Lessons Learned for Safe Shooting

Article Submitted by Gary Ashorn

Over the course of the past two years, Team Trainwreck has been managing IDPA Practice matches on Monday nights at The Arms Room.  One of our primary goals is to promote IDPA shooting.  On our web site we have posted different articles or links for information about IDPA.  Along with this information we have listings about expectations for new shooters (which are expected of all shooters as well) and help on what the shooter should be aware of and understand before coming to an IDPA match.  The most important factor in all of these articles and lists is SAFETY.  I have copied the New Shooters section here at the end of this article and will refer to parts of it in the article.  IDPA matches are fun and great practice and training venues, but remember, this is done with live ammunition and we are all shooting with real world guns that are shooting real bullets.  This is not paint ball, air soft or laser tag games.  We are shooting the real thing so SAFETY has to come FIRST.

As Safety Officers and Squad Officers (SO) for the matches, we see a lot of things happen with all levels of shooters.  As a new shooter you go through a first time shooters orientation with a couple of the Safety Officers which is geared to the requirements for safe handling of your guns on the range.  This orientation covers items such as what the SO is watching for in safety from the shooter, their expectations of handling their gun and how each instance is dealt with for range commands.  These same requirements are expected to be followed by all shooters both new and seasoned at these matches.  However, at times we find shooters of all levels that may not handle their guns in the manner expected by the SO and we have different levels of correction that is applied.  What I want to cover in this article are the basics of what is expected and then show some of the more common causes of many of these infractions on the safety requirements that we see during the matches themselves.  The goal is to raise each person’s awareness and understanding of what causes these problems and offer methods to prevent them.  By doing this we want to eliminate those actions that prevent us from being safe and make the shooting environment for all persons a safer place.





As noted in our shooters information page and is highlighted in our safety review is the range is operated cold.  This means no loaded guns except when instructed by the SO on the firing line.  You may not remove your gun from the holster or display it in any manner except when on the firing line and directed by the SO.  Now for the most part this is not a major problem we see.  However, we do occasionally catch someone, taking out their gun to show someone the great new sights they just got or whatever.  Regardless, this is not allowed.  It will get you a Disqualification (DQ) which means you cannot shoot that night.  The other time we see this is when someone first arrives and is putting on their holster and gun with people down range from them.  This is not allowed.  You must come down range past all persons before performing this action.

The next topic is muzzle direction.  During the safety review we go over where the muzzle can and cannot point.  This is an indoor range and as such has a much more limited muzzle direction that most outdoor ranges have.  The only safe direction is straight down range into the bullet trap.  You will notice we have concrete floors, concrete cinder block walls and steel deflectors with concrete ceiling.  All of these will deflect and bounce a bullet.  Therefore, our range requires the muzzle to be pointed down range.  Many outdoor ranges have a 180 degree rule.  We can’t go that far because of the environment we are shooting in.  Therefore, we stress a much more stringent muzzle direction requirement.  Now for some folks, police and military particularly, they have been trained to point their muzzle down when moving or not shooting and we understand why they train that way.  However, in our case we can’t allow that so we have to help those with that training to work on their muzzle direction control when shooting our matches. 

The next item we stress is the indexing of the trigger finger.  We require if you are not shooting or pointing at the target that your trigger finger be indexed alongside and above the trigger guard.  That means if I view your grip from the opposite side you pull the trigger from that I can’t see your finger covering over the trigger guard.  It should be above the trigger guard.  One reason is as the SO, it makes it easy for us to tell if you have your finger on the trigger from either side.  Also, if you were to slip and fall, the natural reaction to grip tight may cause your trigger finger to go inside the guard and pull the trigger causing a round to be fired.  That is just not safe.  So we stress that one a lot.  If transitioning from one target to another, we don’t ask this.  We only ask it when you are moving from one position to another or loading and unloading your gun. 

The third area we find unsafe gun handling is during the loading and unloading of the gun.  This is where one of the new shooter requirements we have is for the shooter to be familiar and trained on using and handling their gun before coming to an IDPA match.  Shooting in competition is not the appropriate time and place to learn how to use your gun.




So let’s talk about what we as SO’s have experienced on safety issues, what we find is the cause and how we can help you prevent these from happening in the first place.  One of the most common issues is with new shooters and it affects them at all stages and parts of the match… NERVES!  You don’t normally shoot from a holster draw, while moving, around corners, through windows and doors, you don’t normally worry about how many rounds, reloads, which order, carrying babies or any other numerous distractions.  On top of that you worry about not shooting good, you are afraid you will do something stupid or dumb and the list is almost endless.  Well, we can’t take away the nerves, but we can help you manage them and after a while they will not be the problem.  So listen to the SO carefully.  Do not get in a hurry, when you are on the firing line, you own the range.  It is yours, so take your time and pay attention to the SO.  Breathe and stay with the moment of what is happening right now.  We have folks who want to rush to see how well they shot, pick up their dropped magazines and bullets, holster before clearing or just get frustrated and start getting upset with how they did and not pay attention to their gun, muzzle or finger.   If you find you are having problems managing what is going on, just STOP and wait for the SO or ask them for help and directions.  Regardless, during these times manage the muzzle direction and your finger off the trigger and above the guard.

First one when you arrive at the gun range.  There are two major ways for getting holstered up safely to be ready for the match.  One that many of us use is we do it at home, unload and holster our gun before coming to the range.  Now this is a personal choice and requires you to understand the laws for carrying and transporting a gun.  For those of us who have a CHL, it is a common way to do this.  The other is to bring your gun in a bag or case, come into the range, find an open range with no one down range and holster your gun.  The problem here is many of you come to the range while we are setting up the stages or people are walking around the stage to figure it out.  Therefore, you must go all the way down to the front of the range at the bullet trap, inform anyone you pass that you are going to holster your gun and make sure no one is in front of you.  Then make sure it is unloaded and clear.  Once it is holstered you may not take it back out to inspect or show.  It must remain holstered except when on the firing line and as directed by the SO.

