Friday Tip-off: Traveling For Events – Part 1

To say that I travel a lot might be understatement. Between March 8 and June 23rd this year, I’m scheduled to be on the road all but two weekends. Traveling for events is a skill that needs to be practiced just like any other. Now, not many people travel at quite the same pace, but all the principles still apply just the same. This is going to be a several part series, and today we’ll focus on the travel planning stage of the trip.


Personally, I try and book travel a month at a time. For instance, when I get ready to book my travel to the HAVA Family Day at Academi in June, I’ll likely book all of my travel in June (which includes the Northeast Steel Challenge, TF Dagger 3-Gun and a 3 Gun Nation Pro Series Event) at that sitting. For me, this helps keep things straight, and I don’t have to think as much about which trips I’ve made plans for in that month. Don’t travel that much? Take that principle and apply it on the smaller scale of booking your entire trip all at once. Make sure your airfare, hotel, rent car and anything that requires advance booking is done and over.  Generally, you don’t have to pay for the car rental or hotel until you get there, so there isn’t really a good reason not to make sure it’s done. I like to save the confirmation as a PDF and put it in a dedicated folder on my computer so I can reference as needed.




Yep, we’ve all been there. Orbitz shows a screaming rate at a hotel that will save you a few dollars and you jump on it before it goes away. A month later when you arrive, you discover that the pictures on Orbitz are more than a few years old, the carpet is mildewed, and you aren’t quite sure what you saw dive underneath the bed when you turned the light on. One of my last experiences of this was a few years ago at SHOT Show when I booked the Imperial Palace. It cost a total of about $250 for the entire week, and shortly after arriving, I found out why. The bed felt like a board, the sheets were paper-thin, and being on the ground floor near the parking garage, getting a cell signal in the room was near impossible. After that, I learned that spending a little more to make sure you are comfortable is money well spent. Travel is stressful enough by itself, being in a dirty hotel room, or nervous about the neighborhood/location just adds to it. I also apply the same method to rental cars. My Dad and I used to always shop around for the cheapest rate available, until we had a similar experience to the Imperial Palace. Driving into the fairly remote areas of a major shooting range in a car that you have serious doubts about what maintenance had been performed adds to stress and lowers the overall enjoyment of the trip. Let’s face it, the biggest reason we go shoot matches is because it’s fun, if something starts to interfere with that, then the whole thing becomes a waste.


My suggestion? Join a solid rewards club and stick with the brand. I always rent from National Rent Car. Yes, they tend to be a little more expensive, but not excessively so.  There’s nothing I hate more than trying to deal with my luggage and wait in line for a car, and as an Emerald Club member, you can walk past the counter, right to the car and leave. As far as hotels go, I try and stay with the Wyndham Group. They have a huge range of hotels from Travelodge, up to things like the Wingate and Hawthorn. The best part is that there is always a Wyndham hotel near where you need to go, and you can keep racking up points. Free nights are nice every one in awhile, but I usually go for the gift card rewards and use it to buy something I’ve been wanting for awhile but never had the money to get.


Next week we’ll talk about the packing and actual travel portion of the trip. Until then, Train To Triumph!

Friday Tip-Off: Alternative Training with a .22

Last week we talked about some different choices for self-defense ammo in today’s tough market, this week we’ll focus on using a .22LR to fill in some live-fire training.


Now, let’s make a distinction before we start going too deep into the subject. There are two types of .22s. The first category is what I call “.22 Analogs” such as a TSG-22 or 2211 conversion kit from Tactical Solutions and anything else that closely simulates a centerfire cousin. The second choice would be a dedicated .22, like a Ruger MkIII

While an awesome gun for competition, there are better choices for cross-training for centerfire.

While an awesome gun for competition, there are better choices for cross-training for centerfire.

or 10/22. As a general rule of thumb, the dedicated .22s have a tendency to be more reliable than a conversion kit, but of course won’t fit your normal gear, which is an important consideration when you are substituting a .22 for normal centerfire practice.


I’ve found that the best ways to use a .22 for a training substitute tend to involve short drills that focus heavily on accuracy, rather than speed. The primary reason being is that many people don’t have any problem controlling the massive recoil that a .22 produces and you can start to develop a bad habit of “double-taps”, simply because the gun doesn’t recoil enough to throw off your sight picture. Something simple, like 2-3 boxes with a single target (I plan to make a video about this soon) to practice being ready to shoot when you step into a position is where a .22 is best applied. Personally, I don’t even spend much time practicing draws and reloads with a .22, since those are both easy to practice in dry-fire with your true competition set-up.


