She Shoots 2: The competition mindset

I am not a competitive person, unless it is a party game at a baby shower. Competing in shooting matches would be very “outside the box” for me. That being said, I recently competed in my first 3-gun match, the AR-15 Rockcastle Pro/Am 3-Gun Championship. With a field of 500 competitors – 250 of them amateurs like me – shooting 7 stages in 2 days, I wondered how I could prepare myself for this caliber of an event. What should I do to get into the competition mindset?

I asked some pro shooters how they do it.

Kay Miculek began competition shooting as a single mom (before Jerry Miculek days), toting around 2 children: a 5-year old and a 7-year old. “Since I would be playing checkers, trying to keep my kids occupied at the matches, when it was my turn to shoot I would tell them, ‘Mom will be back in 30 seconds!’ I had to learn how to get into the correct mindset very quickly,” said Kay. For shooting 3-gun, Kay mentioned, “A good dose of adrenaline is a good thing. However, with other matches like the Bianchi Cup, the adrenaline could kill you.” Kay has learned to control the adrenaline rush and use it to her advantage. She said the only way to do this is by going out and competing.

Kay and Lena Miculek with Michelle at the CTM3GI. Photo courtesy of Chris Cerino

Kay and Lena Miculek with Michelle at the CTM3GI.
Photo courtesy of Chris Cerino

Kay’s daughter, Lena Miculek, tends to get overwhelmed when she first sees a stage. She tries to arrive early and walk the stages several times, breaking them down until she becomes comfortable. She reminds herself to keep things simple. “I know if I have a good sight picture and trigger pull, I will hit the target,” she claimed.

FNH’s Dianna Liedorrf, a policewoman in Oklahoma, said, “It is imperative that a shooter learns how to train their brains in such a way that will result in positive results. My friend Kay Miculek told me once, ‘Focus on the performance, not the results.’ That’s something I hold on to and recall before a stage. I’ll think about my plan and my sight pictures. Visualizing is important. And BREATHE!”

Michelle with pro shooter Dianna Liedorff.  Photo by Chris Cerino

Michelle with pro shooter Dianna Liedorff.
Photo courtesy of Chris Cerino

I started to get into the competition mindset very early by becoming familiar with the firearms I would be using. I felt comfortable with my pistol, but needed to work on my shotgun and rifle manipulation. Standing in our kitchen, facing a safe wall, I used dummy rounds to practice loading and clearing routines. As I worked through the drills, I talked myself through each step. I also wrote down the order so the next time I practiced, I would be repeating the same steps. Once I felt more confident, I began practicing for speed. As they say in the shooting business, “Smooth is fast.” Getting my mind at ease with the firearms I would be using became the first step to getting myself into the proper mindset for this competition.

She Shoots 2 is proudly sponsored by Packing in Pink

She Shoots 2 is proudly sponsored by Packing in Pink

For step #2, I printed out the stages for the match. Even though I knew these drawings would be VERY rough and not to scale, at least I would have an idea of what I was getting myself into. I also learned the round count and specific firearms called for at each stage. When I walked through the actual stages the day before the match, I carried these papers and made some notes. I numbered the way I would shoot the stage. If the stage held long-distance rifle targets, I wrote down the distances. In 3-gun, a shooter must decide which firearm to use if given a choice. I included abbreviations on the targets to help me remember.

With these first 2 steps under my belt, I knew I had prepared myself mentally for the match. I didn’t want to overthink each stage and get myself worked up. Plus, I had the feeling that once the buzzer went off, I would forget all my plans anyway. With all my gear ready, a good night’s sleep needed to be next on the list.


Michelle discussing stage strategies with Shade McMillen of Rubber City Armory.
Photo courtesy of Jimmy Noble

In the morning, when I arrived at my first stage of the match, I felt nervous. I reviewed my notes for the stage and watched the competitors in the squad before me to see what they were doing. Soon, my squad approached the stage. I did the 5-minute walk-through and made changes to my plan.

I walked up to the start of the stage and made ready with my firearms. I performed autogenic breathing to reduce my stress. Then I took a few seconds to look up at the sky and relax my mind (a tip I learned from Bruce Piatt). With my heels on the start line and a nod of my head, I waited for the sound of the timer to begin my first 3-gun match.


AM Squad 10 at The Rock.
Photo courtesy of Chris Cerino

What an experience! After clearing my rifle and pistol on the final stage, I let out a huge sigh of relief. I came to the match with 2 goals: not to get disqualified and not to come in last. I did it! I place 219 out of 250 in my very first 3-gun competition and I had fun doing it.

What’s up next? The Blue Ridge Mountain 3-Gun back at The Rock.

  • About Michelle Cerino

    Michelle Cerino, aka Princess Gunslinger, first entered the firearms industry in 2011 as co-owner, president and trainer at a national training company. She immediately began competing in both 3-Gun and NRA Action Pistol, becoming a sponsored shooter. Michelle is currently a columnist and Managing Editor of Women’s Outdoor News, as well as owner of Pervenio LLC. She also manages social media for Vera Koo and FASTER Saves Lives. Michelle encourages others to step out of the comforts of home and explore.