Next is when you are on the line as the shooter.  You will be directed by the SO to face down range, load and make ready.  Here you will unholster your gun and load it to the directions of the SO and then reholster it.  During this time we have seen some people with their trigger finger inside the trigger guard.  Again, index your finger and load the gun without the finger near the trigger.  Point the muzzle down range in a safe direction.  Next is when reholstering your gun, slide your vest back with your elbow or back of the hand but DO NOT FLICK your gun barrel to move the cover garment out of the way.  We see people use the gun barrel as a tool to move the garment out and unknowingly point their gun toward the back where people are standing.  Be mindful of how you move your cover garment back and holster your gun with the muzzle under control and finger out of the trigger guard area.

When you are done shooting and ready to stop listen to the commands from the SO and execute them when the SO says to.  They are UNLOAD and SHOW CLEAR, we see the magazine is dropped and chamber empty.  Then we say SLIDE CLOSED or similar and you drop the slide.  Then HAMMER DOWN, which means pull the trigger with the muzzle pointing DOWN RANGE.   Then holster.  Then we announce RANGE is SAFE.  We see many shooters and mostly the more experienced shooters go through the whole unload, slide, hammer, trigger and holster before we actually get to see the empty chamber.  If you do that, we will ask you to again, open the slide and you do not close it until we say so, then drop the hammer and holster.  This is our last check to see it is empty and when you pull the trigger, you are taking the responsibility that the gun is unloaded.  If it fires, it is a DQ and you will be disqualified from shooting anymore that night.  (NOTE: we understand the new IDPA rules by the Tiger Team are making changes to these commands and responsibilities)

Alright, between loading and unloading you are shooting.  What are the safety problems we see there and what are their causes and corrections.  One of them is shooting from behind a barricade.  IDPA says you have to have 100% of your waist down and 50% above your waist behind the cover.  That is draw a line from you to the cover to the target and that is your line.  What we see most people do is they are too close to the barricade, reaching past it with their gun and arms to shoot.  Many try to lean against the barricade, but notice these are light cardboard covers and move if you lean against them.  At home on a real wall this works but even there it is not a good idea because someone on the other side of the wall hiding can then grab your gun and arm.  What you will see most advanced shooters do is stand back from the wall, just within touching distance.  When we extend our arms to shoot the muzzle does not go past the wall. 

What is the difference in these two positions?  The difference is when you have to move from this location to the other side of the barricade.  If you are reaching past the barricade you cannot move to the other side unless you do something to not hit the barricade.  We see people point the gun down to the ground or up to the ceiling and then back out forward to the next target on the other side.  You just violated the muzzle direction rule.  It must ALWAYS point down range.  You just pointed it at the floor or ceiling.  We have seen some people pull their gun around and point to the side and then go back forward to get around the barricade.  Again you just violated the muzzle direction rule by pointing it at the wall and not keeping it down range at the bullet trap. 

If you are farther back and not sticking your gun past the barricade and then move to the other side, you can just swing you gun pointing straight down the range, move over to the other side and you are already lined up on the next target to shoot.  Some people just pull the gun back into their chest, still pointing down range and then push back out to the target to shoot.  Either of these two cases the muzzle is always pointing down range while you are moving from one side to the other. 

Another barricade moving issue is when you move from one barricade to another say across the room.  Regardless of which way you are moving you have to still maintain the muzzle direction.  If moving sideways, depending on whether you are right handed or left handed, it is easier to keep the muzzle down range going one way and harder the other.  For a right handed person moving to their right is easy as your natural grip will point the gun down range.  For a left handed person moving to the their left is easier.  If you have to move the opposite direction then holding the gun muzzle down range is not as easy.  We see many people point the muzzle towards the wall and coming close to breaking the 180 degree rule which would be a DQ.  So if the stage lets you make a choice on which side to go to first, picking the correct side to fit your grip makes it a lot easier to be safe.  This same rule also affects doing a reload as well.  So think ahead on how you will move and how it affects you handling your gun in a safe direction.  Reloading on the right side for a right hander is easier than doing it on the left side.  The reverse is true for a left handed person.

Moving backwards can happen a couple of ways.  If shooting while retreating you are shooting down range but when you complete the shot on the target and you head for the next position, you still have to manage your muzzle direction while moving to the next position.  You may continue to just back up or turn and move.  Here again depending on if you are right handed or left handed and where your next position will be, affects how you choose to move and handle your gun to manage the muzzle direction.  So think ahead, talk to the more experienced shooters and learn from them.

When you approach a barricade from another position, the same first item we talked about comes into play again.  Do not crowd the barricade.  Control the distance so you are in cover but shoot from behind the cover including the gun.  If you do this at the first position and again at the next position, it will make it easier and faster for you to move to each position AND make it safer. 

OK, we covered moving above to control the muzzle.  However, if you are not shooting while on the move, you are not pointing the gun at a target.  During the time you are not shooting we require your finger off the trigger and not covering the trigger guard.  If you are moving and should slip or trip and fall a natural muscle reflex for people is to grip and if you have your finger on the trigger or even outside but over the trigger guard, you could pull the trigger and fire the gun.  Not safe for you or the rest of us.  So as the SO, we want to see your finger up and indexed along side of the gun so we can see through the trigger guard.  Seems simple but during the match a lot of things are not simple.

