Journey to USPSA Regionals: My Best Worst Day of Shooting 3

There are times in our lives when a day of shooting falls apart. This past weekend’s local match shoot was one of those days for me. This is my journal entry on what happened and how I turned a “worst” day of shooting into my best day of shooting. You can too!

Local Match Tune-ups/ZSA

I am training up to be competitive in the USPSA competition format.  It is a huge goal for me and one that I did not undertake lightly, especially considering I have been “out of competition” shooting for over 20 years. When I say “out”, I mean for the bulk of that time (other than a few weekends wasting brass shooting at targets) I have not shot at all.

As part of my train-up, I recently attended and participated in a local  Zombie Shooters Association match. I have not shot ZSA before and was curious, and it was a chance for me to shoot with an  “action” pistol. I have to say, I will probably continue to shoot in more ZSA events and matches. As a format, there are some interesting requirements from ZSA that you may not always get from other action pistol formats. These include:

  • frequent/required magazine changes
  • target shot placement transitioning: targets where only head shots count (1 shot); targets where only body shots count (3 required); targets that are completely “bonus”
  • strategy combinations not necessarily seen in other formats

So, I highly recommend checking them out!

Bad Day

As I go up to the first stage, I proceed to make a really decent draw, a good trigger pull, and BANG… out of the corner of my lower vision, I witness my magazine falling out of my gun. WHAT A ROOKIE MISTAKE! For a fraction of a second, my brain freezes due to the fact that I have NEVER had this happen, even in all of my years shooting and during tactical or competition conditions.  NEVER!  Seriously.

My brain kicks back in and I clean the rest of the targets after reloading.

NOTE TO SELF: I do need to work on my magazine drops out of the gun drills, because when I reloaded another magazine I did not reload a new round!


After I score up, I ask the RO if I can go to the empty bay and check out some of my equipment. I check everything out and it is all (seemingly) working. I scratch my head and I figure that I just did not seat the magazine properly. I go up for the next stage, the buzzer goes off, I draw my pistol, and BANG (a well placed shot)… and once again, out of the corner of my eye, the magazine decides to taunt me as it falls away from my gun. I push and slap a new magazine in quickly (once again forgetting to reload a new round), I pull the trigger, and BANG… this time I swear I saw a demon’s face laughing at me as the magazine looked like a rocket booster falling away from the final stage of a Gemini rocket.


I reload again, as my reptilian brain stem kicks into “kill the damn rest of the targets quickly” mode.  I clean the stage, but I fail to notice how much faster than normal I am doing so. At the next stage, I do not have a single issue, but now we are instructed to down load to 6 rounds for a limited round sequence. Also, we are to shoot 2/3 of it with the strong/weak hand.

The fourth stage was multiple sequences of a quick draw, shoot 3, and holster stage.  In the first sequence I draw well, I pull the trigger fast, and BANG… this time I swear all of Hades was having a party on my magazine as it fell away from my pistol. I clear out my magazine and holster and give up!  This is not something I would normally do, but at this point, I am assuming that I have a really bad equipment problem.

I was actually shooting really well, that is, when I had bullets and magazines in my gun!

All of the way home, my mind is racing and trying to figure out what was happening with my magazines!


Since I have dedicated myself to becoming competitive, I have become anal and obsessive about making my basics completely right and natural. Some of you may have heard me complain about this before, but due to my big bear paws, I have continuously struggled with my grip. For weeks I have been emailing friends, coaches…anyone who would listen to me about my issues with my grip and to gain insight into making my grip better.

My grip has been my obsession for two reasons: 1) I am constantly adjusting my grip during shooting and it never feels “locked up”.  2) My recoil is nowhere near consistent and I am constantly chasing my sight picture.

Every night during the week previous to this match,  I was struggling and working with both my trigger pull and my grip. I was nearly feeling defeated because I just could not and did not feel as though it was “right”.

Good Day

On the way home, I decided to stop by a local range and to (hopefully) figure out the issue. I knew if I didn’t,  I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I walked out onto the range, put a magazine in my pistol, got my grip and took a shot. Magazine demons and all of Hell fall away from my pistol again – this time they were laughing loudly at me!  I attempt this again, with the same result. I am unsure why, but when I took a shot strong hand (only), the magazine stayed in.

So, I pulled the trigger 8 more times and “voila” the magazine is all good!

Next, I take a two hand grip and the magazine drops.

It was at this point where my bad day of shooting transitioned. To complete my “test”, I take a two hand grip and make absolutely sure my weak hand stays completely off and away from the magazine release. As I pull the trigger 6 times, two things happen:

  • no magazine drops
  • (for the first time) I see a controlled recoil sight picture for all 6 shots

Subtly, without my full recognition and after painstakingly working on my grip, it finally “learned” to make the weak side contact properly. The gun I was shooting with had an extended, tear drop shaped magazine release – in 3 years of shooting this gun, I never made any contact with it while shooting. Suddenly, because of the greater contact of my weak side hand and my control of the pistol, the magazine release was too much and was being activated.

