In perusing internet gun forums, I’ve often come across a particular meme that gets picked up and repeated quite a bit.
The meme is generally a variant of the following:
“3Gun/IPSC/IDPA/competition shooting isn’t completely realistic, therefore it’s going to get you killed/maimed/injured when the SHTF/Russians/muggers/home invasion gang/Klan biker rapists show up.”
Now, is there a valid point buried in there somewhere?
Competition is not combat training. It doesn’t teach you the proper way to breach a door and clear a building, or engage moving targets that are also trying to engage you right back, or to interpret the odd social signals you’ll get when being “bumped” by a petty criminal.
Certainly these are all things worth considering and studying, especially with regard to home defense or personal defense on the street. Luckily there are books that have been written on the subject, and any number of trainers who travel the country conducting lectures and training for how to handle just such an event.
Of course, this begs the question: if competition shooting doesn’t prepare you to live out a fantasy as John Rambo, then what utility does it serve?
From where I sit, it offers three distinct things; an environment to build weapons manipulation and handling, an external source of mental stress where those skills can be tested, and an objective way to measure skill level and improvement.
Ok, so let me break these down.
Weapons handling and manipulation includes a number of small but important skills to include everything from drawing from a holster, to knowing proper hold-over when shooting a target at distance with a rifle, to executing a slug transition with a shotgun. Being able to effectively and quickly clear a jam is high up on this list as well.
On to that external source of mental stress. It’s all well and good to be able to do these things on a static range, or in your living room during dry-fire practice. Shooting matches, however, will add a veneer of tension to these activities. Time constraints and movement through a course of fire means that you’ll have to execute these movements on the fly, and as part of an overall process of completing the course of fire. While this level of stress certainly isn’t going to match what would happen during actual combat, it still at least helps to acclimate you to shooting under stress. I can still remember my first IDPA match, years ago. After walking off of the first stage, I’d had a large enough adrenalin dump that I was physically shaking. Learning to deal with that level of stress is an important part of competitive shooting, and a skill that bleeds over into other activities.
Which brings me to the last point. If you shoot competitively for any length of time, your scores and times are recorded for posterity allowing you to keep track of your progress. Even if you don’t keep a shooting log (and I don’t because I’m lazy), the basic level of progress tracking and ranking gives you a pretty good idea of where your strong points are, as well as your weak points. From there, it’s not too hard to figure out what to practice.
While it’s certainly true that competition shooting isn’t combat training (and in fact, no one who’s a serious competitive shooter would attempt to make that argument in the first place) it does offer a way to build and assess firearms handling skills in an environment that tests those skills.