I initially classified Production A in August 2013 thanks to good Steel Challenge skills. But I was getting destroyed by B-class shooters in field courses. These notes are a summary of the things I learned in my quest for improvement since then. I made Production M in August 2014.

Grip

Way back when, I was taught to hold the pistol firmly (like a hammer) but not squeeze down on it. Today, I;’m not sure it;’s possible to grip the pistol hard enough, particularly with the weak hand. I;’ve found that bearing down with a crush grip has improved my split times and long-range accuracy when shooting at speed. The strong hand needs a looser grip to maintain good trigger-finger dexterity.

The faster split times come from not loosing the front sight during the recoil cycle. I;’m shooting El Presidentes in the low 6s range with mostly As and can often see the front fiber optic sight sliding back and forth as the pistol cycles. There;’s no waiting for it to settle back down in the notch after each shot, which has gotten my split times down into the 0.35s range on 10-yard targets.

A crush grip on the pistol also makes trigger control less important as it takes more force to shove the pistol off target. A misbehaving trigger finger is not as detrimental if the other nine are locked down tight. On easy or medium difficulty targets, and most of the shooting in Steel Challenge, I;’m able to slap the trigger and score my hits. It;’s only when shooting tough targets like partials at 20 yards that I need to get a clean, straight-back press.

I;’ve long had trouble with a pre-ignition flinch that would cause me to pull shots low when shooting at speed at 15+ yards. But it seems like a hard grip mitigates this flinch, perhaps because my forearms are already fully tight and can;’t squeeze any harder to jerk the muzzle downward an instant before firing.

I started with fairly good grip strength from deadlifting more than 2x bodyweight for reps and started working with a Captains of Crush #1. I;’m able to close it a few times with either hand and picked up a Trainer to warm up. Working just grip excessively gave me some elbow tendonitis, but backing off and working opposing muscles via Expand Your Hand Bands have gotten that under control.

Movement

Shooting quickly and accurately while standing still is an important skill and enough to score well on Classifiers and Steel Challenge. But it;’s just the tip of the iceberg for Field Courses where you;’ll loose time if you;’re not able to shoot and reload on the move.

The farther back you can shoot As or drop steel while moving, the more options you;’ll have when developing your stage plan. If you;’re not constrained by vision barriers or fault lines, try to shoot targets while advancing through the stage instead of coming to a stop to shoot each one. And if you have to stop due to vision barriers or difficulty, start shooting (or at least aiming) while you;’re still slowing and fire your last shot(s) while you;’re moving out of the position. And if you aren;’t shooting, then run! It doesn;’t matter if you can;’t see a target coming into a position. You know where it is from the stage walkthrough, so have your pistol up and ready for when it pops into view.

Don;’t shoot targets from farther away than you need to. You may see a chance to shoot a target at the end of the course from near the start, but it;’s almost always faster to shoot that target on the move when you pass it rather than flat footed from farther away. Some shooters will look for a magic spot in a COF from which they can shoot all of the targets. It;’s almost always faster to run through the COF and shoot the targets as you see them.

Use a stopwatch to time different approaches to running a stage. In some cases, it may make sense to disregard activating targets, or at least not re-engage them after making bad hits, since they;’ll be non-penalty Mikes.

Watch match videos of top shooters running long field courses. They look like they;’re being chased by an axe murderer. Also notice how they;’re shooting while entering and leaving positions.

Sight Picture Continuum

We generally learn to shoot with a hard focus on a perfectly centered front sight. That;’s the most accurate way to place a shot but also the slowest. It;’s necessary to make hard shots, such as a US Popper at 35 yards, but overkill for whacking a Metric target at 5 yards. One can shoot As in the second case with grossly misaligned sights—seeing the front fiber anywhere inside the rear notch is good enough. The trick is knowing what degree of sight alignment you need to make a given shot.

I think that it;’s a good idea to shoot with a hard front-sight focus until you can see the post lift out of the notch and call your shots. The sooner you master that technique, the sooner you can move beyond it. You can certainly make USPSA B class shooting with a front-sight focus. Critical things being developed here are visual patience (see what you need to see before breaking the shot) and index (learn what it feels to line up on a target).

Out to about seven yards on easy targets, I tend to shoot with both eyes open and use the front fiber insert like a holographic sight. I;’m focused on the target and putting a somewhat-blurry fiber on the A-zone before pressing the trigger. Past ten yards, or on partial targets inside ten, I;’m switching to more of a traditional front-sight focus. But even then it isn;’t necessary to perfectly center the front sight in the rear notch to shoot an A. Learn just how good a sight picture is needed to make a shot of a given degree of difficulty.

Have a read through this thread on BEnos.

