Competitive Shooting

Off-Season Shooting Practice

Patrick Kelley practicing with a pistol.

At the close of each shooting competition season, I spend a little time reminiscing about the good times at 3-Gun matches around the country. Along with that comes a list of things to improve during the off-season. Some of the items on the list relate to guns and gear. While others on the list, are more personal in nature and will require range time to effect a change. I’ll take you though some of these items in hopes of improving not only my game, but yours too.

Practice and Preparation

Patrick Kelley at the MGM Iron Man Shoot
Patrick Kelley at the MGM Iron Man Shoot.

The 2011 season had me experimenting with different divisions, and thus changing equipment several times, and it cost me. Had I taken the time to fully prepare for each equipment change, I could have expected better results. First note to self: don’t do that again in 2012! Pick a division and set your gear up accordingly then practice with that gear—all year! I am not much for regimented practice, I never have been. For me that approach becomes work and I have a job. And if it ain’t fun, it ain’t done. To get practice in without practicing, I press into service my 3-Gun gear, playing most any shooting game within a couple of hours driving distance. That brings me in contact with the clays games of Skeet, 5 Stand, and Sporting Clays. What gun do I haul out of the safe to bust those clays with? My 3-Gun shotgun of course! A word of caution here, no matter what game you are playing outside of 3-Gun while using your 3-Gun gear please show due respect for the game you are playing by following the rules and etiquette of that game. In other words, don’t expect to be welcomed onto a skeet field with a “chip on your shoulder” because you are not using a shotgun fully appropriate for the game. YOU KNOW you are not using a skeet gun so please take the time to introduce yourself and explain that you are there to improve your flying clays skill using the gun and gear for the other game you play.

I am fortunate to have a monthly Steel Challenge match in my area. Again, I’ll show up and shoot with my 3-Gun belt and holster complete with shotshell caddies as I would any 3-Gun event. I don’t change loads or guns or equipment positions. If given the opportunity I’ll shoot an NRA Bulls-eye pistol match as a challenging practice alternative. If you try this, it is likely that your 3-Gun pistol is not quite set-up to win the event. You can bet your skills will be better for the experience. The same goes for NRA High Power rifle matches. Check with the guys running the match to see if you may shoot your 3-Gun rifle. Some events offer an “any rifle, any sight” division. Again, show up and get to know these fellow-shooting enthusiasts; you just might learn something.

Patrick Kelley Sighting In
Patrick Kelley sighting in.

If I feel the need to improve some specific skill-set not covered by the games above, I will find my way to the practice range. I am lucky that my local range has a variety of high quality steel targets available for my use. My favorite among them is the plate rack. This ammo burning contraption consists of six 8-inch round steel plates set horizontally about 16 inches on center and 4 feet off the ground. Knock them down, and a simple pull of a string sets them back up, and ready for my next volley. Mine, manufactured by the fine folks at, is rated for rifle fire up to 308 Win. at 100 yards. Pistols, of course, would be employed a little closer. I always seem to be short on time and the plate rack goes a long way toward making my infrequent practice sessions efficient and productive. As a warm up I’ll run the plate left to right and right to left, outside-in, and vice versa. To improve my start times I may do a magazine or two of single shot draws with pistol or a Port-Arms start with rifle or shotgun. To be successful at the 3-Gun game I need to be fast and accurate, and I’ll need a goodly bit of both to keep dropping those 8-inch plates at speed. If I am prepping for a USPSA pistol match, some strong and weak hand drills are in order. While I do most of the shotgun reloading practice in dry-fire mode at home, doing a few live-fire “on the clock” with any one or all three guns is always on the docket. Performed thusly: one plate, reload, one plate, reload, and so on.

Patrick Kelley practicing with a pistol.
Patrick Kelley practicing with a pistol.

In the past I have been limited—due to range restrictions—to only shooting at paper and under a “speed limit” that prohibited “fast shooting”. Yes, it was a bother, but I still managed to get some good transferable 3-Gun skills within that environment. There is little use for speed if you are not accurate, so go with the flow and shoot groups. I mean little groups. This is a great skill builder and a test of gun and shooter. I start by sandbagging my pistol or rifle, seeing how small a group I can shoot. Once I have established the “mechanical accuracy” of the piece, I’ll shoot from different positions—standing off-hand, kneeling, sitting, prone—and see how close I can get to equaling that mechanical accuracy. Not only does this give me a baseline of what my equipment can do and from what position, it greatly assists me in breaking down a 3-Gun stage to my strengths. Try this and maybe the next time you see an array of pistol plates at 25 yards or a set of rifle poppers at 100 yards you’ll be confident that you can put them down quickly off-hand rather than looking for a wobbly prop to brace up against.

I’ll keep working my way through the list.

Until next time. ~Patrick

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1 Comment;

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