If you carry a defensive pistol, you should really consider making it a habit to shoot a practical pistol (USPSA) match on a regular basis. Here are ten reasons why this is so.
1. It's fun. Really, really REALLY fun.
Ever go bowling, or have a family fun night of miniature golf? Going to a practical pistol is a lot like that, only louder. You get to safely do things that you can never do in a lane in an indoor range, like shoot multiple targets or move around with a gun in your hand, shooting at targets downrange. Shooting a match, and shooting it well, also gives you a lot of confidence in your ability to deliver the shot on demand when you need it the most.
2. It helps familiarize yourself with your pistol of choice.
It's one thing to know how your pistol works and to understand all the functions of the buttons and levers on it, and it's another thing to know how to use them to get your handgun up and running again when time is of the essence. Shooting a practical pistol match teaches you how to fix malfunction and jams as quickly and efficiently as possible when the timer is running, so you can fix them quickly and efficiently when your life is on the line.
3. It improves your accuracy under stressful conditions.
The ancient Greeks used the Olympics games as a way to prepare for war, and the knights of olde jousted with one another to help learn how to use their lances in combat. If these ancient cultures understood that games that mimic (but not replicate) the stress of combat were a good way to get ready for battle, maybe those of us who carry a defensive pistol can learn a thing or two about combat shooting by participating in a practical shooting match.
4. You meet great people.
If you go to a practical pistol match for the first time and let them know you're a first-timer, rather than leave you flailing about with no clue, chances are, someone will take you under their wing and show you the ropes. You meet the best people at a shooting range, and you meet the best of the best at a practical pistol match.
5. You'll learn gun safety, and you'll learn it very well.
Because shooting a practical pistol match involves shooting things and running around with a loaded gun in your hand, the rules of gun safety become really, really important. You will learn the rules of the game that keep everyone safe, and you'll learn them well, because if you break one of them, at the very least, you're going home and you're forfeiting your match fee, and at the worst… well, let's not talk about that.
6. It's mentally challenging.
I have seen top-level engineers and scientists go into brain freeze when they're shooting a practical match. Things that seem so simple to perform without having to do them under the pressure of time, like "go here, shoot those two targets twice each, then move here and shoot those four" can become herculean mental feats when the timer is running, and people are watching. Think this has an application to trying to react effectively when your life is on the line? I do.
7. It gets you up off the couch and out to the range.
To excel at practical shooting, you need to be in shape, and no, pear-shaped does not count. Moving quickly around a stage in a match requires foot speed, explosive power in your legs, flexibility and good cardiovascular endurance, so the heaving of your lungs doesn't affect the placement of your shot.
8. You'll quickly learn what works with your gun and what doesn't.
I shoot two types of competitions on a regular basis: USPSA, which I shoot with pistol customized for gun games, and IDPA, where I try to use equipment that matches my carry gear as closely as possible. Thanks to the artificial stress of competition, I have learned a lot about what kind of holsters and sights work best for me on my carry gun, so that my pistol can perform as I need it to when I'll need it the most.
9. You'll find out what skills you need to train to get better with your gun.
A fast, smooth draw, quick follow-up shots, accurate and precise shot placement under time pressure… these are all skills you can develop at a practical shooting match, and they're handy skills to have in a gunfight, too.
10. It encourages you to practice more.
When you stink up the joint at a match (and trust me, you will because EVERYBODY does it at one time or another, even the champions of the sport), it's a powerful motivator for you to practice the basics of pistol marksmanship so you can do better next time. I have spent hours of time on my own, practicing how to smoothly draw my gun, moving the gun from target to target, and pressing the trigger, so my sights don't get disturbed. Would I have practiced this much had I not embarrassed myself at a match? Probably not.
These are just ten of the benefits of shooting a practical pistol match. I'm sure that if you've tried it, you know of dozens more. Try it for yourself, and see what you come up with.