Benefits of Competition: Reinforcing Safety

Through the door-crop

I shot the Wake Action Pistol Match on March 20, 2017. The photo above is from a match 2 years ago. But it’s the same door we opened before shooting targets downrange last Monday.

I’d rather go shoot a match than practice on a “square range”(*) . Why? We deal with many situations and each and every time the range safety officer points out what safety issues will be cause for a disqualification.

In this case: You have a loaded gun in one hand. Don’t sweep your other hand or body with the muzzle of the gun when you reach to open the door. Never, never, never let the muzzle sweep any part of your body.

I don’t have a law enforcement or a military background. Where else would I get exposure to situations I’d never see at square range? At a local pistol competition! So I’ll start posting short descriptions of learning opportunities that reinforce safe gun handling skills as they occur.


(*)Square Range: a typical indoor shooting range where you pay for time to shoot in a lane at a single fixed target that can be set at various distances. You can’t move, or shoot multiple targets, or run a timer to get feedback on speed (if there are also other shooters). At some ranges you can draw from a holster but not all ranges allow this.

Trigger Control

I shot a match last Monday night (July 20th, 2015). I had put about 120 rounds through the 1911 since I got it back from S&W and it had worked flawlessly, so I decided to shoot it again in a match. I switched from a USP Compact (a DA/SA gun) to a 1911 (a SAO gun). In more specific terms:

  • DA/SA is a double action trigger pull followed by single action trigger pull. The first trigger pull has to both cock and release the hammer. When the gun fires, the action of the slide cocks the hammer for subsequent shots. So the first pull is long and heavy. Subsequent pulls are light and short in comparison.
  • SAO shoots in single action only. My 1911 has a factory trigger but it’s light at about 3.25 pounds.

To increase my speed with the USP Compact I worked to prep the trigger as I was extending the gun for the first shot. When I shot the first stage of the match I had an AD (accidental discharge). I pulled the trigger after the gun was out of the holster and pointed down range but well before I intended to pull the trigger. The habits built with the H&K were not transferable to the 1911. Here are stills of the first accidental shot and the first intended shot:

AD & 1st Shot-vertical

The RSO noted that at matches with more structured rules I would have been disqualified. I would not have argued with that. Since the shot went into the backstop they did let me continue to shoot. The rest of my match went well.

This was a huge wake up call to focus even more on my draw and where my trigger finger is at all times. To pull the still of the AD, I found a way to step through the video in slow motion. I then saw all the extraneous movement in my draw and alignment for the first shot. That was another eye opener. When I watch it at full speed I don’t really see all the small movements, but in slow motion it becomes very clear.

I’ve included the video of the match. I’ll be shooting these stages again next Wednesday night. The Wake County Range will be closed for most of August for cleaning and renovation. The next Monday match will be in September.

Women at Action Pistol

I shot the Action Pistol Match last night in the May heat and managed to get two of the stages on video. I’m posting not because I’m a great shooter (I’m not, yet) but to show you that women do participate in these matches. On both Stages I have a female Range Safety Officer.

Lessons learned:

  • Hold the camera vertically to film horizontally (old Flip camera we pass around).
  • Stage 2: Don’t just start running with no clear destination in mind. If you can’t see the targets, pick a point on the floor to head for it. I overran the gap in the barrier and backed up to make my shot.
  • Shooting a complicated stage can be easier the second time. I shot all of these stages on Monday of the previous week and Stage 1 took some time to figure out. Last night I shot 2nd, it was our last stage, we were all hot and tired, and we didn’t take as much time to plot strategy. I’d shot it before so I knew there were low, long shots from each corner. I split up the targets in set of 3: 3 from the initial gap, three from the left corner, a single at the right gap, and the last 3 from the right corner. For once I ran the stage as I intended. I’m still slow but all my shots were alpha or charlie (no penalty points for “alpha”, one penalty point for a “charlie”). No misses. I was very pleased with that.

Shoot ’em in the Logo!

"Dressed" targets

“Dressed” targets

One of the stages for the May 18th (3rd Monday) match I shoot included targets with T shirts. Even though it tough to see the down zero zone on targets, this made it impossible. And more realistic. It’s more difficult to score as you have to undress the target, look for the holes, score the target, paste the holes and redress the target.

This is one just one more of the reasons I shoot matches. This is one more exercise to stretch my skillset.

