The month of February in the year of 2023 has been filled with new experiences within different divisions of the shooting sports I participate in. Those new experiences have reminded me of what it is like to be new to competitive shooting and have shed a new light on fundamental concepts while also giving me new things to think about. I’d like to share my immediate takeaways. Not as a form of advice nor with an intent to share some obscure deep wisdom, but as fuel for curiosity with the hope that, when the time is right, it will encourage one or more of y’all to step outside your comfort zone and explore what different divisions in competitive sports have to offer which I suspect is of significant benefit.
A friend once told me that each division has something different to teach us. At first, that sounded like a profound statement to me. But it wasn’t enough to get me to try new things. I was too focused on improving my performance in the activities I was presently invested in. Even so, that statement seemed like an important nugget of wisdom that wasn’t quite forgotten even though it was placed on a back burner where it simmered for quite sometime. As circumstances would have it, other factors presented themselves that finally motivated me to try new things this month. I’ll get into each of these individually, but first I’ll briefly enumerate them in chronological order. These deviations from my norm included shooting open division in USPSA, revolver division in IDPA, and PCC division in IDPA.
Open division is wild. This is the division where “race guns” are used. I use the term “race gun” here deliberately. I’m not talking about the occasional competition or match variant offered by manufacturers, but rather purpose built guns designed to go fast. The guns in this division feature ultra light triggers, heavy frames, large compensators, frame mounted optics, and generous magazine capacity. This is the Formula 1 of the pistol competition world. As such, this division pushes the envelope and innovation that eventually trickles down to new mass produced firearms that the vast majority of gun owners benefit from in one form or another. My interest in this division has been around for a long time and I didn’t try it sooner because the financial barrier to entry is significantly larger than any other pistol competition division that I am aware of. Nevertheless, the attraction never let up and I eventually saved enough to gather the bare minimum of equipment to give it a try.
While there are some similarities between open division guns and guns with pistol mounted optics used in the carry optics division, the open division guns run very differently. The differences begin with the recoil profile. More specifically, the muzzle rise is vastly subdued and, when combined with the features like the frame mounted optic, one quickly realizes that one has to fine tune marksmanship fundamentals in order to get the most out of these open division pistols. As one starts making adjustments to fundamental techniques, it becomes quite apparent that the rate one is able to process visual information becomes the bottleneck. While I may be incorrect in my conclusion, I think that open division is an opportunity for us to develop our ability to process visual information faster.
The very first match where I participated in open division, I realized that I knew absolutely nothing about how one is supposed to use a race holster. Race holsters are holsters that are specifically designed for these types of guns and lend themselves to extremely fast draws with virtually no resistance when unlocked. However, I didn’t know when the holster lock was supposed to be disengaged and reengaged in the context of a stage. This reminded me of my very first match, where I knew very little about how a stage is executed and the rules of the game and was left with no alternative but to ask others who had more experience than me. That’s exactly what I did. I started asking questions of the staff and squad members in order to figure out how I was supposed to use this equipment I was unfamiliar with. I was also reminded that pretty much everyone present at a match is extremely willing to help. It really is a fantastic community where virtually everyone is willing to share and exchange knowledge while encouraging each other to get better.
The next thing I tried was the revolver division in IDPA. Again, this wasn’t a result of me looking for what this division had to teach me. It was driven by me wanting to get a bit more familiar with revolvers since this will be a topic in an upcoming training course that I will be attending in the near future. Revolvers are different creatures. They have limited capacity, reloads are significantly different when compared to semi automatic pistols, and have heavy double action trigger pulls (in the context of the type of revolver I was attempting to get more acquainted with).
A revolver’s limited capacity and more intricate reloading procedure get in my head while under match pressure. I found myself being more judicious with each shot fired since I knew that make up shots would most likely result in an additional reload during a stage. Furthermore, the long and heavy double-action trigger presses are very unforgiving to bad grip and trigger manipulation technique. And I suspect this is what that division has to teach us as it forces one to fire with nothing then less than the right amount of care and attention required for the difficulty of each shot. The flip side of that equation is it makes it very apparent that applying more than the required amount of care to each shot, which is very easy to do, results in exceptionally long stage times which is not a good thing. It’s about applying exactly the right amount of care to each shot. No more. No less.
Squad members who are familiar with revolver division very quickly offer up a wealth of information regarding tuning and maintenance for the six shooters. A common misconception that new revolver owners and shooters have is that revolvers never fail and require very little maintenance. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Revolvers can certainly be very reliable, but require routine maintenance to achieve that level of reliability. Matches can very quickly take a toll on a revolver which experienced squad members tend to have first hand knowledge of. As such, the freely offered advice is a blend of how to keep the revolver running with a match, from one match to the next, and suggestions to help improve one’s technique.
The third and final division I tried in the month of February was the pistol caliber carbine, or PCC, division in IDPA. In many ways, this division reminded me of a two gun carbine & pistol match, but it’s not identical as a secondary sidearm isn’t required and the carbine is chambered for pistol cartridge instead of an intermediate rifle cartridge. PCCs are sometimes lovingly referred to as “cheater sticks” by folks participating in the other divisions of a pistol match because PCCs tend to make much higher hit factors (or points per second) easier to achieve in comparison to other divisions.
I suspect it’s glaring obvious that the PCC division shows us that it is substantially easier to run a rifle effectively than it is a pistol. However, it also forces us to evaluate our shooting positions and critically consider how to work with cover as cover can be more difficult to negotiate with a carbine than with a pistol.
Taking a step back and looking at all the different divisions collectively I can see that the fundamentals of shooting and marksmanship are essential to do perform well with each of the different firearms. What is not so obvious is that there are nuanced differences in the techniques used to employ those fundamentals between the different types of guns and becoming intimately familiar with these nuances is also required especially if one intends on being competitive with them. For example, my overall score with the PCC was better than the score I was able to achieve in the carry optics, or CO, division in the same match. However, the gap between my PCC score and top level PCC competitors was far greater than the gap between my CO score and top level CO competitors.
Again, I’m not trying to encourage everyone to go try all the different divisions to see what they have to offer immediately. Rather, my hope in sharing this information is that it sparks or fuels curiosity so that folks will be motivated to step out of their comfort zone when the time is right. I believe that internalizing the lessons the other divisions have to offer can help us discover something that may help us become more capable marksman and perhaps aid in breaking through a performance plateau. If nothing more, these experiences are an enjoyable fun time that will deepen our understanding and appreciation of the different weapon platforms and their supporting equipment.