Do You Shoot Competitions?

It’s not about winning; it’s about pushing yourself to do your best. When we shoot competitively, we have the pressure of performing in front of our peers, against the clock, and against a standard that we can’t fudge if we do poorly.

At the range
On the 300 yard line with a scoped bolt action.

I love shooting by myself, whether it’s pinking with a .22 or challenging myself on some hanging steel at a couple hundred yards with a bigger rifle. Lot’s of people talk about using range time to blow off steam, but for me it’s quite the opposite. I find a good range session to be akin to meditation – a way to tune out the world, relax, and really focus myself. I really wish I had time to do a lot more of it…but I digress. The problem with solo practice – or even informal practice with friends – is that you aren’t pushed to really perform. It’s just fine for having a good time, but it won’t do nearly as much as formal competition to improve your skills.

In competition, you can’t cheat yourself by choosing easier targets or sticking to the things you’re good at. You can’t take a mulligan on a bad shot. You don’t get to pick and choose what seems best today. You get a predetermined course of fire and you only have one chance to do it right. That pressure is what we need to really improve and to build skills that will be there if we ever need to use a firearm under real life-or-death stress, be it in military combat or civilian self-defense.

Another useful attribute of formal competition is that it leaves you no doubt when your gear just isn’t right. I got a firsthand face-full of that reality at this month’s local 2-Gun action match. I took a little SBR AK I had built that I thought was really slick. It has a 9.5″ barrel, Type 56 sidefolding stock, and Primary Arms red dot on a Midwest Industries mount. I figured it would be really fast and excel at the sort of multiple close-range targets that make up the bulk of this sort of match (or multiple-assailant home invasions, for that matter). Well, the first stage went pretty well, but when I locked and loaded for the second stage I discovered that my sight was dead – nary a dot to be seen. The backup sights on the MI mount were pretty pitiful, but the did eventually get me hitting the target. After a few shots the dot reappeared, but with little relation to where my bullets were hitting.

Krinkov flash
Too much flash and not enough substance…

On top of that, the gun just wasn’t nearly as handy in actual run-n-gun use as I had expected. In a normal day at the range I probably would have excused that, but it’s hard to ignore placing 43rd out of 46. It may be a fun toy, but that Krink is out of the running as a gun to grab in case of emergency, and it’s largely because of a formal competition environment that I know it.

Over the last ten years or so I’ve dabbled in a whole bunch of different competitive disciplines – IPSC, IDPA, Cowboy Action, Three Gun, NRA High Power Rifle, Bullseye Pistol, Collegiate Smallbore Pistol, and probably a couple others. The one I recently found that his quickly become my favorite is a local two-gun (rifle/pistol) match with a heavy element of physical exertion. It challenges both the mind and the body, with unorthodox shooting problems and plenty of movement. It also does a decent job of simulating how one might have to use a rifle in real combat, which makes it a good place to take interesting military rifles to learn some of the pros and cons that you don’t appreciate on the workbench or square range…

For anyone else interested in that sort of thing, I put together a video talking to some of the match organizers rather than just shooting footage:


  1. We Dutch are not allowed to have fun, we are SPORTshooters by law. You can’t have a gunlicense if your official reason to have a rifle is “a bit plinkin you know”. to make it worse, our local NRA enforces competition! If your gunclub wants to keep their license (which you need to shoot on their range), they will have to force their members into a competition. This is our NRA mind you, not the government. I really would like to enter competition and become a glorious 44 out of 46, but not like this. Yep, we have Feinsteins too.

  2. I currently ski biathlons, now there’s a test of how well you can shoot! Though your “run and gun” looks hard to me… I’ve done NRA smallbore rifle and pistol before and that took me from able to hit a soda can at ten yards to being really able to shoot. Competition really does put you on the spot, but most importantly, it exposes us to shooters that are not our buddies… And sometimes coaches. You can learn a lot from people like that, and however much you know, there’s always a guy or gal that knows more.

    • I once did a summer biathlon, which was mountain biking and pistol shooting. It was a ton of fun…and you are right about ski biathlon being a serious test of shooting ability!

  3. Can one compete with one of those new FG-42’s in 8mmMauser?
    If so– Ian can you do that and report on it?
    Also, how about a clip on local SASS competition.

    • The FG-42 would have been perfect for this match, but unfortunately I only had the demo rifle for a relatively short period and it wasn’t feasible to take it to the match. I expect it would have performed very well.