So why is it not so simple?  Well, I brought it up at the first part about how we normally shoot.  Unless you are already a regular IDPA type competition shooter, most of your shooting time has been static standing still at a line.  Your muscle memory knows what to do there.  Adding in a new situation to shooting, doing things you have never done much before, under the stress of competition and all the rules makes it hard to keep it all together at first.  We see some shooters who get frustrated at how they shot or make a mistake such as shot the targets out of order which is a procedural.  We even see folks trying to do the unload and show clear get in a hurry or nervous, have trouble holding the slide open and start moving their gun around in an unsafe manner.  Regardless of the reason, if you find you are getting nervous, fumbling with the slide or magazine and such just stop, take your time and talk to the SO.  Tell them you are nervous and they are not going to rush you.  They are there to help.  So let them. 

This is all new so you have to understand and accept you probably are not going to be the fastest and most accurate shooter tonight.  The more experienced shooters you see shoot 1,500 to 2,500 rounds a month and practice dry fire shooting.  You are not going to match them tonight.  So don’t put undue pressure on yourself.  You will get there, but not all at once.  Talk to the more experienced shooters, they love to help, offer advice and feed their egos.  So let them and enjoy the learning experience. 

I hope you will review this article and let it help guide you to be more at ease in shooting IDPA matches and be safer.  Read and understand the IDPA rules, practice safely at home dry firing and be comfortable and knowledgeable using your gun.  Know your equipment to load, unload, practice doing a magazine change as well as drawing and holstering your gun.

Above all be SAFE and ENJOY your time on the range.


Why Gun Control Won’t Work

Article Submitted by Randy Dillman


The purpose of this blog has been to share tips and match reports about IDPA for the benefit of Team Trainwreck members. We have not used it as a political platform, nor do we intend to make it into one. However, due to the kneejerk reaction from the media and from anti gun politicians following the tragic shooting in a Connecticut elementary school, we feel that it is important to put out some facts regarding our right to exercise our right that is guaranteed in the Second Amendment.


First off, I want to express my heartfelt sorrow for the parents and family of those who were killed. No parent should ever have to bury their child. The evil person who perpetrated this heinous act will be despised by me and most every parent who is aware of what happened. I will not, however, stand by and allow the anti-gun establishment to use this tragedy to drive their political agenda in the name of protecting children when they themselves know that their actions will have absolutely no impact on stopping these kinds of events. I will not use the names of any of the spree killers in this article, I do not want to grant them the fame that they seek.


Many of the folks who are on our side of the issue are already pointing out, correctly, that gun control only takes guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens and does not deter criminals from possessing firearms. While this is true, it’s not winning our argument. The other side is putting out a purely emotional plea at a time that makes our side look heartless and selfish in calling for fewer restrictions on firearms. We are not winning this fight by quoting statistics and presenting facts. They are being extremely effective with their “save the children” emotional campaign. It is time for us to demonstrate that we too want to protect children, and our methods will actually save the lives of innocents while their methods will lead to more and more tragic deaths.


To make this argument, we have to first understand the mindset of someone who is engaged in a spree killing. I must start by saying that I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, or any other mental health professional. I have no formal training in those fields other than a psychology class I took in high school (that I slept through). I am merely an observer of behavior who has made conclusions based on certain facts that I know to be true.


It is clear, in my untrained feeble mind, that what drives a spree killer is not a thrill or rush from the taking of another life. They do not have the same mindset as a serial killer who tries to fulfill some kind of sick need by taking lives and drawing the process out. What seems to drive the spree killer is a need for total and complete control. They get a rush out of driving fear into the hearts of everyone around that witnessed them take another’s life. Call it a God complex if you will. They want to see everyone fleeing from their power and have people cowering at their feet while begging for mercy.



I did not reach my conclusion from some great insight into the criminal mind. I reached this conclusion by seeing how spree killers react when their power to control everyone around them is threatened by someone who can take that power, either the police or an armed citizen………..they take their own life. They are so Hell bent on maintaining this ultimate control, that they will take their own life before turning over the power to do so to someone else. They don’t want to go out in a blaze of glory with a shootout. Doing so would be sharing power with someone else, either the police or an armed citizen. Their only way to maintain guarantied control of the situation until the bitter end is to take their own life. Or, in the case of the Aurora theater shooter, make the choice of a pre determined time line to cease the event.


One need only look at the two events that occurred last week to see evidence of this pattern. During the Oregon mall shooting, the gunman had taken two lives and injured a third. He had people diving for cover and cowering in fear throughout the mall. He was in a spree killer’s paradise. Then his gun jammed. That’s when Nick Meli, a CHL holder who was legally armed, drew his weapon. He did not fire because a bystander was in the line of fire behind the shooter. The shooter saw Meli and did not choose a shootout. The shooter fled from Meli, then the next shot he fired was the one he used to take his life. Once his rifle jam had been cleared, the shooter now knew the location of the CHL holder, he had superior firepower (rifle vs handgun), and still did not take the chance on allowing his power of control to go to someone else. He would rather take his own life than allow that to happen.


The Connecticut school shooting had a similar, but more tragic unfolding. The shooter had a school full of defenseless and terrified students and teachers who were hiding in classrooms from his “power”. With no one around him armed to put up a counter to his “power”, he likely would have continued shooting until he was out of ammunition, but he heard sirens. Reports from inside the school indicate that the shooting stopped when the sound of police sirens could be heard. The shooter had choices. He could have forced a long, drawn out hostage situation. But that would have ceded some of his power to police and their negotiators, and to him that was not acceptable. He could have engaged in a shootout with police, but again this potentially gave the power to take his life to someone else. His choice was to keep the power over who took his life and turn the gun on himself.


I could go on with more examples, but that’s not the point. When we, as proponents of the second amendment, try to argue that armed citizens could have stopped some of these mass shootings, anti-gun folks successfully argue that citizens returning fire would just cause even more innocent bystanders to be killed. They do a good job of creating an image of the air being filled with bullets striking anything but their intended target. We must not stand by silently and allow them to win this argument!!! We can not allow our children and other citizens to be defenseless sheep the next time someone “snaps” and engages in a shooting spree in their pursuit of power and control. The only way to curb the mentality of a spree killer is to take away the feeling that there is a place where they can seize control with impunity. The answer……………ELIMINATE GUN FREE ZONES.


