Competition Self Defense

Grip and Trigger Control Things

Being able to place an accurate shot on a static target without any time pressure is the essential foundation on which fast practical marksmanship is built on. Here are a few things I'm doing to improve that foundation.

Last week, I got the chance to shoot an abbreviated IDPA classifier. While it wasn’t embarrassing like the one I shot previously and I was happy that I finally classified better than novice, I wasn’t content with the hits on the target. As such, I’ve altered my practice plans to place a deliberate emphasis on improving my ability to make better hits at speed.

Let’s back up for a second. IDPA has a few different classification methods. The abbreviated method, named IDPA 5×5 Classifier, is a single course of fire consisting of four (4) strings on one standard IDPA target at a distance of 10 yards. The strings are:

  1. Draw and fire 5 shots freestyle.
  2. Draw and fire 5 shots using the strong hand only.
  3. Start with only 5 rounds in your gun. Draw and fire 5 shots, emergency reload and fire 5 additional shots freestyle.
  4. Draw and fire 4 shots to the body and one shot to the head freestyle.

The score consists of the sum of the raw time from the four strings, plus points (+0 for each A-zone hit, +1 for each C-zone hit, +3 for each D-zone hit, and +5 for each miss), plus penalties. Once the score is finalized, it is compared to a table that enumerates the times required for each classification which are specific to the division the gun falls under. In my case, the division was carry optics (CO) which has a classification breakdown of:

  • Master (MA) 18.47 or less
  • Expert (EX) 18.48 through 22.93
  • Sharpshooter (SS) 22.94 through 28.39
  • Marksman (MM) 28.40 through 36.18
  • Novice (NV) 36.19 or greater

My score was 30.01 which put me at MM in CO. I’m pretty jazzed about the classification since it means I’ll now be able to check a classification box other than NV when I register for a match. That said, I wasn’t content with the hits on the target. I peppered the target. One one hand, I suppose I should be happy that all the hits were in either the A-zone or C-zone. On the other hand, I had 11 C-zone hits. That means my raw time was 19.01. Had all the hits been in the A-zone, I would have received a classification of expert and I would have been within striking distance of master.

I should have taken a picture of the target to reference and to share with y’all, but I was caught up in the moment and didn’t even think about taking a picture. C’est la vie. As I recall it, the target had 14 holes in the body A-zone that trended down and left from the middle, 10 holes in the body C-zone that were low and left of the A-zone, and single hole in the head C-zone to the left of the head A-zone. After searing the image of the target into memory, I started recalling some of the recent lessons learned from Ben Stoeger’s Practical Shooting Fundamentals class and his Breakthrough Marksmanship book. This then got me making mental notes about what I felt while I was shooting the classifier.

So what happened? I’m not completely certain because I didn’t inspect the target between each string in detail, but here is what I recall.

The first string was solid. I remember feeling relaxed. I don’t recall anything noteworthy about the draw or my grip. I remember noticing the dot coming into view as I pressed the gun forward and ripping five shots predictably as soon as I noticed the was roughly over the A-zone. After getting the gun back into the holster, I remember seeing all the holes spread out left of center in the target’s A-zone while the range safety officer explained the second string. This means that I was likely pressing the trigger left which could have been the results of a questionable grip or bad trigger press.

The second string was probably the worst because I struggle with strong hand only shooting. I don’t recall feeling tense during the string. I remember seeing an unsteady dot when the gun came up and shooting reactively every time I noticed the dot was over the A-zone while holding my support hand on the center of my chest in a tight fist. I also remember seeing the dot move down and left with every shot before recoiling up. I didn’t confirm any of the holes after the string, but I’m pretty sure all five shots landed low and left in the C-zone. This was likely the result of bad trigger presses combined with a sympathetic squeeze that disturbed the dot as I was breaking the shots.

The third string felt a lot like the first. Gun came up. I ripped five rounds predictably after first noticing the dot was over the A-zone. Slide lock reload was followed by five more rounds ripped predictably after noticing the dot was over the A-zone again. I don’t recall anything that was worth noting while I shot this string.

The final string was a lot like the first and the third with the exception of the head shot. I remember waiting to see the dot, rather than simply noticing it, aligned with the head and paying more attention to the trigger press. I did confirm the head shot impacted just left of the A-zone. The only reason I confirmed it was because it was the last shot of the string and the classifier.

The overall story the target told combined with what I felt and, more importantly, what I failed to notice while shooting the classifier makes my self diagnosis pretty clear. That diagnosis being that my trigger and grip need work first and foremost. Additionally, I need to work on being more mindfully aware of what I’m feeling while shooting. This is easier to do when I’m not under match or qualification pressure. Lastly, I need to make it a point to be more deliberate in picking a finer visual focal point to aim at. The entire “A-zone” isn’t a specific enough visual focal point.

Whether my self diagnosis is correct, incorrect, or somewhere in between is a topic for another time, but given I have one a treatment plan should follow. I suppose the correctness of the treatment plan is another question, but what I do know for certain is that purposeful practice is the remedy.

So what am I doing about it? In the most general sense, I am prioritizing drills that help me develop my marksmanship fundamentals. More specifically, working on my grip, visual focus, and trigger control. While I’m making small tweaks to improve my grip and trigger control, I’m also making it a point to use index points intentionally to make those tweaks consistent. The primary dry fire drills I have been using are Gabe White’s Three Triggers Drill and a Draw Drill. For live fire, I’m using a live fire variant of the Draw Drill where I draw the pistol and fire two or three shots which provide feedback that I use to assess the quality of my grip and trigger control. I’ll probably keep this focus in practice going over the next month or so and then reattempt the 5×5 classifier again to measure my improvement.

What are y’all doing to improve your marksmanship fundamentals? Drop a comment on this post and let me know.

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