Magazine Blooper Reel -or- Don’t overload your magazines

I sent my 1911 back to S&W. I asked them to address a “failure to eject” issue. They estimated a 2-3 week turnaround. I shipped it 4/29. I haven’t heard from them. So…

I decide to start shooting an H&K USP Compact I bought a few years back. It’s mostly been sitting beside the bed since that time. Not any more. I started dry fire practice a week before the 4/29 Action Pistol match and took it to PDHSC for live fire practice. This gun has a sweet trigger in single action mode.

I started the match with my mags downloaded to 10 rounds each. It’s what I’d shoot in IDPA so I figured that would be a good approach. After Stage 1, one of my shooting buddies encouraged me to top them off and plan my reloads, so for Stage 2 I did that. Here’s the result:

I think I loaded that gun 5 times before the reload “stuck”. I had the same issue loading for Stage 3. I think I said to the RSO, “This won’t go well..” but I had no further issues.

When I got home I reloaded all the magazines and counted the rounds. I managed to cram 14 rounds into one of the 13 round magazines. BINGO.

I’ll be counting when I load and probably keep it to 12 rounds in the future. Another lesson learned at a match and another reason to shoot matches.

3-25-15 Wake County Action Pistol Match: Mikes and Fun

Yesterday morning, a well dressed man in business attire stopped me in the 5th floor lobby of the building I work in. He had a slightly apprehensive look, then just asked, “Didn’t I see you at the Wake County Range last Monday?” I laughed and answered, “Yes you did! I’ll be back there tonight.” It’s a small world. Our companies have suites on the same floor. He was at the match last night and thankfully he reintroduced himself because he looks quite different in a ball cap. We shot on different squads but I’m sure there will be future conversations. He did make me aware his co-workers aren’t really aware of his hobby, so I’ll have to tone down my enthusiasm for gun conversations in the building where we work. But, it really started my day on a high.


I shot the Wake County Action Pistol Match last night. From a performance perspective, it was probably hands down my worse match ever. A “mike” is a miss – as in “no holes in the target”. I had several. But I left with a smile and a feeling of contentment.

I started shooting because it was fun. I noticed along the way that at many matches, the competitors were friendly and chatty before the match. Conversations included:

  • what new gear they’d bought, what gun they were shooting,
  • how their day had been, how the family was,
  • what they had been practicing, what their specific goals were for the match, etc.

But at the end of the match there were many disappointed, disgruntled, and humbled competitors. Not performing as they had hoped just took all the fun out of the experience. Then it was mutters and grumbles about about missed targets, dropped points, fumbled magazines, and malfunctions. Not a state of mind I want to get sucked into.

I always come in at the bottom of the pack, so that’s nothing new. But up till last night I’d always hit the stationary targets. Well, last night I even missed some of those! It was so bad I had to just shake my head and laugh. “Wow. No shit? I totally and completely missed the entire target! And it wasn’t even moving!” To top that off, I had two tightly grouped shots in the dead center … of a non-threat. That non-threat was covering the lower part of a threat target. Things had gone by in such a blur that I didn’t honestly remember if I’d aimed at the top part of the target (and slapped the trigger to drop the shot) or if I’d just aimed at the center of mass.

I could list a string of excuses but as I pondered what the heck had happened it came down to this: I wasn’t totally focused on the fundamentals. So I thought about what had distracted me:

  • I’ve shot 3 matches in the last 10 days, including my first low light/no light match
  • I have had less than the usual amount of sleep. I managed to fit a trip to Minnesota into those 10 days.
  • I bought a Flip camera to record the matches. And I offered to film for a friend I made recently when looking for someone to carpool with to Oxford. The camera went dead after Stage 2. He & I shot back to back and I was more focused on passing the camera than thinking about the stage. Then it was :”Why did the @#$& camera stop working???”
  • I shot a different gun combo in each match: 1911 in 9mm once, then the 1911 with a flashlight, followed by the XDS.
  • I clearly was doing something different because my strong side forearm was seriously sore today. That hasn’t happened before.

I decided to just take all that into account and give myself a break. Bad guys do show up when you are tired. I carry the XDS so I need to shoot it. I want to learn skills for shooting in the dark. I really do want to capture some of this on video:it’s easier to explain to friends, family and co-workers what a match really is like. And I’m finally making friends so I do want to nurture those friendships.

OK, let me say that again: I’m finally making friends. That is huge. When you know you are going to spend 4+ hours around strangers and know you are not good at the one thing they care about, you arrive with a mix of apprehension and uncertainty. It is a very different experience knowing you will recognize faces, knowing it’s ok to ask “Can you film this for me?” and getting a smile and a hug when you arrive. Maybe that’s a girl thing, but it’s the reason I shot 3 matches in 10 days: I felt welcomed.

