Caleb Giddings is a well known IDPA and USPSA shooter, and has made a name for himself with his performances shooting Enhanced Service Revolver in IDPA competition. He also runs a blog at Gun Nuts Media, and hosts a weekly podcast that is regularly downloaded by over 50,000 iTunes users. Recently he’s appeared as a contestant on the History Channel’s new show Top Shot. We had the chance to catch up with Caleb Giddings and sit down for an interview to discuss how he first got involved in competitive pistol shooting and gain some insights into practicing and training for IDPA and IPSC competitions.
Tell us a little about yourself, did you grow up in a shooting family or did you get involved with firearms later in life?
I got started in the shooting sports when I was 8 years old. My father was a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy for 20 years, and on my 8th birthday he asked me what I wanted to do on my birthday. Instead of choosing a more traditional past time like mini-golf or going to the bowling alley I said I wanted to go shooting. That was pretty much the start of my involvement in the firearms community and the shooting sports.
So, how long was it before you found you had a knack for shooting? When did you really decide to start doing some competitive shooting?
When I was in college at the Coast Guard Academy the collegiate pistol team had open tryouts, and I went down, knowing I liked guns and shooting. So I took the opportunity to do the tryouts and I shot well enough to earn a spot on the team. From there I won some competitions, I won some of our practice matches, and then I started winning a little bit more. I realized “Hey, I like competing, I like winning, and I like guns, this makes a pretty good combination.”
So basically you’ve been competing ever since you got out of the Coast Guard?
Actually yeah, I started when I was at the academy when I was 18. I’ve been competing on and off for the last 10 years, and then in the last 3 years I’ve really started competing seriously again. It was kinda here and there for a while but really in the last 3 years I’ve really made it, I don’t want to say full time, but I would say I’ve made it a serious pursuit in the last 3 years.
We’ve really seen you come up through the ranks recently with some of your recent wins such as the Indiana State Championship, some of your ICORE performances have been pretty impressive, and you recently shot another competition this weekend, the USPSA Area 5 match. How did you do there?
You know I was a little disappointed with my performance at Area 5, even though it was only my second major USPSA match. I felt going into it that I had a really good chance to place in the top 5. Unfortunately I finished 8th. My shooting, I’ll say that looking at the match critically that my shooting was good. My execution of the plan that I had going into each stage was generally pretty good. My planning before the stage was what was flawed. I didn’t treat the stages aggressively enough and I didn’t take opportunities on them that I should have taken. So, I hurt my score doing that. But, overall, it’s been two major USPSA and two major lessons learned.
You had mentioned that you were going to take a different mental approach going into this match, a little bit less planning and a little more focus on being smooth and fluid and just “going for it.” Do you think that affected your score?
That was what I wanted to do going into the match, and then for whatever reason when I got there I started over analyzing the stages and trying to finesse my way through them. When I looked at my scores afterwards, the stages where I stopped thinking about it, didn’t worry about it, and just went for it were my best stages of the match. The ones where I over-thought it were the ones that really hurt me.
Speaking of getting hurt, it looked like your ego and your performance weren’t the only things that got hurt. Tell me about your calf and what happened there.
I was actually being a little foolish. I was taking some pictures of one of the shooters who was running a .38 Super open gun and I was standing at about a 45 degree angle from a steel plate that was one of their targets. Now, I wasn’t down range of the muzzle, I wasn’t in any danger of getting shot, but just unfortunately the shooter’s position, my position, and the bullet impact resulted in me getting a hot piece of jacket from her .38 Super embedded in my calf, which was really actually quite surprising.
I guess that’s a little reminder to pay attention to the action that is going on and to pay closer attention to those steel plates?
Yeah, absolutely. But I got a great picture of the shooter so it all balances out in the end.
You’ve been getting a lot better at shooting recently. Do you have any role models, anybody that you are trying to learn a lot from, or that you base some of your shooting techniques on? Who is someone that you look up to within the shooting industry?
When it comes to revolver shooting, there is really only one name that everyone says. Jerry Mikulek. Everyone’s goal is eventually to beat him, or at least be as good as him. And while that’s about a million years of practice away from me, a lot of the stuff that I do is because I saw him do it and looked at it and I adapted it to try to fit my style, my speed, and my mechanics. He’s definitely the guy in terms of revolver shooting.
And then, in the actual shooting community, I had opportunity recently when I was a contestant on Top Shot to meet JJ Racaza and Blake Miguez who are both USPSA Grand Masters. JJ is a multiple-time Steel Challenge champion, Blake is a National champion and has won lots of area titles. It was neat for me to meet two guys who are the same age as I am, who are young like me, and yet who are competing at the top level in the sport and to talk to them about their practice and what they do to shoot at that level.
