Self-Defense: Is Competitive Shooting Good Training?


Competitive Shooting definitely can help advance handgun skills for self-defense, within reason.

The pros and cons of competitive shooting:

  • Plain and simple, shooting is good for the shooter, competitive or not.
  • Many basic defensive shooting skills can be master with it, such as the draw.
  • An inability to separate a competitive from defensive mindset can set you up for failure.
  • For defensive training, it might be advisable to run a match in a more tactical manner.
  • You won’t win the match, but it will provide better training.

There’s a long-running debate about whether competitive shooting is good for the defensive handgunner. I think this is somewhat of a silly argument: Shooting is good for shooters. Anytime you can get time behind the trigger and have your performance measured it’s a good thing. Of course, the defensive handgun practitioners argue that during combat or IPSC-style pistol matches you’ll do things that would be stupid during a real gunfight. Well, no kidding. When I play laser tag with my kids, I do a lot of stuff that would be stupid to do during a real gunfight.


When I was a police officer, I shot a lot of competition. I did it for two reasons. First, I did it because it helped me become more proficient with a handgun. I got better at drawing it from a holster, better at hitting targets faster, and better at clearing stoppages and reloading it. Secondly, I did it because it was fun. The notion that you cannot have fun when you shoot the pistol you carry to protect yourself with is completely ludicrous.

Granted, if you become so ingrained in the competition mindset that you cannot separate the two, well then you might be setting yourself up for failure. For that very reason, when I shot competition I sometimes ran the course in a more tactical manner. You cannot win when you do this, but you can take advantage of the intricate and cool stage setups, and simply approach the match from a tactical standpoint. In some matches you can shoot stages twice, once for score and once for fun. Sometimes I would also do this by running the stage the first time with my competition setup and then running the stage again with my duty gun and duty gear.

Don’t knock competitive shooters or competitive shooting. Some of them are the best shooters in the world, and you’d be a fool to call one out in the street at high noon. Regardless, if you’re going to play that game to improve your defensive handgun kills, keep the right mindset, and when possible, play the game like you mean it — and like the targets could really shoot back. In the end, that’s the real difference: No matter what color a target is and no matter what you paint on it, it will never be a real threat.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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