1. Don’t obsess over your equipment.
Sure, good equipment is important at any match, and having the right equipment definitely matters. The first time you show up at a match, there’s no doubt that someone will recommend something new, something different, something better.
When it comes to equipment for a new shooting sport, sometimes you just need to stick to what you have and what you’ll use. If it’s that bad, someone at the match will probably help you out and lend you something better. Trust me, I’ve been there.
As shooters new to a sport, there’s no way for us to really know what’s good and what’s not until we’ve gotten some experience under our belt.
2. There’s probably a class available.
I’m not saying you’re going to find a class called “Intro to USPSA” (although sometimes these exist) but there are instructors out there who run more introductory classes that will be able to answer your questions about the sport.
While your researching your training schools or instructors (as you always should) pay attention to what competitions they may shoot, or what competitions are held there. For example, I know that K&M Precision Rifle Training is where the GAP Grind is held, and I know (through #5 on this list) that the classes there are an excellent place to start.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
For the most part, people involved in shooting sports want more people to involved and safe. Which means if you show up and are completely confused, as we all are at the beginning, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions of those around you. Most people are more than happy to help.
We all had to start somewhere, and we’ve all been the slightly confused person who’s just showing up to their first match.
4. Everyone has advice.
In fact, sometimes everyone can be too helpful. There is a chance, a very good possibility even, that throughout the course of your first match, (and your second, and your third…) you’re going to get A LOT of advice. It can be difficult to internalize all of this information, and sometimes you’re going to get well-intentioned but bad advice. (See #5).
The truth is, you don’t have time to analyze all this advice on the range as your shooting, and you don’t have the knowledge to know what’s good and what’s bad advice, which brings us to my most important point:
5. Have smart people on your side.
Like picking out a good instructor, choosing who you’re going to listen to when you’re out shooting is incredibly important. Observe the skill level of the people around you, how people treat one another, and how people talk. A lot of times the most outspoken people on the range know the least. That doesn’t invalidate all of their advice, but it does mean you need to be careful what advice you’re taking.
As you make friends on the range, make sure you have a couple people whose knowledge of the sport you trust completely and who you are comfortable going to for advice. I try to have at least three people I can ask questions of, and I try to ask all of them my questions – then I’m guaranteed to have at least three sound answers. Sometimes those three answers are different, and sometimes they’re the same, but at least I have answers I can trust that I can analyze from there.