I shot poorly but I know I have work to do. That will never change. I was smiling because I had added a few more conversations to the foundation of a few friendships that I look forward to growing in the future. That made it an excellent evening!


Here are the two stages I got on video. My mom watches them… LOL. And blog posts are always better with pictures. This isn’t excellent shooting, but it’s safe shooting and you get to see what these matches are like:

First Night Match

The guys who host the Wake County Action Pistol Matches hosted a no light / low light match last night. It was my first night match. I wasn’t the only night match “virgin”. Only after I arrived did I stop to think about how to reload a gun with a flashlight one hand. Turns out you do it pretty much they same way you do it without the light – but probably slower.

I entered the handheld light division. I’d picked up an Olight T20 at the local gun show last year for every day carry. It seemed to me it would be bright enough and it worked fine for the match. I have small hands and I picked this due to it’s very small size. It puts out 270 lumens. This was plenty bright to shoot the match.

IMG_20150311_180722We didn’t need to draw from a holster, but I picked up a $9 belt holster at Lowe’s last week just to have a place to stash the light when I wasn’t shooting. You get what you pay for: it was so tight that I could barely squeeze in the (very thin) light. I shoved a larger light in and let it sit for a week – that loosened up the elastic enough to make it functional for the match. I see the value of a holster designed for the light.I just don’t know where to get one for this light.

I did hunt down a few youtube videos to check out technique. I’d taken a class a few years back where we tried this but I honestly didn’t remember much. These were helpful:

The RSOs were great. Everyone was encouraged to take their time and above all be safe. We shot 4 stages and had some special treats: one stage incorporated a flashing blue light, one had a swinger, and one had a target with a flashlight pointed at the shooter.

Lessons I learned:

  • I shoot well with one hand. So the FBI Technique worked well for me. However, when I keep the light close to me, I also tended to hold the gun in close. I need to remember to extend my shooting arm.
  • I limp wrist when I use the Harries Hold. I lost count of the malfunctions I had on Stage 4. The entire stage was shot from a sitting position and I tried using this hold. I really want to give that another try and focus on holding the gun rather than creating opposing tension against each hand. But this is why I shot the match: to learn where I need to work next.

Below is the video that Ben posted after the match you give you an idea what the shooter saw. I really look forward to the next opportunity to try this again.

Wake County Action Pistol Match 3/16/15

January Match

January Match

I was WARM last night at the Wake County Range! The January match started just above freezing and dipped below freezing by the end of the match. I grabbed a screen shot from my phone before I headed home that night.

I wore fleece long johns and jeans. On the upper body: a wicking layer, a stretch fleece pull over, a cotton zip front hoodie sweat shirt and a down vest over it all. I stripped out of the vest and sweatshirt when it was my turn to shoot. I put chemical hand warmers in the pockets of the sweatshirt to keep my fingers warm. My socks were “Smart Wool” and my feet never got cold. Worked great!

I February it was slightly warmer and I stuffed the vest in my range bag. I drove home that night in sleet & snow. All this is to say I’ve just come to associate shooting with cold weather. But no more for this season!

I was in a t-shirt last night and the new challenge is juggling 5 magazine and pasters in my jean pockets. Helps if your t-shirt also has a pocket.


Don’t hit the good guy!

The “new thing” I experienced last night was a stage where you opened a door then shot targets behind a swinger that was a “no shoot”. Put another way, don’t shoot the moving target that is in the way of the stationary targets. The swinger was white versus the targets that are a neutral cardboard color. I grabbed a photo of another shooter after she opened the door. You can see the swinger leaning to the right.

First, you had to let go of the gun with one hand to open the door. Then focus on the stationary targets. It’s amazing how much that swinger could distract.

I only connected with one shot out of four on these targets… and the first thing I though was, “I want to try that again!”. So I will. The match on Wednesday, March 25th will use the same stages. I think I’ll switch from my 1911 to my XDS and see how I do.

XDS trigger job – Part1

My gun smith, Kapp Ogburn,  ordered the Powder River trigger kit for me after I decided I was willing to invest more into my XDS (9mm). At the time he ordered, the only parts available were the springs. They had no sears in stock.

He installed the spring kit back on February 7th. I brought him the gun, watched the entire procedure, then took the gun over to PDHSC later in the day just to verify everything was working. It shot fine.  We watched the “how to” video and referred to photos he had taken when he’d done this in the past. The video is  just over 15 minutes. It took my gunsmith longer to swap out all the springs because he was patient enough to let me ask questions throughout the process.  There is no way I’d have done this. I did remember to ask that he test the trigger pull both before and after.

