Tuesday, March 07, 2006

IPSC: The P-Word

It was a beautiful late-winter day in Corvallis Sunday, so SWMBO and I went to the range to PRACTICE!

I never practice.

Okay, that's not quite true. I love to practice, but due to my work schedule and the shortness of the days, I almost never practice during the winter.

However, last spring I bought 2000 rounds of new Winchester brass in .38 Super caliber, and half of it still sits in a cardboard box on the floor of my garage, next to the loading bench. I don't like to use brand new brass at matches, so I usually load it up and take it out for practice ammo.

Having some spare time Saturday, I loaded 400 rounds of it up and invited SWMBO to the range for a practice session. There was no club match scheduled for this weekend, and she has been complaining that her performance -- not up to her standards -- in matches during this winter is mostly due to her inability to get in any practice time.

Here's the answer: let's go practice!

She had, of course, no alternative but to go to the range with me, to practice. Sneaky Geek to catch SWMBO in a quandry.

On the drive to the ARPC range (where the only significant activity was a Black Powder match in Bay 3 ... there were 5 cars there when we arrived 15 minutes after the BP match was to start), we discussed what we should work on during our practice.

I had no idea what I should work on, and neither did SWMBO. I asked her what she thought I should work on, and she begged the question by suggesting that I was a much better shooter than she was and it was not reasonable for her to criticize my IPSC performance.

No help.

So I suggested that since she had complained about her inability to get good stage times, I though she would benefit from training which emphasized quick and efficient movement out of a shooting position, and into a shooting position.

Also, her time to transition from one target to the next might possibly be improved ... as might mine!

She very graciously acknowledged that this was an area in which we might both improve, so when we arrived at the range we quickly set up a stage designed to emphasize these skills.

Starting in a shooting box, engage a US popper (never mind whether you hit it or not, it's just there to distract you from what you're going to do next) and then immediately transition to an IPSC target ... both set up at about 15 yards distance.

Then, exit the shooting box as quickly as possible, move to another shooting box downrange and to the right: total distance about 15 yards. There are two full IPSC targets set 10 yards downrange of the second shooting box, so we need to have the gun mounted and something of a sight picture as soon as we enter the second shooting box to engage these two targets.

I took the first run on the stage, and everything went beautifully. I afterward consistentlyl missed the popper, of course, but was leaning perfectly on my way out of the box and caught two-Alpha on the IPSC target. Quick, efficient run to the 2nd box, gun mounted when I entered and dropped only one point on those two IPSC targets. Good time, good balance, good focus. Not perfect, but it was the best run I made in about 15 attempts.

SWMBO tried it, and took about 20% longer with a lot of misses, so we started focusing only on the concept of engaging the targets on the way out of the box. I suggested that she should already be shifting her weight as she transitioned from the popper to the IPSC target, and she didn't like it. She wanted to step out of the box with her leading foot, which was often touching the ground out of the box before she took her 2nd shot. She was working on her accuracy, and not paying any attention to her movement.

I suggested that she lead with her trailing foot, in a cross-over movement. She didn't like it, it didn't feel natural and she was concerned that she would trip over the box on the way out. Well, I have been known to do that myself so it seemed a reasonable concern. But she tried it anyway, and discovered that it wasn't as easy as it looked but it was do-able.

It took about a dozen runs before she could time the lean, the cross-over, and the shooting with accuracy so they all worked out for her. It wasn't consistent, but she was more comfortable, so we started trying to put that together with having the gun mounted and prepared to engage the two IPSC targets downrange as she entered the second box.

All this time, I was working on the same techniques, and I found my performance to be degrading with every attempt.

We had been filming each other with the Geek DigiCam on every run, and SWMBO finally asked me to please turn off the unspeakable camera, it was making her self-conscious.

I discovered that it was having the same effect on me. When we practiced with the camera obviously running, we did a terrible job. Without the camera we weren't as concerned with looking good as we were with working on the technique.

Toward the end, we quit working on the leave-the-box technique and focused on the enter-the-box problem. To make it more rewarding (we were both getting a little frustrated by this time), we moved the IPSC targets up to seven yards from the box. This helped us a lot by giving more positive feedback, and we found that we were actually getting more A-zone hits when the targets were closer. This was surprising, because we were actually getting clean misses, rather than C-zone hits, at the two yards greater distance. Go figure.

To wrap up the practice session, we rewarded ourselves by just starting at the second box and hosing the closer IPSC targets. After a dozen runs of the four-shot exercise, our draw times were getting down close to where we thought they should be, we were getting good splits and cutting our transition time between targets to around twice our split times.

We learned a few valuable lessons during the practice:
  • Don't try to practice under the forbidding eye of an obvious running camera. It may be okay to set up a camera on a tripod and just let it run, but when you KNOW someone is watching you through a camera, it's a distraction.
  • Instead of starting with a difficult problem, start with an EASY problem and make it progressively harder. For example, we should have started with the targets closer to the shooting position and gradually moved them farther away as we became more proficient. Doing it the other way is not only counter-productive, it's frustrating and detracts from the value of the lessons learned. You should start with what you KNOW you can do well, and then challenge yourself to learn what you can do better.
  • Practicing with someone else is a good thing. You can take turns, which gives you time to relax between runs. We don't shoot five runs back-to-back in matches, and we shouldn't do that in practice. With the continued, prolonged tension of trying to do too many rounds per turn, you can see your performance degrade and you don't pay attention to EVERY run. They all just seem to blur together, and you learn nothing.
  • Practicing with a timer works. It's the only way you're going to gauge your progress. If you can maintain an acceptable level of accuracy, and see your stage times going down, you're encouraged to keep it up. Always have a decent timer handy, and running with the timer on your belt instead of in the hands of a RO puts you in control of your practice.
  • It IS a good idea to plan what you're going to practice before you get to the range, and to keep the lesson-stages simple and quick. You don't want to spend more time than necessary changing stages, and if you have too many items on your agenda you don't learn any of them well because you can't get enough repetitions to burn in the new skills.
  • It IS a good idea to finish off a practice session with something easy, fast, and fun. It rewards you for a good practice, and it cancels out the gloom if it has been a bad practice -- and restores your confidence, which is an important part of competitive shooting. Besides, we shoot for fun, we refuse to put up with a day at the range which is NOT fun.
You probably already knew all of this. Heck, I knew it. I set up a bad practice, because I was out of practice at -- er -- practicing.

The next time we go out to practice, we'll use the tripod mounted video-tape camera instead of the handheld digicam. We'll start with closer targets, and move them out as we gain confidence in our skills.

My usual plan is to use the club matches as practice sessions, and hope I learn enough to keep up my skills. My new plan is to schedule at least one practice session a month, more in the summer, and work on specific skill sets.

One more thing:
We brought along a large plastic tarp to catch the brass. We needed two of them, because we were shooting from two different positions. It made a LOT of difference in the amount of time it took to pick up all of that new brass, especially in that the surface of the practice bay was large gravel and I know we lost some of the brass in the intercises between the rocks.

In case you missed it, the blue underlined text is a link to 1mb videos which demonstrate the subject.

Unless you're just going out to shoot up some "questionable ammunition", prepare for your practice the same way you would prepare for a match. Have good ammuntion, have a clean gun, do whatever is required to ensure that your practice is not cut short or slowed down by jams and other malfunctions. Practice all of the safety rules, every time.

Work hard, have fun. Make loud, rude noises and generate noxious burnt-gunpowder stenches. That's what it's all about. Improving your skills, and enjoying it, comes naturally from all of the above.

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