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Preparing for your first shooting competition


I recently learned that a local shooting club was looking to restart its monthly competition schedule since shutting them down in the wake of the pandemic ammo crunch. My first inclination was to immediately spread the word to my Facebook friends, and since then I’ve received at least one verbal RSVP and am hoping for more.

After describing the shoot, the first thing I was asked about aside from driving directions was, “what should I bring with me?” And that provoked quite a bit of thought because I’ve never gone to a shoot with everything I needed. Even with a check-list, I always manage to either forget something or not bring enough of it. Hence this article. I am not an expert competitor, but I have been a first-time competitor, and as such feel qualified to render recommendations.


Sample Walmart Tool Section

Whether you intend to watch from the side or jump right in, you will need to bring a few things to make your trip enjoyable. First and foremost is eye and ear protection: a pair of safety glasses and some sound-deadening ear plugs or muffs are the most important items you will need. One might think sunglasses and manually covering the ears would be enough, but don’t take chances with your eyesight and hearing. I usually bring an extra set of shooting glasses and spare ear plugs, and I’m likely not the only one, but don’t rely on that. And this applies whether you are shooting or not. There’s a Walmart ten miles out from the range, and a number of sporting good providers in the area; avail yourself of them. **I personally use a set of Tactical Rx ballistic prescription shooting glasses with Transitions in Rudy Project frames and a set of Walker Razor electronic muffs with gel pad inserts.**

Sample Walmart Sporting Goods Section

Next would be creature comforts, by which I mean things like water/sports drinks and food/snacks. Competitions usually start around 9AM and, depending on the shoot, can go past lunch and into the afternoon. So, come prepared to stay awhile. On that note, I also keep other things in my range bag to get me through a long morning and afternoon, such as sunblock (even if it’s cold) and toilet paper (…you know why). Like the Boy Scouts might say: be prepared. As always, be sure to dress for the predicted weather conditions; this shoot in January will likely be the coldest of the year, so wear layers, and be prepared to don and doff as needed.

Having said all that: if you don’t intend to participate because you lack equipment, don’t let that stop you. One need not own all-star, expensive gear to compete; it’s nice but not necessary. For instance, if all you have is a Glock 19 in a plastic holster on a leather belt, hey, go with what you know. Those at shooting ranges tend to be very welcoming of new people, and what better place to find out what works, what works well, and what doesn’t? However, if you just want to observe or aren’t confident in your ability to handle firearms safely enough, that’s completely understandable.

But if you feel like you want to dip your toe in the competitive arena, it may sound disappointing, but it must be said: come prepared to learn, not win. An issue some new competitors have is trying to replicate what everyone else is doing rather than building upon their own skillset. That’s a sure way to turn it into a drudgery; at your first shoot, take it slow, work within your comfort zone, and establish connections with your fellow competitors. As you do this more and more and begin to push yourself, you will see improvement, and friends made at the range will be a help to you as you go forward.


However, safety is the most important part of this whole thing: one of the first things that will be conducted is a shooter’s meeting before the start of the competition. Here you will be told, in case you’ve never heard them, the four rules of gun safety. They are as follows:

Glock Launches 'Follow the Four' Safety Campaign :: Guns.com

1) all guns are always loaded.
2) do not point the gun at anything you aren’t willing to destroy.
3) keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.
4) be aware of what’s in front of and behind your target.

The rules are set up so that you could break three of them and still be safe, but if you are found in violation of any of them, you will be disqualified from competition and may be asked to leave. I know it sounds severe, but safety is paramount.

There will also be an overview of commands that will be issued by a range officer, or RO. The range officers must be heeded at all times: they are responsible for maintaining safety at the event. The commands they issue will be as follows:

  • “Make Ready” – the shooter is cleared to prepare gear for use (remove chamber flags, insert magazines, chamber rounds, etc).
  • “Are you ready?” – the RO verifies the shooter has completed preparation (the shooter must indicate if they haven’t).
  • “Standby” – the RO verifies the shooter has assumed a starting position and sets the shot timer to start.
  • “Stop” & “Unload and show clear” – in the event of a safety infraction, equipment failure, or external interference, the RO will order the shooter to stop and follow the instruction below.
  • “If you are finished, unload and show clear” – when the competitor is finished, the RO directs the shooter to remove magazines, clear the chamber, and allow verification.
  • “If clear, hammer down, holster” – the RO commands the shooter to close the chamber and pull the trigger to confirm the firearms are unloaded. Then handguns are holstered and chamber flags are inserted into shotguns and rifles.
  • “Range is safe” – the RO gives the all-clear; the shooter is dismissed, and the stage is prepared for the next shooter.
180 Rule Pictogram
(image from DallasShooters.com)

The meeting will also cover things like the 180 rule. What this means is that the shooter must be aware of everything in front of and behind them, and that the muzzle cannot be pointed at anything not in the target bay of the range. To this end, imagine a line going horizontally from both sides at a 180° angle; if that muzzle points behind that line, the result will be disqualification as a result of breaking the second rule of gun safety and as a result putting the staff and spectators at risk. One easy way you can break this (ask me how I know…) is by a right-handed shooter running right-to-left with a pistol at low-ready (hands on the pistol pulled closely to the body): the pistol will naturally point toward the left of the shooter and thus break the 180 rule during the shooter’s transition. Always be aware of the 180!


