Being low man on the pole isn’t bad as long as you’re learning

Mar. 02, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

The drill was fairly complicated for someone with my attention span and ability to stay cool under stress.
There was an empty shotgun on the table with eight rounds of ammunition. In my holster was a loaded Smith and Wesson R8 tactical revolver, and 30 yards away on another table was an AR15 that was empty, with a loaded magazine resting beside it.
My job was to load the shotgun with all eight rounds and knock the plates off a Texas Star, a diabolical target with five 8-inch plates, arranged in star fashion on an axle. Once the plates were off the star, I was to draw my pistol and put two shots each on two large gong targets. I was to then reload and shoot six more 8-inch plates and then bench my revolver. Then, I had to run to the rifle table, load the rifle, and shoot seven bowling-pin-shaped targets, ending the time by shooting an even smaller stop plate.
Trying to be prepared, I placed the shells on the table so they’d be easy to pick up to load the shotgun. I checked my pistol to be sure it was loaded, and checked for a speed loader in my coat pocket. I mentally prepared myself for the process and told Colton, who was holding the timer, I was ready. When the timer beeped, I grabbed up the shotgun and began loading it. It felt strange and I realized I was loading Mike’s shotgun, mine was still over at the loading bench. I continued on, remembering that a Remington works differently from a Mossberg. Once the shotgun was loaded, I began shooting the Texas Star, but I started on the bottom, instead of the top, where I should have started. As soon as I knocked off the bottom plate, the star became extremely unbalanced and began to swing wildly, making it really hard to hit the rest of the plates. Finally, I knocked off the last plate as it swung radically around the star.
I put the shotgun down and drew my pistol. I shot the two gong targets easily, then I began shooting the plates, and as I shot the last plate, I realized I was shooting the wrong set of plates, “Never mind, carry on,” I thought. I ran to the rifle loading table and loaded the rifle. I braced it on the barricade and began picking off the bowling-pin targets. About the fourth shot I began to feel strange.
I remembered I needed air, and in the excitement, I was forgetting to breathe. I took a big breath, and forcing myself to shoot deliberately, I finished the last three bowling pins, then turned my attention to the little stop target. I’ve never been known for my pistol shooting skills, much less my fast pistol shooting skills, but I do consider myself a rifle shooter. I summoned some calm and pressed the trigger while the scope was on the stop plate; it rung and swung wildly on its hinges. The stage was over.
“Good shooting, Papa,” Chris exclaimed, “Winner, winner, chicken dinner, best time on this scenario.”  It took me a minute to realize he was pulling my leg. Colton and Chris had stopped at our place on their way to a Three Gun match in South Carolina, and we were taking in a morning of practice and checking zeros on their rifles. Having been a former Federal Air Marshal and trainer for other Federal Air Marshalls,  as well as doing two stints as a Top Shot competitor, Chris is one if the best firearms instructors in the country. Our host, Mike Byrd of B&B Precision Machining, is also a three-gun shooter and way faster than I’ll ever be.
To get better at anything, you have to practice, and practice isn’t fun. Well, maybe that isn’t so. During our shooting time this week, I spent an entire morning at serious practice with three friends, and I can’t remember many times I’ve had more fun. As a competitive shooter, I’ve never excelled at events that are scored on time. I eat slow, I think slow, and I shoot slow. Timed shooting events discombobulate me completely, and Friday’s practice was no exception. I think I was the slowest shooter of the four of us every time. I probably had the highest hit ratio, but time is what this kind of event is scored on.
In my sixties, I suspect I’ll never be a threat at a three-gun competition, but I enjoy shooting the guns and gear used in this kind of competition. Even though I’m the slowest shooter in my squad, I’m still having fun. Most of the time, I don’t even look at my time or compare it. I know I’m slow but I also know I’m having fun and improving my shooting skills. Even better, I’m pulling a trigger with people whose company I enjoy. If I were really worried about my performance, it wouldn’t be as much fun.
No matter what kind of shooting you enjoy, whether it’s hunting, competing, or just shooting cans, practice makes you better and practicing with really good shooters is best. No matter how good you get, there will always be someone better. The trick is to enjoy the trip to becoming better. I knew at the beginning of our session I wasn’t likely to outshoot anyone but I also knew I was going to shoot my best. You have to compete against yourself. It’s true that you may not have bragging rights at the end of the session, but if you leave your pride in the trunk, you’ll learn something and you’ll be a better shooter for the experience.
While I have no illusions of eventually besting Mike, Colton, and Chris, I can improve on my own personal bests, and that’s how champions think. If you improve your own performance every time out and you shoot often enough, you’ll eventually be the best that you can possibly be.