Pretty much every gun related blog in the world is doing a 2017 recap. Most are focusing on the top 10 new guns, the top 10 most cringeworthy anti-gun meltdowns, the top 10 articles. I decided I’m simply going to recap my year in shooting. My hope is that this post inspires some of you to get out to the range more often, not to simply blow my own horn.
I was recently paid a very high compliment that led me to write this post. Last week, my daughter and I re-took Defensive Handgun 2 at our local range. At the end of the class, we all went around and recapped what we learned. After I shared my findings, Rich—the instructor—said, “This guy is a really good shooter. But he comes here with a humble attitude, willing to learn and he takes his craft seriously.”
That meant a lot to me. I’ve done 46 hours of training with Rich now, and have learned a ton. I’m a better shooter because of all that instruction. And that leads me to year-in-review item number one.
I don’t really do New Year’s Resolutions—I keep mine at 2650×1440 (geek humor). However, I do set goals some years. At the beginning of 2017, my goal was to buy fewer guns and get more training. The more training part was easy; the buying fewer guns took a lot of discipline as the list of guns I still want to own is a few dozen deep at the moment. But, with a kid in college, another getting married and some unexpected household expenses, funds were limited.
Whatever I do, I tend to go all-in with it. I don’t want to be just a good shooter. I want to be the best shooter I can be. It is unlikely I’ll ever be as fast as BJ Norris or Ben Stoeger. I may not be able to make 0-down head shots at 100 yards. But I am better than I was 12 months ago, and I can be better still.
In 2017, I was able to take ten classes for a total of 62 hours of training. That brings my total professional training time to 86 hours. Nine classes where at my local range, The Nashville Armory, and I took a 3-day class at Tactical Performance Center in Utah. Because all of the classes are different, it’s hard to find specific benchmarks to measure improvement. However, I did find that in late November 2016, I took a class where we clocked a draw from concealment at 3 yards. My best time at the end of that class was 1.65 seconds. And that was with my competition gun, holster and IDPA vest for “concealment.” Last Friday, at DH-2, I wore a fleece sweatshirt over my OWB everyday carry gun and holster and hit 1.23 seconds. I’m pretty sure with no concealment, I’d knock 0.2 off.
But more importantly, I’m landing more shots in the A and -0 zones, faster and at longer distances. At a Shooter Improvement class earlier this year, I struggled to hit an IDPA style target at 25 yards. I shot a walk-back drill yesterday (10-15-20-25 yards) and of 50 shots, only 12 were outside the 8” -0 zone, and all stayed in the -1 zone. My goal for 2018 is to be able to keep all of them in the -0 zone at 25 yards.
I can’t emphasize enough how valuable training has been for me. The amount of confidence I now have in what I can (and can’t) do much higher than at the beginning of 2017. It also makes shooting a lot more fun when you can hit what you’re aiming for in practice. Unless you’re like me and are a glutton for punishment—I keep shrinking the size of my targets and pushing them farther back when I practice.
Buying Fewer Guns
I’m torn on this one. Yes, I did reach my goal of buying fewer guns. Of course, the bar was low (or is it high…) since I bought quite a few in 2016. However, I did spend much more on training, ammo and competitions than I did on guns and equipment. And I believe that made me a better shooter.
I bought just two guns in 2017, though I also finished buying parts for Justine, my mid-range AR build. So 2 1/2. Part of the reason I slowed down on buying new guns—aside from the financial aspect—was to focus on learning one platform and learning it really well. I compete and carry basically the same gun. By year’s end, the guns were identical except for barrel length and trigger pull weight. Otherwise, they are the same. This has proven to be a good strategy as I can now shoot my carry gun just about as well as my competition gun, and I can train, take classes and work with either with nearly equal proficiency. Clint Smith once said, “Beware the man who only has one gun. He probably knows how to use it!” That’s been my goal for 2017.
