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As a participant in competitive shooting competitions, I find goal-setting an important exercise for increasing my scores. How else do I push myself to shoot a little better and move a little faster? My main goal—to increase my scores from previous years—drives me to search for tips to help me accomplish it.

When I first began competing, I scraped by, barely missing last-place finishes. I decided to put more effort into finding what steps I could take to get better and increase my score.

I went on the search to find those little aspects of shooting that would help me shave seconds off my score. The following tips have helped me along the way.


NRA Action Pistol has a standard course of fire. Prior to a match, I studied videos online and printed out and memorized the course. However, 3-gun matches are a totally different game. Because the stages are always different, I pay very close attention when a range officer explains the stage.

Knowing what targets must be engaged with which firearm and from where keeps procedural deductions minimal.


The ability to manipulate my gear and firearms on “autopilot” is imperative. Knowing how and where to grab for magazines during reloads reduces fumbling and unsure movement. Likewise, understanding my firearms and having automatic motor programs for loading, unloading and clearing malfunctions saves precious time. For me, spending time manipulating my gear and firearms is more important than practicing with live fire.
Remember: Smooth is fast. You need to be fast to increase your scores.

Always search for areas where your rifle shooting might be a little easier with the use of supports.

Always search for areas where your rifle shooting might be a little easier with the use of supports.

When shooting 3-gun, it’s crucial to have a plan and stick to it. Walking stages the day before with pen and paper in hand, I decide how best to engage targets: what order, from where and with which firearm. This includes finding areas where my rifle shooting might be a little easier if I use available supports such as tables, railings, barricades or terrain. Also, I search for that spot where I can stand and engage the most targets.


Whether it’s right before I shoot, as I’m doing my walkthrough on a stage or the night before, I mentally rehearse exactly what I want to happen. Using a holistic approach to imagery, I try to involve as many of my senses as possible. These include, visual (steel falling), kinesthetic (feeling the trigger) and auditory (the sound of the bullet hitting steel). Through research, I found that mental imagery works best when you imagine yourself performing perfectly. This creates neural patterns in your brain, just as if you had actually performed the action.


I don’t know anyone who doesn’t feel stress when presented with an array of targets. Whether it’s the dreaded plate rack, knockdown steel or poppers, many find these their archenemies. When I approach the targets, I try to concentrate on each piece of steel as if it’s the only one out there. Of course, I want to shoot them all, but I have to concentrate hard on shooting one at a time.

Many competitors end up shooting between the targets because their minds move on to the next target before they actually shoot the first one. Sight picture, trigger press!

When shooting at an array of targets, it’s important to shoot one target at a time. Don’t mentally move on to the next target before the current target is down.

When shooting at an array of targets, it’s important to shoot one target at a time. Don’t mentally move on to the next target before the current target is down.


Because NRA Action Pistol is only scored by hits, I try to use every available second to make each shot a well-aimed one. In 3-gun, on the other hand, time is of the essence. I try not to get sucked into a difficult target—wasting both time and ammunition. Many times, I need to work my way to an easier target that I have a better chance of hitting.


Prior to and during shooting, I use a combat breathing technique. Through controlled breathing, I gather more air into my lungs, which means more oxygen to my body and brain, thereby lowering my heart rate. Combat breathing is from the diaphragm; my stomach expands to make room for the air as I breathe in and contracts as I breathe out. Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds and exhale for four seconds.


When I compete, I always listen to the advice other shooters give me. However, I still make my own plan, because I know my abilities. Also, although I watch people who are shooting before me, I don’t get all worked up when they burn down a stage. I know how fast I shoot, and I never try to emulate their speed. Right now, I am focusing on working toward engaging the targets without risking a miss. Next year, I’m hoping to trust my shots more and to try to increase my speed.

From the very first time I began competing in 3-gun, I shot with the pros. Yes, I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to watch them shoot and get their advice.

Nevertheless, at times, it could have been quite discouraging with my stage times being double theirs. Perhaps that’s why I choose to compete only with myself. I have solid basics, and every time I compete, I’m able to increase my performance.

All in all, these eight little tips have saved minutes and added precious points to keep me moving up in my ranking.


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the March 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.