Another great use for a .22 in your training is shooting groups. While shooting slow-fire groups is a boring and mundane task, it will be well worth the gains. Something that I’ve learned over my career is that you can never hurt yourself by becoming a more accurate shooter. With the low recoil and blast, you can really see any error in your trigger pull and where it might be happening. For a short time, I was shooting 200-250 rounds of slow fire groups at 25 yards everyday. It’s not quite as easy for me to do so now since I’m not working at an indoor range anymore, but I do plan to start shooting 5, 10-shot groups every time I go to practice, and I challenge you to do the same!


I’ll work on a few video tips next week and let ya’ll know what I come up with! Until then, Train To Triumph!

Friday Tip-Off: Alternate Ammo Choices

We are living in interesting times no doubt. The shortage of guns, parts and ammo is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Unfortunately, we may not have access to our best/first choice of defensive ammo. So, I figured we could take a look at some alternative loads for the guns you probably already have that are hopefully a little more available than buckshot/JHP.


This is really where you have the most choices. As I’m writing this, MidwayUSA shows a few different #4 pheasant/turkey loads to be in stock. Are they going to be as effective as 00 buckshot? Not at any sort of distance, but if we’re talking 10 feet across the bedroom, I’d bet on getting the desired attitude adjustment. Again, we’re talking about substitutes for what you would normally use.


Handguns are a somewhat trickier, since your options tend to be FMJ or JHP in most service calibers. However, if available, I’d pick a high quality lead round nose or in appropriate calibers, a Semi-wadcutter over straight FMJ anyday. Hard cast lead will still deform and give at least some expansion, making a far better choice for defense than hardball. Jacketed Soft Point would also be a solid choice, though it’s only commonly available in revolver calibers.



Rifles are really tricky at this point, since there’s basically no ammo of any kind available. On the bright side, rifle rounds tend to be pretty universally effective. I try to stick with some sort of ballistic tip since I live inside a city and have over-penetraton concerns, but YMMV on that front.


Next week, we’ll talk about alternate training options while having to save ammo for matchs. Until Then, Train To Triumph!

Friday Tip-Off: Mental Game

OK, so I promised another mental game tip last week and SHOT Show managed to get in the way, so here we go.


Lanny Bassham’s “With Winning In Mind” offers wonderful insight into how to increase performance in stress situations. However, the shooting parts of the book are predominately focused on Olympic style rifle, where competitors have the opportunity to run a mental program for each individual shot fired.What I’d like to do, is explain how I apply those concepts to only being able to run a mental program for each string or stage.


I’m going to focus mostly on Steel Challenge, as a strong mental game is absolutely critical to putting up your best performance. If you have a rough stage in a good sized USPSA Match, you usually have 30-45 minutes to shake it off and get ready again. Steel Challenge on the other hand, you know immediately how your string went, and you only have a few seconds before having to put down another run. In reality, I have two separate mental programs that I run during Steel Challenge matches, one for prep/ getting ready, and then a separate program when I get in the shooter’s box.


Mental Program

Lost in thought getting ready for my run.

When I’m about 2 shooters away, I’ll start running my first mental program. Staying focused on getting ready (I also run this same type of program almost consistently in practice), I draw on the Lanny Bassham principle that a strong self-image leads to a stronger performance. So, I mostly focus on visualizing a fast, clean draw with a perfect grip, and then seeing my sights in the center of every plate with a quick snap transition to the stop plate. I finish off my thinking “That’s like me!”, thereby building my self-image of hitting every target 1-for-1. Remember, the more you think about something happening, the more likely it is to happen. I can’t tell you the number of times I accidentally let myself imagine a puff of dust in the berm behind the target and then went on to miss that very same plate on the next run. It is extremely important that you control what you visualize when you’re getting ready. Even if you are worried about the difficulty of a target or array, it’s still always better to imagine it going right, rather than bad.


Now, when I step into the shooter’s box, it’s time to forget about the steps and focus on performing. Instead of visualizing the string and thinking “That’s like me”, I’ll transition into thinking that I “need to shoot like me” which bring up the memory of going 1-for-1 on each target.

Doug Koenig is one of the best at running mental programs.

Doug Koenig is one of the best at running mental programs.

After the make ready command, I run a very specific and consistent set of checks like making sure my dot is on, my holster is unlocked and not tensioned way down, etc. I can’t tell you how important it is to do the exact same things, each time you get to the line. If you break your mental program, your chances of performing your best aren’t very good at all. After the gun is loaded and ready to go, my left hand will go into the start position first, shortly followed by my right, which came directly from having a grip on the pistol. A short nod and exhale on the “Stand By” command and I’m ready to go. I challenge everybody to come up with their own mental program that works for them and stick with it, as it’s definitely one of the fastest ways to improve match performance.


