Getting Started In Competitive Shooting
So you want to be a competitive shooter, but don’t know where to start. My best advice I can give to you is to start. Your first competition is the scariest. You don’t know what to expect, you don’t know who you will meet, and you don’t know how you’ll perform. For me, it was the greatest decision I ever made.
The first thing I recommend to get started is to be a spectator at a competition you are interested in shooting. There are a lot of sports out there, so it depends on what you want to shoot and what clubs are near where you live. In my experience, match directors encourage new shooters to come out and will even walk you through how to shoot the competition.
When you show up to a match, the first thing competitors do is check-in. Depending on how early you arrive, it’s a good idea to walk through the stages to see how they are set up. Most matches have the stages designed ahead of time and are posted online, but there’s nothing like seeing the layout in person.
After check-in, you want to get all your gear, ammo, guns, and anything else you may need for the day ready to go before the safety briefing. You’ll see a lot of competitors with gun carts and I definitely recommend investing in one with good wheels. You never know what kind of terrain you will experience. This is a time to assemble your gun belt, mag pouches, holster your firearm, and load your magazines if you haven’t done so already.
Safety briefings are not to be missed and are very important to understand the rules of the range and squadding procedures. A squad is who you shoot with for the duration of the match. In most regular monthly matches, squads are self-run meaning you time, tape, and score yourselves, but more on that in a minute. In most safety briefings, match directors will ask if there are any new or first-time shooters, and if they don’t ask, it’s not a bad idea to let them know for several reasons. Letting people know you are new to the range or new to the type of shooting sport sets you up for success, so people can teach you the rules of the range and help others understand there’s a little bit of a learning curve for you.
Each squad starts on a different stage, so people can be shooting stages at the same time to make it run faster. Depending on the range and the match, shooters either shoot in a particular order or it’s first come, first served. There are several “duties” to make a squad run efficiently. An experienced shooter or official range officer will run the timer. When you are up to shoot, the timer operator will have you get into your start position and then they will ask, “Shooter, are you ready?” When you hear this, you can give a verbal response or some sort of nod in acknowledgement that you are. The timer operator will then say, “Standby!” The shot timer will beep and that is your queue to start shooting.
The next duty is the scorer. Typically, this will also be someone who has shot for a while and understands how to score shots. The biggest help you can give is taping targets and spray-painting/resetting steel after shots are scored. Carboard targets will have special brown stickers to cover holes and depending on if the steel is a knockdown or just a plate to hit, it will need spray paint over the bullet marks.
When watching shooters compete, you want to look at a couple different things. Shooters with high tech gear, limited guns, light trigger pulls, and open/limited competition holsters certainly will be able to share their knowledge, but if you’re just getting started it’s hard to replicate what they do without all of their gear. Find folks that are humble, approachable, have been coached themselves, or have been in the sport for a long time. You’ll know them when you see them and talk to them.
Most shooting competitions are scored by time and accuracy. It’s a fine balance between pushing yourself and knowing when to slow down and hit your targets. Depending on the competition, you’re not always going for bullseye, but somewhere around center mass. Feel free to ask the match director, a range officer, or experienced shooter how the targets are scored. When it’s your turn to shoot, remind the timer operator it’s your first time and see if they’re allowed to help coach you through the stage.
One of the best things I did starting out was asking everyone about their guns and their gear. If someone offers you to try something out, do not hesitate to take that opportunity. Finding out what gear works best for you is so important. Stores don’t typically allow you to buy their products, test them out, and return them if they don’t work so take advantage of shooter’s hospitality!
A few quick tips to help you during your first competition:
- Buy a gun cart with rolling wheels
- Bring snacks and lots of water (there are no lunch breaks usually)
- Sunscreen and a hat are your best friends
- Bring a lawn chair, but remember to help out your squad!
- Talk to folks and remember to not worry so much about how well you shoot! That comes later.