Getting Into Practical Shooting - A Simple Guide

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Due to the publicity of the Brutality series of shooting matches by Varusteleka and InRangeTV, many people have asked how to get into this kind of shooting sports: dynamic, practical, action... you get the idea. Here's an overview of how to get started, what to consider when buying things, and make your life easier. In the scope of this article, the various disciplines are treated pretty roughly as one big lump instead of going into specifics of this or that part of any given rulebook.

A word on the different styles

In Finland, four sports are practiced in significant amounts. The largest and oldest ones are IPSC (the sibling of USPSA) and SRA, which is a Finnish reservists' 3-Gun derivative of IPSC. Newer disciplines are IDPA (since about 2010) and 2-Gun Action Matches, better known as Finnish Brutality.

So which one is the best, most realistic, coolest and tactical? Let's be honest: none of them are. All of these isolate shooting and weapons manipulation and it is the common core of practical shooting, despite cosmetic differences. The skills required are essentially the same and carry over between disciplines very well. When you have solid fundamentals with your firearm, it doesn't matter if you're wearing a camo uniform or sports jersey with sponsor ads on it.

What does make a difference is how many firearms are used. IPSC is suitable for sticking to one type of firearm, whether it's a rifle, pistol, revolver or shotgun. It also includes .22 LR Mini Rifle and Action Air, which is shot with airsoft guns. IDPA is also a single-gun sport with the focus on handguns. SRA and 2-Gun Action Matches require a rifle and pistol, and SRA sometimes includes a shotgun, too. Brutality matches involve a significant physical challenge - think biathlon to get the idea - while others have less emphasis on this.

The gear you can buy at Varusteleka, as you may guess, caters mostly to people into SRA and Brutality matches, as these disciplines are mostly practiced with field-worthy combat equipment instead of refined sport rigs.

The fundamentals of shooting and safe firearms handling

Before you can run, you should crawl and walk. This goes for practical shooting as well. Your emphasis should be first on the safe handling of firearms and an adequate level of shooting skills. Learning the fundamentals thoroughly is a foundation that allows you to build other skills safely and later become faster in them.

To get started, familiarize yourself with your local clubs and ranges. Don't look down at airguns, shooting is shooting is shooting.

It's not shameful to be new. Announce it upfront to anyone who is training you to help them help you better. Very basic precision shooting from 25 meters (~27 yards) with a pistol, and 150 meters (~164 yards) with a rifle gives you a good environment to get used to weapons manipulation, aiming, trigger control, and so on. During this phase, you should indoctrinate yourself with The Four Rules of firearms handling:

  1. All guns are always loaded. Even if they are not, treat them as if they are.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target.
  4. Identify your target, and what is behind it.

When going through the fundamentals, don't stress about equipment too much. If you can, borrow or rent gear to get started.

If you find shooting to be your thing, your own earpro and eye protection are among the first things to buy. Having your own protective equipment is more hygienic than using range gear, and it's a thing you are likely to appreciate anyway. Don't skimp with these: good active hearing protectors and ballistic glasses will serve you for a long time and you'll have a better time every time you practice.

Towards action

Once you have safe gun handling down and shooting fundamentals are familiar to you when shooting from a static position, you can advance to more functional training. While there are interesting - and honestly quite good - videos on this subject online, none of them are a substitute for an actual instructor being there with you.

Normally, firearms courses in this field involve stepping forward from restricted shooting stalls onto open ground. You'll be practicing various shooting positions, firing consecutive shots, switching targets, reloads, and finally movement. Again, hurry with care and practice diligently. Safe gun handling becomes more and more essential as the tasks get complex, never ever forget this.

If you want to get into a specific discipline, find a club in your area and ask if they have courses available. Many things will repeat things you have already been taught and you'll familiarize yourself with more specific rules of the game in question.

Doing your homework pays off: you take courses to learn what to practice from thereon. If you don't have a firearm of your own at this point, consider SIRT guns or an airsoft gun. The latter used to be thought of as toys, but they have developed a lot, and virtually all firearms instructors see their merits now. As with all training tools, these have their limitations. Practice the right things and you will learn the right things.

More training, competing and building your ultimate rig

Once you have completed some kind of basic course and have a practicing routine of your own, your possibilities widen. Now it's time to be curious and educate yourself about various activities involved with shooting, whether they are defensive or sportive in spirit. The supply is there, pick carefully and see what you get.

As an extension and measure of your training is competing. Signing up for a match can really key you up in the beginning, it's entirely normal, and a challenge to overcome. Going for it is immensely rewarding. You don't need to take it severely even if you're serious about performance. Shooting a match is great practice in itself and a means to gauge your level in a fun and safe environment. The pressure reveals things about you that are difficult to notice otherwise.

This is the stage, where you have a much better judgment of choosing your guns and gear. Try to be analytic about the choice, especially when it comes to the firesticks. There are words on the Internet that are all true (it's on the Internet, after all) but also conflicting. Ask seasoned shooters in your discipline why they made the choices they did, to see if that helps you understand your needs better.

The one rule we suggest you follow is this: buy the best guns you can possibly afford. The saying "Buy once, cry once" is true here as well as anywhere else. Ammo expenses will be so much higher as you go on, that after some time the sum you spent on your firearm will be a fraction of the cost you spend on shooting.

The Geardo Effect

Finally, with guns in your possession, you'll need equipment that suits your purpose, fits you, and is compatible with your firearms. Your chosen discipline pretty much dictates the type of equipment you need: if you get sucked into something like the Armored Division of Brutality matches, you'll need different gear compared to someone who shoots just a handgun in Open Division, for example.

The key components to your gear are a good pistol holster, solid shooter's belt and something to carry rifle magazines and accessories. The holster must be secure and of course, follow the rules of the discipline.

In single-gun events, you won't necessarily need anything else but a belt, pistol holster, and mag pouches. A stiff belt can easily carry a couple of rifle magazines as well.

Depending on the discipline and your preference, a chestrig, combat vest or plate carrier may come into question. The rig should carry at least three rifle magazines, an IFAK, tourniquet, and maybe a canteen. Do note that all PALS-surfaces need not be covered with pouches. Also, pay attention to the placement of your pouches. They are removable for a reason - no single pouch architecture works for everything - but there are some basic rules to follow to get you started:

  • Magazines to your support side or centerline.
  • No large pouches on your pistol side.
  • Clear at least the shoulder where your rifle butt is.
  • Keep your rig flat enough in the front for prone positions.
  • Tourniquet, available with either hand.

Again, buy the best gear you can. It doesn't make sense to spend a lot of cash on a fine firearm and put it in a shitty holster. A good holster is part of your safety as a whole. A fitting and rigid belt is much more comfortable and helps you perform repeatedly.

Continuous Learning

Practical shooting is challenging and rewarding no matter which discipline you choose. There are always new things to learn, and you can never be too good at the fundamentals. The pressure to be quick is hard, yet you must maintain good enough accuracy. The balance between these depends on the situation, and finding it in a fraction of a second is a skill you can only improve, never reaching perfection. Perhaps this is what makes shooting so fascinating.

People who carry a firearm - whether it's in the line of duty or other reasons - can benefit greatly from this kind of training. Expose yourself to diverse sources of education and spot the similarities while retaining new knowledge.

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