There is a high likelihood that you may perform poorly at your first match… but failure pushes you to better understand your weapon and your technique. Without a doubt, the cheapest and easiest way to get some good hard use range time on your gun is with monthly competitions. A carbine class will have a harsh firing schedule, teach you lots about your weapon, and give you a great base for learning to run your gun… but it simply not something you can do frequently. Not all of us can dedicate an entire weekend, $200-400 for class fees + 1000 rounds of 5.56 to take a carbine class.
Competitions offer (typically) a smaller round count and a less time intensive way to trial your gear and increase your skill. The one weekday a month format, the low match fee, and round counts approaching 200-300 ish rounds split between rifle / pistol is affordable and very fun. Depending on the venue and the event organizer, outlaw two-gun events can present a variety of shooting scenarios that you won’t see on 3 gun nation.
In “outlaw” matches, the creativity and safety of the match director is the only real limit to the scenarios they can envision. I have seen dummies dragged, I have shot at slow movers at 300-400 yards, I have run over 500 yards on a singe stage (!) all the way down the 600 yard range at the “Blackhawk Down” event. I have had the match director order us to remove our scopes and flip-up our irons for the next stage… some of these scenarios are things you wont find at nationally organized events since they make things “unfair”. The randomness of it helped me understand my rifle better, damn the scoreboard… I want to learn to shoot!
So what is your first step at getting started? Is there anything blocking you? Are you scared of performing poorly? You worried you don’t have the right gear? Let’s touch on a few of these points:
Good Gear is Cumulative:
I started with clearance item gear from MidwayUSA. I purchased a $10 better bdu belt, some $14 clearance tan mag pouches, a cheap dump pouch, and I started with iron sights. I started with the lowest budget gear imaginable. With each competition, I bought and sold different products until I have configured my rifle in a way that makes sense to me and works for my shooting goals. The cheap belt and pouches gave way to quality Kydex and FastMag systems. The cheapo batman shooting glasses gave way to some nice Rudy Projects. The gun was upgraded slowly and the gear begins to look “cool”.
It’s not my intention to make a fashion statement, I just want decent gear, and for some reason decent gear looks well… “professional”. That said, getting started with the gear you have now will be far more beneficial to you then waiting, and far more importantly, better than upgrading your gun and gear thinking once its all done then “I will be ready”. Bro-tip: You wont ever be ready until you start.
Hitting the local competition circuit with your current setup, be it cheap or high-end, will develop your skills and break off cheap gear. You will then find yourself re-defining your rifle and your gear to make you a more effective shooter. Cheap stuff will break, things will wiggle loose, and you will repair them or upgrade them with quality components. You will accumulate truly *good* gear. I didn’t start with awesome stuff. It happened over time.
I Might Suck, and That’s Embarrassing…
Yes it is. I am not a champion shooter. I am good enough to never come in last, but not good enough to hit first place. I go with the intent on having fun, and learning to shoot my gear better. My first match made me nervous, sure… I didn’t know anyone and I wasn’t quite sure if my A4 rifle setup was zero’d good enough to reach the 400 yard target. (It was) So I met some dudes, got to know a really cool match director (the devious FARGO007 on Arfcom) and I learned what I needed to work on. Bro-Tip: If you have a good 200 yard zero and have confirmed it, and you understand your close and far holds, you will be better prepared than many other shooters who will hit the line.
At your first outing, there are going to be guys with gear that make you look like the poor boy with holes in his pants on the first day at a new school. So What? Some of those decked out shooters might even be prior military and have some excellent weapon skills. So What? Some of those shooters have done competitions for years and they have the gear and the skill to whip your ass on the scoreboard. So What?
The key is to check yourself and go with the intent not to win, but to LEARN. To learn the skills you need to develop, to learn which gear makes you faster, and to learn to manage your stress and maintain a good shooting form and cadence on the stages. As you learn more and more, suddenly you will show up one day and realize that you came in 3rd, or 2nd, or even 1st place. So don’t worry about how poorly you currently shoot… you will never get better without extra trigger time, and competitions let you see and learn from other shooters to elevate your own shooting.
