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Shooting Competition as Training: How ‘Real’ Is It?

Though certainly not complete training in and of itself, shooting competition (IDPA, IPSC, etc.) can be a useful component of firearms training, skill maintenance and skill assessment.

Florida/Georgia Regional woman champ Gail Pepin exits driver's seat, uses engine block as cover to engage far right targets with her Springfield XD(m) 9mm.

Florida/Georgia Regional woman champ Gail Pepin exits driver’s seat, uses engine block as cover to engage far right targets with her Springfield XD(m) 9mm.

In Combat Shooting with Massad Ayoob, the author recommends keeping the combat shooting disciplines in perspective:

Competitive shooting certainly isn’t the be-all and end-all of firearms training. Rather, it is a component of your training. It conditions you to shoot under stress, with your hands shaking and your knees knocking and your mouth as dry as Jim Cirillo told me his was when he faced three armed robbers with only his S&W .38 Special in his hands…and shot down every one of them in what was later determined to be approximately three seconds.

If you study the work of police psychologist Alexis Artwohl, perhaps our leading authority today on altered perceptions as they occur in gunfights, you’ll find some interesting similarities to what match shooters experience at every tournament if they’re taking it seriously. Dr. Artwohl notes that the most common such phenomenon is auditory exclusion, in which even gunfire may go unheard, along with shouts of comrades or witnesses, with an 84% occurrence rate. Almost every match shooter has experienced stages of fire where they don’t recall hearing their shots, or hearing a range officer say or even shout something.

Dan Burwell runs between cover points at IDPA Nationals, Safety Officer with timer running to keep up. Pistol is S&W M&P 9mm.

Dan Burwell runs between cover points at IDPA Nationals, Safety Officer with timer running to keep up. Pistol is S&W M&P 9mm.

Tunnel vision is next, with 79% of those survivors she studied experiencing it. Ever shoot a practical match and not see one of the targets, or miss an identifier such as a badge that one of the targets was “holding”?

Tachypsychia, a sense of things going in slow motion? It happened to 62% of the gunfighters she studied, and if you’ve shot a match, you’ve probably experienced it there.

Memory distortion, such as events being recalled out of sequence, 21% of her study group experienced it in gunfights, and probably something close to 100% of action pistol competitors have experienced it after a complicated IPSC or IDPA stage.

Being familiar with these things beforehand makes them easier to handle when they occur in the real world. All these things taken in context contribute to making the match a microcosm of the gunfight and, therefore, useful live-fire preparation for such an encounter.

Competition is part of an on-going skill test, a personal laboratory in which you can acclimate yourself to using your defensive firearm swiftly and accurately under pressure. Track from McBride in WWI to George in WWII to Hathcock in Vietnam to a generation that has come back from the Middle East as I write this with stories of how practical shooting competition before they went made them more formidable fighters and helped them come back.

History tells us that the person with more experience in fast, accurate shooting under stress has an edge when the stress goes all the way up to life-or-death stakes on the table.

Which is why I keep saying that a shooting match isn’t a gunfight, but a gunfight damn sure is a shooting match.

From Combat Shooting with Massad Ayoob. Stop by the Gun Digest Store to order your copy. Remember to use promo code INSIDEGDB to get free standard U.S. shipping on your order.

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