Champion competition shooter Vera Koo continues her series on practical and common sense advice for competition shooters and training regimens. In this installment, she lays out why you must train in inclement weather.
When Doug Koenig offers advice, you listen. I will never forget the advice Doug offered me about 15 years ago, when I was still fairly new to competitive shooting. I had asked Doug what he thought the most important element was to performing well at the Bianchi Cup. His answer consisted of one word: Preparation.
Throughout my career, I have learned how true that is. Consistency comes from a great deal of preparation and practice. At this level of competition, everyone in the field is a talented marksman. The top performers are the shooters who make the fewest mistakes. Preventing mistakes often stems from proper preparation. Proper preparation includes training in all kinds of weather. I need to know how weather might hinder my performance. The only way to learn that is to practice in various conditions and temperatures.
Wet weather The 2007 European Open, at which I won the women’s championship, proved that training in adverse weather pays off. I had practiced shooting in the rain for 5 years before that event. I welcomed rainy days, because they offered a chance to hone my skills. I’d practiced in heavy rain. Yet, I’d never competed in the rain – at least, not until that 2007 event in Phillipsburg, Germany. During a day of competition, it rained harder than the rate technically allowed for matches. However, match directors felt there was no makeup opportunity, and the competition continued. A fellow competitor asked me if I would join her in protesting the match because of the conditions. I saw no reason to protest. Everyone was going to shoot in the same conditions, and I had prepared for this day. The entire plate range was soaked except for a few spots. Going prone meant diving into water and having it splash on your scope. I had learned from my years practicing in the rain that you can’t allow yourself to sense moisture. You can’t see the raindrops on your scope. Being aware of the moisture leads to distracted thoughts. Distracted thoughts lead to diminished performance. I felt some anxiety while I waited my turn, but that was not a problem. When I feel a little anxious, it helps me become hyper-focused. I had tunnel vision during the competition. My training kicked in. Although it was pouring, I could not feel the moisture. I could not see the raindrops. After I finished shooting, I looked at my scope. It was covered in raindrops. But I had cleaned the stage. I told my husband afterward, “Well, I didn’t waste my time. I practiced 5 years for that.”
Cold weather For competitions in cold weather, I have learned the importance of keeping my gun and bullets warm. Allowing my gun and bullets to become cold can affect how they perform during competition. How do I keep them warm? I employ a technique I first used in the mid-2000s during a club competition in Columbia, Mo. At 8 a.m. the day of the competition, it was 17 degrees. Match officials pushed the start of the competition to 10:30 a.m., when it was 27 degrees. I had a plastic cooler. Inside, I had a thermos of hot cider to drink that also helped keep the cooler warm. I shook up seven large hand warmers and put them in the cooler. I placed my gun and bullets inside the cooler, where it was warm. To keep warm as I waited to shoot, I had handwarmers near my shoulders, in my breast pocket and in my gloves. I wore 5 layers of clothing on my top half and 4 layers on my legs. When it was my turn to step to the line, I retrieved my gun and bullets from the confines of the cooler. I might have been a little cold, but my gun wasn’t.
Hot weather Competing in heat brings a different set of challenges. It’s very important to stay hydrated. I have found that if I do not stay hydrated, I will feel the effects of the dehydration 2 days later. Also, if I compete while I am overheated, I will drop points. Thus, it is key to prepare for the heat, so I don’t allow myself to be affected by it. During one stretch of practicing in warm weather in Columbia, I experienced how periodic breaks from the heat benefits my performance. The range master gave me a key to the air-conditioned training room, where I could cool off. About every hour during practice, I stopped and made a trip to that room to escape the heat for a bit. I have used a similar approach in competitions. During a hot competition, in the time before it is my turn to shoot, I often escape to my car for a bit. I will sit inside and crank the air conditioner for about 15 to 20 minutes. I’ll eat some watermelon. Then I will head to my stage. To protect myself from the heat while I am outside, I wear a hat and, if need be, use an umbrella to shield me from the sun. Sometimes, I use Velcro to attach a mask of sorts to my hat to shield my face from the sun. Sure, I might draw some remarks for my unusual appearance, but I’ve learned to not pay attention to that. The important thing is to take the necessary measures to shield myself from the sun so I can perform at my best. When any competition approaches, I want to make sure to get the most out of each day of practice. Advance preparation helps me do so. Using a notecard, I outline a schedule for the upcoming day that is so thorough my day is planned nearly to the minute. The notecard outlines what time I will wake up, the amount of time I will need to get ready for the day of practice, when I will leave for the shooting range, when I will arrive, what time I will begin practice and so on. The notecard ensures that I do not waste a moment. Such planning is meticulous, but as Doug Koenig said, preparation is the key to success in this sport, so I take no shortcuts.