The Aurora theater shooter did not pick the closest theater to his home. He did not choose the theater in town with the largest screen and therefore the largest crowd. He chose the only theater in Aurora that forbids the carrying of guns on their property. He sought out the one theater where he knew he could seize control and completely dominate the minions who cowered before him with no one to challenge his ultimate power over them. To protect the innocent we must eliminate these places where we intentionally disarm our citizens and then congregate them into a designated area. We must also encourage other responsible, law abiding citizens to obtain their CHL and to carry. The citizen with a legally possessed firearm is not a deterrent if it is rare to find someone actually carrying one.


Please do not sit on the sidelines during the impending debate. Share this article with others if you agree with it’s contents. Contact lawmakers and make sure that your voice is heard. Join gun lobby groups such as the NRA and TSRA. Do whatever you can to fight for our rights. Without fighting for them, we are destined to lose them.


Performance Analysis

Article contributed by Randy Dillman.

In this week’s shooting tips we will be discussing Performance Analysis. We will be covering this before we get into grip and stance in later articles. It is important that we talk about performance analysis before getting too far into the “mechanics” of good shooting because as one shooter commented before “this all works good in practice but it all falls apart when the buzzer goes off”. Performance analysis allows us to objectively look at what we have just done and identify where we need to improve. When done properly, it allows us to transition good habits from practice to competition and helps us throw away the bad habits we learned before we started trying to do things the right way.

The best way to start doing performance analysis is right after you have fired your last shot on a stage. Many of us have gotten into the (bad) habit of moving quickly and directly into our “unload and show clear” mode. What we should be doing is FREEZING. Don’t move a muscle after you have fired your last shot. Now take a look at your sight picture, your grip, and your stance to see if everything is where it should be. (We will be talking more about stance in a later article) When you do this, do not be judgmental or overly critical of yourself. If you were a perfect shooter, there would not be a need for performance analysis now would there? Don’t spend this brief amount of time cursing yourself for that hole in the non-threat, only look at your sight picture, grip, and stance. You may find why the hole is in the non threat then. I will admit that I have not been doing this immediate performance analysis as often as I should. It takes quite a bit of discipline to stop yourself and look everything over before moving on from the stage. This performance analysis is critical to make sure that the things that you have been working on in practice are converting over to your match shooting. If you don’t stop and pay attention to your grip, you will never realize that you’re not using the right grip when the buzzer goes off. Again, when you look down and see the wrong grip, don’t get frustrated, just acknowledge that you still have some more work to do on your grip and move on. This simple little act will start programming that portion of the brain from Gary’s article and will drive us to make the desired behavior a habit.

The second part of performance analysis is a little more detailed and is done after you move off of the line. Break down a stage, target by target, and analyze what you just did. Again, don’t judge what you just did……..analyze it. I am not learning proper shooting techniques when I’m kicking myself over a missed shot or a procedural error. Where I can help myself is when I say things to myself like; “Wow, it’s not like me to hit a non-threat in that situation, I need to figure out why it happened so it won’t happen again.” When you approach your recap of a stage this way, it can force you to think about things like, “that miss was low and to the left, now that I think about it, I didn’t prep the trigger on that tight shot and the trigger slap led to me shooting low left.” Now instead of berating myself for making a mistake, I have identified something that I can work on to improve in the future. I like to do this secondary analysis right after the stage and before moving on to the next stage. This is why I try to go straight to reloading my mags after a stage and try not to run the timer for the next shooter after I have shot. I try to spend that time at my range bag going over the stage and remembering if I prepped the trigger when I planned on it, if there were times that I intentionally slapped when I should have prepped, how was my footwork moving to different positions, ect. When you first start doing this, you won’t remember all of your shots and exactly what you did on each shot, but try to remember all that you can. This will condition your subconscious to start “making a note” of these things so that you can do an analysis later. It will also lead to the third type of performance analysis which is the most advanced.

If you start doing the first two types of performance analysis, you will slowly see your bad habits being replaced by the good habits that you have been practicing. The next step is to learn how to see those bad habits returning (because from time to time they will) before they creep back into your game and become your normal routine. The third form of performance analysis is one that you can do while shooting. This type of performance analysis is an advanced technique that will probably slow down your shooting when you first try to achieve it. We perform this analysis during those times that we have mastered the “just do it” mental game that is addressed in “The Reptilian Brain”. Once we get to the point that shooting is being done from our reptilian brain, our conscious brain is free to do things like evaluate our grip and stance or think about the next target and how I’m going to get to it. When we do the analysis while we are still shooting, I can now make adjustments to my grip during the middle of a string of fire. This is far more effective than waiting until after the stage and saying “Damn, my grip sucked for that whole stage!” If you’re not yet ready to do performance analysis while your shooting a string of fire, no problem. Just work on the first two types of performance analysis for now and continue trying to find that “just do it” part of your brain. You will know when it’s time to start throwing performance analysis into a real time mode.

I’m going to repeat myself here, but this part is essential enough to cover twice: Performance Analysis is the objective analysis of some aspect of our performance. The time that you spend doing a performance analysis is not the time to berate yourself over mistakes made during a stage. You will not improve by telling yourself that you suck! This will only be a self fulfilling prophecy that will lead to aggravation and will stifle your progress. When I attended Gordon Carrell’s Pistol II class, he started off the class by trying to work on positive attitudes. One of the things that he stressed was that when you make a mistake, simply say “That’s so unlike me to do that”. I thought his technique to be more than a little corny at first, but after using that line as a joke for a while, it began to sink in that those mistakes were not my normal MO, but they were instead a personal challenge to return to the better shooting that I know I am capable of.

