Sunday, March 30, 2008


My last post, an encouragement for a prospective New Shooter's intention to go through a USPSA Certification Course and join us in USPSA competition, has apparently been misinterpreted. My fault, and I apologize if I've been unclear.

This evening I found the following comment:
If you folk can't have fun with nothing BUT encouragement for new members, it's no wonder that some of those leagues are falling on hard times.
In general, I agree with this statement.

I have participated in competitive shooting sports which make it difficult for a new shooter to enjoy the experience. For example, I shot .22 Caliber Gallery Rifle (indoor rifle precision marksmanship at fifty feet) during Junior High, High School and College. I did fairly well and achieved the rating of Expert when I was 18.

After I graduated, I went into the army for two years. When I came out I found a club in the town where I was then living and signed up for both club membership and participation in their 'League' competition.

Shooting as an adult, rather than as a junior or in the non-scholastic club in my home town, I discovered that not everyone was as welcoming of new shooters, nor as conscientious in observing the etiquette required in any sporting activity, as had been my previous experience.

In this context, "etiquette" consisted in such simple, obvious forms as not engaging in loud conversation just behind the firing line while other competitors (even team-mates) are shooting. I found this to be very distracting, and when I asked for silence my polite request was rewarded by indignation and hostility. The team captain was among the worst of the offenders.

Another annoying experience was that, when I was shooting for score in a postal match (on our home range), other team members seemed to think nothing of setting up next to me on the firing line by dropping their shooting match on the dusty concrete floor, kicking up billowing clouds of dust and gunpowder residue. This fine grit gets into your eyes, nose and throat causing tearing, coughing and congestion. It is impossible to ignore these distractions during precision shooting, and complaints again were, at best, ignored.

Etiquette is nothing more than respect for your fellow shooters, plus the un-written rules of the range.

Golfing etiquette, for another example, includes allowing the golfer whose ball is on the green but farthest away from the pin to go first; this permits them a smooth green, which has not been trampled by cleated shoes.

So when I speak of the etiquette of Practical Shooting, it includes being ready to shoot when it is your turn, so that the match does not suffer needless delays; doing your share of the work on a range (taping cardboard targets, resetting steel targets, etc.); not congregating in front of the safety table in BS sessions to the point where those who need to bag or unbag pistols, or perform minor immediate maintenance cannot get to the table.

For a new shooter, these points of etiquette are not intuitively obvious from reading the rule book. The certification courses usually include a 'range segment' where the instructor may mention concerns of etiquette, but they are not usually stressed because the time available is usually so limited that almost all of it is used in teaching safety and gun-handling, plus the application of competition rules.

It is often up to the experienced competitors to welcome new shooters, insure that their current and future participation is a positive, safe and fun experience, help them to understand the competitive requirements of each stage, teach them the little things which are not possible to teach during Certification, and assure them that any support they need to get through the day without problems is immediately available without criticism and without making them feel any more self-conscious than they do already.

I can't speak for other clubs, of course, but in the Columbia Cascade Section (CCS) we do these things very well because we actively recruit new shooters and we want them to keep coming back. We all enjoy the sport, we think everyone who has a pistol and wants a place to have fun using it is assured of a safe, wholesome environment.

At some clubs in CCS the person who is shooting his or her first match is assigned an experienced shooter in the squad to work with and coach the new shooter. At Tri-County Gun Club in Sherwood this is a formal process.

At the Albany Rifle and Pistol Club this is informal, consisting of the Match Director asking an experienced shooter in each squad to help the individual beginner.

And at Dundee ... they know they don't have to ask anyone person in particular to help a NuGuy because they realize that everyone in the squad is more than willing to do whatever is necessary.

(At COSSA, in Bend, nothing is said or implied; a new shooter is simply swamped with folks whose primary concern is the benefit and encouragement of anyone they don't personally know to be an experienced competitor.)

In short, in CCS, we not only actively encourage new shooters and provide them as much training as we can before they shoot their first matches, but every individual competitor on the range is willing to take time away from their own competitive preparations to support the new shooter.

We are all there to enjoy the day in CCS, and everyone who cares to join us is as welcome as a sunny day in December.

If there's a dark side to this process, it's that USPSA folks are as fun-loving as Dolphins, and you will see friends teasing friends at every opportunity. This may be off-putting for some folks, but new shooters are universally treated with respect and a growing sense of camaraderie until, sometimes, they find themselves being gently teased by others in the squad. Frankly, we are aware that running & gunning is serious business and safety is the primary and most important factor anytime anyone picks up a gun. Even though we are serious about safety, that doesn't mean we have to be solemn about it.

