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How to Shake It Off at a Shooting Match

The shooting sports are many things. They’re physically challenging because of the need to more quickly and efficiently change from shooting position to shooting position. In my opinion though, the hardest part of shooting is the mental aspect. If you watch how the top shooters handle adversity or a bad stage, you’ll see that they simply move on to the next stage and forget about the last bad stage. In other words, take a tip from Taylor Swift and shake it off.

 

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That can be nearly impossible for most people to do, including me. I’ve seen people win a match by 1/100th of a second. That’s like a blink of the eye! When I first started shooting, experienced shooters told me to not worry about a bad stage. That’s easier said than done, especially when something goes wrong on a shooting stage, like taking on an extra shot.

Most people’s inclination is to make up the time on the next stage. Sometimes that works, most of the time (from my experience) it doesn’t. it seems like the harder you try to make up time, the more you lose.

Cheyenne Dalton Competing

How to shake it off at a match

It took me a few years but I finally realized that I just needed to shoot my best and not worry. A friend that’s been shooting longer than I’ve been alive, gave me some great advice. He reminded me that I don’t know how the other shooters are doing and they may be having a bad day, too.

That advice stuck with me to this day, and I always keep it in mind. I also never check the scores during a match. I simply don’t want to know who’s ahead of or behind me.

Trying to be emotionless at a match is tough but I try to stay loose and have a good time. Emotions can wreck a good day with friends and I truly try and keep my days t the range fun and friend filled.

stage description

How to plan a stage at a match

Another mental aspect of shooting is stage planning. Some stages are elaborate and some are simple, but all of them require a plan. Rimfire challenge has simple stages with 5 to 7 targets in a fairly straight-forward array. Making the least movements between targets is key here, and it helps to ask an experienced shooter.

USPSA and 3-Gun are more complicated as far as stage planning goes. Some 3-Gun stages have option targets, meaning you can shoot them with more than 1 type of gun (pure evil). In my opinion, stage designers are crafty bunch for sure, and that’s what makes matches fun. I’ve been on stages with a squad of 10 shooters and no one has shot the stage the same as anyone else.

Something that happens to most competitors is that when the timer beeps, your entire stage plan flies right out the window. 

What should happen during a shooting stage

Load 2 shotgun shells, engage targets as seen, then load 4 shotgun shells, engage as visible. Dump shotgun, engage pistol targets (don’t miss), dump pistol, grab rifle, engage targets near too far. Super simple!

cheyenne dalton shooting

What actually happened during a shooting stage

Timer sounds … start shooting shotgun targets. Oops, I shot 5 targets before I loaded 2 shells. Well, let’s see how this goes. Oh, crud! I ran my gun dry. Load 8 shells, why? I don’t know! Dump nearly full shotgun while leaving one target standing. Un-holster pistol. Oops! I hit the mag release, I guess I should pick the mag up. No, I’ll leave it lying there. What could go wrong? Dang it! I’ve missed several targets. I sure wish I hadn’t left that mag on the ground back there. I better not miss a single target. Oh, no. I had to take 4 shots at each one. Wow, this is fun? OK, dump the pistol and pick up the rifle. Which targets do I shoot first? Umm, hold on, I’ll remember soon. Oh, yeah, near to far. What were my holds again? I have them memorized, I thought I did. Heck, let’s just go for it! This is going great, I think. I have most of the targets hit. Then … BEEP!!! You’ve reached the par time. You stare at the range officer like you just landed from outer space and ask, “What just happened?”

Stage description2

How I approach a 3-Gun challenge

3-Gun is a fun sport and part of the fun is walking the stages the day before the match. You can gather all sorts of data about each stage – including distances and order of engagement, basically building a plan for each stage. I’ve seen people take meticulous notes about every stage, and I’ve seen some top shooters walk the stages and make only mental notes. The choice is yours.

This is what I like to do. It works for me, but you should try different approaches and see how it goes. 

Some of these tips are 3-Gun specific but can be applied to any of the shooting sports:

  1. I like to make MY plan and stick to it. Most shooters will plan a stage around their strengths and weaknesses. Yes, I have weaknesses (chocolate being one), so I plan accordingly. It’s important to listen to shooters that may shoot better than you, but remember to shoot your game!
  2. Visualize the stage. Go over it a thousand times if need be. Remember those tricky targets hidden behind a barrel or barricade. They’re everywhere! 😊
  3. Use the time you’re pasting targets and resetting steel to go over your plan again and again.
  4. Have fun!!! Remember, this is supposed to be fun and no one will remember if you stunk up a stage. Trust me, I remember everyone I’ve screwed up but no one else does. (I hope.)
  5. Take that extra little time before the time goes off to calm down and run through the stage one more time, in your mind.
  6. If you wreck a stage or are wrecked by a stage, let it go – shake it off. The stress will almost always cause you more grief on the next stage. Let it go!!!
  7. Shooting is a mental game, so stay calm and focused. It’s easy for me to say this now, but there was a time when I would spend the night before a major match asleep on the bathroom floor. Simply because I was so nervous and nauseated. 
  8. Stay hydrated, it’ll help the brain function better.

I hope these tips help you and you’ve found my stories entertaining. And, that you remember to shake it off and move forward, especially when shooting matches.

  • About Cheyenne Dalton

    Cheyenne Dalton is an up-and-coming junior competition in 3-gun, USPSA, and Rimfire challenge. She writes a column about her shooting experiences, sponsored by Voquartsen Firearms. She's been competing for 4 years and has won state titles, along with the Limited Ladies Rimfire World championship 2 times (2014 & 2016). When she's not at the range, she is traveling with her Bluegrass band, "That Dalton Gang," where she plays mandolin and violin, along with singing lead vocals. Her future plans include lots of shooting and continuing her education with a focus on being a pharmacist. She lives on a family farm in Missouri.