Target Transitions

A common mistake when shooting multiple targets is to fire the first shot cleanly but then start pulling off the target before firing the second shot, throwing a Charlie or worse. This manifests itself as misses on steel targets. Make it a point to call all your shots and this problem will resolve itself—you;’ll know that you didn;’t have a good sight picture when you fired the shot. Don;’t come off the target before firing the shot, but drive the pistol to the next target without hesitation. A good drill for this is Position Exit.

Another common mistake is making horizontal transitions like a tank turret. This is slow, particularly for wide transitions. Drive with the legs to move between targets. Watch some videos of Max Michel to see transitions done well.

Another tricky aspect of transitions comes with targets at different distances. You want to shoot each target with an appropriate balance of speed and precision, and this gets difficult when it changes drastically between targets. Check out Distance Changeup for a good drill to practice this skill.

Draw

A fast draw isn;’t particularly important on the field courses that make up the majority of USPSA matches, but it doesn;’t hurt. The main change I;’ve made, which got me my first sub-second draws in competition, was moving the pistol straight from the holster to the shooting position instead of bringing it up to eye level and pressing straight out. The theory behind the press-out is that you can begin lining up the sights during the press out instead of waiting until it reaches full extension. But in practice it;’s faster to develop your index to where you can look at a target, draw, and immediately see a good sight picture on the target, refining it if necessary based on the difficulty of the shot.

Another change has been to get my weak hand over to the holster to establish my grip as soon as the pistol barrel becomes horizontal. Have your weak hand open to catch your strong hand and get your grip clamped down while driving the pistol on target.

Eliminate all motion other than your arms. Your head, shoulders, hips, knees, and feet should not move during the draw. I think that the draw is made or broken on the initial contact with the pistol—it;’s critical to get the web between the thumb and trigger finger as high, centered, and tight as possible into the beavertail of the pistol.

Shooting Faster

Speed doesnl;’t come naturally—you need to make a conscious decision to open up the throttle. An effective way to get faster is to lower your par times on practice drills. If you;’re shooting an El Presidente in 10 s, force yourself to run it in 8 s to 9 s and see what happens. Then identify your problems and work to fix them. Shots all over the target and feeling out of control can indicate inadequate grip. Pulling shots low is usually pre-ignition flinch. Hitting to the left or right of the A-zone may be rushing the shot (shooting before the pistol is aligned) or rushing the transition (moving the pistol to the next target before firing the shot). There;’s also the matter of math: a 2.5 s draw or reload won;’t support an 8 s El Presidente. The math gets real easy with things like Bill Drills: a 2 s Bill Drill needs a 1 s draw and 0.2 s splits. Done!

Long-Range Accuracy

Match directors love arranging fault lines and vision barriers that require engaging targets while leaning out to the left or right. The natural shooting stance in these situations cants the pistol to the side. This doesn›t cause a problem at short range but will throw shots wide at longer distance, a particular problem when shooting poppers. Keep the pistol vertical unless the shots are close!

Splitting Arrays

Don;’t think you need to shoot every target in an array in one pass. A stage will sometimes break down better if you split the array from two or more shooting positions.

Stacked Targets

It;’s not uncommon to come across two targets stapled to a single frame, one high and one low. Shoot the low target first, because then the slide is not obscuring the upper target, so it will be faster to make the transition to it.

Dry Fire

Near-daily dry fire has been responsible for much of my improvement. Don;’t just dry fire draws and firing single shots—set up multi-shot drills to include moving between positions and reloads. Keep working the trigger even though you only get one realistic pull. I;’m finding dry fire superior to live fire in some regards due to it removing the distraction of the pistol firing. Nuances of grip and body positioning become more obvious. It;’s easier to work on these things in dry fire and then validate changes later in dry fire.

Gear

Get a pistol you like that runs reliably, make any needed modifications, set up your belt system, find ammo that runs well and makes power factor, and then leave everything alone. One trait shared among many C-class shooters is that they;’re constantly messing with ammo, springs, and other gear tweaks. The problem is that this stuff doesn;’t particularly matter, and messing with it takes time away from practicing the things that do. You don›t want to spend the first 45 minutes of every range trip chronographing new ammo.

Key Skills

Making tough shots quickly: It;’s not hard to shoot As with splits down in the teens on close targets or print good slow-fire groups at distance. The trick is shooting As quickly at 10+ yards or on partial targets. Try shooting dot drill to work on this critical skill. Or, take classic drills like El Presidente and push them to 20+ yards or staple no-shoots over the targets.

Shooting on the move: Practice shooting partials on the move out to 10 yards and arrays while entering/leaving a position. Ideally, you can shoot one of the targets while slowing to a stop and start moving while shooting the last target. At a minimum (1) get your sights lined up on the first target as you enter the position and work on shooting as early as possible and (2) start exiting the position as you;’re shooting the last target.

Shot calling: Know where each shot went the instant it fires. Don;’t waste time looking for bullet holes in the targets.

Speed and accuracy: It;’s not speed or accuracy, it;’s doing both at the same time!

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Last edit: 4 February 2016