Competition Vs. The Tactical World part Tres…

Shooter ready?  Stand by…”beep!”  And they’re off…Bam, bam, run, bam, bam.  Crash..burn..oh crap.

What happened?  4 misses, 2 no shoots..but a smoking time.  So what?  Yeah, you were fast, but what did you hit?  But I was fast…Heard that scenario many times at matches.  But what about this one?

“Today in NYC, three bystanders were shot by police as they attempted to take down a murder suspect in front of the Empire State Building (true story).”  I don’t want to get into specifics on the brave LEOs facing an armed killer, since 20/20 hindsight is always easier than being there.   However, a lot can be learned from these kinds of events.

WARNING:  The following is based on my opinion and like your opinion, we all got one.  I ask you to check your ____ and continue to read.  YMMV…

So, I’ve been asked as a LEO trainer, “how come those cops miss that guy when he was 10 feet away?”  “If it was me, one shot one (you know the rest..)”  The interwebs are filled with keyboard commandos second guessing and passing judgement on police when they themselves have not walked in those shoes.

But we still wonder why this happens.  I have an idea.  Sights and triggers.

Sights and triggers are part of the shooting process and they play a significant role. 95% of the missed shots are a trigger problem NOT a sight problem.  I am positive that each and every one of you know how to line up your front and rear sights.  Bravo.  But “how come my shots all go to the left…?”  This is a common problem, and the answer is simple.

According to USPSA Grand Master and author/instructor Steve Anderson, Refinement and Repetition, shooting comes down to two things:

1) Have an acceptable sight picture.

2) Shoot the gun without causing the sight picture to become unacceptable.

Can shooting really be that simple?  The answer is yes.  So what happened in NYC?  My guess is they never had number 1.  Also, if they did have a sight picture, the gun fired and their sight picture became unacceptable (trigger).  Seriously, watch some of the traffic stop gone bad videos online and you’ll see the same thing.

“You won’t see your sights in a gunfight…”  I hear that a lot as well.  I’m going out on a limb but I think the people who didn’t see their sights during their shooting, had never trained to use their sights anyway.

In my position, I’m lucky and honored to speak with officers who’ve been in gunfights and I get to train with some of elite instructors who’ve worked defending our country over seas.  They all say the same thing.  “I saw my sights every time…”

There was an incident in Jacksonville a couple of years ago where an officer found himself in a gunfight after he was shot several times.  The suspect was ten yards away and coming in to finish off the officer.  The officer (one handed) was able to land 7 hits out of 14 on the bad guy, and stopped him cold.  The officer said he knew he hit the bad guy because he saw his front sight lift on his acceptable sight pictures.  Remember, when people get shot, they will most likely do what they were doing before they got shot (contrary to any Hollywood show).  You won’t see your hits on the bad guy.  What can you see?  Your sights.  Oh, and the officer also competed.  Good job.

The same nay sayers also expound “’s impossible to see your sights when you’re shooting so fast.”  Really?  Have you tried it?  You’d be surprised how much you can see when you decide to look.  And here it comes…

A great way to learn to see your sights at speed is competition.  Aha…I threw it in there.  Yes my friends, shooting competition will put you under the test of getting different sight pictures, shooting fast and shooting on the move.  All of which require acceptable sight pictures that need trigger pulls that don’t make the sight unacceptable.

Where else are you going to learn and practice that?  At the indoor range, lane 5?  Most ranges won’t let you shoot more than a round a second?  How can you do a Bill Drill (6 shots from the draw at 7 yards) at that speed?  Good shooters are shooting at .2 second splits.

Sights and triggers while different are symbiotic.  You jerk that trigger and your happy front sight will dive out of the way.

Before I shot competitively, I came from a learning curve that was mostly academy training followed by “tactical” coursework.  They all taught me the same thing.  The “pull and pin” trigger squeeze.  After you pull the trigger, you pin it to the rear as the handgun cycles then slowly let it out until it resets (the loud click on a Glock).  You are then ready to shoot as all the pre-travel is out of the trigger.

I have two problems with this.   First of all, it’s slow.  Second, it’s a technique that won’t serve you under stress.

At a match when I first ventured out onto the green, I shot a stage and placed pretty low.  A fine gentleman came up to me and stated the obvious..”you’re shooting too slow”.  Thank you, I said to my friend.  He continued.  “I can hear the click on your Glock.  You’re wasting time holding it to the rear”.  Okay, I’ll bite.  How should I do it?  “You need to prep the trigger, not pin it.”

What is prepping the trigger?  When the gun is recoiling, the trigger will put itself back into a reset position on it’s own.  By slightly moving my finger off the trigger, the trigger will reset and then I’ll have a little pre-travel before the next shot.  Essentially, it eliminates the step of me pinning the trigger and letting it go forward.  This equates to a faster shot AND it’s more in control since I can adjust my sights if they became unacceptable.  Pretty cool.

