Making Friends through Competitive Shooting

Making friend is easier when you are willing to help others learn. -- Shooter's Like Us night at the Wake County Range . April 2016.

Making friend is easier when you are willing to help others learn. — Shooter’s Like Us night at the Wake County Range — April 2016.

When I started shooting it was a solo pursuit. I didn’t think I knew anyone I could ask to teach me and then, once I got started, I had trouble finding other shooters I could share this new passion with. Why does that matter? Because making friends who shoot will give you access to a wide range of personal experience, encouragement and support in your pursuit of firearms skills and safety.

I got lucky. When I showed up to my NRA First Steps Pistol class, one of the instructors was an old friend I’d lost track of from over a decade ago. Neither of us were shooters before. She let me shoot some of her guns and helped me select my first pistol to purchase. That was a S&W 22A chambered in .22LR.

She made me aware of a Ladies Handgun group that met once a month. That seems to be unique to women, as I haven’t heard of a support group for men in shooting, but it was a great resource for me. They helped me select my first 9mm handgun: an XDS by Springfield Armory.

I since sold both of these guns, but they were good starting options.

I began networking with people I already knew as I became passionate about shooting. I wasn’t shy about sharing my new interest. After dozens of conversations with gun friendly people, I realized that many firearms enthusiasts don’t actually shoot that often. They have knowledge from the past, or they collect firearms, but due to lack of time or money, they didn’t actually shoot that often.

I wanted to go to the range 2-4 times a month as I was building my skills. I voiced my frustration about people who said they liked to shoot, but didn’t seem to make it to a range. One of my friends who was in that category suggested I talk with a mutual acquaintance I wasn’t aware was a shooter. BINGO! I found a fellow fanatic who talked me into taking classes and then to shoot our first competitive match together. I can’t thank him enough. So keep networking patiently and consistently. It pays off.

Shooting handgun competitions made shooting even more fun for me. And it made me much safer as a shooter. I found shooting a single target in a lane at a shooting range became very tame.

One of the folks I met locally posted this to Facebook and I agree wholeheartedly: “Remember, a shooting match is just a social event occasionally interrupted by gunfire.”  I don’t place well in matches, but I consider it a good day to shoot with friends.

It’s great to have access to first hand opinions about other equipment, be able to ask for references on where to buy a gun or find a good gunsmith, and even have friends that can lend you equipment if you have equipment failures. I have one friend that has installed aftermarket triggers for me. In return I’ve helped him clear brush from his private range. Even though shooting can be a rewarding solo experience, I have found having friends in the sport to be very beneficial.

So here are a few tips on making friends in the competitive shooting sports:

  • Expect people to be a bit cautious. They need to see that you are safe with firearms.
  • Look for folks that are looking to make a similar time investment. If you are a once a week shooter, you will annoy someone that wants to shoot a few times a year.
  • Not all shooters are into what you are into: there are many niches in the shooting sports. Respect the differences and look for other shooters that share your particular passion.
  • If you join a club, they need to see that you will keep showing up before they invest in you. So keep showing up.
  • If you are interested in an event or competition, volunteer. Then show up as promised and fulfill your volunteer commitments. That is probably the #1 way to get to know people.
  • Once you make one friend, that person will introduce you to others. Before you know it, you have access to the knowledge and experience of many.

Shooting outdoors? Use that sunscreen!

After an annual skin cancer check, I was told I have a Stage 1A Melanoma on my right forearm. It’s actually no big deal. A 30 minute procedure next week should clear out the cancer and no further treatment is required. They do advise more frequent full body skin cancer checks going forward. The recurrence rate appears to be 2-3% so extremely low.

I feel like I should be freaking out. Instead I’ll just publish this as a reminder that if you are going to be in the sun, use your sunscreen. I love to spend an afternoon on an outdoor range. I just need to add sunscreen to my list of other protective devices. So now the check list is: eyes, ears & skin.


DQA shooter I respect told me soon after I started shooting that there are two kinds of shooters:

  • Those that have been DQd
  • Those that will be DQd

I have joined the ranks of the latter category. A bit of translation in case you are not familiar with the term “DQ”: disqualified, no longer allowed to shoot in the match.