So what do you do to shoot at that level? Talk to me a bit about your training. We see you all over the place, I can’t imagine how you manage to get in range time and training on top of your podcast and your blog. Give me an idea of what one week’s worth of training looks like for you. What does that consist of?
The most important thing that I’ve discovered about training, and this is from talking to people who do this for a living, people who are very good at this, is that the amount of time spent training isn’t as important as the quality of training that you do in that time. It’s much better for me if I have a dry fire practice session, which is huge by the way. I spend more time dry firing than I do shooting actual rounds down range. But if I have a dry fire practice session that is only 50 practice reloads or 50 presentations from the holster, but they’re 50 good presentations from the holster, that beats a 200 repetition practice session where I feel I’m trudging through it. It’s better to have 20 minutes of good practice than an hour of average practice.
So, let’s get down to the details. We get these questions a lot from people who want to get good at shooting competitively. If you’re going to set up a training schedule for somebody are you going to do 5 days a week of dry fire and 1 range session? Walk me through some details.
Sure. I’ll give you what I did this winter during the off-season. During the winter it’s cold here in Indiana, I can’t shoot unfortunately unless I want to go to an indoor range. What I did this winter was, at the end of the year I was an Enhanced Service Revolver Sharp Shooter. So, I went into the winter and I said I was going to dry fire at least two days a week. And I’ll make sure it’s good dryfire, so I’ll practice my trigger control. It doesn’t matter how many repetitions I do, I just want to make sure I have good practice that starts on a good note and ends on a good note.
So for dry fire practice what I’ll do is I’ll hold the gun out in my firing stance and cover the screw on a light switch. So, your average light switch has two screws, one top and one bottom, and I’ll use one of the screws as my point of aim. I’ll try to dry fire as many times as I can without the front sight wobbling off that screw, and it’s difficult, but it really builds up that ability to manage the trigger on a revolver. So I try to do that one night a week. And then another night I would practice reloads. That would be just having the gun out, opening up the cylinder, ejecting a moon clip of snap caps, and then reloading a moon clip of snap caps from my belt. And again, try to do that one night a week.
Then, since this is the winter, in lieu of going to actual matches I put up reduced sized targets in my workout room. So, I have paper targets pinned up on the walls in my workout room, and I would do simulated courses of fire with dry fire. You know, 10 or 20 round courses, where I would have to shoot 6 rounds at three different targets, reload, and shoot 6 more simulated rounds at targets.
That was what I did all winter. I did that from November until February. Then, in February I went out and shot the IDPA Classifier with 2 inches of snow on the ground, and I shot the best Classifier I’ve ever shot with any gun. I shot in the Master Class for the first time in IDPA, and it was primarily because I spent the winter learning to manage the trigger.
My summer time practice is pretty similar. I do two nights of dry fire practice a week, and then if I’m shooting a match that weekend I will try, sometime after the match, to get at least 100 rounds of practice on one of the fundamentals. Whether it’s a reload drill or a transition drill, whatever it is, I try to get 100 to 200 rounds of practice working on a basic fundamental skill.
That’s pretty important to be able to get all of that practice in. I know most of us don’t have thousands of rounds of free ammunition to practice with, so those are some great tips. I know you’re starting to pick up some semiautomatic pistols and work with those for your Quest for Master Class series that you’re doing. How well do the skills gained from these dry fire exercises and training cross over into semiautomatic pistols?
It’s a 100% transition. The only difference between shooting a revolver and dry firing a striker fired semiautomatic pistol like the Ruger SR9C that we’ll be using in the Quest for Master class is that with the Ruger I have to cycle the slide manually in between trigger resets. If you’re shooting a traditional double action auto like a CZ or a Beretta, then you can just use that double action trigger pull.
I actually recommend for people that if you want to practice dry firing, and all you want to work on is your trigger management, go buy a used Smith & Wesson Model 10 or Model 19. They’re still really cheap, you can get a used double action revolver for $150 to $250. If all you want to practice is trigger control that is the perfect gun for it. If you can manage a double action trigger on a revolver, when you go back to shooting your 1911 or your Glock or whatever gun that you’ve got, the trigger will feel like it’s not even there. It’s amazing what that does for your ability to manage trigger pull.
So you don’t think that transitioning from a double action to a light weight single action has any negative impacts?
No. I honestly don’t.
