In 2015, when I went to my first competitive shooting match, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. It was a local USPSA match and all I knew about practical shooting was what I had seen in videos. I never suspected that it would end up being a sport that would help me make wonderful friends, give me a stronger sense of discipline and confidence, plus open up opportunities to travel.

While starting something new can seem intimidating, there’s no reason to fear getting involved in the shooting sports. Chances are, everyone will be very supportive of you and you’ll probably end up loving the sport as much as the rest of us do. I grew up around firearms, though I rarely shot them, and became interested in starting up competitively when I was sixteen. My father went on the internet and searched for local competitions in our area; I was fortunate enough to have a monthly match in my own town. We showed up to the range one Saturday morning, told them that I was brand new, and they put me on their “super squad”. The squad that I was on that day was full of the top level shooters in my area, all of which were freely giving me advice and helping me figure out how to get through the stages. I remember feeling nervous about how slow I was shooting in comparison to the rest of the squad, but they were all very patient and encouraging. Since it was such a great first experience, I wanted to continue coming.

If you are brand new to shooting, I’d suggest finding a friend, family member, coach, or ladies group and having them help you begin to learn the fundamentals of safe firearm handling and shooting. My dad and his friend took me to the range to train for several months when I started, and it made me feel far more comfortable with handling my guns.

You may want to try several different firearms to get an idea of what will fulfill your individual needs. Having gear that works for you is very important. Somebody’s favorite gear may not work for you, and vice versa. It’s okay if it takes a while for you to find pieces of gear that you like- I’m four years in and I’ve only recently figured out the things that I like. This process usually requires trial and error, so don’t worry if it doesn’t happen right away. The more you shoot and find out what works for you, the more you’ll start to become comfortable with everything.

If you are interested in beginning to shoot competitively, I have a few suggestions. First, go to a local match in the discipline you are interested in and check it out. Find the person running the match and chat with them to see if this is something that may fit what you’re looking for.

My next tip would be to get some training in. I have learned over the past few years that the biggest keys to competing in any sport are: training enough to develop an adequate skill set and having the confidence to execute those skills under pressure. It takes a lot of time and consistent effort to implement this, but the results are worth it.

When I was first starting out, I attended the MGM Targets Multigun and Pistol Junior Shooter Camps. Receiving training from so many experienced instructors had a huge effect on my matches and level of comfort. Once you have a solid grasp on the fundamentals, it’s highly recommended that you begin a dry-fire routine.

Dry-firing is practicing drills with a completely empty gun and empty magazines. It helps train your muscle memory so that you don’t have to consciously think about certain actions, such as drawing your pistol or doing a magazine change. It’s also more cost effective than going to the range all the time. I like to work on my pistol draws, reloads, transitions, and movement.

If you are working with a pistol, you can start with simple drills such as drawing from your holster and properly pressing the trigger, doing mag changes, etc. These drills directly translate into live fire practice and are very helpful to building a shooter’s skill set.

When it comes to shooting, anyone can participate. It has been a typically male-dominant sport for a while, but many women and juniors have been coming out over the last few years. If you enjoy shooting but are feeling nervous about going out to a match, don’t be afraid! I would encourage women and families to go out and try any one of the various shooting sports available.

Steel challenge is a good place to start for newer pistol/.22 rifle shooters. The main focus there is marksmanship, which makes it relaxed and pleasant for beginners. There are many other disciplines to try: pistol, multigun, long range, skeet, trap, bullseye, cowboy action, rimfire, etc. The options are practically endless. I started by shooting pistol and began multigun shortly after. If you want to try a competition but don’t think you have “competitive gear”, you can still get out there and shoot. Nearly everyone started out with whatever it was they already had (or gear that a friend loaned them).

Always remember that everyone starts somewhere and nobody is judging where you’re at. They’re just happy to have you out there. I hope you will have fun and be safe while on the range, no matter what it is you decide to shoot!

–Casey Ryan

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