Freeing up more funds for ammo has been another big deal. I’ve taken up hand loading in a big way and now shoot mostly 9mm reloads from my press. This has dropped my per-round cost to around $0.11. The best I can do when I find a big sale and get free or cheap shipping is about $0.18/round. That may not sound like a lot until you send 15,000 rounds downrange in a year. Which I did. Of those 15,000, 5,500 were reloads. So, that saved me a solid $400, not including my time. But I actually enjoy hand loading, so it’s easily worth it. Now that I have my 9mm load dialed in, my press set up and everything ready to go, I can easily crank out the 250 rounds I shoot each week in about 30 minutes or less. In 2018, I expect to save close to $1,000 in ammo costs now that I’m shooting almost exclusively reloads.
My goal at the beginning of 2017 was to shoot more intentionally. I listened to a lot of smart people who said, “Don’t just shoot. Shoot with purpose. Every round should have a training value attached.” So, I decided I would shoot 200 rounds of 9mm every week. Each one would be a specific drill that worked on an area of weakness. Instead of shooting until I got bored or ran out of ammo, I had specific things to work on.
I missed a few weeks, but I managed at least 50 weekends of 200 rounds each, so that’s 10,000. I shot 14 IDPA matches and 10 Shoot ’n Scoot matches, with an average round count of about 70, which adds up to another 1,600. My 3-day class at TPC burned 1,750 (after I shot up some in Vegas before flying home with the rest of the 2,000 rounds I took there). We shot at least 250 and sometimes 400 in the classes I took at the Armory, so I’m going to average those out at 300; that works out to another 2,700.
All of that totals up to 16,050 rounds of 9mm. Give or take. Plus the few hundred I shot taking friends to the range. And that doesn’t count the hundreds of .45 ACP, .45 Colt, .380, 5.56, 300 AAC and 12 gauge I also shot. Overall, not a bad year.
I also decided to get serious about competing in 2017. As previously mentioned, I shot two dozen matches. Being the numbers geek that I am, I track my progress in IDPA to see how I’m doing. Overall, I’m in much better shape than I was last January. I used to finish in the high teens, now I’m low teens with a best 8th overall. Moreover, tracking my percentage against other top shooters in the club, I saw 20-30% improvement against some of the Expert and Master level shooters. Of course, as in training, I’ve made the big gains, so improvements from now on are going to be smaller and more incremental.
I worked really hard to get to my current skill level. However, to improve to the next level, it’s going to take probably double the level of effort. This is a great example of the 80/20 principle. Getting to 80% takes X amount of effort. Getting from 80-90% will take 2X amount of effort, and 90-100% will take 4X amount. Right now I’m weighing out if I want to put in that much effort, or coast and improve just a little this year.
Having begun experimenting with long-range shooting, reloading and getting back into skeet shooting limits my time. So, how much can I focus on one thing? Still working that out.
Goals for 2018?
I still want to keep taking training classes as often as I can. I really want to take a carbine class, so I’m beginning to look into that. I’ll keep shooting 200 rounds a week with improvement goals in mind. I’m doing my best to get to every IDPA match I can, and will keep that up.
I need to get back to a more regular dry practice routine at home, especially when it comes to drawing from concealment with heavier winter clothing on. I would like to continue to improve my overall accuracy level as well. To again quote Mr. Smith, “Don’t shoot fast. Shoot good.” I often want to shoot the gun more than I want to hit the target. That needs to flip.
There are a couple of guns I’d like to buy in 2018. The problem is, like IDPA skill level, I’ve bought all the affordable ones already. The ones I now want are getting more expensive. So we’ll see how the year goes.
My other goal—and I have no real good idea how to implement this—is to take more new shooters to the range for their first shooting experience. I took one or two last year, and it was great fun. This year, I would like to introduce more people to the joy of the shooting sports. Especially people who consider themselves anti- or neutral-gun. My open offer still stands; if you don’t like guns or if you’ve never shot before and would like to, let me know and we’ll set up a range trip. I’ll cover all costs (except travel) and teach you how to shoot safely. Then you can decide from an informed condition.
Otherwise, what I did in 2017 seems to be working, so I’m going to do more of that. What are your shooting goals in 2018? Let me know in the comments.