Most of the DQs I’m aware of are a result of a safety violation. I this case there is no question. Here’s what occurred:

I shot stage 3 of a match Saturday night that was challenging. It started with the description, “You are sitting on the bank of a river fishing when a bunch of bad guys decide to ruin you day…” The entire stage was shot from a seated position. The bad guys included two poppers that were concealed behind cardboard. I’m usually good with steel poppers. When I can’t see them, it’s a bit more challenging. I lost count but it’s possible I put 6-8 rounds into one popper before I got it to fall. My brain was still spinning on “why wouldn’t it go down?”.

I stood to reholster and the RO gave me clear commands: “SLIDE”, “TRIGGER”. At which point my gun went “BANG!”. That is considered an accidental discharge and is without question a DQ.

What went wrong? I didn’t take the magazine out of the gun. Neither I nor the RO noticed that the magazine was still in the gun. We didn’t visually inspect the chamber to verify it was empty. The RO was as stunned as I was and shared the blame. However, I believe I am always responsible for the safe use of my gun and, in my mind, take 100% of the blame.

What did I learn? When the stage is over, you need to let go of any thoughts about what went right or what went wrong. You need to focus on the task at hand: safety unloading your weapon.

What went right? I’ve heard that there are multiple gun safety rules so that if by some chance you fail to follow one rule, the others will keep you safe. In this case I did follow this rule: “Never point a gun at anything you are unwilling to destroy.” I was holding the gun firmly in my right hand and had the gun pointed downrange. It startled us but caused no danger to anyone in the bay. I am thankful for that.

A good friend was DQd earlier this year for loading his gun before the RO stated , “Load and make ready”. He sat out the rest of the match and I have been hyper alert about waiting for verbal commands since that occurred.

If my mistake can help raise the awareness of other shooters to pay close attention in the “Unload and show clear” steps of a stage, that is worth sharing the experience.

Have fun and stay safe!




Wash your hands

One piece of safety advice I got early on is simple: wash your hands after shooting. Wash your face too before eating. The ladies at the Wake County Ladies Handgun league mention this at every meeting.

If you shoot frequently, the lead exposure over time can add up. This is a simple way to address that issue for most shooters. If you work at a range or shoot daily, you may want to add lead testing to your annual physical. One of the instructors I’ve worked with does that. I may well ask for a lead test at my next physical to get a baseline for the future.

Much more information can be found here, on my favorite Shooting reference site, The Cornered Cat:



Hard Safety vs. Soft Safety

This article published on Triangle Tactical back in March started me thinking about the thumb safeties on my guns: Why is it so hard to get a thumb safety right?

1911 with soft safety (top and H&K USP with hard safety (bottom).

1911 with soft safety (top and H&K USP with hard safety (bottom).

I own two pistols with thumb safeties: a S&W 1911 and an H&K USP Compact. They operate very differently and that difference didn’t really jump out at him until I read Ben’s post.

The “Soft Safety” – The first thing I had to learn when shooting the 1911 was to wrap my thumb over the top of the safety when I draw the gun. If I don’t, and the thumb rises up just a slight bit, the safety nudges up and the gun will no longer shoot. The safety on the gun is fluid. You touch it even slightly, it moves. If it raises the least bit, it engages. At first I thought I had a malfunction but soon realized that I was the one with the malfunction, not the gun. When I began to wrap my thumb over the safety, that problem ceased.

Every one I’ve loaned the gun to has done the same thing until I pointed out you need to grip it differently to ensure the safety stays down. So it may not be common knowledge outside 1911 owners.

The “Hard Safety” – My H&K USP compact has what I call a hard safety. You have to push it down hard and when you do, you hear it click into place. It has two positions: on and off. There is no fluidity and no in-between. It is fairly easy to disengage when drawing from a holster as my thumb has more strength pushing down. It’s difficult for me to re-engage one handed before re-holstering. Until I started shooting the 1911 I assumed all safeties worked this way. I also tended to disengage the safety, shoot at the range, then re-engage the safety when I was done shooting for the day – because it was difficult to switch.

One other difference: Once the hammer is down on the 1911, you can’t put the “soft” safety on. Technically there is no need as the gun can’t be fired until the hammer is cocked, but I found this odd when I first started shooting the 1911. I always wanted to put the safety back on after I was done shooting to establish the habit firmly – no matter whether the hammer was up or down. With the H&K, you can always put the “hard” safety on. Whether the hammer is cocked or de-cocked, you can press the safety switch up. So this design will allow you to consistently apply the safety.

