What I Learned From My First Shooting Competition

I’ve always wanted to shoot in a competitive environment. I’ve done trap and skeet, and in the mid-2000s, some bowling pin shooting, but nothing ever really got my motor running. Things like USPSA appealed to me, but clubs were always few and far between. Imagine my shock when I found a local group called Asymmetric Solutions. They are primarily a training outfit for police officers and military forces. They hosted an Action Steel match at the end of January, and I finally dipped my toe into the world of competitive shooting.

In the first stage, I instantly began learning, and by the time the day was over, I had learned a handful of lessons that would make me a better shooter. I’m planning to pursue competition shooting in a more aggressive fashion, especially if it can keep making me a better shooter.

Preparation Pays Off

Knowing how your rifle, optic, sling, and gear are set up makes a huge difference when it comes time to start shooting under pressure. You have enough human error to worry about when it comes time to compete. Knowing how my belt was set up and where my mags were allowed me to compete quickly and efficiently. On top of that, it was cold at the range, so I wore a Propper jacket with a zippered section at the sides that allowed easy access to my gear.

HSGI Polymer TACO V2
The right gear can go a long way.

I also reconfirmed my zero the evening before the competition with the ammo I planned to use at the competition. Not all 115-grain 9mm shoots the same, and I wanted to really get the zero down. In previous training, I knew what my holdover was for close-range shots. This proved to be handy on several stages as the targets moved in and got smaller.

A little bit of preparation goes a long way to making the event smooth and helping you not look like an idiot.

Stress and Speed Create Malfunctions

I’ve shot my CMMG MkGs a lot. It’s one of my favorite PCCs, and I’ve used the Magpul PCC drum a lot. Neither has ever malfunctioned. I learned that weird things tend to happen at competitions. Maybe I seated the magazine wrong, or maybe I walked the charging handle home, or maybe something else occurred, but I messed up somewhere with the two.

Shooting with magpul d50
The Magpul D50 never gave me an issue on the flat range, but stuff happens when you move fast.

Stress and speed make you do odd things, things that you normally wouldn’t do on a flat range. The gun didn’t fire, and tap rack bang had to be implemented. The gun luckily got up and running, but I added some precious time to my run. I haven’t practiced that basic technique in a long time because, on a flat range, things rarely go wrong.

I wasn’t the only one to experience malfunctions and issues. Small things took shooters by surprise. Speed and stress create mistakes, and the basics still matter. I’ll be mixing some snap caps into my training to practice those malfunction drills.

Good Gear Helps (If You Know How To Use it)

I’m lucky enough to have good gear and to have more experienced shooters around me to guide my hand toward the good stuff. I saw instantly how it made a difference for me. Red dots were the name of the game, and several shooters had issues when the sun was rising and the rays hit the front of the optic. They couldn’t see their dots. I didn’t have that issue. 

Some PCC shooters didn’t bring a sling, and it proved to be quite handy when we were tasked with one-handed PCC shooting. At the same time, I thought I knew how to switch shoulders with a rifle slung, but that turned out to be a disaster. It is something I identified as a weakness and planned to improve upon.

sling shooting
My sling helped me a ton at this portion of the competition.

My PCC mags also had active retention, and that proved handy when sprinting and climbing on top of a humvee. Little decisions regarding gear seemed to be important ones to make. Electronic hearing protection was a must to hear range commands and converse with my fellow shooters.

Be a Balanced Shooter

I’m pretty good at a number of shooting skills that are straightforward. I never knew how bad I was with one-handed shooting until someone put me on the clock. I also could have done better when it came time to shoot from a position somewhere between standing a kneeling. I figured it out but noted that breaking out of the standard positions and working with barricades would be useful.

positional shooting
She takes on some uncomfy positions to throw lead.

I was fast on reloads but fairly slow to recognize a malfunction and apply tap rack bang. While it’s fun to practice the more straightforward skills, I need to break out of my box and become more dynamic and balanced in my shooting. I’ve since started dry firing more often with both hands, added in awkward positions, and even dry firing during workouts to get used to a high heart rate and stress.

Fitness Matters (A Little Bit)

Speaking of working out, I was surprised at how dynamic some of the courses of fire were. I definitely need to drop some weight, but I do work out nearly every day and do lots of stretching. It was certainly beneficial when we got a course of fire that involved two sprints. I got the fastest time by a good margin.

competitors ruck marching during the mammoth sniper challenge
Fitness helps…
Photo: US Army

It also helped when we moved from high to low ports using a safety fence as a barrier. Being able to squat easily and transition from position to position was handy. Admittedly you don’t have to run marathons to do well, but being limber helped me out a lot.

The Ability to Think While Shooting is a Skill

More than one course of fire requires you to stop and think before shooting. For example, one had numbered targets that needed dots to be shot in order. Not only that but between each shot, you had to ring a center gong. If you forgot to shoot the gong or shot the targets out of order, you received a procedural and 5 seconds to your time.

Another course of fire I goofed on hard was one-handed shooting. When you shot with your dominant hand, you had to shoot the targets twice. When you shot with your weak hand, you shot them once. Well, I shot them all twice and wasted a lot of time. Learning to think while pulling the trigger is a little tough to replicate, but something I plan to try.

Asymmetric Solutions Action Steel match

The Biggest Lesson

Competition shooting reminds me of a military operation. Not necessarily the same exact skills, but similar skills are involved. Planning and prep, fitness, weapon knowledge, weapon handling, and being able to think all matter. It’s scratched an itch I’ve long had, and I can’t wait to see what I learn at the next competition.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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