Let me know if ya’ll want more on this subject and I’ll talk about being able to run 2 programs for different segments in a stage (long USPSA stages and 3-Gun). Until next time, Train To Triumph!

Friday Tip-Off: Mental Game

It’s going to be a light tip this Friday guys… SHOT Show is around the corner and there is definitely not enough hours in the day…


Anyway, I did get a few requests to talk about mental strategy in shooting. I do plan on a full post on it soon (Maybe next week, I should have some time to write on the plane), but for now, I really encourage you to go sign-up for Lanny Bassham’s Mental Coach newsletter.


I use many parts of his system for my own mental game and it works extremely well. While we don’t have the time to run a mental program for each shot, we can (and should)  do so for every stage or string. I like his system because it breaks it down into simple terms that are easy to understand and apply. I also like the books by Dr. Bob Rotella. While they are golf focused, many things transfer over and he talks a lot about how to deal with putting a mistake behind you while you’re walking to the next shot (or in our case, stage).


I promise I’ll have more next week! Until then, Train To Triumph!

Friday Tip-Off: Z Drill

No, I’m not talking about Zombies, although this drill might help with that too. Here’s the set-up.


Targets: 2 USPSA or IDPA, set about 1 yard apart

Distance: Can and should be varied between 7-25 yards.

Drill: Draw and fire 2 shots in the center A zone of each target, then transition back to the first target and fire 2 shots in the head box of each target.

Variations: Can be done with a rifle, or if you are a real man, slugs. You can also add a reload before transitioning to the head box.

Things To Watch For: This drill addresses two different aspects of target engagement. The first, is that as always, your shot split and transition times should be within about .03 of each other. The other thing the drill works on is changing pace for the given target. Obviously, it requires a lot more precision to hit a head box than the larger body section. So, you should have a slight pause when you come off of your fourth shot going into your fifth, and then that sets the pace for the remaining shots.


Give it a try and always Train to Triumph!


Friday Tip-Off: Physical Fitness

Fortunately for most of us, competitive shooting doesn’t require the fitness levels of an Olympic swimmer, gymnast or any myriad of other sports that take incredible athletic ability. Unfortunately, that causes a lot of us (and I’m guilty of it) to ignore the level of physical fitness that is required for us to perform to the best of our given ability level.


What I’m talking about is functional fitness. In general terms, a typical USPSA Area match will consist of 8-12 periods anaerobic activity lasting between 5-20 seconds and needing to cover 10-20 yards of ground and go kneeling maybe once. These usually are spread out over the course of the entire day or perhaps a day and a half. However, in between stages we do things like stand around waiting, bend over to pick up steel, carry around equipment both on belts and in the range bag, and by the end of the day are generally worn out, tired and grouchy. So while shooting a stage to the best of your ability may not demand a whole lot physically, being able to do it on demand, after helping reset stages all day does require a certain level of fitness training. Now, I’m not saying that everybody needs to stop dry and live fire practice and hit the gym twice a day, everybody has to find a level of training that they feel comfortable with and are in line with their overall goal set. Speaking of which, that sounds like an excellant topic for next week’s tip, but until then, Train To Triumph!

Friday Tip-Off: Head Position


Welcome to the first Friday Tip-Off. Each week, I’ll talk about a different aspect of how to improve your performance through drills or other exercises. We start it off with how to position your head.


I was working with a student recently that was struggling in pretty much all aspects of his shooting, be it rifle or pistol. His shot placement was so erratic that it was hard to trace the problem to single source. I knew this student was cross-dominant (right handed, but left eye dominant), but what I didn’t realize until watching him shoot from a little bit farther away than my usual arms-length or shorter position was how much he was moving his head when he brought the gun up.

Look at Doug's head position while drawing.

Look at Doug’s head position while drawing.

Now, notice that his head is in pretty much exactly the same place while shooting.

Now, notice that his head is in pretty much exactly the same place while shooting.














I can’t stress the importance of keeping your head as still as possible when shooting, especially in the case of cross-dominance and shooting rifles from your left shoulder/hand and pistols in your right. Once you start moving both your head and the gun, things tend to deteriorate in a hurry, as you’re never really in the same position. As a general rule, your head should always stay in a pretty upright, natural position and the gun should be aligned to your dominant eye from there. Once we got his head straight, and another quick refresher on trigger control, this student went from barely keeping all his rounds on an IPSC target at 20 yards, to shooting an 1.5″ group with his XDM to finish the lesson, which last only about an hour.


So there’s your Friday Tip-Off, until next time Train to Triumph!