These performance analysis techniques are all effective at getting the proper techniques built into your game. If you are a fairly new shooter and don’t know exactly what proper grip and stance you are looking for yet, we will be coming out with future articles on those. For now, go back and review “Prepping the Trigger” and “Visual Acuity” for some of the things that you can do performance analysis on. As you read up on our shooting tips, remember that all of these tips will work for some people, but not all of them may be right for you.

As always, remember practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it can make permanent…………..only perfect practice makes perfect.

Visual Acuity

The following article was submited by Jeff Winstead

Being able to see clearly is a central element of being able to shoot well. While that’s a pretty obvious statement, a lot of shooters need to address it. The physiological facts of how your eyes see don’t really have to be understood, but being aware of the practical effects of how different circumstances affect your ability to see clearly can really make a difference in your ability to perform and to experience these different focus types.

Some people use only their right eye or only their left eye while shooting because they are cross-dominant; “I’m left-eyed and right handed or I’m right-eyed and left handed. This combination makes it difficult for them to shoot with both eyes open without experiencing double vision on either the gun or the target, depending on where they are looking. In my opinion, a situation this is the only reason a person should not fire with both eyes open. If you’re just beginning and you experience the same thing, you can learn to shoot with both eyes open by focusing with your strong eye. There are a few top shooters who do this, Chip McCormick and Tom Campbell for instance. If you have tried to focus with your dominant eye while leaving both eyes open and found that , although your left eye could refine a focus to the same degree, the speed in which it refined that focus is much slower than what you experienced with your right eye because of the years of previous training your right eye.

The solution is to block off your dominant eye’s ability to focus. While this can be done by simply closing, either partially or fully, the dominant eye, that’s detrimental for two reasons. First, when one eye is completely blocked off into darkness, that puts that much more strain on the open eye. Your eyes were meant to work as a team. If one eye is closed then the other’s pupil dilates to gather enough light. When the pupil dilates, then it’s not the correct size for optimum focus in that environment and both its duration of focus and ability to focus are impaired. The other disadvantage is that it’s almost impossible to close one eye without subsequently slighting closing the other eye. Squinting with your open eye causes a straining of the eyelid muscle which decreases its visual acuity. Closing one eye can decrease your visual acuity by up to 20% as opposed to simply blocking that eye’s vision.

The best thing to improve the performance of the weak-eyed shooter is to use transparent tape to block the dominant eye’s focus. This blocks the eye’s ability to focus, while it retains its light gathering ability so your pupils stay at their optimal sizes for the corresponding light conditions and let you focus as accurately as possible. Also, your eyes are more naturally open so there’s no pressure on the eyeball from squinting. Tear off a string of transparent tape about one-inch long and place it over the point where your eye looks straight ahead. make sure you place the tape high enough so that you can look under it when you reload or have to perform a similar precises movement. The tape only has to block the point straight away from the eye to be effective. This trick allows you to focus with your weak eye without experiencing any of the problems associated with blocking the strong eye completely; both eyes function as if the tape wasn’t there. Probably the most noticeable benefit you’ll find when shooting with both eyes open comes when you’re shooting groups. You’ll notice how much longer you can hold your focus.

At first, you’ll find it difficult to move around without stumbling, and the tape might make you feel uncomfortable. I suggest first using the tape while you’re at home reloading or working on your gun to get used to it. In time it will go unnoticed.

This practice should be limited to the shooter who’s only competition-minded. If you’re a law enforcement officer, or if your motivation for shooting is self-defense oriented, don’t follow this practice. If you can’t shoot without double vision, just close the offending eye.

Our Reptilian Brain “Just Do It”

Article contributed by Gary Ashorn, PE.

The last article “Prepping the Trigger” helped you practice making your shots hit where you wanted them by teaching you how our body works and how our shooting is affected by that knowledge.  In keeping with the intent of these articles aimed at teaching some of the proper techniques for competitive shooting and some of the “why” behind it, this second article will cover the mental focus or better put, how we mentally focus on using our muscles.  Using Our Reptilian Brain – Just Do it.

As in the previous article, I want to provide you examples of how to shoot better but to do so I believe it is helpful to understand how our bodies, or in this case, our brain works and it’s affects on how we shoot.  Some people refer to this type of thinking as a form of Zen.  I am not going to be that progressive in this article.  I have studied, trained and taught this form of mental focus in sports for over 30 years.  My main sport has been tennis and still is to this day.  You have seen this Quote everyday in sports ads that say, “Just Do It”.  This saying is correct, but easier said than done for most of us.  Ever hear someone say or even yourself mumble after missing a pool shot, “just too much green on the table” yet on a hard tight shot you make the shot?  Well, in essence you “Just Did It”.  This is applicable to most all sports, pool, tennis, golf, baseball or football and yes, even shooting.  So I will use some sports related examples with life events and compare them to what is going on mentally with you, consciously and subconsciously.  Once you grasp the concept, you can then start to learn and apply it to your shooting or any other sport for that matter. This is a simple concept once you understand it, but to explain it fully takes a lot of discussion.  For the main part of this article I will make it condensed to cover the information and then offer a more detailed write up for training and competition that you can access if you wish to read more and learn. (There will be a link to a more detailed discussion on this subject for further learning at the end of this discussion)

As the title suggests, I am talking about how our brain works.  I am not going to dissect our brain and you can do online research on the subject.  It has been talked about in many sports books for decades now.  For me, “The Inner Game of Tennis” by Tim Gallwey was my first introduction decades ago.  More recently in my reading of “The Practical Shooter” by Brian Enos which some of you may have read.  In college at Texas A&M it was taught in our physical education classes.  Scientifically we are talking about the “Reptilian” (R-complex) part of our brain versus the other two areas of our brain, the Cortex (Neo) and the Limbic.  Collectively these are the Triune brain.  I will list some articles that you can read for more on the subject but not in detail here.  Just understand the Reptilian part of our brain controls our muscles and the other two are the higher functioning parts of the brain for thinking and emotion and provides information to the Reptilian as well as others forms of input.  However the Reptilian is a decision maker and not the fine point comparison thinker of the other two parts of our brain.  This is an important distinction in the rest of this article.  For ease of writing I will refer to the Reptilian part of the brain as our lower brain due to where it is located and its simple structure.  The Cortex and Limbic together as our upper brain since they are located above the Reptilian brain and they are considered more advanced.  So, bare with me while I setup the basis of this article which I will provide the ground work information with examples matching the brain and body reactions.  The final goal is to understand how to train and translate the training to competition with the correct approach to how we think with our Reptilian Brain.

