Training For The Real Deal?

Will Competition Help You Defend Yourself In The Real World?

Shari’s opportunities to train with her AR in a run-and-gun scenario only happen in competition.

My introduction to shooting was through the shotgun sports — trap and skeet specifically. It was through my own initiative. My dad didn’t shoot recreationally or own a gun for personal protection. There were literally no guns around the house when I grew up and no one else in my family had an interest in guns.

I had seen some shooting competitions, and they fascinated me. As an athlete in high school, getting involved in the shooting sports seemed like a natural progression to me. It was after I got involved in competitive shotgun that a whole new world of other disciplines opened up for me, and I started looking at other types of shooting matches to participate in.

Those events introduced me to another aspect of firearms. Learning how to properly protect myself with a gun and how to react in a self-defense situation. If you don’t think competition has any value in preparing for self-defense, keep reading. When I ventured into the world of 3-Gun competition, my previous gun training and participation in competitions transferred so well into the personal defense world, I was way more prepared than I thought. Basically, there are six elements in competition that translate to personal protection. Let’s take them one at a time.

Three-Gun competition teaches you to shoot through and around obstacles, in this
case through a car window. Since there’s a short window to see, assess and shoot,
reacting when you first see the target is key. It keeps you alert and aware.

Basic Fundamentals

This is without a doubt the most important element. In competition, basic fundamentals are what you build from. During a match you have to make adjustments due to external factors such as weather, landscape, target distance, etc. These factors change for each day and each event. There might be any number of factors affecting how you shoot, but the basics never change. How you draw your gun from its holster; how you raise the gun to use the sights; how you acquire the target — all of this remains the same.

Having been a shotgun shooter all my life, I wasn’t very familiar with handguns and had to learn a number of new things in order to transition to 3-Gun competition. I had to make my draw, deactivate my safety and align my sights all in one smooth motion. It wasn’t easy. Whether I was picking the gun up off a table or pulling it out of its holster, I was slow, clumsy and ineffective. By the time I got the gun firmly controlled in my hand, found the safety, lined up the sights and acquired the target, I was out of time. . .literally.

As I watched other competitors, it amazed me how smooth they were. And I’m not just talking about the pros. Even the “regular folks” did all those things I was struggling with in one smooth continuous move. It was like watching poetry in motion. So I started practicing, working on being smooth and safe. But the more I practiced, the more familiar the gun became. Pretty soon, I was making my moves with a lot less effort.

When I became interested in personal protection, I found those same fundamentals were needed in self-defense. In a threat situation, when your heart is racing and adrenaline is flooding your system, you’re not thinking about being smooth. And let’s face it, practicing your fundamentals in a threat situation is not something you really want to do.

This is where competition comes in. You’re learning the fundamentals and working on gun-handling skills in a non-life threatening environment. But competition does generate some of the things a real threat situation presents.

Move and shoot! A lot of distractions go on during competition while you’re
trying to navigate the course, draw your gun and acquire the target while on the run.
Learning to deal with them will pay off.

Environmental Awareness

The first thing you’re taught when stepping on to a range is safety. Safety is paramount, of course, but it’s not the kind of awareness I’m talking about here. In competition you become very aware of your surroundings. What’s in front of you, what’s behind you, where the targets are and what your next step should be.

In a 3-Gun event, you make a plan on how to shoot the targets at a particular stage, so you’re always thinking 3 or 4 steps ahead. When the buzzer sounds and you draw your gun, you’re already thinking two shots ahead — staying ahead of the plan.

But even though you’ve pre-planned those steps and what actions you’ll take at each step — drop the magazine, reload, turn a corner — in the fog of competition, it’s not always as clear as it was in the planning stage. In a threat situation, that same fog occurs, only on a much more intense level. The more you practice shooting through the fog, sticking to your plan, the more it becomes second nature. In a real threat situation, those competition experiences will kick in and help you stay alive.

Hitting plates give you instant feedback. There’s nothing more satisfying than
painting over your hits. It builds confidence, although this particular gun appears
to be shooting a little low and left.

training range target

Stress Control

Being able to control your stress and adrenaline rush during a match is the difference between being a competitor and being a participant. A successful competitor learns how to channel emotions to their advantage. Fear may not be an emotion that comes to mind when thinking of competition, but it’s there. The fear of losing can paralyze a shooter, inhibiting their performance and affecting how they react and move. But there’s an upside to this strong emotion. The more you compete the easier it is to control fear and harness it for your gain.

There’s not a lot of opportunity to practice controlling the level of fear and stress you’ll feel in a home invasion, but competition can approximate some of the same emotions. Even if you’re in a close 3-Gun match, emotions can run high and this can make finding the target more difficult. In the heat of competition, keeping a clear head and knowing your target is key in helping you with the next element.

In competition, you’ll find plenty of people willing to help you get better. In this case,
Jerry Miculek shows a shooter how to better control the muzzle flip when taking a second shot.

Target Acquisition

You can’t hit what you can’t see. In the shooting sports, finding the target and seeing it clearly is not as easy as it sounds. It takes practice. In sporting clays and 3-Gun, there are distractions which either hide the target from your immediate view or are designed to confuse you as to what the target is. Good news is, the more you do it the more you understand the differences.

With shotgun sports, there’s a short window as to when you can shoot the clay target, so you have to quickly make a number of assessments before actually pulling the trigger — target speed, direction and lead. In Action Pistol or 3-Gun, the target may be stationary, but you’re moving, looking for the target as you navigate the field.

Most shooting sports deal with the obstacle of time — either by stopwatch or target accessibility. You learn how to use your eyes to look for the target and focus on it quickly. Many competitions have targets you are not supposed to shoot at; they’re stationed on the course to confuse you. But in the heat of competition, it’s not always easy to refrain from pulling the trigger, which brings me to the next point …

Loaded and ready to go. You can never have enough magazines.

Trigger Control

“Trigger control is more important than sight alignment.” I wish I could take credit for this bit of wisdom, but I learned it from one of the best handgun shooters in the world — Jerry Miculek. He’s known as the fastest revolver shooter in the world, but he ain’t too shabby with an auto either. When you’re adrenaline is high and you’re trying to find the center of the target, controlling the trigger is more important than anything else.

In a timed competition, with pressure mounting to get the shot off, if you shoot and you’re not on target, you’re toast. Competition teaches you to control the urge to pull the trigger until you see the target clearly. In a threat situation, trigger control can make the difference between a good decision and a bad one. And then there’s the most important benefit from competition …

Action pistol ingredients: Belt, holster, extra magazines, speedloader, ear protection,
shooting glasses and a gun — in this case a Nighthawk Custom Dominator. Professional
shooters and very serious competitors go all out with gear, but this is all you need to get started on honing your self-defense skills.

Next to Shari’s bed every night: a GLOCK 34 — just in case.


Competition not only raised my skill level, it raised my confidence level even more. Whether I draw my gun from a holster or pick it up off a table, I know I can hit the target no matter what it is and no matter what situation I’m in. I’m confident in my ability to handle all the internal and external factors affecting how I think, shoot and react.
I can stand at an indoor shooting bay and hit the 10-ring all day long, but in an active situation, everything changes. But because of competition, I know it will, expect it to and have learned to deal with some of the elements that come with it. There’s really no opportunity to practice personal protection on a regular basis, but competition closely simulates some of the emotional and environmental factors involved.

I’m not suggesting that once you decide to get a gun for self-defense you should start competing. But if you have the opportunity to shoot a little competition, it will definitely give you some insight into how you’ll react when put into a crisis situation. And finally, there’s one last benefit to be had from participating in competition:


Hope to see you on the range!