  • Trigger weight before the spring kit: 8 lbs
  • Trigger weight after the spring kit: 6.5 lbs
  • Trigger weigh of my S&W 1911: 3.25 lbs

They now have the sear available, although oddly, they only sell it with the spring kit. I wrote Powder River and mentioned I’d already bought the spring kit. I asked if it was possible to just buy the sear. The response: “We do not offer the sear as a stand-alone product at this time, but the price you pay is the cost of the sear, and our cost for the springs.”

My gunsmith thinks replacing the sear will take off another pound, possibly getting it down to 5 lbs. I asked him to order the sear, so as soon as I get that and get it installed, I’ll post another update (part 2).

IMG_20150224_194855-cropI did shoot the XDS in the Wake County Action Pistol Match on February 25th. I bought a red holster and mag pouches for matches and this was the first time I used them.

Snow was predicted and it started as we finished up the match. Attendance was low due to the weather but I was glad I went. It was warmer than the January match. I had no malfunctions with the XDS and I never got cold. It was a good night. A few lessons learned:

  • Grip the gun very high up on the grip to avoid a NASTY pinch (and bruise) on my palm when I reload. The bottom of the magazine seems to hit just about the bottom of my palm and it seriously hurts if I slam in the magazine and pinch flesh.
  • If you have to turn before you shoot., turn in the direction of the gun
  • Don’t walk into a doorway to shoot – because it’s going to take time to back out and move to the next target.
  • I was overdressed. I didn’t need a down vest. We started off at 40 degrees and were still slightly above freezing when the match ended –  even though we had snow dusting the cars when we headed home.



October Wake County Action Pistol Match / Ladies Handgun League Action Pistol

Sadie - Bay 2

Sadie – Bay 2

I went back in October to shoot another Wake County Action Pistol Match on 10/29. We got a late start due to conflicting events but still shot 4 stages. Total round count: 55. Special highlights: shooting from under a barrier and one stage shot strong hand only. Two of the stages were “run & gun” set ups requiring movement and two stages were shot from a stationary position. At this point the Monday matches fill up fast but the Wednesday matches fill slower – and may be easier to get into.

A past shooting partner came out for his first Action Pistol Match and I did my best to be a good tour guide and answer all the questions I asked at my first match.

He & I have shot IPDA in the past so mostly it was “yes you have that restriction in IDPA, no you don’t have that restriction at this match”. My biggest “victory” at this match was no malfunctions with my 1911. I was thrilled about that.

When you shoot a match, you get one run through of the stage. The match director was generous enough to set up a stage in Bay 1 this morning at 9am for the Ladies Handgun League. I couldn’t pass up the chance to run through the stage a few more times. I lucked out and got 3 attempts. Each time through I focused on slightly different things:

  • Are you absolutely sure your finger is OFF the trigger when you are moving?
  • In an attempt to work on recoil control, I put 3 shots in most of the targets instead of just the required 2 shots.
  • I never remember to count my shots – I always ended up reloading after I pull the trigger and get no bang – something to focus on in the future.

This is FUN! Every lady that gave it a try was smiling after her attempt. It looks intimidating. I promise that’s only before your first time through. The typical reaction is “I want to do that again!”

Finally, I wanted to mention the good feedback you can get from video. My friend and I swapped off filming each other last Wednesday night and I got to rerun the stages from video and review my shooting. What feels really fast in the moment sure looks slow in review. I’m not a fast shooter and definitely not competitive, but if you want to see what shooting a stage looks like, I’m posting 3 of the stages below.

If you are local, want to shoot the match and have questions, the match directors do a great job of responding. If you want to talk to a participant, I’m also happy to answer questions to the best of my ability.

Here’s the video:

Bay 1: turn right, shoot 3, transition to the right, shoot 2, move forward and right, shoot  2 high and 2 low – 18 rounds

Bay 2: two targets each side of barricade, three paper plates (stand in for steel plates) in the middle – shoot at least one under the barricade. I shot 3 each side and a single under – but I had misses – 11 rounds

Bay 4: Two stages.

Stage 1: (No Video) Five targets, two each side and a swinger in the middle. All strong hand. Start with the gun on the table, pull the cord to trip the swinger then pick up the gun with one hand. 10 rounds.

Stage 2: 4 targets all partially covered. Two rounds in each, reload, two more in each. 16 rounds.