Testing your gear under the stress of competition provides the best chance of knowing what works in a real-world self-defense scenario, and could ultimately save your life.

A friend once said to me “there are no magic swords.” In the context of firearms and concealed carry, this means that if you shoot any gun enough, or draw enough times from any holster, it’s going to break or it’s going to fail. One of the great advantages that competition shooting has for the armed citizen is that very quickly it allows you to see exactly what gear works, and also what fails to live up to your expectations. With the right mindset, competition can be the perfect arena to wring out your carry gear to make sure that what you’ve chosen won’t fail should you ever need it.

Exposing Weak Spots
The greatest benefit to using competition as a proving ground for your gear is that it’s a safe place. The worst thing that can happen from a gear failure during a match is at most a disqualification and bruised ego—that same gear failure could get you killed or injured on the street. The carry gear that you use every day isn’t just your gun—it’s your gun, belt, holster, magazine, pouches and even your pants. Fortunately, you can test each and every aspect of that system in an IDPA or USPSA match. It’s also a safe place for trial and error, since a shooter can try different holster systems, different types of guns, and all manner of carry gear in a controlled environment.

The author tests a Ruger SR9c on a bank of steel targets at the Firearms Academy. The shorter sight radius required some familiarity—something you’d rather learn in competition than on the street.

Competition also exposes weak spots in your gear. For example, I had an idea for my competition revolver that looked great on paper, but in actual execution wasn’t so hot. I took my Smith & Wesson 686SSR, a 4-inch revolver that is actually a decent candidate for a carry gun, and refitted it with a plain black front sight post and plain back rear sights. I knew from competition shooting that this would provide me with the finest possible sight picture and feedback for shooting accurate shots at longer ranges, while not sacrificing too much speed close in.

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Testing your gear under the stress of competition provides the best chance of knowing…