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by Thomas Pham

So you’ve decided to buy a hand gun for home defense and for recreational shooting.  After consulting the usual gun rags, you made your move and bought that first pistol.  From the Wallyworld sporting goods department, you bought a box of UMC yellow box special for practice and a box of the “good stuff” for defense.  Driving to the old police range by highway 395, you made quick work popping old milk cartons and coffee cans.  Wow, shooting that first box of UMC sure was fun so you began buying ammo by the cases for some higher yield plinking.  After a while, busting up paper and littering the range with plastic got old, so you thought to yourself  “Hm,... there must be something more fun than this?” 

You heard of Practical Shooting matches from Sage Pistol League and even considered trying it but quickly discarded the idea, thinking it’s not for you.  Your excuses to yourself started with “I don’t have the time to shoot”, but deep down inside you know you could make the time if you wanted to.  Your real worries are that you’re not “good enough” to “compete” or that you don’t have the right gun.  You don’t want to appear foolish in front of what must be expert tactical ninja turtles using the latest SWAT-like equipment.  If you find yourself indulging these thoughts, then you’re suffering from what is known as the “Cold Feet” syndrome.  This condition is not at all uncommon to people not familiar with Practical Shooting, yet it’s very crippling in keeping them from trying out the sport.  Not to worry.  If you find yourself having cold feet about shooting in a match because you’re not sure what it’s all about, read on, this article is for you.

1) What is Practical Shooting?

Practical Shooting is a sport designed to test your marksmanship and gun handling skills in a safe, friendly and fun environment.

2) What the heck are IPSC and USPSA?

IPSC (pronounced “Ip-Sick”) is the International Practical Shooting Confederate.  It’s the international governing body of the sport.  Whereas, USPSA (pronounced “You-Es-Pee-Es-A”) is the United States Practical Shooting Association, the sanctioning body in the US.   Except for some minor rule variations, the two organizations are virtually the same.  Sage Pistol League is a club member of USPSA.

3) Where do you guys shoot?

The Sage Pistol League shooting range where matches are held is in Inyokern.  From Ridgecrest, go south on China Lake until it meets Hwy 395.  Cross the highway onto Brown Rd.  Go about 5 miles and make a left turn on Wiknick Rd. - where the new gun range is being constructed.  Keep going a couple of miles further and you’ll run into the SPL range.

4) Is it safe?

You betcha!  The four basic safety rules are strictly enforced.   The range is run COLD - that means guns are holstered with empty chamber, no magazine and hammer down.  Shooters will load under the supervision of the Range Officer at the beginning of a stage and must show clear at the end.  Unsafe gun handling is cause for disqualification.

5) This is all new to me, I’m not sure I’ll know what to do?

Don’t worry.  The folks at SPL will be delighted to explain to you how to play the game and we’re extra patient with new shooters.  After all, we want you to have a good time and come back to shoot again.  Just try it once; it will make sense to you afterwards.  If you have questions, just ask anyone - we’re always glad to help out new players.

6) I’m afraid I’m not good enough?

This is perhaps the biggest Cold Feet fear factor for new shooters.  Don’t let the words “match” and “competition” intimidate you.  We only call them that because there’s a score sheet and a timer.  Other than that, it’s just a really fun game that will surely improve your marksmanship and gun handling skills.  When you’re first starting out, your objective shouldn’t be to “win the match” or to run as fast as possible.  But instead, you should focus on shooting safely and accurately.  No one will belittle you, tease you or shame you for not doing well.  Instead, you will find much encouragement and camaraderie.  In no time at all, you will improve and be amazed at the enhancement in your skills.

7) I don’ t know if I have the right gun?

Next to the Performance Anxiety above is the Equipment Anxiety - the second biggest Cold Feet fear factor!  Well, there is good news.  You don’t have to go out shopping for a new gun, use whatever you have right now.  For a new shooter, the kind of gun you have doesn’t matter, it’s how well you shoot it that counts.  However, if you want to know what seasoned practical shooters like to use, it’s the venerable 1911-type  pistols.  The 1911 design easily fits in anybody’s hand and is accurate and “fast” mechanically.  The downside is that it’s more quirky and may take some “tuning” to make it run smoothly.  If you use one of these, consider becoming a junior gunsmith or put one on retainer - you’ll need it.  Or, you can just get a Glock and never look back.  J

8) What’s up with those fancy-smancy Star Wars gun and do I need one to play?

You’re probably referring to the Open division “race guns”.  These are 1911-based pistols that have all the bells and whistles bolted on to them so their owners “feel fast”.  They have two notable features that Limited guns don’t have and these are compensators and optical sights.   A compensator is the doo-dad threaded on to the muzzle to make a major caliber recoil like a BB gun.  Optical sights or Red-Dot sights look like a riflescope, except there’s no magnification, instead there’s just a red dot.  This type of sighting is extremely fast for multiple target acquisition.  Certainly you don’t need one of these guns to play in the beginning.  You’ll find that people who uses a space gun typically fall into one of three categories.  First it’s the expert shooter who desires all the mechanical advantages to shoot as fast as possible.  The second type is one who has too much money burning in his pocket that he gotta spend it on a new toy.  Lastly, it’s a really bad shooter who thinks he can solve a software problem with hardware!

9) What other accessories will I need?

You’ll also need a sturdy belt, a holster and some extra magazines and magazine carriers.  Glasses for eye protection and earplugs or muffs for hearing protection.

10) How much ammo do I need?

An average match uses up about 150 rounds of ammo.  Bring extra in case you’re having a really bad day.

11) Will anyone laugh at me if I suck?

Absolutely not.  See Number 5 and 6 above.

12) What kind of targets do you guys shoot at and how far?

Targets are either cardboard silhouette or steel.   The ranges can be point blank out to 20-25 yards, may be a little more depending on the stage designer’s quirk for the day.

13) Can I use my Beretta, CZ, Llama, Ruger, Sig, S&W, Walther, ... etc.?

Yes, yes, yes.  They will all work.  See Number 7 and 8 above.

14) How is a shooter scored?

The score is a combination of Speed and Accuracy.  Also, penalties for tactical or procedural errors are assessed and figured into the final score.

15) Is the competition cut-throat or friendly?

For crying out loud, see Number 5 and 6 above, again.

16) Is it fun?  I’m afraid I’ll be too nervous to hit anything.

Well, if you’ve never been in a match before, it’s perfectly normal to feel a little anxiety while waiting for your turn to shoot.  On the stress meter scale, it’s nowhere near as bad as stepping up to bat in a baseball game or asking a girl out for a first date.  It’s more of the feeling you get when you’re a kid, waiting to ride your very first roller coaster.  You hear people screaming and you get a little nervous, but when it’s all over, you can’t wait to ride again.  Trust me, it’s FUN! 

17) OK, I’m interested.  How do I get started?

Contact one of the SPL representatives to confirm a match date and time and see you on the range.  You don’t even need to bring any money; your first match fee is on us.

18) Yeah, but I suck!

Oh, cut it out!


.22 Rimfire | Cold Feet? | Gate Key Rules | Small Bore Rifle | Newsletter | Map to Range | Match Schedule | Sage Photos