A reader asks, “Zo, what’s a good place to start for a guy who’s looking to start shooting competitively?” The answer to this question varies a little bit depending on the type of competitive shooting that one is looking to do because of the specific detailed differences between different competition types. However, we can take a few broad strokes here that are virtually universal to getting started and get a pretty good idea of how to go about getting started.
I get this question from time to time. It’s not exceedingly frequent, but it’s happened enough that I’ve noticed it generally comes from two distinct groups of people. The first group is made up of folks who are looking to get started with participating in a specific type of competition. The second group is made up of folks who aren’t aware of what types of competitions are available near them. Regardless of which group the question originated from, my initial suggestion starts at the same place – PractiScore. From a competitive shooter’s point of view, PractiScore is a web site that allows shooters to find (and register for) matches, events, and clubs. Those who are looking to see what’s available near them can use the match, event, or club search pages to find out what’s near them. Those who are looking for something specific can use the exact same search pages to search by event type or match name to figure where and when those are happening. PractiScore also has iOS and Android apps available for those that prefer them. In my opinion the website and the apps are a little clunky, but it is a gold mine in terms of identifying matches to participate in.
What if PractiScore yields zero results? Not to worry, there are some alternative approaches. However, they are a bit more involved and the results can be hit and miss. If one happens to know what type of match one is looking for, then the next best bet is to check out the match organization website to find matches or clubs that host local matches of that flavor. For example, checkout the USPSA, IDPA, Steel Challenge, or other organization website directly. If one doesn’t have a specific type of match in mind or the organization’s website yields no results, then one can check with their local gun store or local ranges to find out if they are aware of local matches or local gun clubs that host matches and go from there. Another good resource might be an instructor one has trained with.
At this point, chances are one should have at least one viable match option to pursue. However, there are still a couple of prerequisites to address before going and shooting a match. They are: knowing how to handle the firearm(s) safely and having appropriate equipment for the match. Let’s look at each of those prerequisites individually.
Knowing how to handle the firearm(s) safely might seem obvious. I suspect some readers might opt to skim over the next few paragraphs because of that, but I urge everyone reading this to slow down and pay attention for a quick minute. Competitive shooting often involves doing things with firearms and live ammunition that they may not have a lot of experience with. The specific things vary from one type of competition to another, but they may involve movement with a loaded firearm under time and peer pressure. As basic as this might seem, maintaining muzzle and trigger discipline is paramount. As such, the slightest safety violation generally leads to immediate disqualification which is disheartening and many find embarrassing. These types of disqualifications happen. On rare occasions, they even happen to experienced competitors.
I’m attempting to make three points with regards to knowing how to handle the firearm(s) safely. The first point is it wouldn’t hurt to have a few hours of instruction with a qualified instructor under one’s belt. I get that this isn’t feasible for everyone, but it should be for most folks who are looking to complete and a little investment here can minimize the chance of a disqualification or worse. The next point is that safety related disqualifications happen. This can be due to just having an off day or another reason. No one likes to be disqualified, but there is a learning opportunity if it does happen so learn from it. The last is that different competitions have different safety rules. Know what they are. These rules are generally covered in the new shooters meeting that occurs at every match. Additionally, the rulebooks, while usually very terse, enumerate those rules and, as such, it doesn’t hurt to consult them.
The last thing I will say in this post about safety is that I encourage every first time competitor to set their first match goal to finish safely. This might seem like an easy goal or even a low bar. However, I’ve seen unintentional discharges happen. I’ve seen folks flag their own feet with a loaded firearm while walking from one shooting position to another without realizing it. I’ve even seen folks unintentionally turn the wrong direction and flag other competitors with their muzzle. These things don’t happen often, but they do happen and every disqualification is disheartening, but a necessary and fair result to a potentially grave mistake. Safety is priority number one. As such, I firmly believe it should be goal number one. Once again, a modest investment in some quality instruction is encouraged.
I may be projecting a bit here, but gear is a prerequisite that, in my opinion, a lot of folks get hung up on. At least, they get hung up on gear far more often than they get hung up on the safety bits we just discussed. Honestly, I firmly believe that safety prerequisite is far more important than the gear prerequisite, but neither is one that folks should get stuck in analysis paralysis over. At least, not to the point that they never compete. Sufficient safe gun handling and sufficient gear is all that is required.
What is sufficiently adequate gear in general terms? Yet again, the gear specifics are going to vary from one type of competition to another. That said, let’s take a look at IDPA requirements as an example. For IDPA, one is going to need a gun in a holster both which are commonly used for defensive or duty purposes, three or four ammunition feeding devices, a way to carry the ammunition feeding devices, and a concealment garment. What does that mean? As far as the gun goes, use what you have. It may have features or accessories that may not be allowed in competition, but local matches should have special divisions for that. A way to carry ammunition feeding devices? Pockets will do. A concealment garment? Most competitors who are looking for an advantage will use a tactical vest, but an untucked t-shirt will work too. The holster? As long as it’s not a craptastic holster, then the holster one has is probably good to go. If one is unsure about their equipment, then the best bet is to ask the match director or other senior club members.
With adequate safe gun handling skills, adequate gear, and an identified match to go to, then one should be good to register for a match and compete. If for some reason one is still having doubts, then it might be worthwhile to show up to the match as a spectator. This affords one the opportunity to see safety practices first hand and see the equipment other folks are using. One suggestion I give to folks who decide to spectate first is to take their gear with them to the match as there is a good chance they may decide to go ahead and participate in the match they intended to spectate. It doesn’t hurt to keep the option available.
That’s about the gist of it. To summarize, there are three things one needs to get started with competitive shooting. First, find a match. Next, have sufficiently adequate gun handling skills to operate the firearm(s) safely in the match. And, have adequate gear for the match. Don’t overthink it, but don’t be lackadaisical about safety. If one has questions about the match safety and gear requirements, then reach out to the match director or the club leadership. If any of y’all would like me to dig deeper into specific details for a particular type of match, then let me know either via social media or by commenting on this post below.