What I Wish I Had Known Sooner
When I started competitive shooting a little over 2 years ago, I knew nothing. If you don’t believe me, check out my YouTube channel. (The proof is in the really bad stage videos.) My only goal in the beginning was to be safe. Beyond that, I had no idea what to expect. I just wanted to shoot as much as possible, and I wanted to win.
I started out in D class. After months of throwing more rounds downrange than my budget could support, I still wasn’t seeing the improvement I wanted or expected. I figured out pretty quickly that I could exhibit moments of excellence but I couldn’t replicate it on demand or find the consistency I wanted in my performances. I’d have one great stage and three that were total crap. It was un-be-lievably frustrating. I needed better hits, and I needed them faster. But how to make it happen was a mystery.
I know I’m not the only one to go through this process. The process by which we look at where we are, where we want to be, and how to bridge the gap between the two. If you’re stuck in D, C, or low B class, keep reading.
For those of you B, A, M, and GM shooters, you’re not going to get much from this…except maybe how to help us less fortunate D and C class shooters. For you, I got nothing, except to say I’m coming for you.
To all those shooters who are new to the game, seem to be stuck, don’t know what to do, or are getting so much advice that they can’t sort through the good, the bad, and the ugly, this is for you!
Before I spill my not so secret secrets, let me say this : Don’t get into the gear race. Gear is great. Good gear is really great. But none of it will matter if you don’t have the fundamentals behind the pistol. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can simply buy your way to better scores. You can’t. I know plenty of people that can beat me with a stock Glock and no practice. They have something I don’t. I want it, and I bet you do too.
The one thing I wish I had known sooner is this: Trigger control will set you free.
If your trigger control is honed, you can focus on everything else. If you don’t have it, none of the rest of it will matter. It’s that simple, and that dishearteningly complicated all in the same breath. The challenge comes not in understanding the concept, but in developing the skill.
Most of you have probably already seen this video of Rob Leatham talking about how aiming is useless. Guys, he isn’t messing with you. Aiming is totally useless if upon getting the perfect sight picture, you disrupt that sight picture while pressing the trigger. If you can just learn to have a clean trigger press, you will be able to put hits where you want them to go and focus on other things like preparation, stage planning, movement efficiency, position entry and exit…all the other things the good guys beat us at.
My problem was two-fold. I didn’t have the ability, nor the strength, to manage the recoil impulse while maintaining a proper grip to manipulate the trigger. I just didn’t have the grip strength. I was pressing bad shots, having to wait for the pistol to come back on target from wherever the muzzle flipped this time, then negotiating the perfect sight picture again before another bad trigger press. I was calling bad shots good, not shooting make up shots when I needed them, and not getting the points I thought I was getting. “MIKE?!?! No WAY that was a mike, it looked PERFECT”…this ran through my mind more times that I care to remember.
So, what did I do to fix it? First, I ordered a grip trainer and got to work. I used it for at least 15 minutes every day. I kept it at my desk at work and picked it up any time I had the opportunity. Strengthening my grip allowed me to manage muzzle rise, maintain proper grip placement, and more quickly see what I needed to see to press the trigger. I naturally began to feel more aggressive behind the pistol. I was better prepared to drive it where I wanted it to go instead of having the muzzle flipping all over creation. It worked, and I’ve actually received compliments on how flat my pistol shoots! (Or how flat I shoot it, depending on how you want to look at
Note: Ladies, if you’re new to the sport and you’ve got someone telling you something about 60/40 or 70/30 grip pressure…toss it out the window for now. Grip the pistol as hard as you possibly can with your support hand and still allow your strong hand index finger to press the trigger straight back without disturbing the sights. We’re built with less strength in our hands and forearms than the guys, so it’s tough for them to understand and work with us. Grip as hard as possible. Trust me, it’ll help. Your hands and forearms will be tired after about 15-20 minutes of dryfire, or after about 200 rounds of livefire. If you’re not sore, you should grip harder. As you gain strength, you’ll adapt, and find that right ratio of strong hand and support hand pressure.
Second, I needed to find a way to negotiate a sight picture without thinking about it so I could stop focusing on aiming and instead focus on my trigger. I often fall victim to waiting for a perfect sight picture, and I began to question the validity of that notion. It led me to do some experimenting, pushing my sight picture to the extreme to be able to call better shots.
I found that at 7 yards, my front fiber can be at the extreme edge of my rear sight notch and I’ll still hit an alpha. Don’t believe me? Push a target out to 7 yards, and very carefully, with a perfect trigger press, place two shots with your front fiber at the far right side of your notch. Then, do the same with your fiber at the far left side. Same for the top and the bottom of your notch. You’ll get eight alphas. Two on the right and left perfs, two in the top third of the A-zone, and two in the bottom third of the A-zone.
This revelation was life-changing.
As long as my trigger press is clean and I don’t disturb the sight picture, I can get alphas at 7 yards and closer, as long as I can see the front fiber SOMEWHERE in the notch. This gave me the ability to hit the gas pedal. (Figuratively speaking…I don’t actually have a gas pedal on any of my pistols.)
I know what you might be thinking…”I don’t have to have perfect height, perfect light?!?!”
No, you don’t. Not at that distance. But for the love of all things holy, don’t believe me! Test the theory for yourself! Hold the sights in the middle of the A-zone, then move the front sight to all four extremes, and take the time and discipline to put two shots at each extreme sight picture with perfect trigger presses. I. Was. Stunned. How could this be? How can I hit all Alphas with such a crap sight picture?
God bless the geometry, that’s all I can say. This revelation changed my game. With a good firm grip to mitigate muzzle rise, and a clean, straight back trigger press, I am able to put shots where I want them without thinking about it, call bad shots when I make them, and place appropriate make up shots when I need them.
To see how far I could push it, I put it on a timer. I wanted to focus strictly on trigger press, so I came up with a cheat. I made the A-zone red. You can use a marker, paint, a red piece of construction paper, whatever it takes, but when I made the A-zone so obvious that I didn’t have to think about it, I could take the aiming part completely out of the equation. The second I saw my fiber against the red A-zone, I pressed the trigger without disturbing the sights.
Some things that happened next? Well, the last few months have been interesting. My scores started climbing. I’ve got two or three A classifiers on the books in the last few months. I’m shooting steel much better, finishing as high as 32nd out of 230+ shooters at Tuesday Night Steel. I’m shooting 85%+ possible points at USPSA matches instead of 60%-70%. I’m using less brainpower to aim which allows me to get “in the zone” on stages.
I know it sounds crazy. That it can’t be that simple. But it is. Test it out for yourself and see what happens. Comment and tell me how it works for you. Let me know if you have questions. And for those of you who have already figured this out, tell me what YOU wish you had known sooner in your shooting career. I’ve still got a lot to learn!
Shoot fast and take chances.
Gun Racer and Gear Breaker