Why? Competition makes shooting under pressure the norm. Wyatt Earp shot in the informal cow-town matches of his day. In the 20th century, Jelly Bryce was a pistol match winner before he became a cop. Jim Cirillo and Bill Allard of the famed NYPD Stakeout Squad were winning competitions before they became famous for winning shootouts. Col. Charles Askins, Jr. and Kerry Hile in law enforcement, and from Alvin York to Carlos Hathcock in the military … the list goes on.

Why? I have been shooting competitively as an Army National Guard officer and law enforcement officer (LEO) for over 38 years and have found that other than force-on-force training using Simunition, shooting competitively provides a certain amount of stress that one doesn’t normally experience in target practice or even during standard LE qualification courses. Competitive shooting builds confidence and results in additional practice than might otherwise not be experienced. This leads to more familiarity with the firearm, so that if there is a weapons-related mishap, the user will have the know-how and “muscle memory” needed to immediately resolve it. Intense practice increases your accuracy, heightens your performance and reduces your reaction time.

Sure, there are aspects of competitive shooting that could be counterproductive to “real world” situations, such as firing out in the open or shooting for speed in place of accuracy. But, sadly, lots of the LE training I’ve seen isn’t much better, as tactics are secondary to qualifying. I think the LEO or legally armed citizen who uses competition for training needs to separate fact from fantasy and decide if they want to win competitions or maybe save a life.

Speaking of being a deputy sheriff, I am convinced that my competing improved my shooting, which bolstered my confidence; I was better at my job because of that confidence. Many of the early 20th century gunfighters participated in or started out in competitive shooting—Askins, Bryce, Cirillo and Walsh to name just a few. And recent 21st century warfighters like Harrington, Lamb, Parent and Proctor shoot/have shot competitively—there’s that clue word again.

In a tactical or defensive environment, your ability to perceive and interpret information faster will directly translate into an ability to make decisions in a compressed time frame. In competitive shooting, participants are required to make decisions in the fastest time possible in an effort to make the highest-value hits, or the most efficient hits. Competition requires the shooter to process information as the situation changes in front of you (moving, reactive targets, etc.). Having to make rapid decisions is invaluable training.

Competitive shooting will make a better tactical shooter. The skills necessary to win in competition can also help win in combat. I was a Green Beret for about three years before I started shooting competitively. I was absolutely the tactical shooter that said, “That stuff isn’t real. It’s a game. It doesn’t apply to combat,” etc.

But during my first USPSA match, I found out what I didn’t know about shooting. I wasn’t nearly as good as I thought I was, and I wanted to win, so I trained and competed more and learned more. Some of the skill sets I developed absolutely translate to tactical shooting, including extremely safe gun handling under very dynamic shooting situations, efficiency in movement and mechanics, and the ability to shoot and score hits on targets faster with more accountability. The greatest takeaway for me was more aggressiveness with my vision to see and process information faster.

The skills learned while participating in shooting competition certainly transfer to real-life scenarios.

The skills tested in competition translate well to defensive shooting in many ways. Competition emphasizes accuracy and speed in shooting and gun handling, on-demand performance under stress and pressure, and making many small mental and physical adjustments while on the fly—all in the honest and open venue of a public contest


10 Experts: Can Competitive Shooting Help Real-World Defensive Shooting?