Match Wits

man pointing a pistol outside

Owning or even carrying a self-defense weapon means little if you don’t know how to use it or freeze up when it matters most. While there is a big difference between competition shooting and surviving a gunfight, entering a few matches each year is a great way to get familiar with your handgun, develop your instinct and boost your ability to perform under pressure.

Race Against The Clock

Time is critical in competition. From the draw to the press-out to the shot, the faster, the better. A gunfight might not have a beep or stopwatch, but your ability to react to a situation quickly could be the difference between life and death.

If you’re going to shoot competition, even just local events or a simulated “match” with friends, you’ll need to train. Training with your handgun increases your familiarity with it. You’ll learn how to operate it efficiently, handle a malfunction and much more. During competition, your training kicks in as does your competitive drive. You want to get better with each run and improve your time and ranking.

shooter with competition electronics in their pocket

You might not feel like training and competition are preparing your mind and body for a gunfight, but they certainly are. A gunfight can happen quickly and may only last a few seconds. The quicker you can get to your firearm, press out, and make a clean and accurate shot, the better your chances of putting the threat down.

Accuracy

You can be fast, but if you can’t hit what you’re aiming at, your competitive career will be short lived. This will sound harsh, but the same is true for your life. If you find yourself in a gunfight and can’t put lead on target, there’s a good chance you’ll lose.

Shooting competitively helps up accuracy in multiple ways. First, you’re going to be interacting with other competitors. Though you are in direct competition, sage shooters are always offering up advice and helping mentor newbies. You can learn more about accuracy by attending a couple of shoots than you ever could on your own.

target in an outdoor range with lots of bullets holes in it

Second, shooting under pressure and being able to hit a target builds confidence. When you can bang steel in competition when the timer is running, and eyes are on you, you’ll feel that much more effective should you find yourself in a self-defense situation.

Managing Nerves

It’d be downright foolish to compare a competition to a gunfight in terms of nerves. There’s simply nothing that compares to a fight for one’s life. However, those who’ve been in both believe that their competitive shooting experience played a role in helping them walk away from their encounter.

Both competitive shooting and a gunfight will create adrenaline. Competition shooters learn to compartmentalize—put anxiousness aside and perform—which are keys to winning. As previously mentioned, things in a gunfight happen fast, just like they do in competition. The mind and body of a competition shooter typically go into autopilot during a gunfight. Are they nervous? Yes. However, they’re able to keep their heads and stay focused on the task at hand. They also don't freeze when their life is on the line.

Remember

It’s important to note that things you learn in competition aren’t gospel for a gunfight. It’s not uncommon in competition to have single-shot targets. In a gunfight, you want to keep shooting until the threat is no longer a threat.

Cover should also be mentioned. Most competition shooters, depending on the discipline, use cover. That cover, however, is often used to facilitate speed. In a gunfight, cover is critical for survival.

If you’re a new gun owner, there’s no reason to wait. There are multitudes of different matches out there—the most popular being action pistol-type matches. For more information, check with your local brick-and-mortar gun shop or visit competitions.nra.org.

Another great resource is the United States Practical Shooting Association (uspsa.org). A visit to their website will reveal USPSA Clubs, membership options, and more.