Friday, May 27, 2011

Discussions With A Distinguished Master - Part 1

[Posting for Mik3]

I have been very fortunate in my life to have been able to serve our country as a United States Marine Sniper and Sniper instructor and I have had the privilege of working with and traveling around the globe with some of the most skilled professional shooters you’ll find anywhere. One of them is my good friend Ernest Langdon.

If you shoot then he needs no introduction.

Recently he was awarded the Distinguished Master classification from IDPA headquarters and is one who truly deserved this Class a long time ago. I have had the opportunity to shoot with him several times now since I started shooting again in 2009 - we've shot at our Marine reunions, trained together at his home range, and I also had him come out and shoot the 2010 Illinois state IDPA championship with my friends from the McHenry IDPA club so they could experience his shooting ability and professionalism first hand. Later that year, I asked him to return for a two day handgun basic skills class. He has been instrumental in my return to shooting in many ways, and I credit my success to his assistance, the support of my family, and my shooting partner Les. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to take one of Ernest’s training classes make that a goal of yours you won’t regret it at all.

This year we are shooting the Carolina Cup together along with Matt, another Marine sniper brother from our platoon who started shooting IDPA this past year. I want to thank Ernest for taking the time to answer these difficult questions in advance. So here we go - I had the opportunity to ask Ernest the following question about IDPA shooting:

Q: Ernest, when you walk up to a IDPA stage you haven’t seen before how do you start breaking it all down in your head to build the stage strategy or plan, do you have a mental check list you could share with our readers?

Normally at a major match I will have a match booklet to look at first. Or even better, a posted match description somewhere at the stage. Always default to the one on the stage as sometimes the match booklet is wrong (things change). Before I start looking at target placement and shooting positions, I like to know the type of stage, round count and starting position at the very least. Some stages are simply, single position stages that don’t need a lot of break down, but others have very complicated arrays. The match booklet is a good place to start, but don't lean on it too hard as, like I said before, things change.

So find out the basics first: What is the start signal (Sounds simple, but it is not always a buzzer)? Where is my gun when I start and what condition is it in? Do I need to pick it up, load it, draw from the holster etc? Is it fully loaded? How many rounds do I need to shoot the stage? Do I need concealment?

If at all possible, watch a people shoot the stage. Top shooters tend to show up at matches the day before a big match to look at the stages. Best case is to get to watch people shoot it. Be careful of watching just one person shoot a stage if you don’t know what is supposed to be done on the stage. They may have just shot it wrong, and now you may think it is the right way.

If it is a standards stage with multiple strings, I like to really know each string of fire and know how my mags need to be loaded. If I have enough mags, I will preload them all so that all I need to do on the line is load and shoot. For example, if there are max load starts of say six rounds (to force slide lock reloads), I will have mags loaded with 5 or 6 rounds ready to go.

Once I know these things I can start looking at where the targets are and where the shooting positions are. Am I shooting from behind cover, in the open, how many shooting positions are there and where is the last one? Keep in mind, this is a game of time, and the goal is shooting the last shot faster with the best accuracy. So getting to the last position is key. If I am using cover, where do I need to be standing/kneeling in relation to the targets? We all know how to pie a corner carefully, but it will not help you get a good time. I want to know where my feet need to be to engage a target or targets from cover. If I am shooting on the move, I want to move quickly and shoot carefully, because again it is all about the last shot fired.

Then look at what targets need to be engaged from where and in what order. IDPA has a lot of rules there, tactical sequence, tactical order, etc. So play close attention to the stage briefing and make sure you understand what is expected of you. A-Type males that shoot IDPA are often ADD or AD/HD (I know because I am) so make sure you focus during the stage brief. It has bitten me more that once and I am not the only one by far. I also need to figure out if there are any activators, moving targets, steel targets etc. This is a key part of the plan. If I have to shoot an activator, how long does it take for the target(s) to come out/expose? Do I have time to shoot other targets during that time without exposing myself to other threat targets?

Then I want to know where my reload(s) will be. When my slide locks back, I should know it was going to lock back and be starting my reload when my sight lifts off the target on the last shot, not when I try to pull the trigger again and it does not go bang (you should also know what it feels like when your slide locks back, the gun does not cycle the same). Also, is it smarter to do a tactical reload/reload with retention over doing a slide lock reload? Same rule applies here, I need to know exactly when I am going to do this reload and it should start as soon as my sight lifts or I am behind cover (depending on what applies)

Then, after I know all this, it is time to make a plan. That plan is base on what is expected of me and what I think I can do at my current skill level. Then it is all about programming that plan in place until it is time to shoot. I want to shoot the stage in my head, in real time, until it is programmed in with no hesitation.

Then just have fun, because that is what it is all about.

(Part 2 coming soon!)