In a pistol shoot, bring a pistol of a general caliber (generally 9x19mm Luger, .40S&W, or .45ACP), at least three magazines, a solid holster, and a strong belt. I personally recommend bringing as many spare mags as possible, a very stiff, wide belt with a plastic or kydex holster with strong passive retention, and at least two mag holders. The shoots normally held at Battlefield will be USPSA-style or 2/3-gun, so I recommend a duty-sized 9mm pistol with at least 15 round capacity, and preferably more. **I usually use a 9x19mm caliber CZ-75B with iron sights and LokGrips Bogies tuned by Cajun Gun Works in a Comp-Tac International holster mounted with a Ben Stoeger Pro Shop BOSS hanger on a BladeTech Velocity Competition belt system with Mec-Gar extended capacity magazines,Taylor Freelance basepads and Grams magazine springs and followers in BladeTech mag carriers.**

For rifle components, the virtually universal recommendation is an AR-15 of some sort. There is a reason these are referred to in the industry these days as modern sporting rifles: they’re almost perfectly suited to competition. An MSR of any variety will serve, and due to being America’s favorite rifle, they’re easy to find and prepare for use. I’m not sure what sort of distance we’re looking at on the rifle stage this go-around, but make sure you have a good set of sights on it for 20 to 300 yard ranges. Also, a sling is always good to have on any rifle, and if you’re firing free-standing at range you’ll want one on yours. I would, however, recommend a nicely-lightened single-stage trigger, not just for a competitive AR but any: for instance, a 3.5lb CMG drop-in usually goes for a shade over $100 and installs in minutes, and I use those on most of my rifles. **For competition I use a Modern Outfitters MC6 carbine (no longer available) with a Geiselle SSA single-stage 3.5lb trigger, Magpul Pro backup sights, Primary Arms SLx 1-6x ACSS 5.56 illuminated scope and Griffin Armament FlashComp muzzle device with Magpul MS4 sling.**

The competition I’ve been shilling for lately is 2-gun, but for 3-gun shoots you’ll need a shotgun. The shotgun component tends to be the most equipment-centric part of the sport which is a big reason why we don’t often hold those shoots: they just aren’t new or occasional shooter-friendly. Grandpa’s old pump Remington 870 will work, but it’ll be slow to load and clunky to shoot. For this reason most people use semi-automatic shotguns like Mossbergs, Berettas, and predominantly Benellis. You’d also need a way of carrying spare shells on you, whether in a pocket, bag, belt caddy, or rig mount; or even in a side-saddle on the shotty itself. If you can swap chokes, given our limited use I’d just stick a modified on it and call it good, but pump users are usually stuck with cylinder. **I use a Stoeger M3000 shotgun for 3-gun (as it’s basically the same action as a Benelli M2 for less than a third of the price) with significant modification and mag-tube parts by way of MOA Precision in Grants Pass, OR; a set of Carlson knurled chokes (modified and improved cylinder), and a match-saver I cut out of some electrical conduit and mounted with a Chicago screw. I also recommend using shotgun shells with a 3 dram equivalent load to promote proper cycling of the action; it’s not the everyday loading, so you need to look. I also have some shell caddies for use in storing shells on your person, but I cannot remember the sources for them as I use them so infrequently!**

Another item that will prove helpful is some way to carry your gear. A belt was already mentioned for carrying the holster, mag carriers, and shell caddies. For a pistol shoot a small range bag will suffice, but for rifle, 2- and 3-gun shoots a rifle bag will be super helpful. Sure, you could shlep around with rifle in hand or sling it over your shoulder, but you still have mags and ammo to deal with, and you need to put it down sometime somewhere, particularly if conditions become adverse. So I recommend at least a large range and rifle bag. You’ll see many folks have tricked-out carts (jogging strollers tend to be popular…here’s an example) and even four-wheelers set up to hold rifles, shotguns, and assorted gear, but none of that is necessary. A good bag goes a long way and is a good thing to have outside the competitive realm, as well. Some people also use chest rigs or plate carriers to assist with carrying gear on their person, but I wouldn’t personally recommend that for the first time out.

