Can Competitive Shooting be Harmful in Real-Life Shooting Encounters?

Yes, matches will enhance your gun skills, but may provide ‘false confidence and bad habits that could get you in a jam or killed.’

Story and Photos by Paul Pawela

Competitive shooting does not often take into
account shooting from the seated position …Or a much bigger opponent, which
may require five-plus rounds

Throughout the years, there have been many heated debates amongst gun aficionados that seem to never come to any semblance of a rational conclusion. The standouts include: revolver vs. semiautomatic, .45 ACP vs. 9mm, cross-draw carry vs. kidney carry vs. appendix carry, sights vs. point index, and Weaver stance vs isosceles stance.
The latest debate revolves around competitive shooting vs. tactical shooting.
I became involved in this issue after answering a question on a popular forum for firearms instructors.
Someone asked whether competitive shooting had any advantages to the tactical side of defensive shooting
training, to which my response was “very little.”
It would seem my response was not well received from the competitive shooting gods, nor from the YouTube
teachers or professional keyboard commandos. “How dare you!” they said. “I dare very well,” was my reply.
Many self-anointed professionals tried to disparage me: “Well, you’re not a Master or Grandmaster shooter,
so you have no experience on the subject.” Taking a deep breath, I was reminded of this piece of wisdom from
former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson: “Social media made y’all way too comfortable with
disrespecting people and not getting punched in the face for it.”

Competitive shooting rarely emphasizes
the one-handed shooting position.

So, to have an intellectual discussion, I must share with you my bona fides (though I won’t bore you with my resume; it’s online). My International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) ranking is A335, but that means nothing to me; what does bear fruit is that I have nine documented times when I have had to use a firearm to defend myself and my family. And when I ask my detractors how many times as a civilian they have had to defend themselves with a gun, generally the response is silence.

JOHN HOLSCHEN, A long-time national tactical trainer and friend, had a similar discussion, and our arguments are pretty much the same. Below are some of his thoughts. For the record, neither of us are anti-competitive shooting. I have written several articles on the positives for LEOs to shoot in competitions.
And we both agree that competitive shooting enhances marksmanship and gun handling skills, which are both
valuable in a gunfight. But while John is polite and says he does not believe it will get you killed on the streets, I respectfully disagree with him on this because I know it can, it has, and it’s documented.
Now for a few of the stingers or hurtful truths as to the gaps that competition shooting leaves:

Competitive shooting
does not include
“stressors” that go from
hand-to-hand combat
to shooting situations.
    • No consideration for the ability of the target to shoot the competitor. The common aspect of gunfights is that they are usually at close distances (typically 3 to 5 yards). Studies show that in police firearms training, they are 80 percent accurate against cardboard targets, 70 percent accurate in simulated training where simulated targets are shooting back with man-marking cartridges, and 30 percent accurate when they are in real gunfights when bad guys are shooting back. In these cases, there are multiple threats and usually low visibility. (Other than an indoor shooting match, when was the last time you saw a match run outdoors under lights?) • “We win gunfights by minimizing our chances of getting shot while getting hits on the bad guy,” Holschen points out. Movement and/or cover are the primary methods of accomplishing this. To what degree and for how long the competitor is exposed to threat(s) is not a factor in a competition like USPSA. • The competition shooter knows the course of fire beforehand. The competitor knows where all the shoot/ no-shoots are before running the stage, so there is no test or exercise of the process of discrimination. Even if the competition shooter forgets the target placement, they need only to discriminate the color of the target to determine to shoot/no-shoot. • The defensive/combative shooter needs to look for the presence of a lethal weapon, combined with other visual cues, to indicate whether the weapon is a threat. This requires movement to allow visualization of the subject’s hands and other threat indicators. The physical actions and mental processes are different when this level of discrimination is required. • Potential negative training consequences. Anything we do repeatedly is being programmed into our neuromuscular pathways. We are habituating our postures, movements and visual orientation to the situation with each reference repetition. In competitive shooting, for example, after the shooting is done, the range command given is “show clear”; with numerous repetitions, this could become problematic on the street.
  • The lack of movement exposes a shooter to multiple threats. Standing still in a gunfight, you have an 85 percent chance of being shot, and a 51 percent chance of being shot in the torso. Also the stance/posture that is optimal for competitive shooting is detrimental to the use of cover or movement.
  • Exposing the muzzle of the gun and the body to areas not yet seen allows bad guys to see you first and begin to react before you know he’s there.
  • • Competitive shooting has no scenario involving a grappling situation. Around 37 percent of real gunfight scenarios involve physical contact during the gunfight. • Resource allocation: Do any of us have all the time we’d like to have to train? What percentage of our learning practice resources are we spending on developing the skills necessary to win in competition vs. what percentage are we spending on the additional skills we need to win in a self-defense gunfight? The motto of my Assault Counter Tactics program is “Train for what is probable, not possible.”
MANY HAVE ARGUED that Jeff Cooper – the father of modern pistol craft and who opened the first commercial firearms training school, Gunsite – was responsible for saving many lives with his knowledge of firearms skills. But one must also ask, how many lives did he cost through his insistence of advocating the classic Weaver stance?
During the early years of freestyle “competitive target shooting” in the late 1950s, Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Jack Weaver would bend both elbows when shooting for better support on targets. This impressed Jeff Cooper so much that he adopted this stance and was influential in making it a primary method of training for thousands of law enforcement and civilians alike.
The problem with this was that in documented real-life gunfights under duress, there was never one single documented case of it ever being used successfully. With the invention of dashcam cameras mounted in police cars, as well as surveillance cameras posted in areas where they could record criminal activity, solid proof was obtained that the Weaver stance was a complete failure. National trainer Tony Blauer even put up a $10,000 reward for 10 years for one person to come forward with video proof that the Weaver stance was used successfully in a gunfight. No one collected on that reward.