Not to mention that under stress, you won’t be “pinning” anyway.  What we see is mostly slapping (which is a topic for another day…)

So now I have a faster and potentially accurate trigger system that will work with my sight viewing at speed.

Sights and triggers.

And how did I get there?  Shooting competition.

Be safe.


Next up:  Stage planning/Visualization.

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About Arik Levy

Arik Levy is an 12 year veteran law enforcement officer working full time at a major metropolitan agency in the South East. He spent 7 years working the streets in patrol and as a field training officer. For the past four years he has been a full time firearms instructor teaching handgun, rifle and shotgun. Arik also has been competing in USPSA for the past two years where he is currently classified in Production Division at A class. He is a two time gold medalist in his division for the Florida Police and Fire games 3 Gun match, and a gold medalist in both the Practical Pistol and Shotgun match. He is also the Top Cop Pistol Champion for 2014 and 2015. He has trained with an extensive list of both tactical and competitive instructors including: Mike Pannone, Pat McNamara, Frank Proctor, Scott Reitz, Chris Costa, Max Michel, Frank Garcia, Bruce Gray, Ben Stoeger, Steve Anderson and Jerry Barnhart. Arik is also a certified Advanced Armorer with Glock, Colt, Sig Sauer and Smith and Wesson.

10 thoughts on “Competition Vs. The Tactical World part Tres…

  1. Good article, and good observations. Spot on.

    The “can’t see your sights” people often hang their hat on what is proven to be junk science. Real life events involving trained shooters has proven otherwise. I used to get a kick out of hearing my friend Jim Cirillo start his statement to refute those claims with “I found, in my 19 gunfights as a New York City police officer…” Jim saw his front sight in such crisp detail he could see the striations on his front sight. Just one example of many.

    Kudos for mentioning the trigger reset issue. Pinning the trigger is one of the very worst things to have happened to police firearms training IMHO, and yet it is still taught to this day in courses such as the Glock instructor development course.

  2. Heartily concur on both counts!

    If you train to use your sights under time pressure long and hard enough, it gets easier to do – last November, I shot the qualification COF for Mas Ayoob’s MAG-40 class, which is comparable to most LE qualifications, with plain eyepro instead of my prescription shooting glasses. I had zero misses, and only dropped 3 points into the IPSC C-zone, for a 297/300 score shooting with 20/400+ uncorrected vision.

    I took a class with Larry Vickers the weekend before last, and he also preaches resetting the trigger properly – by simply relaxing your trigger finger and letting the reset spring “bounce” your finger back to the reset point – as opposed to the “trigger pinning” method. Larry is convinced that “trigger pinning” artificially slows a shooter’s rate of fire, which in a stress situation causes them to unconsciously revert back to trigger-slapping in a frantic attempt to speed their rate of fire back up to where they feel they need to be – thus, inducing “El Snatcho” and resulting in crappy shooting.

  3. Breaching the subject of action pistol competition to my law enforcement cohorts is one of the less-pleasant things I do when I’m near the topic of action pistol.
    I’m a USPSA person: I run two separate programs at two clubs, with a total average attendance in the neighborhood of 120-140.
    My day job is firearms instructor, and several of my esteemed colleagues are veteran LE, and most of them instructors at that.
    None will come with us to the range for AP. One very tactical fellow, and I say this with enormous respect for his combat experience as a Marine in Iraq, disses the Sunday morning thing out of hand.
    Okay, so be it, but for the vast, vast majority of handgun-carriers, there simply is no other way to get the trigger time you can on Sunday morning. True, the cardboard isn’t moving a great deal and it’s never shooting back. True, the range rules about going outside of 90 degrees might develop a bad habit against turning towards a threat.
    But nowhere else is there pressure, in the form of performance anxiety, the need for speed, the need to change positions, transition to different targets, the need to reload at full speed while spending brain cells on other tasks. Nowhere else can you build the mechanical proficiency and maintain it.
    Even the best agencies can’t afford to send you off to Mid-South or some other all-out training facility more than occasionally. But you can afford to do one or two AP matches a month and get two-three hundred high-quality rounds downrange.
    Under pressure, with a measuring device applied as to the quality of your shooting, the timer and the scoresheet.
    What AP delivers are the mechanical skills you need to fight. Not tactical skills, mostly not even mental fighting skills. But when it all goes wrong, your AP mechanical skills will operate your hands for you while you spend the last few working brain cells you have left over on getting your tactical stuff figured out.
    Front sight, press. Repeat. Faster, please.
    Your skills will expand exponentially.

