Phil Strader got his start with firearms when he first hired on as a police officer in Danville, Virginia. After seeing a video of action pistol shooter Jerry Barnhart, Phil decided that if he was to take his responsibilities as a law enforcement officer seriously, he would have to practice more and improve his gun handling skills.
Thus began his path toward becoming a world-renowned action pistol shooter and professional firearms instructor.
Phil Strader is now a Smith & Wesson-sponsored shooter and regularly competes in IPSC and IDPA. When he’s not participating in action pistol competitions, Phil runs his own military and law enforcement training company, Straighter Solutions.
We caught up with Phil at the 2010 IDPA National Championship competition at the U.S. Shooting Academy in Tulsa, Oklahoma and talked with him for a bit about his move to the Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm Pro.
Let’s talk about the equipment you’re using today. What did you bring with you? I’m shooting in the SSP (Stock Service Pistol) class.
I’m shooting—literally—a stock M&P Pro with just some Warren Tactical Sights, some grip tape and that’s it.
No trigger job, nothing special, just as it comes out of the box?
Why did you choose the M&P 9mm?
The 9mm Pro just feels better. It’s more balanced. I had a 9mm Standard, a 4-inch, before but the 5 inch just gives me better balance, better recovery on target, and the gun just seems to track and shoot better in my experience.
What do you think of the match so far?
It’s a good match you know. It’s my first and only IDPA match of the year, so it’s trigger time for me to get ready for nationals next year. They always do a great job here. These guys, they know how to run a club and the stages are great.
They’re doing a good job, and this gets me some time behind the gun because I just got this gun two weeks ago. I’m trying to get some trigger work on it because my old gun had a trigger job on it, but this one doesn’t and I’m trying to get used to that.
What other matches are you shooting this year?
I just shot the 3-gun Nationals, I shot the Steel Challenge, the Steel Nationals, Bianchi Cup, I’m going to the USPSA back-to-back Nationals next week, I do some 3-gunning here and there, I’m going to the Fort Benning 3-gun match this year, the IPSC Nationals in South Carolina, so I’m very involved with USPSA and IPSC.
I’m getting ready for Greece next year and the World Shoot.
How have you done so far this year?
It’s a learning curve, I’ve had to change equipment, but I think I’m going to do fine. I was an STI shooter before, and the M&P is a much different kind of gun. It’s definitely tough getting used to, but I think by Nationals I’ll be tuned in and ready to go.
Are you training any differently for IDPA than you do for a Steel Challenge?
Well, first to say I train for IDPA would be quite a step in the wrong direction. I think I mentally prepare for IDPA differently because it’s more about everything else and the shooting is just kinda incidental. The targets are close, it’s pretty easy, but you’ve got to be mentally prepared to deal with all the different idiosyncrasies with the rules and that sort of thing.
My preparation for something like Steel Challenge is all repetitive. Shooting, shooting, shooting and here it’s more mental.
How many rounds do you usually shoot a month?
Typically, what is this, September? This month, sadly I have shot about 700 rounds. I don’t shoot a lot, I’m a dry fire guy.
I average 500-1000 rounds per month, depending on what match is coming up. My budget and my family life just don’t allow me to shoot as much as I would like to. It’s nice to be close to a range like this, but I do a lot of mental visualization, I do a lot of gun manipulation, stuff I can do at home like dry fire.
It’s just always seemed to work for me. I just kinda know what the gun looks like when it’s going off and I don’t have to shoot a lot of rounds to confirm it, although I’d like to. It just doesn’t work out usually. Family stuff comes first and shooting second.
When you’re not on the professional shooting circuit, what else are you doing?
I’m actually self employed, I own Straighter Solutions. It’s basically a training company. I travel all over the country and teach people to shoot, either competitively or LE/Military Tactical, 3-gun, rifle, whatever. If a bullet comes out of it I teach it. I’m just doing a lot of instruction there, I’ve got three classes scheduled in the next month and a half, so it’s going pretty well.
What got you started in shooting?
I was a police officer in Southern Virginia, and I was an OK shooter. I was a cop, I thought I was the best shooter. I was the best shooter in my class which means I was the best shooter in the world, right? Then somebody showed me a video of Jerry Barnhart shooting a stage and it was just unbelievable to me to see how fast he could shoot.
Instantly, I asked the guy showing me the video “What police department does he work for?” because I automatically assumed that all good shooters were cops. That’s just the way it is, right?
Turns out he was an electrician, and that got me a little concerned that an electrician could shoot that good and I’m supposed to be a cop protecting the public and I shoot so much worse. I decided to start shooting competitively for training purposes. I just kinda got good at it and over the course of a month or two as I got pretty good I decided to do it competitively.
Are there any other sponsors or anyone else you want to mention?
Well, I’ve got a lot of great sponsors, but Smith & Wesson, they take care of me. Accurate Iron is my gunsmith, luckily he doesn’t have to do a whole lot because I only shoot stock guns, but he does all of my 1911 work.
Warren sights obviously, they’re all I use on all my guns if it’s iron sights. Schuemann barrels, and… [glances at shirt] Who else do I got on there? Oh yeah, Speed Shooter Specialties. They deal with all the Smith & Wesson aftermarket stuff. And Straighter Solutions, obviously I’m self-sponsored because it’s my business.
Everyone is really good, but these are the guys who have been with me since the beginning and I stay loyal to those guys. They’re very supportive.
Phil Strader makes his home in the Tulsa suburb of Owasso, Oklahoma with his wife and children.
Do you shoot competitively? Have you participated in any of the events Phil has? Share your thoughts and experiences with our readers in the comment section.