Let Us Call It “Alternative Training”
(And downplay the fact that it’s fun, too!)
Long, long ago, in a galaxy far away…
(Seems like that, anyway.)
I was training a bunch of high-speed low-drag operators of the Grand Exalted Ninja variety, and wow! were they impressive! Agile as combat monkeys, faster than tactical cheetahs, they poured out full-auto firepower like the USS Iowa. But there were a few piddly little problems.
First, given their gargantuan consumption of munitions, each trigger-puller would require the services of two pack mules to haul their ammo. Second, if they had to make controlled shots, they couldn’t shoot Minute-Of-Manhole-Cover (MOMC). Command staff noticed this aberration amongst their anointed, and lacking any intelligent ideas, they called me.
These troops were physical prodigies and highly intelligent. Their equipment was first-rate and their initial training excellent. But once they had reached operational level, they were essentially cut loose and set adrift. “Hollywood Effect” kicked in. They shot more and faster in increasingly sophisticated training environments, but they were on their own, with no eyeballs-on critical oversight coaching. Any top shooter can tell you that today’s un-critiqued champion is tomorrow’s last-place loser.
Over time the result was predictable: Unconsciously developed bad habits became pronounced and then ingrained. As their accurate hit ratio fell, they increased speed and volume of fire. While other tactical techniques sharpened, their fundamentals foundered. I tried a technique discovered by some smart Brits.
Their regiment included a ceremonial unit of archers, to uphold tradition and entertain civilians at public events. When several vacancies went unfilled by volunteers, a bunch of notably poor shooters were assigned. The archery coaches were perfectionists and ferocious disciplinarians. Qualifying with firearms was one thing, but the publicly-witnessed performance of their archers was, as they would say, bristling, with clenched teeth, “Quite another matter entirely, old man! The regiment’s honour, you know.” When those involuntary archers picked up their rifles again, they amazed their NCOs—and themselves.
It worked for them, for me, and it can work for you. Three Keys: Fundamentals, Fundamentals, and FUNDAMENTALS!
Just as it is with long guns and handguns, archery demands hand-eye-head coordination, creating a stable platform even under difficult and fluid conditions, consistently repeated positions and points of contact, breathing control, a crisp, clean release, and understanding that “follow-through” is a moment, not a movement. In practice, and for correcting lapses in performance, the advantage archery holds over live firearms training is the lack of distraction by noise, muzzle blast, recoil and mechanical action movement, which can both induce and conceal faulty technique. Archery is unforgiving, and errors are magnified and clearly apparent.
Shortly after that experience, I ran into a guy who was doing the same kind of thing in West Africa using blowguns, another discipline demanding many of the same honed skills. “And,” he added, “In poor weather it can be practiced inside a big mud-wattle hut or under a tin railway-stop roof. And, the local rat population—filthy beasts—was decimated.” Shooting skills skyrocketed.
I learned some good stuff. Then of course, I forgot it—almost. I was talking with Simon Lee, a honcho with Mad Bull AirSoft, makers of premium airsoft handguns and rifles. Due to legal restrictions on and extreme costs of firearms, airsoft is huge in Japan, where many top IPSC competitors train with airsoft, then kick competitive butt with firearms. And lots of Japanese shooters are also avid archers. Hmm….
A few days later, I met Nathan Masters, a dedicated shooter, owner and chief designer of FlippinOut Slingshots. I quickly learned how he polished his essential pistol skills—hand-eye-head coordination, breathing and release—with slingshots, and more: He had not only independently discovered the firearms-training benefits of archery and blowguns, but was about to launch a new enterprise and website covering all three disciplines at simple-shot.com. Yeah, I’m getting back into them now—and maybe you should consider them too.
Practical, Fun Alternatives
For many good reasons, airsoft is a low-cost, highly effective alternative shooting sport, and all manner of guns are available. Even very high-end models, licensed by major makers like Daniel Defense, Barrett and Noveske are surprisingly affordable. To minimize ongoing expense, I recommend spring-air powered and rechargeable-battery powered AEG (Automatic Electric Gun) models rather than CO2 types. Some excellent websites to check out are socomgear.com, echo1usa.com, and for IPSC gear and accessories, madbull.com.
If you’re considering archery, I recommend you find an archery center with an indoor range, rental gear, and low-cost basic instruction. Tell them you want to try both conventional bows and compound bows. There are lots of good books and videos available on the subject, but nothing beats live instruction and coaching. Typically, archers delight in introducing people to their sport, and those in the business tend to be very patient and supportive.
When my son and I took up archery, after familiarization with recurve bows, we bought low-end Browning compound bows from Gander Mountain. After putting in lots of time and practice, we considered more sophisticated and far more expensive bows, but in the end, realizing our “cheap-os”—not cheap, but inexpensive—gave us all the capability we needed for both recreational shooting and hunting, we decided to put our money into more and better arrows. You don’t have to go overboard to be a well-equipped archer. Browning doesn’t offer bows anymore, but PSE Archery made Browning’s bows for years, and they’re excellent.
You don’t need Herculean lungs or wads of money to take up blowguns. The variety of blowguns and darts available is astounding, and you can practice indoors or out. Much of blowgunning is intuitive, but the hand-eye-head coordination and breath control involved is terrific training, and as with archery, improvement is rapid and obvious. Generally, I recommend you start with an inexpensive 36″ or 48″ .40-caliber blowgun, and if that whets your interest, upgrade from there. Their range and power might amaze you. A good website to see an array of gear is targetzonesports.com.
If you haven’t flipped a slingshot since BFH—Before Facial Hair—you’ll be blown away by today’s slingshot smorgasbord. Having looked around, I don’t think anybody offers better slingshots than Nathan Masters at flippinoutslingshots.com. His models range from $25.95 to several hundred dollars, yet all of them pack great accuracy and small game hunting capability. The biggest modern advances in slingshots are in the bands and the structural quality and consistency of the frames, making a huge difference. These ain’t your granddaddy’s flippers—and they can definitely make you a better firearm shooter!
So give it a shot: sharpen your skills—and have fun! Connor OUT