Tom Vaughan, MD is a neuroradiologist in private practice in Louisville, KY. He is a shooting enthusiast who believes in individual liberty and personal responsibility. Here’s an article from his website, Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership

Practice/Train/Compete — and Repeat:

I practice handling and shooting firearms as often as possible… I also shoot as many rounds as I can afford to, as often as I get the chance. At the indoor range this mostly means stationary paper targets, which have their limitations, but there’s no real substitute for lighting off live rounds. I also belong to an outdoor range where I can shoot some steel targets, draw from a holster and move with the gun. It’s a bit farther away, and time, daylight and weather limit how often I can shoot there, but if you’ve never made steel ring and watched it fall, you’re cheating yourself out of a real visceral pleasure.

I try to take one or two formal training classes a year, and I’ve been able to take classes near home from both local experts as well as nationally known shooters. I doubt any of them would confess to having trained me if they saw me shooting, but I’ve learned a great deal from multiple sources.

This summer I’ll take my first trip to a national training facility, and I’m excited to go. I’m really looking forward to immersing myself in training all day for four consecutive days. I know it’ll be a great experience.

That said, what has helped me most so far is competing. And I’m just talking about low-level competition at my local club—no money, and no prize but bragging rights. Some of the shooters there are really talented, fast and accurate, and a few obviously compete at higher levels. While I’m not going to challenge them any time soon, the pressure of timed shooting with people watching adds a level of stress that taxes whatever skills you bring to the match.

The first time I participated, I set a pretty meager expectation for myself—no safety violations. I wanted the club members to know that safety was my top priority, almost as much as I wanted to come home with all my fingers and toes. On those accounts the day was a great success. As far as skillful shooting, I didn’t do much, but the format allowed a lot of time for reflection. It was easy to begin to analyze my performance and see what sort of mistakes I was making.

And, boy was I making them. After my first round, though pleased I hadn’t done anything foolish or dangerous, I was unpleasantly surprised at the difficulty I’d had neutralizing targets. I’d gotten pretty used to putting most of my rounds into a single, if largish, ragged hole on stationary paper, especially at the distances I had been shooting in that first round, 7 to 15 yards. While I was mostly on paper, the hits were in the C and D zones as much as the A zone. h

After some reflection, I realized that under the tiny amount of pressure the competition format created I had completely abandoned basic marksmanship principles
. Not once had I put the front sight in the rear sight notch, let alone focused on it before pulling the trigger. I think I was actually looking down across the top of the slide! And that was just lesson 1.

The match included 5 stages, and I learned a little from each one. After another less than stellar round, I realized I’d been slapping my trigger like a rat on a food lever, rather than using a controlled squeeze, letting off only to the reset. Stage by stage, my technique slowly improved, and while I didn’t set the world on fire, I was eventually rewarded by quickly clearing a plate rack with no doubles.

By the end of the match, I was humbled but hooked. Not only had it been fun spending the morning with a group of safety conscious people who shared my love of shooting, but I had learned a lot about shooting under (only a tiny bit of) pressure. I had learned not only from my own efforts, but also by watching other people, some very good, and some closer to my level.

I hope I never find myself on a two-way range, and I do everything I can to keep that from happening. I also do everything I can to survive a deadly force encounter if it happens, and I encourage everyone who owns a gun to do the same. Even stationary paper marksmanship degrades without practice, and most gun owners never even attempt dynamic live fire exercises.

That’s a shame, because it’s how guns are actually used. It’s a lot more challenging, but it’s a lot of fun as well. And it’s a lot more likely to save your life.