So let’s jump into some examples of how we work and think and then how that relates to shooting. OK, first a common every day event we all have done or seen.  Driving down the highway next to the retaining wall and we feel like we are drifting into the wall.  We fight it and correct it but then we drift again.  Why?  Well, consciously we tell ourselves we want to go straight and we worry about hitting the wall.  We aren’t saying I want to drive straight ahead down the road.  Consciously we are looking at the wall trying to avoid it.  It (the wall) is the only thing on our CONSCIOUS MIND.  The Reptilian part of our brain is not real bright.  It is the decision maker for our muscles but it is not the “THINKER” here.  We know we want to drive straight consciously but that information must pass through the Reptilian brain to get to our muscles.  The information gets filtered.  If we let the subconscious thoughts happen then the lower brain function takes over more control.  Now the Reptilian brain only knows you keep looking at the wall and you are driving.  You, or more correctly, the Reptilian lower brain controls your hand muscles.  So looking at wall, the Reptilian brain believes you must want to drive to the wall and straight for that matter.  You subconsciously move your hands to turn into the wall.  WHOA, Conscious brain says NO.  You correct and look even harder at that wall to keep from hitting it.  What you should be looking at is straight ahead down the road.  Then the Reptilian brain would think that is where you want to go and that would satisfy the “THINKING” upper brains.  So why don’t you “Just Do It”?  Well, then you, (your conscious brain), would have to TRUST you won’t hit the wall if you look straight ahead. 

You have all the knowledge of how to stay straight ahead but you don’t trust yourself that it will work.  So you look over to the wall to make sure you don’t hit it and then it starts all over again.  This trust that is needed is what you really need to do and is a part of the conscious upper brain.  You think about it, but you worry about it and you obsess over it.  You harbor all these thoughts about what you are afraid will happen because you don’t trust that if I just look forward, the wall will not be a problem.  So if you aren’t looking at the wall to make sure you don’t hit it you have to TRUST you won’t hit it if you don’t look at it.  So the conflict is where do I look and you choose the wall and so the muscle controller moves you to the wall.  This will be covered in more detail in training in the article.

So how does this apply to sports?  Even shooting?  Well first some sports examples, and for me in tennis it is hitting the ball where I want it.  However, most times I keep telling myself where I DON’T want to hit the ball.  I want it to go into the left corner inside the court, but I keep hitting the ball long over the fence.  So I tell myself, consciously, don’t hit the ball over the back fence.  Well, next shot I hit the ball into the net.  Did I satisfy what I wanted?  Well, consciously I MEANT not over the back fence but over the net, into the left corner and not near the opponent.  Lot of instructions and things to decide and all this babble going on in my head etc, so the Reptilian filters out all the jabber and boils it down to a simple one muscle command that meets the most important thought I JUST HAD, not over the fence.  The ball goes into the net and that satisfies the not over the fence command.  The Reptilian brain is happy, your other two brain parts, the upper brain, conscious level, is mad, you (OK, I mean me) throws the racket, yells obscenities and storm back to the base line and berate myself for a bad shot.  Well that really helped things out didn’t it?  Now my racket is broken, I lost the point, I get a warning from the referee and things don’t go well. 

Let’s put this on the shooting range.  I am coming out of cover and draw my sights onto my first target.  It may be an open target with a non-threat right next to it or maybe my worst enemy, hard cover zebra striped threat and I can only shoot for 0 points down in the center area.  As in the driving example, I see the black painted armor area that I want to avoid and not hit it like I have done before.  I want to hit the tan center area but I am afraid of hitting the black armor area – AGAIN!  I tell myself, as in the tennis example, don’t hit the black armor.  What I meant was shoot into the tan area, keep it centered top and bottom for a zero shot, but I know if I shoot a little low like I always do it will be a 1 down point but better than shooting that black armor area for 5 points down, oh and make sure you shoot it fast so I get a good score.  The lower brain boiled down my babbling thoughts and said, he is looking and thinking about the black armor area. That must be where he wants to shoot, and so I do.  I fire and hit the black armor area.  I was thinking only about the Black Armor area and not the center of the Tan part of the target.  Let’s see, I throw my empty magazine and the spring shoots out into the shell casing trap, I storm back to the back area to reload my other empty magazine, I yell bad things at myself, others talk to me about it and things don’t go well.  Sound familiar? 

All three examples, driving next to the wall, hitting the tennis ball long and shooting the black armored area involved my conscious mind talking to me and giving instructions of what NOT to do.  Never did I say or think to myself in a short clear comment what I really wanted.  I did not TRUST my muscles to do what they need to do since they are not controlled by ME (Conscious two brains).  I gave all these instructions to the dumb Reptilian brain who does know how to control all my muscles, and it did exactly what it thought I wanted.  This is where the progress is to be made, how to give the right instructions to that part of your brain and then TRUST it to JUST DO IT.  Your lower brain, Reptilian,  will control your muscles to reach the goal you wanted as outlined in your upper conscious brain provided you give it the right instructions.