I am not passing judgement at this time on which I like best. I have many more hours with the 1911 and I’m clearly biased toward that design at this time. I just wanted to point out the differences for anyone considering a gun purchase. And I’ll admit that shooting the 1911 has made me much more aware of how safeties work and to disengage / reengage each time I draw / reholster.






First Squib

NOTE: This is the first guest post to my blog. The following was written by my shooting partner David Young. His enthusiasm is endless and he helps to nudge me when I lost momentum, so when he asked if he could post to my blog, of course I said yes! 

I just takes one…

Today, after about 24 months of regular shooting, I had my first squib round. I was breaking in my new XD9 Service pistol, so thankfully I was shooting slowly. About halfway through a box of recently purchased factory new Independence 115gr FMJ, I pulled the trigger and heard the classic “pop”. I’ve always heard it described that way, but in reality it’s more like shooting a paper-strip cap gun

  • no recoil;
  • sounds the same;
  • and a wisp of smoke rises from the chamber.

The slide did not cycle (obviously), but I dropped the magazine, cycled the slide manually, ejected the spent case and began my inspection.

I field-stripped my gun and ran a bore snake down the barrel. Sure enough, the bullet was lodged about 1/3 of the way down. I was shooting at Personal Defense and Handgun Safety (PDHSC) in Raleigh. Without batting an eye the staff took the barrel into their work room and removed the bullet. Removal took about 15 minutes and I watched as the gentleman (I wish I remember his name) used a brass rod and hammer. No charge and no barrel damage.

Having a squib (safely) is one of the best learning experiences I’ve had since I began shooting. I’ve listened to the description countless times, but actually experiencing a squib is invaluable. I have no idea what the outcome would have been had I been under duress; say, during an IDPA match or intense training. During rapid firing I might very well have put another round through the barrel and destroyed my gun. I can only hope that the experience has imprinted itself and I’ll have the presence of mind next time to cease firing as I did today.

I’ve read on forums that the vast majority of squibs occur in handloads. Not this one, which means factory ammunition is not immune. It might be rare but it can happen.

By the way, I shot the remainder of the Independence with no issues.

Finally, I want to offer kudos to the staff at PDHSC. Of all the local gun stores I’ve been to in the Raleigh area, the folks PDHSC are hands-down the best. Their level of service, expertise and advice is without equal, in my opinion.

David Young

Zen and practice at the indoor range

When I first started shooting I was nervous every single time I went to the range to practice when I booked a lane on the public side of the range I joined. I’d check out everyone around me to see what they were shooting, to see if any other women were shooting, and because I was honestly expecting some one to tell me I was doing something wrong.

I realized last week, that I was no longer worried about “passing” but I was focused on what to do to improve my shooting. I’m still very focused on safety, but I realized I never looked to see who was there much less what they were shooting.

Targets for multiple lanes

Targets for multiple lanes

I was focused on drills that included:

  • very slow draw, aim and deliberate trigger pull (to focus on each step of the process)
  • strong hand only
  • weak hand only
  • double taps
  • controlled pairs
  • slide lock reloads
  • tactical reloads

I ration myself to 100 rounds (or whatever is left over from the last match + a box of 50 rounds). I need to put together a more formal set of drills and start to measure my progress somehow, but for now it was a pleasant realization to feel I fit in.



That picture

The original blog banner

The photo at the top of the blog was taken by a friend. It was taken last year when I was very new to shooting and very enthusiastic about my new interest. We ensured all the guns we used were unloaded. Three of us checked. There was no ammunition in the venue. And I wore an outfit to mimic a cosplay character, Revy. I was feeling empowered and sexy. That was the 1st gun I bought! (It’s a S&W 22A).

I look at the photos now and I feel a bit foolish. No eye protection, no ear protection, and no high neck shirt to prevent hot shells from dumping down my chest. Fantasy is a far cry from reality.

I also can see that I have one eye closed: not a good tactic for defensive shooting. And I have my finger on the trigger: a serious no-no based on the gun safety rules of most any organization. From IDPA: The 4th Law of Gun Safety – Keep Your Finger Off The Trigger Until Your Sights Are On The Target!

Finally, that grip: both thumbs are misplaced. They should, ideally, parallel the slide and be as high as possible without touching the slide.

I still like the photo. At the time it captured my enthusiasm. Now it helps me see how far I’ve come. I’m going to keep it there for now because I like that reminder.