We often see people show up for matches about whom we know nothing; we don't know what kind of people they are, we don't know anything about their ability to handle a pistol safely, and we don't know how sensitive they are about their personal dignity. In a way, it's like the first day at a nudist colony; either you fit in, or you don't.

If you don't fit in, you will know and we will know.

If you are unable to keep the basic rules of gun-handling safety paramount in your mind and still perform the basic competitive functions, by the end of the day you will know and we will know.

If you are a person who does not love yourself and who does not love others, by the end of the day you will know and we will know.

If you are there to learn how to kill people rather than to enjoy shooting competition, by the end of the day you will know and we will know.

But if you are there because you love shooting, and are looking for a way to measure your own skills against others who are using the same kind of equipment, then this is the purpose of IPSC/USPSA and you will know and we will know.

Fortunately, almost nobody who shows up for a match has missed being screened out by the Certification Course, so this is very rarely a problem. In 25 years of IPSC and USPSA competition, I have seen less than a half-dozen people who fit these categories, and they are self-screening. That is, nobody ever says: "we don't want you here". We're willing to work with you if you encounter problems. Those very rare individuals who have private agenda decide that they are not comfortable with the very-safe, very-friendly environment they find here.

For what it's worth, if you are a new shooter and you're self-conscious at your first match, then you are going through exactly the same thing that every one of us has experienced. We know that,

If you are terribly concerned that you will violate some safety measure, we're glad to see you because we have ALL experienced this self-doubt. The key is experience. In order to gain experience, you need to shoot some matches. You'll probably make some mistakes, but be assured that very few people make inexcusable mistakes on their first match.

The ultimate sin, if there is one, is to be unsafe. The penalty is a Match Disqualification ('DQ'); I've seen a few DQ's of new shooters, and it's discouraging. However, I've only seen one shooter DQ on his first match, and he came back to compete successfully in subsequent matches.

When you violate a safety rule, you are "DQ'd" and are not permitted to shoot any more at that match. You are determined to have been 'unable to shoot safely at this match'. That's all. Because Safety Rules are a belt and suspenders process, it is very rare that anyone has actually endangered anyone on the range. We usually stop you before it gets to that point.

In fact, I recently posted about a Range Officer who stopped a 'new shooter' who was obviously about to violate a range safety rule. We're that invested in encouraging new shooters, that we make a conscious effort to prevent you from erring.

I have personally DQ'd on three separate occasions, and I can attest that it is personally embarrassing. But it is survivable for everyone and the most healthy response is to recognize that you screwed up, understand how you screwed up, and make it your personal goal to never screw up in the same way again.

To get back to the original premise:

If you folk can't have fun with nothing BUT encouragement for new members, it's no wonder that some of those leagues are falling on hard times.
Well, yes.

But you see, in USPSA we're not a bunch of a**hats whose idea of fun is to haze the nuguy. We're responsible gun-owners who want a venue where we can safely shoot our pistols (and AR's and Shotguns) and who recognize that the best way we can insure our personal Right to Keep and Bear Arms is to grow our membership. We can best do this by enlisting new members who have the same values and priorities. We're out to prove that firearms are not just for killing, as the Gun-Grabbers would have it be assumed, but that competition is a legitimate use of even the most exotic type of firearms.

Sure, we want as many members as we can scarf up; but not at the expense of safe, responsible firearms ownership.

There's nothing more expensive to us than a member who is a crazed, irresponsible, incompetent gun-owner. We don't encourage this kind of person, and we don't think anyone should.

By the same measure, we understand that the kind of competition we do requires the highest level of competency possible. Most folks who are just beginning to shoot don't have the skills required for run-&-gun competition, so we teach these skills ... and we encourage them, we require them, we enforce them.

We're not elitist. We know that most folks have a lot to learn, but we're patient. We won't abide irresponsibility, but we also realize that new shooters have the desire to learn, the commitment to excel, and an innate integrity which will not allow them to err without a strong sense of having let themselves down, and having let their friends down.

If you consider this Bulltwaddle, then I can only suggest that my earlier comments have given the wrong impression, and for that I (again) apologize.

And if you want to learn how to shoot safely in the most balls-to-the-wall, X-sports environment available with a gun in your hand, I encourage you to give USPSA/IPSC a try.

You may not succeed, but I assure you that if you do, you will KNOW that you within the 90% of people on this earth who are caring, responsible, rational human beings.

This is a No Bulltwaddle zone.

(Can anyone create an icon for that? I would be grateful for our contribution.)

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