Shooting my first USPSA last weekend was a wonderful learning experience, not only in my first exposure to the fast-paced world of competitive shooting, but also in the opportunity to spend a full day training with a quality instructor and USPSA champion, Ben Stoeger.
Ben and his wife, Kita, both shoot USPSA and offered me the chance to train with them to better prepare me for my first match. One thing that is generally true for most learning situations was true in this one: the more they showed me, the more I discovered I needed to learn. It seems ironic, and could be frustrating, but with how much I enjoyed seeing the improvements in my shooting, I found that epiphany galvanizing. That may simply be a result of my own perfectionist and competitive natures, or possibly my never-ending quest to learn perking up, but I believe a good deal of it must be credited to the approach of my instructors.
As a newer USPSA shooter (compared to Ben, that is), Kita helped to introduce me to some of the basics of the sport. With both Stoegers imparted the safety rules of the course and their importance, Kita taught me typical starting positions, some of the names of different types of USPSA targets (no shoots, drop-turners, poppers, swingers, etc.), and how to to safely execute a draw from facing away from the target.
Ben’s instruction was based off of the techniques and strategies he developed and put into practice to become successful in his sport. He, too, introduced me to skills I had not before used, but would have to put into practice for the match the following day. My biggest hurdle, however, was entirely mental. Prior to last Saturday, I had never trained with a timer, and had only a shade of practice with shooting on the move. Using the timer and his encouragement, Ben continually challenged me to move more efficiently while drawing, shooting, and reloading without breaking any safety or competition rules. When casually shooting from a standstill, I demonstrated the capacity to consistently shoot the “A zones” (the highest scoring portions of USPSA targets) of the targets presented to me, but until I started learning how to deal with the pressure of having a time constraint, as well as an audience of other shooters, I quickly found that if I did not take the time to relax and shoot with proper technique, my accuracy, and therefore potential scores, degraded.
Much of what I learned with Ben can be practiced and improved with dry fire practice. I have now begun to integrate exercises I learned at the range with Ben, and from a book of exercises that he (and fellow USPSA competitor, Jay Hirshberg) developed for the purpose. Out of everything I learned from training with the Stoegers, there were several key skills in which I was more weak than others that can be improved with dry fire practice: learning to manipulate my handgun effectively and efficiently under [time] stress, speeding up my draw, and correcting my tendency to jerk the trigger when trying to shoot “fast.”
I’ve decided to compete in future USPSA matches because it was way too much fun “running and gunning,” but I also appreciate the benefits to my shooting skill overall that competitive shooting encourages. In one weekend, I became more effective with shooting under pressure, and began executing techniques I had learned prior with a speed I had never before achieved. And because I enjoy the thrill of competition, regardless of score, it has become a driving force that encourages me to become a better shooter overall.
My gratitude extends to Ben and Kita, for offering the aid of training, the ammo, and even loaning me gear to use while training and for my first match, and for being thorough, but patient instructors who didn’t accept excuses. The worst thing about working with them over the weekend is the huge disservice they’re doing my bank account by getting me hooked on another expensive divertissement (as if hobbyist shooting and reviewing guns and gear wasn’t taxing enough on my wallet). I look forward to developing my shooting skills in the sport, and including others on my journey.