I didn’t mention how many rounds to bring, as that differs at every shoot. However, to give a general idea, I’d say 3x the advertised round count will get you through if you’re not a practiced shooter. You have to be the judge; keep in mind that steel targets can be narrow and difficult to hit. This newest shoot we’re conducting will consciously feature lower round counts than typical given the cost of ammunition over the past couple years, but come prepared…especially if you’re not a great shot!

Also, you should bring some sort of chamber flag if you have one. This is not a commonly thought-of piece of equipment outside of competition, but it often comes with new firearms out of the box: it’s generally a piece of brightly-colored plastic that plugs into the chamber to indicate that there is no round present and the slide, cylinder, or bolt is open. However, one need not necessarily go out in search of such a thing; a large, brightly-colored zip tie stuck in the chamber will work, or a piece of trimmer line (which I had on-hand and have to use as I cannot find my old flags at the moment!) or drinking straw and brightly-colored electrical tape (notice the trend of “brightly-colored”?). You can be creative, or you can pay for some.

Lastly, all your equipment should be in good working order (which is mentioned in the Second Amendment’s “well-regulated” descriptor), but you might want to bring spare parts depending on your platform. For instance, since I like shooting CZ-75s I typically bring a spare slide stop and a firing pin retaining pin. Your mileage may vary…I usually bring a spare gun for each platform for expedience, but that’s just me.


So, having typed and made you read all that, here’s a convenient check-list!


  • Eye protection
  • Hearing protection
  • Clothing fitting the weather
  • Food/snacks and drinks
  • Assorted creature comforts (sunblock, TP, etc)


  • Everything listed above
  • Pistol and accessories w/holster, mags w/carriers, belt to carry them on
  • Rifle and accessories w/sling, mags with carrier(s)
  • Shotgun with accessories, caddies
  • Bullets for each firearm (3x the advertised round count)
  • Chamber flags, particularly for the long guns
  • Any spare parts or hardware you may need and tools to install them

Finally, if any of this seems overwhelming, don’t sweat it: the experienced shooters in the group will be glad to explain things as you go. The shooting community is one of the most welcoming and newbie-friendly groups of people you’re likely to meet…we want everyone to be safe, enjoy themselves, and come again the next time. Be sure to leave a comment or question if you have one.

The Battlefield Shooting Range can be found on Facebook for more information on upcoming events and directions.


This on-again, off-again, would-be commentator proves that attitudes are contagious, and that some can even kill. To this end, every written word is weighed carefully to ensure the precise delivery of the author's intent while inflicting blunt force trauma to the psyche of the reader.

3 thoughts on “Preparing for your first shooting competition

  • Greetings. I am glad that you can enjoy it. I have not found it to be enjoyable. Three gun is impossible where I live due to all of the restrictions. When I have gone as an observer/helper to USPSA matches and IDPA matches, all I see is carry optics, pistol caliber carbines, and unaffordable “John Wick” guns. No one shooting production or stock service pistol. A real turn-off. This started many years ago for working class people with limited time and money for practice and occasional competition. You would win this month, and maybe I would win next month. That has been replaced with people that shoot fifty-two weekends a year and three times during the week. The equity and friendliness of It disappeared a long time back. I keep reading about this “welcoming-the-new-guy” attitude that is supposed to exist. Unfortunately I have not seen it. I taped cardboard, reset the fallen metal targets, and paid attention to what was going on. I even helped out a youngster by loading some of his magazines for him in between stages. Perhaps two people out of sixty were slightly interested in giving out a little information. I begin to see why the are 35,000 USPSA members and 25,000 IDPA members out of 110 million gun owners. My apologies for the soap-box. Best of luck always.

  • You might be gratified to hear that 3-Gun is basically a dead style due in part to the equipment race (but mostly IMO to its byzantine structure). I can understand the equipment race in USPSA as it’s more of a high-level shooting sport (nobody complains about the equipment requirements in PRS, for instance), but not in IDPA…people generally won’t EDC a 40+oz. race gun with 25 round mags and go-pedals and what-not.

    Even still, there are classes for a purpose…you might be the slowest of the group due to running production, but if everyone else is in limited you just won your class, so I don’t get the complaint. I see how you would chafe after typically shooting against regular shooters, and then here come the mutant shooters as soon as you get your routine established. That happened to a local group as soon as they started putting up nice prizes. Guess what we hand out at ours? Mags or knives or hats…it encourages people to just shoot for fun.

    I’m not disputing your experience (rather I’m sympathizing), but bear in mind that cranial rectal inversion is neither endemic nor limited to the shooting sports as a whole 🙂

  • Hello again,
    Thank you for posting my observations and replying. On other sites, my comments never get posted because they are contrary to the authors opinion. I do understand that it is not 1984 and President Reagan is no longer in the White House. I know that IPSC, USPSA, and IDPA has changed. Sometimes change is good, sometimes not. It went from friendly to unpleasant.

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