  4. Our shooting club ended it’s IPSC affiliation 30 plus years ago.We have been shooting “realistic” scenarios since.We had hopes for IDPA- but found it too limiting.Nearly all shooters shoot with everyday CCW gear, many matches are shot from concealment. All matches are “surprise”- set up on the range is the morning of the match- no practice allowed. Stages tend to be short range and few targets, although 20 plus steel targets is FUN and really brings up attendance- we try to limit those types of stages. We often shoot 3 short stages.Heavy penalties for hitting hostages. Adding 30 sec. per shot for hostage hits on a 10 second stage really pushes you down in the standings. Add 20 sec for not engaged/not neutralized. Add 10 sec for procedurals like non use of available cover, reloads in the open, addressing target w/ empty gun etc. We purposely place no shoots in fore ground and back ground.Been doing it this way for nearly 30 years. Consistent winners ALWAYS use sights and miss very little.

  5. Great article, and I agree with a majority of it.

    On the pinning the trigger issue. Dean Caputo and I had a good “dang, we’re idiots” over this exact issue. We took a very tough class with Larry Vickers and figured out that we were both shooting like we taught on reset. Trigger reset is an important part of teaching follow-through, and really critical with those of us who taught on DA/SA guns. Pinning the trigger is like kindergarten teaching for many of our non-dedicated shooters who are at training because they “have to be”. We often fall into the working to the lowest common denominator, and this is an example of that. The funny thing was that I picked up the whole trigger reset thing a long time ago watching a top competitor at the time Tommy Campbell on high speed video working a trigger. It was the biggest thing we did to help to really get good on a DA/SA trigger (and it came from the competition world). With that said, after laughing at ourselves, Dean and I both got back to shooting and teaching to full potential instead of what we were used to. It is why it’s important to get out of your pond and train with others as a little fish again. Do we still need to teach kindergarten reset to many students who will be at the end of their abilities with it…yes. We also need to show it to its full extent and done properly to work to maximum ability.

  6. Your statement about people claiming they never see their sight probably never trained with them is likely lot truer than anyone cares to admit. I hear it from time to time, mostly from allegedly experienced shooters and gun toaters who also happen to not shoot very well and don’t see any reason to improve.

  7. This series has been a fantastic read and well articulated for those who carry a gun for a living and why they should be competing.

  8. I’ve recognized for some time that I’ve got some work to do with my carry sidearm. In Iraq, I always saw my sights, using a CCO and an ACOG, never had a situation devolve to the point that I was using my sidearm. During dry fire though, I know I lose my sights when working to shoot a pistol faster. While I can’t say I experienced this, I’ve heard shooters state that they were focused on the threat, specifically the firearm in their attackers hand. Leading me to believe the mental discipline necessary to prepare for a gun fight at bad breath distances is crucial. As I tell my students, you don’t rise to the occassion you sink to the level of your training.

  9. I can’t agree more.

    I was a LEO and firearms instructor for 12 years, and I was the only member of my mid-sized department that shot competitively. There is a reason for this: ego and self delusion.

    Most cops think that they are gun fighters because they happen to carry a gun everyday, and they are able to qualify every time they need to at the range without even needing to practice in between. I sort of felt the same way.

    I competed in high-power service rifle in high school and 3-position indoor rifle in college. I was a multiple award expert in rifle and pistol in the Marines. When I went to the police academy, I won the “top gun” award. I was a fairly successful hunter. I thought all this meant that I was pretty good.

    I thought it would be fun to compete, so I started IDPA. It was a very humbling experience. I went to my first match with another LEO who had a similar background as I had. He never came back. It was humbling for someone who carries a gun for a living to be easily out-shot by civilians. I was accurate, but, compared to other civilian shooters (some who were even more accurate), I was SLOWWWW.

    I swallowed my pride and kept going back. I went online to competitive shooting websites, and I read books written by competitive shooters. The light went on. I started really seeing my sights and began understanding how to shoot fast and accurately.

    I brought my new-found knowledge back to the P.D. and became a firearms instructor. While I still couldn’t generate any interest for competitive shooting among my fellow officers, I was able to inject a lot of that knowledge into our training.

    I think the current state of affairs is sad. Most of the LEO’s I’ve trained with were neither accurate nor fast. My father was a police officer, and I remember as a child going to shooting competitions with him in the 1970’s. It seemed that almost all his fellow officers were competitive shooters back then. While I think that bullseye shooting and the type of qualifications and training conducted back then poorly prepared officers for gun fights, they sure were a lot better shooters. I would see this every year when the retired officers would come back to qualify. I think the switch to “action-style” qualification courses with overly generous scoring threw the baby out with the bath water.

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