You Aren't That Good

Call it a refresher, or a wake-up call, or a reality check, but this ego-crushing experience can serve a purpose -- if you are listening. It just happened to me.

Confession time. I don't shoot as much as I should. Certainly not as much as I'd like to. To make it worse, much of the time I'm shooting guns on a video shoot, using guns and gear provided by manufacturers, with little time to work on my actual shooting. At least, that's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it!

I joined a local shooting range recently with the plan of shooting more. This range also offers training, so I signed up for a one-day class shooting pistols and ARs. Bring 500 rounds for each, it said on the web site. That's a lot of shooting for one day! It turned out that I was the only student signed up. I offered to cancel, thinking that they can't make money with one student, but the range wouldn't hear of it.

What I got was an intensive one-day tutorial with two instructors with backgrounds in Tier 1 units and SWAT. From the first shot, I knew this would be a challenge.

One instructor put up half-size silhouette targets (OK, I should be able to handle that) and then had me start from the 25-yard line (OK, this is going to be a real challenge!). They wanted to see if I could shoot, of course, and to watch my gun handling. I've been to a number of shooting schools, but I hadn't practiced in months. It showed. I'd like to blame it on the subcompact pistol I was using, but the truth is that the pistol is accurate. Sure, a short barrel makes it harder to shoot well at distance, but that's on me. That gun was replaced by a full-size pistol after an hour, with moderate improvement, but my lack of practice was showing.

It was a good, hard day. I picked up a number of INTOT (I Never Thought Of That) skills, had a good time, and went to bed early that night.

Fast forward to this week. I'm at Gunsite, in Arizona, at a new product introduction. No, I can't tell you what it is, but I'm impressed.    rangetime

It's not a real class. It's a media event, but the instructors here still are giving us drills and challenges. Tactical and speed reloads, failure drills, timed shots and shooting pistols at 25, 35, and 50 yards pushed us. I was making good hits all the way out to half a football field, and although I land way to the side on the age scale of the shooters, I was faster than all but a handful. Honestly, I think it was partly because of that intensive day of training I had done only a few days prior.

What's the takeaway? I had been walking around every day thinking I was as good as I was in my last class. I wasn't. Not even close. It was a clear demonstration of what you always hear -- that these skills are perishable. A top trainer once said that you lose one percent of your skill each day after you take a class if you aren't practicing. That may not pencil out exactly right, but I get his point.

I wasn't as good as I thought I was. Chances are that you aren't, either.

If you are a competition shooter, you know what your skills are for that discipline. You know your scores. Those scores may not suggest how you do with real-world challenges a concealed carrier could face. 

Face it. Some of this stuff isn't fun. Malfunction drills are a slog, but if you have gotten good instruction on it, they aren't really hard. Add in one-handed shooting, then do weak handed draws, then do weak-hand-only malfunction drills, and you may well dredge up swear words rarely used. But it's important. 

If you have stayed with me this far, chances are you have more than a passing interest in being better. Getting and staying competent is simple. But it's not easy.

It requires two things. Training and practice. Those are two different things. Training is taking classes. There are classes near you. If you can go to one of the well-known schools (Sig Academy, Gunsite, Thunder Ranch, etc.), that's great. You'll love it. But don't let the time and money requirements of those schools keep you from training. Find a place near you.

Practice. It's not just sending rounds downrange. Every round you fire should have a purpose. You must decide before you fire what the training/practice purpose of that round is. Maybe it's working on getting a hard focus on the front sight. That's harder than many people think. It takes a lot of mental effort to let the target blur. Maybe it's working on the trigger press. That's the most important part of marksmanship. You can screw up almost everything else and get away with it, but you can't shoot well if you don't work the trigger well. Oh. And no, your sights are not off. Highly unlikely. 

One of the best ways to practice is to have a shooting buddy. You two can push each other. Do drills. Work on your times. You must use a shot timer. Set up malfunctions for each other. 

Challenge yourself. Make it difficult. Smaller targets. Longer ranges. Quicker times. Set up goals. Write them down. Commit. 

You probably aren't as good as you think you are. I sure wasn't. But now I'm committed to doing something about that. ~ Tom

Tom Gresham
Author, outdoorsman, gun rights activist, and firearms enthusiast for more than five decades, Tom Gresham hosts Tom Gresham's Gun Talk, the first nationally-syndicated radio show about guns and the shooting sports, and is also the producer and co-host of the Guns & Gear, GunVenture and First Person Defender television series.