On February 2, 2017, I went out for my 5th IDPA match. And oh, what a match it was. One of the reasons I’ve started competing is to be able to test my skills with a firearm under some pressure. It might be tempting to think that hanging out with a bunch of guys at a range running around shooting static targets is not much of a test. Should you be the holder of such a view, I invite you to come shoot a match sometime. I’ll even pay your entrance fee.
Regardless of how the match goes for me overall, I find it’s a real bit of stress when I step up to the line at the beginning of a stage. I want to do well, of course, but I also don’t want to embarrass myself and shoot poorly in front of everyone. That matters to me even if I don’t know everyone very well yet.
This match was very revealing, and you’ll see why in a minute. I always learn something from a match, and usually I go home with specific things I want to work on. This match took that concept to a new level.
Stage One: Be Seated
The first stage I shot was a seated stage. Shooting from a seated position is not something I do often, and I need to work at it. Nonetheless, I didn’t do too terribly on it. My accuracy was decent, and my speed was in the upper half of the pack. Not so bad. I do need to work on seated shooting, but that’s not the top priority right now.
Stage Two: At Fault
In 2017, IDPA implemented fault lines. Technically, there have always been fault lines, but they were rather grey. The fault line denotes the line you cannot cross when shooting from behind cover. In the past, the SO would watch for faults with cover and you’d get a procedural error if you broke cover and shot an array. Being new to the sport, I’m not great with cover. And I’ve never shot with fault lines.
On the second array, I put half my foot over the fault line and shot the whole array. Turns out, that’s not only a procedural error, but a flagrant error, which cost me 10 seconds. Ouch. Alrighty—need to work on my fault line skills.
Stage Three: Bye, Bye
Stage three should have been a lot of fun. We started engaging two targets with three shots each from about 12-15 yards, moved downrange to engage two more with two shots each, crossed left to engage another array. I don’t remember the last array for reasons that will become clear in a second.
I watched other shooters shoot 10 shots on the first four targets, move, then shoot one shot, come back behind cover, reload and finish the last array. I thought it would be faster to dump a third shot into the last of the first four targets and do a reload on the move. The distance on the fourth target was about 2 yards, so I could crank that shot off very fast. Good plan. What fouled me up was bad execution. Bad, bad execution.
As I started moving from right to left, I went for a reload. My magazine got caught on my cover garment and I twisted my body just a little bit to fix it. As soon as I did, I heard the dreaded word, “STOP!” The second I heard it, I knew what I had done. I broke the 180 rule with the muzzle. If you’re not familiar, the 180 line is an imaginary line crossing from right to left across the range. In front of the line are targets, behind the line are people. It’s frowned upon when you point your gun at people.
I felt sick. Thankfully, I followed the rest of the gun safety rules and kept my finger out of the trigger guard and didn’t fire a round in an unsafe direction. Still, I broke a cardinal safety rule. Everyone was great about it. At least a half-dozen people shook my hand and said, “Sorry, dude. It happens to all of us at one time or another.” Nobody freaked out, but I went home early. It wasn’t my best night.
Twenty Four Hours
I allowed myself 24 hours to feel bad about it. Then I went to work. I played the tape of the incident a hundred times in my head. I broke it down to every single mistake I made that led to that safety infraction. I learned a lot. I realized I’ve never done a right to left movement with a reload. As a right-hander, moving right to left is tricky because the natural bend of our arm makes it easy to break the 180 rule. I realized the way I was indexing my gun for a reload exacerbated that issue. So that had to change.
I also realized the cover garment I was using—a lightweight long sleeve shirt—was just too difficult to maneuver with. I never could predict where the fabric would go when I swept it out of the way. So that had to change.
Then there were the fault lines. I wasn’t used to running up to a line, stopping, getting my stance, then shooting. So that had to change.
Put In The Time
I set up a mini-stage in my office. I have a couch, a desk and chair, and some bookcases. I hung targets all over the walls, put down blue painters tape on the floor and went to work. I changed out my cover garment to a fleece vest—no wonder all the other guys uses vests, it’s SO MUCH EASIER!. I began working on every aspect of a stage. I would stand at the “line,” give myself a command to load and make ready and re-holster. I broke down every movement so it would always be safe and efficient. I used a timer to give me a start signal and ran a stage. I could move right to left, left to right, up-range to down-range, down to up. I stopped myself if I broke the 180 line and re-worked my technique.
I did this every night for 30-45 minutes for two weeks. Seriously. By the end of that two weeks, I had changed my cover garment, magazine pouches, holster position, reload technique and developed a start and end of stage routine. After I found a method that worked, I worked that method over and over again until it was automatic. I could run at full speed to a line, stop short and bring the gun up; no faults here!
It was tiring, it was sweaty and at times boring. But I kept at it until I was confident I would be able to run a match without being DQ’d or blowing over a fault line. Along the way, my magazine changes became faster and more fluid, my draw was smoother and I was coming up on target faster.
How did it all work? Stay tuned to see; the next match is in a few days!