In spite of the earlier frustration, I had found a grip I could build upon.

Truth is, I should have been able to figure this out during the match – I probably would have had my brain not been in WTH-ville over the malfunction. What should have been a big clue to me during the match was the way I automatically sped up without thinking. In other words, my recoil control was much improved (which is grip), since my brain could just kick into overdrive and my shooting followed.

Lessons Learned

  • ZSA matches are fun and bring new challenges to your action pistol experience. Shoot these matches!
  • Basics count. A grip is a core basic, so if your grip doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Obsess over this until you find that right grip.
  • If you are seeing an inconsistent recoil picture, it is probably an issue with your grip.
  • Small steps and improvements often stack up suddenly into a big improvement.
  • When your grip is proper and in control of your pistol, you can shoot faster. You will never shoot faster with a bad grip!

Read the other Journey to USPSA articles:
Establishing a Training Regimen
Rebuilding the Core Basics


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3 thoughts on “Journey to USPSA Regionals: My Best Worst Day of Shooting

  • Jerry The Geek

    I started competing in USPSA in 1983, and I’ve experienced every stupid problem imaginable … including the embarrassing “take a shot and the magazine drops”.

    It’s not enough to say we need to practice our reloads, because we typically do this with an empty magazine. When you have a fully-reloaded magazine, the pressure on the magspring evokes a whole new experience in stupid.

    Your article doesn’t emphasize whether you are using a double-stack or a single-stack magazine, but I suspect double-stack because there the problem is more common.

    One quick tip is to NOT load your magazines to their full capacity. If you have an 18-round magazine, load 17 rounds into it. Never 18, except for the first magazine; you can monitor closely to ensure that your first magazine is locked in place, by simply tugging on the base plate to check it’s locked. Better, load a full magazine, then press-check to ensure that the first round has chambered … and the slide is fully forward.

    Every stage you encounter, you should pre-determine the point where you perform a reload; this may require you to make one or two more reloads than an “ideal condition” would suggest. If you assume that your magazines will reload perfectly, you have set yourself up for failure. “Perfect is the enemy of good-enough”, so bring more ammunition and more magazines than you expect to need, because otherwise something will surely go wrong. When I compete with a single-stack magazine, I assume that any time I’m moving (“dead time”), I should reload … with a magazine which has less than the maximum capacity of the magazine.

    Reloads? We try to hurry the reloads so we don’t always slap the magazine into place as determinedly as we do first magazine. Too often the spring tension puts too much pressure on the full ammunition stack, preventing the magazine from seating properly. You shouldn’t need to replace a magazine spring too often; sometimes, a well-used magazine will feed more reliably because the tension on the spring is not as strong as a ‘well-used’ magazine, because there is less resistance in the broke-in spring. (This presupposes that you download your magazine by at least one round.)

    Replacing magazine springs should be done based on two factors: usage, and experience. If you have a magazine that has been used a lot,it will probably not provide a strong tension against the spring; this is not always A Bad Thing. Until you discover that your magazine is not longer feeding as reliably as you have grown to expect, it’s probably more reliable during a reload than a new magazine spring. My experience is that I have more feeding problems with a new magazine spring than with a weaker magazine spring. A magazine with a stronger spring will not seat as reliably when the magazine is fully loaded. Yes, I’m repeating myself, to make a point.

    When a magazine with an old spring has shown itself incapable of feeding properly after a reload, that’s the time to discard the spring and install a new spring. And yes, you should clean your magazines regularly. Grit is a factor, and sometimes the magazine doesn’t feed well; don’t use an oil to lubricate a magazine; use a polymer which doesn’t attract dirt. Clean and lubricate your magazines after every match, WITHOUT OIL! (Oil attracts grit, which may get into your pistols’s action and cause a whole new universe of feeding problems.)

    Your new spring should be used ONLY in practice sessions until it has been broken in; you can tell when it is broken in because if you take it to a match too soon and it jams, you have not yet broken it in right. Experience is the best teacher.

    Don’t lubricate your magazines during a match, regardless of the medium use for a lubricant; it takes a while for the vehicles of the lubricants to evaporate, and until they do they will pick up grit when you drop them. IF they get dirty, wipe them clean with a clean cloth and only use them during a match under the worst circumstances; you’ve screwed everything else up and you only have unreliable magazines to use. You may get lucky; they may work without causing a mis-feed.

    Remember: You can never have too many magazines, or too much ammunition.

    • Gun and Gear Guy


      Thank you! Great comments… Yes it was a double stack, and there were a lot of reasons it could have happened that day. Mine was “too much bling” [smiley face]! In other words, I had over customized my gun and put too big of a mag release on the gun. I have huge hands and they swallow the gun, so there is not much space for things that extend into grip area – and I had added a teardrop type of mag release which did.

      But all good thoughts on why and how this happens… Thank you very much for taking the time to comment…