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Going to the match to get better or to win?

Watching shooting videos as much as I do, you see it fairly commonly: people shooting a USPSA stage get to the end and, especially in low-cap divisions like Production, end up at slide lock with one more shot left to go on the stage. Rather than reload and shoot the last shot, they just take the miss assuming that another shot on the clock will just hurt their score less than shooting again.

But regardless of the math1, is this a good decision? This represents a deliberate (if not conscious) choice to do what’s better in the short term (try and maximize your score today) rather than the long term (do the right thing and shoot the whole stage as intended). Of course, there are other things like emotions of frustration wrapped up in a blown stage plan leading to an unintentionally empty gun, but at root, this is a tradeoff between doing the right thing for today and the right thing for tomorrow.

This is the kind of tradeoff you have to make in USPSA all the time.2 You might know that the best way to shoot the stage is to take the popper and two paper on the move, but you might also know that you don’t feel confident doing that. So instead you post up static and shoot the targets, taking the extra clock time but ensuring you get better hits. That might be the best strategy if you’re trying to get the best score you can on that particular day, but if you are trying to practice techniques that will pave the road for long term success, you should be taking those shots on the move.

Part of what made me realize this was getting to shoot USPSA Nationals this past summer. That experience recalibrated my whole scale and made me think about what my goal was when I go to a given match. I almost always try to do the right technique instead of hedging my stage plan to what I’m 100% sure I can deliver on, but a few times at Nationals I found myself using conservative stage plans just in case. That’s, in part, because I made the conscious decision to try and maximize my score on that particular day.

But when I come home and shoot club matches where the difference between winners might be seconds instead of tenths, I make sure to do the opposite. I always shoot what I think is the correct, efficient stage plan, even if I’m not sure I can do it. What I’ve found is that the majority of the time, I surprise myself and I can. And when I don’t?

Well that’s one more thing to build a dry fire drill around.

1The math of that decision is as follows: in dry fire, my reload to a shot on a 10 yard target is 1.5 seconds on a good day, so assuming a 2.0 second reload, saving yourself the -10 penalty for the miss and adding 5 points for an alpha means as long as the hit factor is below 15 / 2 = 7.5, then it’s worth it to reload and shoot again. Most stages, especially shooting minor below M class, probably won’t be 7.5 hit factor stages, so it’s almost always better to go ahead and reload and shoot the last shot.

2 Of course, in IDPA you rarely have choices in stage plans like this. Also, since not reloading and shooting the last shot would cost a procedural + down 5 for the miss = 5.5 seconds, it’s always worth it to do so. Even a heavily sedated sloth could reload and shoot in 5.5 seconds.

About Ben

Blog contributor. Active in IDPA and USPSA, and he won't flinch if you call him a rules lawyer. Ben is a beard wearing, bacon eating, whiskey drinking, motorcycle riding, coder.

One comment

  1. I shoot to have fun, I’m never going to be a national level shooter. But, I still approach each stage to finish the with the best score. I don’t see the reason to just drop a shot like you stated. I’ve never seen a master class shooter do it.

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