One of the biggest keys to staying on track in action shooting, especially 3-gun, is making sure you ingrain the basics of firearm manipulation to the point they become second nature.
You harness this skill every day. For example, when leaving for work in the morning, do you consciously initiate the steps to get into your vehicle as you are actually doing it? Remove key from pocket. Place key in the door. Unlock and open the door. Enter the vehicle.
Of course you don’t, because you have conditioned yourself to do all of those things without thinking about it. The process has been burned into your subconscious through repetition, and that same principle should be applied in your training. Essential basic skills must be automatic, so set up your practice drills to emphasize and constantly reinforce them.
I routinely practice with dummy rounds, empty guns, partially loaded magazines, etc., to hone my abilities to clear stoppages and load my guns quickly. Every time you shoot a drill, you have an opportunity to practice a manipulation skill.
Try starting your pistol drills with your gun unloaded and a magazine lying nearby to force yourself to load and charge the gun under pressure. The same applies to your rifle. With some of the larger-capacity magazines available, rifle reloads have all but become extinct at some matches. So rifle-magazine manipulation and malfunction clearing can easily be overlooked in your practice sessions.
Sharpening all of the fine motor skills involved in gun manipulation will also make you extremely adept at handling stage props from even the most creative match director. And by ingraining the basics to the point of being muscle memory, you can become a better multi-tasker. And this sport is all about multi-tasking.
A good, well-rehearsed stage plan is the key to keeping things on track in the event of a problem. The ability to develop one is generally the most undervalued skill in shooting. 3-gun is a sport of improvisation and adaptation, but we also have the ability to see our stages prior to shooting them. So that gives us the opportunity to formulate a good stage plan to minimize issues.
A lot of shooters walk to the line with only a general idea of what they want to do on the stage. And when the course of fire is simple, you may be able to get away with that level of preparation. But as the stages become more complex, it’s a recipe for disaster if you are not dialed in on your plan. Develop a good plan and stick with it. Take as many walk-throughs as you can, and make sure you see the whole stage in your head before you shoot it.
If that little voice in your head is doing anything other than playing back your stage plan before you begin, you have a problem. Proper planning also means it is easier to find your way back on track in the event of trouble. If you are able to get directly back to your plan after correcting a mistake, you minimize the time lost. Dial in your plan and you will find yourself excited to hear the buzzer, instead of nervously dreading it.
Situational awareness is among the most important skills to have in your 3-gun arsenal. When things go bad this will be the skill that keeps things on track. Quickly identifying and correcting it is obviously important, but in 3-gun it is very easy to pile on even more problems when you do not apply the proper amount of focus to the big picture. That is one of the big differences between a recreational shooter and a top competitor. You rarely see a top shooter make more than one mistake on a stage. Simplify how you address problems during your course of fire with the following approach and you will minimize collateral damage.
Identify the problem. Determine what has gone wrong. Your gun is jammed. The target did not fall. You dropped a magazine.
Whatever goes wrong, calmly assess the situation and move to the next step.
Correct the problem as quickly as possible while staying relaxed and under control. Sometimes this is as simple as firing another shot, or loading another round. Other times it may involve tearing your gun down to clear a catastrophic jam. Either way, staying under control and tension-free ensures you will complete the task as quickly as possible.
GET BACK ON PLAN
Re-join your stage plan right where you were when you came off track to make sure you don’t create another issue. And don’t speed up! A lot of people hit the gas after a mistake in an effort to gain back lost time. That never works. Go right back to operating at the same speed you determined would be best during your walk through. That time is lost and you will never get it back. The only thing you can do at this point is get as many of the remaining available stage points as possible.
I actually say the word “points” to myself subconsciously after a disaster as a reminder to stay focused and under control. 3-gun is all about managing how many things you can do at once. But it is also very easy to become one-dimensional when things go wrong.
A few changes in your practice sessions can easily expand your ability to stay focused on the big picture. Adding a little extra problem solving to your training can help slow things down and provide you the tools needed to perform your best the next time that buzzer goes off!