Sometimes the best lessons in life are learned entirely by accident. Looking back at my time teaching on the range, countless portions ended with me stating, “That’s a life lesson too.” There is something deeply rooted in shooting that touches our entire being. As a result, I have solved a lot of life’s problems by simply sitting at a shooting bench or spending time introducing newcomers to the sport. Here are five lessons I’ve learned that not only made me a better shooter but a better human being overall.
1. “Don’t be afraid to miss.”
One of the hardest things to do as an instructor is to take a student who is used to slow-fire, perfect-sight-alignment shooting, and teach them to shoot rapidly. While their accuracy is almost never an issue, getting them to move faster is more of a training of the mind than it is the body. These shooters are typically worried that they will lose the ability to stay in the “A-Zone” if they run the gun a little harder. The gentle instructional phrase “Don’t be afraid to miss” typically shows them how good they really are.
After preaching this for years on the firing line, I realized that we could get so much further in life if we apply that mentality to other things. Go apply for that job, ask that girl out, buy that house. You’ll be surprised how much of it actually works out for you.
2. “Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good enough.”
This one came from one of my first rifle coaches, and he was simply referring to the tendency that positional shooters have to try to make every piece of what they are doing perfect before they take a shot. While this is the best way to approach slow-fire stages, it’ll keep you from getting all of your rounds off during the rapid-fire ones. In other words, you’ll lose 10% of your score for each round left in your rifle.
If we consider this concept in everyday life, how many projects are indefinitely delayed because we don’t have just the right amount of time or money? How many parties have we canceled because the weather was a bit dreary? How about the ones we held in the rain that turned out to be amazing? At the end of the day, things don’t have to be perfect to be just right, so press on—it's remarkable how often sub-optimal situations come out with good results.
3. “Accept your guns the way they are.”
Far too often do I meet a student trying to get something out of their gun that it simply wasn’t designed to do. It ranges from the 16” carbine owner trying to squeeze benchrest-grade accuracy out of a platform built for defense, to the budget pistolero trying to win Open division with a $300 handgun. I always remind them to try not to ask more from their guns than what they are capable of. These instances are completely self-initiated and based on expectations and a lack of acceptance … and therefore can only end in heartache.
Now, swap “guns” for “people,” and you start to see something profound. Take the time to understand the people in your life, and don’t put unrealistic demands on them; neither of you will be happy.
4. “Do your own shooting first.”
Although I get to the range more than most people, I have to split my time between the tasks of training students, reviewing firearms and personal practice. I quickly learned that if I put my own practice off to the end of the session, I leave the range without firing a single round in the name of self-improvement. The traditional slogan here is “pay yourself first,” and many of us have heard it in relation to establishing a savings account.
The truth is, this applies to all areas of life. I learned that if I don’t exercise first thing in the morning, it just doesn’t happen because the day finds a way of getting in the way. The same goes for eating the healthy foods on my plate first. Time and energy are our most precious commodities; although we don’t realize it, both are utterly finite.
5. “Sights have a way of settling in the X-ring.”
Whenever I explain to somebody that they must focus on the front sight, they typically respond with, “But how will I know it’s in the middle of the target?” Thinking back, my answer must have seemed like wizardry because it’s generally some version of “it always just lines up.” It takes a bit of trust, but if you let your target blur and let your front sight, dot or reticle come into focus, your groups will improve and land right where you want them (granted that you have good trigger control).
If you think about it, isn’t this true with most things in life, even the bad ones? Take a look at some of the worst events that you’ve been through. If you look hard enough, you can likely link them to your most prominent assets today. The takeaway here is to keep the focus within arm’s reach while ignoring things in the distance, and as long as you do the right thing, the right things will happen to you.
An underlying theme to all of this might just be “You never know where the lesson comes from,” as I would have never believed anybody who told me that I would find insight while pumping lead into a hillside. Yet, here we are. We never know the effect one circumstance will have on another, so the best takeaway of all here is to keep your eyes and mind open because the truth is, we have so little to do with the end result.