Gear I Wish I Would Have Had From Day 1:
I want to give some insight on gear I wish I had started with instead of accumulated… so I have a list below. For reference, I only shoot gear that is more on the practical side just in case any SHTFantasy comes true. I don’t use race-gun holsters, and I don’t have guns that I have tuned with light weight bolt carriers and all that other crap. I want my guns and my gear more on the reliable side vs. gear just for competition. So here is some practical gear that will help you get started:
1) Invest in Kydex Right Away: You need a way to feed your gun whether you compete or not. Instead of worrying about getting gear for competition and another setup for SHTF, just buy one set of kydex mag holsters that you can use universally. You can get them molded and they are available in any color or camo, and they retain magazines just as well as more expensive options yet kydex is fairly affordable. I like the Bravo Concealment SNS-R which was pictured above in Coyote Brown. It’s a good choice for *one* purchase which will cover your rifle and pistol reloads for small 2 gun matches.
2) A Quality Belt: The better BDU belt was okay, but now I use the popular Wilderness Tactical Frequent Flyer with the 5 stitch stiffening. Getting a belt with an extra layer of stiffness combats floppy magazine pouches and retains your gear at a comfortable, and repeatable spot. This belt is going to compliment your new kydex gear in giving you a clean, professional, and more importantly, functional setup when you head to your first match. My frequent flyer belt is also my daily belt I use with my CCW. Notice a theme? Dual Use All The Things!
2) Quality Shooting Glasses: You can use a flex spending account to buy RX sunnies. I wish I had purchased a better pair sooner, but even without RX… a good set of sunglasses will be of benefit since they will protect your eyes and give you better target contrast depending on which color you choose. I started with some uncomfortable Wiley X specs and I wish I had tried more options before hand, but that’s all my optician had. Since I contributed to a flexible spending account this year, I got some quality RX sunglasses that I have wanted for years.
3) Gear Consolidation: This is more of a gear philosophy. I have sold most of my secondary weapons and calibers so I only concern myself with 9mm, 5.56, and 12 guage. I have two AR15s with 1/2 x 1/2 minute adjustments for the irons and scope (a third AR is the wifes). I shoot one load, a 69 grain SMK between both my rifles. They practically have the same DOPE. My Glock 19 is about to be joined by a Glock 17, both will be gen 3.
I am eliminating .22LR, .32ACP, from my arsenal. I will retain a rifle in 5.7×28 (it’s *her* gun now) and as of this weekend I will have completed weapon consolidation. I want my CCW to feel the same as my *competition* pistol. My High Power Rifle will have the same dope and sight adjustments as my 2/3 gun rifle. I can shoot either one of my AR15s in any competition interchangeably with the same bullet. My rifles are not dedicated rigs built for one sport. They are built first and foremost as reliable, lightweight, chrome lined, 5.56 fighting rifles. I want the same manual of arms between each gun I own, the same caliber between my most frequently used guns, and I want the gear I would use for SHTF, CCW, and Sport to be the same gear. I hope doing this will help me develop my skills and allow me to maintain them.
So do you feel better prepared? Did I help with the mental roadblocks at least? If your ready to get started, go visit the AR15.com hometown forum of your state and poke around. Competitions are regularly advertised there and at www.brianenos.com. The sport of “outlaw” 2 gun will give you a great introduction to sport shooting and can offer substantially different scenarios since “outlaw” events are not governed by a ruling body. These events can be as simple or as elaborate as the match director can dream up, so they are a great opportunity to shoot and test your gear in a variety of scenarios.
Getting over the mental aspects of starting are key to developing your shooting skills and to find gear that works for you. In my case I took it a step further and consolidated everything; I have carefully chosen my equipment that will allow me to transfer any skills I develop between rifle, pistol, and shotgun, to civilian use, competition use, and /or a SHTFantasy.
Investing in Kydex, a good belt, and quality safety gear will equip you with an affordable and functional setup. You don’t have to show up in a plate carrier with a chest rig. Speaking with the match director beforehand will also answer your questions and allow you to show up and at least know whats going on, and the safety rules the match director requires of you.
I wish you well in your journey to rifle mastery!