On the Range: Nervous Newbies vs Prepared Pros

On the Range: Nervous Newbies vs Prepared Pros

I was shooting a major shotty match, and privileged to be squadded with Dianna Muller, Benelli Team Captain. All day I’d demonstrated no progress despite her priceless coaching and company. I had just tanked what would have been a decent 14-target, all-slug stage with 13 As and 1 C-zone hit, but for a mistake in focus.

Dianna Muller: “What happened?”
Me: “I ran by that window, missed that slug target, and had to come back.”

Di’s low voice managed to cut through my ear protection, and yet no one else heard her but me: “You didn’t count your targets did you?”
I swallowed in reply, “Nope.”
“Good thing he gave you a really big IF,” she said.

Yep.

I’d gotten the hint that I was screwed when the RO said, “IF you are finished” in that tone that makes a girl look, and I went back for it. I had an empty gun, so with the time I wasted backtracking, then loading a dry, open chamber, I traded 8 seconds to save 15.

In a match where the gap was razor thin (one squad member was a tenth of a second away from a stage win), eight seconds is an eternity. I was giving up chunks of time like this with missed marks, botched dumps, and goofy loads — all of which I know how to do better.

At the close of my second year of competitive shooting, I am not a newbie anymore. I do have major fun while shooting, and while I do accept that I won’t be top-tier material and will settle for upper-middle-of-the pack, it’s getting old that I’m sliding downward in the stats rather than getting better. And at some point, that makes the “fun factor” go down.

Last weekend felt like I’d thrown time and money down a black hole for fun. I sat on the porch in the cold one morning as snow clouds hung low and dark in the north Georgia mountains where I make my home. With coffee in hand, I asked aloud to anyone who would listen, “Why am I making rookie mistakes?” I thought about some of my rookie moves, taking a 30 rounder to a rifle stage instead of a 40 rounder, dumping my rifle in a barrel on the wrong side so I had to take extra time to retrieve my shotty. Not only did the little sammies eat my lunch, I ran out of ammo and had to reload. My magholder was busted because I had not bothered to inspect my gear, so loading out of the pocket was a disaster. While I laugh off my mistakes, frustration has begun to muffle my giggles. This isn’t fun. “Who does that in the close of their second year?” Repeatedly, I could put my finger on a recurring problem rather than newness: it’s the lack of focus during the planning and the execution during the whole process of competitive shooting from the going to bed on time to ensuring my gear is together.

I can’t blame my lack of focus on nerves. I realized after this past match that the nervousness that I used to experience more intensely during, and for weeks before, a major match is all but gone. But maybe that’s not “gooder.” Maybe those nerves drove me to prepare better than I have recently. Preparation, headwork, and grinding a stage to virtual dust was the only relief I could find to ease the nerves when I was a new girl, shooting with idols such as Dianna, Janna, and Heather. Two years ago, for me, as a brand new shooter, endless preparation was all that “new-girl me” could do to relieve the nerves and feel in some semblance of control. I had to be certain that I’d prepared to the best of my ability or I would be sick. My face broke out even.

Staring at the gray sky, I know that my third season of shooting competitively begins March 15. I recognize I need to revisit the thinking of that nervous girl. She wouldn’t have taken that slug stage for granted. She would have taken her new knowledge about shooting slugs and would have worked that stage so that every foot fall went where it was supposed to even if it was executed at a snail’s pace.

Focus, you see, it’s the most intentional thing we do and I realize I rarely do it 100 percent. That nervous girl might be smarter than the more seasoned shooter I am now. Seasoned, you see, at least for me, can create a certain lackadaisicalness that can sour the seasoning. And that’s what I’m suffering from now.

It’s not just a lack of focus in missing my preparation time; I recognize the “helpful woman thing” is coming up. Not putting my goals first. I didn’t say, “I can’t do that thing you want me to do instead of practicing,” often enough.

The headwork you do before a match is crucial. For instance, I knew the walls were low on three stages at this shotgun match, and I would have to shoot significant target arrays from beneath those walls, and I would not be able to engage the targets sitting or kneeling. Some of the juniors did splits, but let’s face it at 55 years old it is out of my repertoire. If I prepare for my limitations, and figure out how I can do it, I am fine. I know this. But, I didn’t practice to see what happens to my gun handling, much less my shot pattern, when I was forced to turn the gun sideways to compensate for my lack of mobility. So the little hiccups that this scoring system would have forgiven, even my forgotten slug target, were turned into big black holes down which I tossed my match because I had seven mikes under those walls. I paid too with a huge bruise on my right arm that’s no joke because I wasn’t prepared for the shotty to jump out of the pocket and smack me while prone. It cost me the next weekend when my arms were almost too trashed from injury to hold up the gun. Ladies: Physical limitations won’t stop you if you just work harder within their confines instead of winging it, like me.

So, wised-up as only hindsight can do it from the front porch in the quiet of a winter morning, I faced facts. It was my entire fault that I am sliding downward. It is not situational; it is not even really about my brain as much as it has been about lack of effort. Expending 10 shells, a few cardboard targets, and about two hours of time, which includes the drive to and from the range, is what was required. Breaking out my gear at a reasonable time before the match so I can spy broken stuff, depleted ammo, and trashed barrels on rifles is all required if you want to climb. I didn’t do it. I know better. But I wasn’t “worried about it.” I have either got to refocus, regroup, and recommit, or stop feeling bad about sinking to the lower end of the pack. The progress to be had from just pounding through match after match after match as “my practice” has hit a plateau, and I won’t go to the next level if I do not take preparation and apply it to what I know I need to do. I am smart enough to analyze a match and see the gaps in my abilities, and I am crafty enough to fill those gaps if I will just do it.

So I am going to bring back some elements of the nervous newbie that I banished in smoke and noise that hardened my worry into lackadaisical submission that has me poorly served. Because she’d been unable to eat or sleep until prep had been done, I need a little balance, and I can do without the vomiting in front of ROs and the facial breakouts.

In my third season, I’m going to bring back part of that nerve problem: use my calm to be more efficient and work on focus. And give the nervous girl the credit that she deserves by forcing me to better prepare.


Christi Conner Tate is a competitive shooter from Georgia. She participates in USPSA and 3-Gun matches throughout the year.

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