Good info found on Brianenos.com
Okay, the idea is to list some of the more common pitfalls newer shooters experience, as well as the good things you may not think of, but should be doing. If you can learn to avoid the pitfalls without ruining a stage/match, you'll be that much farther ahead. I'm totally convinced that at least up through B class if you have a gun that runs, avoid penalties/mikes and avoid, avert of prevent the common blowups out there you can win your class, even at big matches, with only a reasonable amount of practice and skill. Why? Well, most of the "faster" people you're competing with will very likely have some sort of total blowup on at least one or two stages that they can't recover from.
I'm hoping that folks will chime in with their ideas and this will eventually turn into a pretty comprehensive list of things to avoid, and more importantly (and positively) things to DO to ensure your best chance of success. Maybe we'll eventually try to rank them, but at first a laundry list is a good start and we'll see how it goes.
In no particular order here goes:
- The most common question is probably "what's the best gun, holster, mag, etc". There really isn't an easy answer that works for everyone. Get involved with your local club, see what the folks there are using and ask questions. Hang out at a match, help set steel, paste targets, pick brass etc and you'll suddenly have a bunch of friends. Ask to try guns, look at holsters etc. I don't know anyone that won't let you shoot their gun or try their gear. Heck, they're just as likely to set you up with a full rig and let you shoot a match with it as just talk about it....take them up on their generosity and some day you can do the same for somebody else. In the past year or two I've had a friend loan me a gun to try for a couple of weeks and later loaned a different friend a gun for a couple of weeks...and that's not at all uncommon. I don't like gross generalizations, but for the most part, don't listen to anything you hear in gun stores. You might run into someone who knows USPSA/IDPA, but it's extremely rare. If they aren't active competitors, they probably don't know what works....the people in your club do know what works and what doesn't.
- Mags: I see lots of folks stuffing their empty/partially empty mags back in their mag pouches after shooting a stage. BAD idea. All it takes is to get distracted, be one of the first shooters on the next stage and you could be starting with too few rounds to finish the stage. At unload and show clear I take the mag out of the gun and put it in my left rear pocket (right handed). When I retrieve my dropped mags I put them in my right rear pocket so I know which need to be cleaned and which can simply be filled. Find some sort of a system, but don't put them back in your mag pouches.
- Mags 2: Clean them every time they hit the ground! I like to empty them completely regardless of whether they've hit the ground or not that way you know, exactly, how many are in each mag. Wipe down the outside with a rag, run a mag brush through the tube and quickly check for cracked feed lips or dents anywhere. Any sort of problem with the mag means it's out of the game until you can test/repair it. Single stack mags can run just fine with cracks at the back of the feed lips, but you don't want to test that for the first time in a match.
- Ammo: For most matches bring enough to shoot every stage twice plus the full capacity of all the mags you keep on your belt because you might have a couple of reshoots. If it's a ten stage match with a minimum round count of 250 it's not likely that you'll need 500+ rounds, but something like 350-400 would be a smart minimum. Say you have bad luck and have three reshoots during the first nine stages. Now you're at 250 plus maybe another 90 or so for the reshoots so minimum to complete the match is now 340. You don't want to walk to the last stage wondering if you have enough rounds in your ammo bag should you wind up with another reshoot.
- Ammo #2: Don't bring more than one load with you unless you are sure they can't get mixed up or combined. Keep the ammo you've set aside to chrono after the match in something totally different from where you keep your match ammo. Personally, I keep chrono ammo in plastic baggies with a data sheet so I can't possibly confuse them with anythng else.
- Ammo #3: Pick a load and practice! Some folks are constantly striving for the Holy Grail of loads that will let them shoot their best. It's almost always counter-productive. You're better off getting your timing down with a load that isn't "perfect" than you are switching all the time and not learning the timing on anything. The better you get, the faster you'll be able to switch loads and adapt, but at first it takes some time. Your body will learn how the gun reacts and will learn to deal with it simply by giving it enough repetitions. If you do change loads, you may find you're slower or less accurate with it immediately after the change. Give yourself several hundred rounds before you decide whether it's better or worse unless it's totally wrong, won't run the gun etc.
- Ammo #4: Use your best ammo at matches. Don't show up with "well, I hope this is going to work" in your ammo bag. If you reload, case gauge/chamber check every round that you'll take to the match. If you have old, worn brass that you use for practice, don't use it at a match. You want the gun to run 100% at the match and you want total confidence in it when you step to the line. Malfunctions not only kill your match, but they kill your ability to learn and experience the match in the most positive fashion. Hint, you'll often learn more during a 4-stage match than you will in five 500-round practice sessions....make that time precious and do whatever it takes to get as much out of it as possible.