One of the things that I learned from my experience on Top Shot is that shooting is shooting. It all comes down to sight alignment and trigger control. Everything else, you know how reloading a semiautomatic pistol is different from reloading a revolver, that’s just repetition and practice. The most important thing that you can do is get your sights on target and pull that trigger cleanly. If you can do that well with a double action revolver then you can certainly do that well with a semiautomatic pistol.
So, do you do any physical conditioning? How much does it play into your performance as a competitive shooter? How much time do you spend exercising and how do you feel it affects your shooting?
I usually work out 5 to 6 days a week. The schedule that I work out on is, I try to workout 3 consecutive days, take a rest day, work out for 3 consecutive days, and take another rest day. That rotates the rest day through the week so that I don’t get into a set pattern. And it’s difficult when you’re traveling and shooting matches and working full time to get the workouts in. But a minimum of 4 workouts a week is what I try to do, that’s my low acceptable level.
I really believe that being in good physical condition helps you shoot better. If you look at the top shooters, especially in USPSA right now which is such a physical fast paced game, guys like Dave Sevigny and Ben Stoeger, they’re all in great shape because they’re athletes. The ability to do 50 pushups means that you can hold your arms out longer than someone who can’t. It means that you can move that gun faster from one target to the next target than someone who isn’t in that good of physical condition.
So, while it’s not as important in the shooting sports as it is to be in good physical condition if you’re a basketball player or a football player, it definitely helps your performance. It speeds things up just a little bit.
So, in addition to all of the physical aspects of shooting, it’s also quite a bit of a head game. How do you maintain mental focus, and is there a way to practice that so that when it comes time, when you’re under pressure and when the buzzer sounds, you’re focused and quickly and easily able to maintain the mental discipline you need to be fast and be accurate?
The big thing that really does set the top level shooters apart is that they are able to make a plan, stick to the plan, and execute that plan almost flawlessly. I’m not anywhere near their level as was evidenced by this last match. I had some serious mental errors that were what really cost me a better finish at the match.
So what type of training gives those guys the ability to do that? It’s the little things. It’s trying to stay focused on the minutia without being so focused on it that you lose sight of the big picture. Me personally, I like to play mind games. Brain teasers and puzzles. Things that make me think and look at problems from other angles. That kind of mental exercise absolutely applies when you’re shooting a stage. If you can look at a crossword puzzle or a brain teaser and analyze it and break it down and solve it you can analyze a course of fire and break it down and solve it as well.
If there was one thing you’d tell an aspiring shooter to focus on to shave a few seconds off their time, what would it be?
If someone was looking to shave a few seconds off of their time in one of the action disciplines such as USPSA or IDPA, I would say the biggest thing you can do to cut that time down is, don’t think about your reloads, but practice your reloads. Practice your reloads until it is a fluid motion. If you look at pictures of people like Dave and Bob and other top level shooters, you’ll see on their reloads that the empty mag, the mag that they’re ejecting, is still falling to the ground by the time they’ve got their reload inserted into the gun. That’s the kind of speed that can really help cut time off of your stages because that reload is the only time when the gun is down. You’re not shooting when you’re reloading. So that’s a big way, at least in my opinion, to cut some time off of your stages.
The other thing that I might say that actually might be even better advice would be to practice seeing the targets. What I mean by that is, when you’re looking at your sights, and you have an array of three targets in front of you, the best way to get fast is to look at your sights, shoot the shot you need at the first target, look at the next target, move the gun to it, look back at your sights, shoot it, look at the next target, move the gun to it, look back at your sights, and shoot it. The ability to “see fast” is what will make you faster on the course of fire. And that’s something you can only do with repetition.
So, sight picture, being able acquire that sight quickly, is that what you’re talking about?
Yes, absolutely. It’s hard to explain “seeing the whole field,” if anybody out there has ever been a high school football quarterback they’ll really understand what I’m trying to express.
I think I get the picture… What you’re trying to say is that you’ve got to be able to have a mental image of what is going to happen before it actually happens. You’ve got to get that sight picture, quickly and then transition to the next sight picture without hesitating, without having to stop and focus. Does that sound right?
Absolutely. You want to see sight picture, target, sight picture, target, sight picture, target, and you want to be able to do that as fast as possible.
So maybe practice using dry fire using targets set up, much like you have them in your workout room, that would be a good drill.
Yes, that’s one of the dry fire drills that I did over the winter.
Well, I appreciate you taking the time to give us some tips and insights into training and practice.
No problem, hope to see you on the range sometime!
Images courtesy of Gun Nuts Media.