5 differences between competitive shooting and combat shooting

A gunfighter trains for the worst case scenario so that he can beat the best in the world on his worst day under any circumstances


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By David Windham
FirearmsU.com

I’m not anti-competition shooting, but I do find fault with most of the competitions out there. The reason being they aren’t realistic and cause the shooter to form extremely bad habits that can get them killed on the street. I realize that most gun owners will never be involved in a shooting incident, but it can happen at any moment to any of us, hence my passion to train in a realistic manner so that I am prepared as well as those I regularly train.

I also despise indoor ranges that don't allow realistic shooting. If one can't even draw his weapon from the holster, how can he be prepared for a real life shoot out?

Pictured is competitive shooter Gagan Narang. (AP Image)
Pictured is competitive shooter Gagan Narang. (AP Image)

Competition shooters are on the whole amazingly fast when it comes to getting off accurate shots. In and of itself, that is a great thing.

However, there are some huge downfalls.

1. All targets are single shot targets for the most part. Training yourself to fire one bullet at a target can mean your death in real life. Regardless of what caliber you shoot, in a real life gun fight you will generally need multiple shots on target to end a threat to your life. Training to fire once and then look for more targets can be a deadly habit to form.

2. Speed reigns supreme in competition. Speed is important, but not at the expense of accuracy and tactical technique. A good example of this is the goofy overhand grip you see many three-gun shooters using. It's said that this grip helps them steer the gun. Okay, whatever works for them is fine, because no one is shooting back!

The problem is that many people see this technique and adopt it without considering real life situations. The most solid offhand shooting platform is using a vertical or horizontal grip that allows you to pull the gun tight into your shoulder pocket with your arms tucked in tight. This helps reduce muzzle rise, make quicker follow-up shots, and assists in overall control of your weapon.

3. There’s no need to take cover. What's even better is the use of the kneeling or prone position if possible. By doing so, you reduce your profile and make yourself a smaller target as well as form a more solid shooting platform by having the ability to triangulate your limbs for support.

In a real life shootout, if the rifle or carbine has come out it is pretty damned serious and likely everything is happening at a distance where cover can be chosen, so this isn't necessarily a hindrance to be prone because you have dug into your position and it's safe. If you only practice off hand you will remain standing when you should be looking for cover and making yourself as small a target as humanly possible.

Speaking of cover, competition shooters never use cover in a tactical manner. They use the cover in a manner that facilitates speed. There is never any "slicing the pie" technique. What I normally see is peek and shoot at best or the shooter leaning out as far as possible to engage as many targets as possible.

4. You’re limiting your configuration possibilities. There are only so many configurations for a shooting stage in a match. A person can become like a trained pony and expect certain things when shooting rather than reacting to the clear and present danger at hand. No matter how you cut it, this can be a bad habit to form that will get you killed.

Muscle memory is what controls your ability to shoot under extreme stress. If your muscles remember doing the same things over and over then that is what they will do. Shooting two close targets, five medium range target, and four long range targets at varying heights is great for a match, but isn't very realistic. 

What happens when your strong side is injured in a fight and you have to shoot with your weak hand? Or you trip and have to shoot from your back? Did you practice these things while preparing for that three-gun shoot? Of course you didn't. A gunfighter trains for the worst case scenario so that he can beat the best in the world on his worst day under any circumstances.

5. Competition shooting breeds an environment of gizmos, gadgets, and race guns. Reflex sights are great, but batteries fail. Any electronic gadget can and will fail, especially under harsh conditions. Daily carry is harsh! My gun gets wet, dirty, and beat up daily.

The other big consideration is that the more there is hanging off your gun, the more likely you are to snag your gun upon drawing it from the holster. Competition shooters usually have belts set up for just that competition. Everything on the belt is easily reached and even the holster is built for speed. You aren't going to carry your gun in the same manner that you shoot it in a competition. You'd walk around looking like Wyatt Earp at best and an idiot at worst.

Again, I’m not against matches or competition shooting. My point is to make you think. If you shoot IDPA or any other discipline, that's great! Just don't neglect real world training for real world situation that can occur. Mix things up, find new and different ways to challenge yourself and don't live life preparing for a competition when your life is on the line!

This article originally appeared on FirearmsU.com. David Windham is a retired law enforcement officer and is currently a firearms instructor and the Director of Sales and Marketing for FirearmsU.com – a website directory designed to match students to the right firearms instructors and find courses that meet their needs. 

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