  4. I’m 73, alone since my wife of 49 years passed away. I retired with 45 yrs and 6 mo service with Army. I have quite a few “battle rifles” most of which I have used as an infanteryman. I shoot the “old folks” battle rifle competition once a month. I have no interest in who wins. I am interested in how well I do, and no one else. In a fire fight the your focus is on what YOU can do with you weapon. If there is anything else on your mind bad things can happen. Paper shooters enjoy competing against each other for a lot of reasons. There are some men known as “snipers” or “dedicated marksman” that for a very long, long time have acquired the skill to make a shot based only on their ability to bring into one second everything they have practiced and traind THEMSELVES to do, they compete with themselves every time, physically and mentally. Depending on external pressure, peer pressure is great for social shooting and fun. The challenge is acquire the ability do make a shot all on your own. I shoot SMLE’s, Arasaka’s, M1 Grands, Springfields, etc alone on the side of a mountain at 475 yds every week. Competition is great..but not the greatest test of skil; being able to make the shot all alone and knowing you made the shot is better I feel.

  5. Shooting since I was a kid> 🙂 Shot competition rifle in high school, our team was Az state champs for many years.

  6. Ian, at 4:44 the shooter Jake had what appears to be a glass optic on the barrel of his AR, im looking for just such a sight system, any help? Thanks in advance. JEFF

  7. I’m lazy, fat, and getting old. I find range time to be relaxing. Shooting my pistols at my local indoor range is almost meditation for me. There is a zen to it. But I still like a bit of fun and for that I Cowboy Action Shoot. I air soft as well just for kicks. Some of the other competitions locally are starting to appeal though, and I REALLY wanna hit an Apple seed shoot!!!

  8. I love my type 56 sidefolder. It was the first AK i ever owned. An ex girlfriend got it for birthday present for me. Probably the best folding stock for an AK i have ever had and the cleaning kit is nifty.

  9. I wish my local IPSC was half as exciting! I’ve always wanted to run a course with a classic bolt action such a SMLE or a K98. Probably wouldn’t place too well, but it would be an adventure.

  10. I shoot the club PPC matches with a stock S&W Model 10 for the same reason: It’s about seeing how well I can do. There is some talk about a 3-gun match, which I might enter with the Model 10 and a Mossberg 500. For the rifle portion, maybe a Garand or a Mosin. Could be fun….

  11. I have been shooting competitions for the past 50 years, and was an international competition pistol shooter in the 80’s and early 90’s. I still shoot 3 gun matches and long range practical rifle (up to 1000 metres in mountain terrain). At close to 66 I find this keeps me fit for hunting. Competition not only teaches you how to shoot properly in all conditions but you get to meet with a nice bunch of people!

  12. Oh man, my local USPSA Range Officers would have a cow if somebody ran downrage with a loaded handgun on the table to go punch out part of a Texas star! That’s often how I’d prefer to take them out though! I hope to move to AZ one of these days and I’d be sure to come down.

  13. The Krinkov is no longer your go-to weapon because the add-on battery-powered sight died at an event?

    Do any of your other firearms have similar sights?

    • It’s a bit more than just that – I didn’t like the handling nearly as much as I’d expected, and the sight radius without an optic is really short. I ought to get a better optic for it, but until then I’m sidelining the thing.

      Next match I’m going to run a tanker M1 with a 2-7x pistol scope and see how that handles.

  14. Very nice piece. Thanks for sharing.

    I have many similar thoughts. The range has been a place for escaping work’s realities, focusing and thus clearing one’s mind of extraneous things.

    2 Gun sounds wonderful. Gosh, I wish it would spread across the country. I too have dabbled in the other competitions. 2 Gun seems like “the one” though. After the Leader T2 did so well, it seems as though you should give 2 Gun a try with an M4 pattern carbine. Perhaps newer stuff isn’t your thing, but one of those would likely do well.

    • About half of the people competing use AR pattern rifles – I don’t need to do it myself to know that it’s an excellent choice. The AR just never “spoke” to me personally, and I prefer to use other designs.

      • I agree, Ian, it’s not really an interesting choice. Still, you should use an M4 type rifle at least once or twice in 2 or 3-gun, if only to have a baseline to compare to.

  15. I like using competition as a way to try out new gear, and to compare one rifle or pistol with another.

    My unflagging faithfulness to the AR platform is in no small part owed to competition.

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