your guns.
Yes, many matches are attended by competitors shooting at unrealistic speeds at unrealistic threat arrays, but in training this isn’t a bad thing. If you use competition to your advantage and learn to balance speed and accuracy, you can teach yourself how to “throttle.” When you learn to balance speed and accuracy, you’ll find a baseline to improve on. A “miss” at a competition might lose the match, but a miss in a gunfight could cost you your life or that of an innocent person. If you never push yourself in training, you’ll never know your performance threshold — and you’ll never improve.
I’ve been fortunate to learn some tips and tricks from the world’s best competitors. Even when you think you’re good, it’s best to remember that there is always someone out there who is better. With age and experience, I’ve learned to shut my mouth and listen when talking with champions; Taran Butler, KC Eusebio, Julie Golob, Jessie Harrison, Daniel Horner, Todd Jarrett, Doug Koenig, Rob Leatham, Max Michel, Jerry Miculek, Lena Miculek and Dave Sevigny are just a few names you should get to know.
I’m fortunate to live close to Taran Butler, and I often shoot at his private range. Born and raised in Southern California, Butler grew up on a horse ranch. He immersed himself in Hollywood’s Western film culture, began shooting single-action revolvers and lever-action rifles at a young age, and after shooting his first pistol match in January 1995 (and placing 7th out of 118 competitors), he became a USPSA Grandmaster in a little more than a year. Later, he was awarded the title “Combat Master,” which is only shared by 18 others including Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, who was the first. He has since won numerous titles and is often sought to train Hollywood’s actors.
A recent discussion with a fellow defensive-minded shooting enthusiast inspired me to pick his brain and relay some of what he has learned. Butler was very accommodating with his time.
Head Position & Situational Awareness
Shooters often “turtle up,” as he calls it, when trying to control recoil. As a result, they end up not seeing as much of the stage as they could. This has a practical crossover; anyone in a defensive shooting needs to analyze as much information as possible. “It’s impossible to start solving a problem if you don’t even see it,” Butler said.
Winning a match or prevailing in a street fight is dependent on being able to problem-solve and apply solutions faster than the person that you’re up against. Even the vaunted (and often misunderstood) “OODA Loop,” coined by Col. John Boyd, is predicated on observing the threat.
Another point Butler made was regarding the tendency for shooters to hunch down. It is more fatiguing than to simply keeping the head up and bringing the gun to eye level. This may not be an issue in the defensive use of a pistol, but it can become problematic during a long training day or match.
Butler also described a new shooter’s tendency to overemphasize slow, robotic movements when learning to shoot on the move or engage multiple targets.
“I get them moving fast, even on the first day,” Butler said. “I’ll start them with a SIRT gun and have them move and shoot. I’ll talk about footwork, but really I just want them to get used to moving with a gun, getting comfortable finding the sights or dot and pulling the trigger without overthinking it. When you need to move fast, move fast! We can teach efficiency and stage planning. Get out there and move.”
This line of thought mirrors tactical concepts, as well. Thirty years ago, many of us in uniform were taught the “Groucho Marx” method of shooting on the move, now everyone is taught to keep the body and head up, and then let the gun follow the eyes. It also recalls something I heard Rob Leatham say in a class once. He overheard a shooter say, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” At this Leatham bellowed, “Bulls---! Fast is fast!” Funny, but true. It doesn’t matter how smooth you are, if you can’t move fast and be accurate, you’re going to lose.
Get A Grip
Keep your hands up high on the gun’s grip and be consistent with placement. This isn’t something that’s particularly new or controversial, but Butler teaches it a little different: Relax the primary hand slightly, using around 80 percent of your maximum grip. The support hand then goes to 100 percent of pressure on the grip. Butler explained that he preferred to use a stronger grip with the support hand than the primary because he has found that keeping slightly less tension in the primary allows more trigger control and makes it less likely for the shooter to induce movement to the muzzle.
It’s easy to allow ego to get in the way of improvement. However, if we never consider new information, we will never grow. I prefer the temporary discomfort of growth over the permanent discomfort of failure. Let’s get out there and become a better shooter today than we were yesterday — and love every minute of it.
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