OK, so what do we need to do so we can get our muscles to do the right thing?  The short answer for this article is to understand we have three main sections to our thinking processes.  Two are for emotions and higher level problem solving.  The third one, the R-complex (Reptilian) lower brain is the one that controls the muscles in response to different inputs.  These inputs come from all forms of stimulus such as what we see, feel in pressure on hands and feet, hearing and past experience.  We also input from the higher level brains what we want but they (upper brains) also try to input how to do things when really they do not know how to control the muscles.  It is a fine line and that is something we have to develop.  It is the goal to learn how to, say it all together, JUST DO IT.  I will go into greater detail in the follow up article for those interested.

Learn to think the about the final goal of what you want to achieve.  In shooting, for me as an example, when I shoot a threat target with the Non-Threat right next to it, I don’t even see the Non-threat.  When the buzzer goes off they do not exist to me.  So my mental focus is aim at the threat target center, squeeze my shot with good trigger prep (I hope) and go.  But for me, if it has the black armor, then my brain and emotions go crazy.  I start to worry about hitting the armor.  Now my conscious brain is thinking BLACK PAINTED area.  I want the tan area but I am sending the wrong thought to the Reptilian brain that has to figure out what to do with my muscles.  Why do I do it?  Just not managing and practicing my thoughts.  When you come up to the stage, stand there and look at each target and imagine only the part you want to shoot.  Forget the Non-threat and the black armor.  Forget missing the head shot.  Concentrate only on what you want to shoot.  Make it your LAST THOUGHT!  Then when the buzzer goes off that is the last thing your muscle controller remembers, no decisions to make, nothing to sort or separate, it just does what it needs within its training skill set to do what you thought.  Nothing more, Nothing less. Will you hit the target right?  I don’t know, it depends if you slap that trigger, did you have a good support hand grip, did you over squeeze with the little fingers on your strong hand?  Did you over shoot your transition?  The point is, don’t complicate your mind with worrying about the wrong thing.  All you can do is perform the best with what you have when you ARRIVED at the match.  You aren’t going to magically be a better shooter when you get there because you thought of something to do to shoot better.  But you can PREVENT subtracting from your ability by not interfering with your muscles with the wrong part of your brain. 

First, your level of shooting ability is predicated on you already having whatever skill you have such as the Trigger Prep discussed last month.  You will have a grip you use or how well you lean around cover at some skill level.  Same thing in any other sport, you have whatever skill you have and it can be improved, but you need to let the maximum ability you have today shine now.  So learning to set your mind up to give the correct signals is what you need to practice to LET the Reptilian lower brain do its best for you.  And this is the secret to learning to improve your skill sets faster as well.  This will be covered in the extended article.

In summary, separate your thinking and reasoning thoughts from your actions.  Give yourself the correct goal you want to achieve and let go.  The upper brain functions to sort out what we want, how things are chosen and setup the goals to be reached for our lower brain to then execute.  The upper brain gives the direction and the lower brain performs the function.  Then the lower brain takes the direction and executes the muscles to achieve what the upper brain wants.  Communication is the key to almost all endeavors.  Learning how to communicate is the hard part.  Once we learn that skill, getting to our goals is a lot easier.  You still have to do the work, training and have the drive to reach those goals, but to achieve them you have to get the two parts of your brain to work together as a team.  Then focus your concentration on the one or two technical requirements such as getting a good sight picture and let the muscles do what they need to do without worrying about the outcome. 

  1. Understand the GOAL you want to reach. i.e. TWO SHOTS to the HEAD.
  2. Think a short command that embodies that GOAL.  i.e. HEAD SHOT
  3. Focus only on the thing you CAN impact. i.e. WATCH THE FRONT SIGHT.
  4. Let and don’t force or try to make it happen.  i.e. LET GO
  5. JUST DO IT.
  6. Note the feeling you had after you have done this.  i.e. REMEMBER THE FEELING

I hope learning a little about how we think and actually respond to our thoughts helps you to learn and control your thought processes and use them to make you better.  I have written a more detailed discussion on this subject if you want to learn more.  I encourage you to study this and apply it to your shooting skill sets.  I will go into how we learn and how to improve your learning skills so you can apply this knowledge to better practice, better competition and training ethics to lead to better scores.  And most important I want to repeat what Randy wrote in his last article.  It applies to all learning….. Remember……….practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it can make permanent.  Only perfect practice makes perfect.

For a more in depth look at the phsychology behind athletic competition, visit Gary’s expanded article here: http://sirpegasus.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/our-reptilian-brain-just-do-it-competition/

Prepping the Trigger

Article contributed by Randy Dillman.

This is the first of what will hopefully be a long line of articles that will be aimed at teaching some of the proper techniques for competitive shooting and some of the “why” behind it. This first article will cover what is probably the most basic of all principals, yet one of the more difficult to master without specifically training yourself to do so. It’s the Trigger Prep.

You may have noticed that when you were a new shooter, or when you observe other new shooters that misses are most often below the zero, and quite often slightly to the left. (for right handed shooters) Even experienced shooters will occasionally allow bad habits to creep back into their game and commit this basic shooting error. When other shooters attempt to diagnose why your are hitting consistently low left, you will often be told “your slapping the trigger”. This is a correct diagnosis, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. If the only finger that was “slapping” was my trigger finger and the rest of my grip stayed static, then the impact point of the shot should not be changed simply by how the trigger finger acted. The trigger finger only holds onto the trigger, not the whole gun. To explain why the impact is changed, we have to get into a little anatomy and physiology of how our hand works. Don’t worry, this won’t be a college level anatomy class, we will keep it in laymen’s terms.