What no one talks about is how many people who were trained in the Weaver stance were shot and killed while trying to aim their sights and bend their elbows when criminals were point-shooting and hitting their targets (good guys/real human beings) with 68 percent accuracy!
Don’t ever tell me competition shooting has not resulted in deaths because it certainly has! And while Cooper cited the Latin phrase “Diligentia, Vis, Celeritas” (translated as “accuracy, power and speed”), as far as power goes in a handgun caliber, data shows that there is a 5 percent chance of a oneshot stop.

Not only that, but there is documented proof that people who are shot with a handgun caliber have an 85 percent survivability rate. And again, videos of gunfight encounters show that speed was not a factor. In 73 percent of the cases, victims used an obscured draw (hiding their draw from their holster) or they used a delayed draw, meaning they did not draw until they recognized the threat.
So Bat Masterson was right back in the 1800s, when he said that the three qualities of a gunfighter were courage, skill with a gun and, most importantly, deliberation, defined as careful consideration, slow and careful movement, steadiness, caution, lack of haste.

Author Paul Pawela got a lot of
grief over his take that competitive
shooting provides “very little”
advantage when it comes to the
tactical side of defensive shooting
training. To those who would disagree,
he says, “Real knowledge is to know
the extent of one’s ignorance.”

WHILE COMPETITION SHOOTERS have failure-to-stop drills, what they never do is shoot more than three rounds in any one target. Many documented real-life gunfights have shown that bad guys can become bullet sponges. Consider Emmett Dalton, who was shot 23 times in the failed Coffeyville bank robbery and lived. His cousin Cole Younger was shot over 20 times in his life, including 11 times in one incident where he was part of a bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota; he, too, lived.<br>
In modern times, in the 1986 Miami Shootout, murderer and bank robber Michael Platt was shot 12 times
before dying. His partner William Matix was shot six times. In the North Hollywood Shootout in 1997, robber
Emil Matasareanu was wearing body armor (which we are finding many bad guys are wearing these days) and was shot 29 times before bleeding out. His partner Larry Phillips was also wearing body armor; he was shot 11 times before shooting himself in the head and dying.

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Shooting competitions never take a failure to stop into question, like the above-given examples, which could be
very detrimental in a real-life gunfight. Other valid points of contention could be made about competition
shooting, but my biggest argument has always been that in shooting competitions there are never ever
verbal commands given by the good guy shooter to the bad guy target.
Scoffers may stick up their nose at that, but in our litigious society, it could make all the difference in the world.
Going back to John Holschen’s point about potential negative training consequences, recently a seasoned LAPD officer, who is a very competitive shooter and posts her competitions on YouTube, was in a real-life shooting, and what do you think jammed her up? You guessed it.

She never gave any commands in her competition shooting videos; all she did was shoot. Had she been a civilian in her justified shooting case, I think things would have certainly been a lot different for her.
Is competitive shooting a good way to enhance your skillset with a gun? Yes! Can it also give you false confidence and give you bad habits that could get you in a jam or killed? Yes. Always remember: “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” And that’s my two cents!

Competitive shooting
does not take into
consideration edged
backup weapons when
primary firearms fail

Editor’s note: For realistic self-defense training, see Author Paul Pawela is a
nationally recognized firearms and self-defense expert. To contact John Holschen, email tbsh@

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