- Big match fears: When starting out some folks don't want to go to "big" matches until they have more experience. If you're safe and competent to shoot a local match, you're safe and competent to shoot the Nationals! If you can get to a state, sectional, area, etc match do it sooner rather than later. You'll be exposed to things you haven't seen before, shoot with people you don't know and almost certainly learn more than you ever will at small matches. Some of the best learning I've had has been at a big match where I didn't know a single person on the squad. It does add a little pressure because you're not with your buddies, but it actually helps teach you to perform under pressure even better. Also, every club tends to have stages of a certain "flavor" and you get used to them without realizing it. Some clubs don't have deep bays so they don't have long shots while some clubs don't have as much money to spend on expensive swingers, bobbers, stars etc, so you don't get to practice on them. Sometimes it's just that one or two people do all the stage designs so you see a lot of the same things over and over...it's not bad, but it's reality. Get to a big match, meet the folks on your squad, watch and learn....you'll develop quicker than waiting to be "ready" for the big time.
- Match squadding: I know the social element to our sport is very important to most folks and that's something to be proud of.....for everyone really. With that said, make it a point to shoot with people other than your range buddies sometimes. You might see something new that you would otherwise miss if you were hanging with your friends. Last year I got to shoot a match in MD at a range I've never been to before, with people I didn't know. I wound up on a squad with all Production shooters....and I was shooting Open. Yikes...one of these guys is not like the others! I was planning the stages differently than everyone on the squad (obviously) and talking to the other folks opened my eyes about a couple of things I normally wouldn't have thought of....really eye opening stuff out of nowhere. I found myself really, really tearing apart my stage planning because I didn't have anybody to "compare notes" with. The good thing was that once I was sure of my plan I was really sure of it. There were about 100 shooters and I wound up HOA by a fair margin....surprised the heck out of me, but I'm sure a lot of it was just being absolutely committed to my plan when I stepped up to shoot. I wonder if I would have been quite so committed if I was with my buddies?
- Ask questions! If you see the best shooter at your club or on your squad do something and you're not sure why, ask them if the opportunity comes up. It might be while you're both taping targets or after the match, but ask...they'll be flattered and will almost always be happy to share why they did/do something. I once asked TGO why he shot an array a certain way...I was even more of a nobody back then and he went on for about five minutes on exactly why he did it the way he did. Short answer was that he'd run something similar on the clock and was always faster one way versus everything else. Sure, there are a few top shooters out there that are complete tools (like everywhere in life) but that is really the extreme minority and most will be more than happy to chat.
- Stage planning: Once you have a plan, stick to it and don't make a change just because you see someone else do something cool unless you have enough time to be certain you've reprogrammed it in your head. Worst case is you do half of one plan, half of the other and forget something really important in the mix...like an array of targets or something similar.
- Stage planning #2: Say you're on a squad and there's a big name GM shooting with you. If they're getting ready to shoot, are off to the side with their eyes closed air gunning the stage, or something like that, don't walk up and say "hey, how are you gonna shoot this?". There's a good chance you could mess up their pre-stage routine which might be very particular....they probably would be happy to help, but it's just the wrong time. Worst case is they get annoyed and then feel bad about it and walk up to the stage thinking they should have been more polite and trash their run because they're still thinking about it. This can also happen with lower classed shooters, but always seems to happen to the best shooters for obvious reasons. Plenty of people will share their plans with you, and you'll figure out pretty quickly who does and doesn't mind talking about it (probably most don't mind). Often a confused look or just saying "man, I'm lost" while checking out a stage will cause someone to say "not sure huh? I'm thinking XYZ" and you'll be off and running.
- Find a mentor: Not too long ago a good friend of mine started out in USPSA shooting almost from scratch. He'd done a bunch of shooting, but it was more hunting oriented. He got involved with the club and struck up a friendship with a wonderful gentleman who is known and loved by a LOT of people in this sport. I'm paraphrasing, but he told my friend "for the first year, stick with me, do exactly what I tell you to and you'll do great". Man, did that advice ever pay off! His skills jumped by leaps and bounds and he's an incredibly solid shooter now who's probably a couple of decent classifiers away from his M card. A mentor will help guide you through the things discussed in this thread, but more importantly, will be able to tailor their guidance to your strengths and weaknesses. It's really hard to see the big picture of your shooting while you're in it. Your mentor will give you the feedback that's critical to get better. Sometimes things aren't how they seem and what's fast seems slow and vice-versa. I recall finishing one stage at a big match and said "man that was slow, but I know my hits were good". The RO looked at me and said we've only had two times faster than that in three days and then laughed. I wound up third overall on that stage but it sure didn't seem it while I was shooting....a mentor would watch that, break it down and help you make it even better.
Okay, at this point I've been typing for way too long so I'm going to ask everyone to jump on board, add your thoughts and mabye we can help answer questions for folks before they know they need to ask them