I’m writing this because while my shooting friends are well-established competitors in both USPSA and other shooting disciplines and I’ve realized with that experience they don’t share the same questions and nervousness newer shooters may have. I attended my first USPSA match last month, and besides being an awesome experience, it hooked me. I’ve found that I entered my first match at a bit of an advantage in comparison to most new shooters by having friends with a thorough knowledge of the game. Having two experienced B shooters and a GM to answer all my questions months and weeks before the match helped me prepare for the match and ensure my gear and my practice were in line for game day. I want to point out that I’m not an expert on all things USPSA, as I stated this was my first match and I am always learning. I simply want to share the things I learned that made attending my first match relatively painless and extremely fun.
You need a Practiscore account to find and register for a match. Registration is usually a week prior to the match, but that may vary depending on your region and club. Matches may also fill up quickly, some within minutes of registration opening. This isn’t always the case, but if you don’t know what your area is like it’s best to sign up as soon as the registration link is available. Practiscore accounts are free and will enable you to search for local clubs and matches as well as a host of other things. You do not need to become a member of USPSA to shoot one of their matches, but your scores will not count towards classifying if you haven’t paid to be a member. I did not pay to be a member for my first match, but with how much I enjoyed the experience and how solid the competition is I think I will remedy that in the near future. After registering some clubs have you pay online, some in person, it will vary. You can always message the Match Director for confirmation, but it’s generally a safe bet that if there isn’t a payment requirement online then they want you to pay at the match.
Every match will generally have at least one classifier. If you are a member of USPSA it will count towards your classification standings. If you’re not it is still a cool way to see how you stack up to other shooters. This classifier was very similar to some of my dry fire practice, I shot the 11th best time of 80 shooters by simply shooting at the speed of my sights.
After successfully registering you’ll have the opportunity to choose which squad you will be shooting with. The squad is the group of people you will be shooting with all day, you’ll move as a group from stage to stage and will be helping paste targets, reset steel, run the scorepad, and the experienced shooters will either rotate as Range Officer or one person will remain in that position throughout. It doesn’t matter what division they are shooting or what their rank is, but I’d recommend trying to shoot with experienced shooters that are A class or higher and if you can find ones that shoot your division all the better. From my small experience with local shooting competitions, the better the shooter is the more helpful they can be. There are many variables to the game, that’s what makes it so exciting and keeps everyone interested, so having someone that is not only experienced in the game, but has demonstrated skill as well by achieving a higher rank, is invaluable. They will often be very open about giving advice on the stage, from planning your shooting order for your stage plan advising you when and where to reload to avoid violating the 180 safety line.
Stages are going to vary in speed and movement. This was my favorite stage, it began with a 35 yard shot on paper and required a lot of movement. As you can see our squad’s GM used my phone to record a lower angle for the entire stage run. I’ll spare you the video, but it just goes to show that even the best shooters can relax and have fun at the match.
As far as your gear is concerned the best advice I can give is to show up with what you have and buy after you’ve seen what you you might like to change. Depending on your division a good OWB holster and two mag carriers will get you through just fine. If you have multiple guns you enjoy shooting I’d bring the one that you shoot the best and have the most experience with. This will allow you to focus more on learning the game, rather than fighting with your gear or struggling to make an unfamiliar gun work for you on difficult stages.
For my squad there was a Revolver Grand Master who was shooting Single-Stack as a Master class and we had an A class production shooter. Both were very accomplished shooters and both were a wealth of knowledge throughout the day. After the third stage I simply stopped trying to airgun the stage until after I’d seen one of their dry runs and listened to what they had to say for the stage. Our third stage of the day had what is known as a “180 trap” which means it was a shooting position that would make it too easy for a shooter to violate the 180 degree safety rule. Our A class production shooter mentioned several times that it would be a very bad idea to reload in that position due to how easily one could break that safety plane. Unfortunately two of the newer competitors didn’t heed his warning and both were disqualified from the match for breaking the 180 reloading in that position. While getting DQ’d from a match is obviously not a fun time, the RO’s were not obnoxious or angry about doing it. Instead once the shooter’s weapon was cleared the experienced shooters helped explain what happened and used it as a teaching moment, making the DQ less likely to happen in the future.
This was the final stage of the match, and it required a table start. You can see halfway through that I even forgot a target and had to double back for it. There is so much to learn, but in a great way. Almost everyone is willing to help, and the important thing is to not kick yourself too hard for the mistakes you made so that you can learn and move on to improving.
I’m sure not all RO’s and experienced competitors will be as friendly or helpful, and while the majority seem to be, you can still pick up advice from competitors that aren’t as friendly. Simply watching their dry runs and observing the route they take, where they stop, where they shoot on the move, reload, etc., can go a long way towards helping you see things you might not as a newer shooter. I will caution any newer shooters to also realize that they may not be able to shoot to the same level as the A, M, GM’s, so observe while keeping your own shooting abilities in mind. There are often shots they can make from difficult positions that newer or less skilled shooters will end up struggling and losing precious time and points trying to make up for such mistakes.
I included Mike D.’s final run so that readers would be able to compare the difference between a brand new shooter and a thoroughly experienced one. While I am very confident in my gun handling skill, you can see how much more efficient and precise Mike is in comparison. Even shooting a handgun limited to 8 rounds, while I was using magazines with 20+ rounds he still finished with a far better Hit Factor. This shouldn’t be discouraging to anyone, it should motivating to see where you are at and where you can get with hard work.
Possibly the best advice I got before shooting a stage was “Center the dot and remember, nobody cares.” The most pressure you will get during a match is self-induced. That feeling that everyone is watching and judging you is magnified the newer you are. The thing is though that advice was dead on, nobody is criticizing you while you shoot. I mean they might be if you’re an obnoxious shooter, but generally everyone wants everyone else to do well. Otherwise GM’s wouldn’t be sharing advice and no one would be helping you out to increase their odds of winning. If you simply focus on doing what it takes to get your shots on target and have fun you will do amazing. If you’re spending that time before and after the buzzer worrying about who’s watching or think too much about what you’re doing then you won’t get the same results.
Shooting is almost always fun, shooting matches is the most fun I’ve had shooting hands down. That includes crew served machine guns, full auto MP5’s, and everything in between. There are many complexities to USPSA, classifiers, hit factor, major and minor shooting, different divisions, etc. Truly though if you can handle your gun capably you can forget about the scoring systems and other details and show up to have fun and learn. If you show up to a match just looking to learn, be safe, and have fun then you’ll most likely have the best shooting experience you’ve ever had. USPSA is extremely challenging and fast paced and I only wish I had time to make it to matches more often. There will hopefully be future articles as I continue my journey, and having just completed my second match where I learned so much I’ll do my best to pass on what I have learned.
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