The muscles that control flexion (bending) of our little finger and our ring finger are large muscles that are designed for a “power grip”. The muscles that we use to bend our trigger finger (aka booger hook) are small muscles designed for fine motor skills. To illustrate this, hold your hand out straight as if you were about to shake someone’s hand. Take your other hand and cup it underneath your forearm just in front of the elbow. Now flex just your pinky and ring finger until they are clenched against your palm in a “half fist”. You will be able to feel the large muscles on the under side of your forearm contracting. Now try the same thing with your trigger finger, you won’t feel any muscles on the underside of your forearm contracting. If you search around, you will find some really small muscles in the top of your forearm that are working on your trigger finger flexion.

When we have not prepped the trigger (I’ll explain in a minute what prepping the trigger is), and we try to make a quick shot. Through practice, we have conditioned or brain that breaking a shot means take up the slack, and apply “x” amount of pressure on the trigger to make it go bang. That is a lot to do when we want to break a shot quickly so our brain sends the signal “Pull the trigger NOW!” When our body gets this kind of urgent signal from the brain, it doesn’t engage just the fine motor drivers of the trigger finger. It will also engage the larger, power grip, muscles of the lower fingers in an effort to make things happen faster. When we subconsciously squeeze the bottom fingers, the muzzle dips down and left. This is not done through conscious thought; it is done through the sympathetic nervous system that we don’t have any control over. If I can’t control the actions of the sympathetic nervous system whenever urgent messages are sent from the brain, I have to figure out how to shoot quickly without these urgent messages being sent from the brain and kicking the sympathetic nervous system into action. Enter the trigger prep.

When we prep the trigger, we take up all the movement from the trigger and apply almost enough pressure for the gun to go off. We want to be about 1# of pressure away from breaking the shot. The time to do this is not when you are ready to break the shot, it’s too late then and you will start sending those urgent signals to the sympathetic nervous system. When we prep the trigger it is done before the gun comes out from around a barricade, or while transitioning between targets, or during recoil while shooting multiple shots on the same target. (but it is always done with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction) When you are first learning to do this, you will break a few shots before you get to the spot where you wanted to shoot. Don’t be upset when this happens, you are teaching your brain how much pressure you can apply before it goes off. You can’t learn that spot of maximum pressure without occasionally applying too much pressure. Once you perfect the technique of prepping the trigger, the signal from your brain will no longer be that urgent “Pull the trigger NOW!” and will instead be “one more pound of pressure” that will not force your power grip muscles into service.

Trigger prep is not always necessary. Slapping the trigger is faster than prepping the trigger, so if I can make accurate shots while still slapping the trigger, then I should be slapping. An example would be shots at a target 3 yards away………who cares if my muzzle moved a few millimeters because I hurried the shot, it will still hit in the zero. Different shooters will have different ranges at which they can “point shoot”. For most shooters, targets that are closer than 5 yards can be shot accurately with point shooting/trigger slapping. For some shooters, 10 yards is still a point shoot target. You will need to experiment to find out where your “point shooting” range is.

Hopefully, this article will help you shoot faster and more accurately. Remember……….practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it can make permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect.

08/20/12 Match Report

Well, last night was certainly a fun and enjoyable match. We dialed down the challenge a little from what we have been doing lately, (I’m still having to apologize to folks for “The Trainwreck” on stage 3 last week) but the match still remained challenging. The stages all ran quickly and were just downright fun. We were still able to work on different aspects of our shooting as there were shots while advancing, shots while retreating, shots wile moving sideways, and shooting from cover on wide open as well as tight shots. We had a nice crowd of 51 shooters last night with a good crop of new shooter.

Stage 1 started out with “Room Running” where shooters got to choose which side of the bay to start from with the gun downloaded to 6. The shooter had to traverse across the bay while engaging targets through two openings in the cover. Each opening had three targets which required 2 rounds each. A slide lock reload had to be completed at cover between the two openings. This was one of the fastest stages we have ever had in the “front three” stages. Average raw time on the stage was 15.44 seconds……..less than half of some of our more complicated stages. On a side note, I am proud to announce that I was one of only 8 people to actually hit one of the non threats on this stage………YEAH ME!

Stage 2 “Run Around” had the shooter downloaded to 3. (What’s up with downloading? Who carries around an empty gun?) We were positioned to the left of the activation pad and had to step on the pad as we came out from the right side of cover. The pad activated the ramp mover with the mover going towards the shooter at a slight angle from left to right. The mover had to get three rounds before disappearing behind a hard cover target. After a slide lock reload, we had to engage three targets to the left of the barricade with three rounds each while advancing around a non threat that was cleverly placed in exactly the wrong place. Some of the savvy CDP shooters recognized the need to perform a tactical reload right after their slide lock reload before coming out of the cover so they would have enough for the nine rounds required after leaving cover. This stage ran even faster than stage 1 with an average raw time of 13.38.

Stage 3, “Flat Tire” had the shooter start with both hands on a “tire” (stepstool) with gun actually loaded to division capacity (finally, a loaded weapon). The shooter had to engage two threats with three shots each while retreating to cover. From this cover, there where two threats. One was a “skunk” target with hard cover and the other, slightly closer, target had a non threat attached to it. For some reason, many shooters had to engage these targets with one extra round, often referred to as “ammo management”, which left them at a slidelock reload prior to leaving cover to advance to another barricade downrange. At the downrange barricade, there where two more threats that were both wide open and close. They got two quick rounds each. Raw times went up a bit on this one, but still a speedy 20.52 average.

Stages 4,5,6 were all speedy drill type stages with a stand and deliver transition drill, a stand and deliver drill with a reload and a shooting while advancing drill. Average raw times on these drills were 11.87, 11.21, and 5.59 respectively.

Overall, it was a fun night with fast shooting. We were able to work on many different skills that translate to better defensive skills as well as better skills for big matches. Thanks for everyone who came out to help set up and to everyone for helping reset stages throughout the match. Remember to share our sport with others by bringing someone new to the matches. If you enjoy this blog, be sure to click on the article’s title and you will be taken to a version of the post that you can post to your facebook page.