"Princess" Guns


Verified SOF
Jun 17, 2009
A friend asked me to contribute something on this subject to a blog he's involved with. I've been getting surprisingly positive feedback on it, so I thought I'd share it here with you guys. Just keep in mind I'm not trying to ruffle any feathers, but have to call it like I see it on some things. Fighting for your life is one of those things.

Here's my blurb on the differences and similarities of civilian competition and combat shooting:

The main parallels I see between combat shooting and competition shooting are that in each case, you need to be able to put your shots on a given target in a timely manner. Both disciplines can involve shooting, moving, reloading, and problem solving.

Other than those similarities, the two scenarios are worlds apart. One of the main points to consider in combat shooting is that your life is in immediate jeopardy. Someone is trying to kill you. This is simply never the case in civilian competition shooting. In my mind, that's far and away the largest factor to consider.

In a life and death fight, the stresses on the shooter can be extreme, depending on his background, level of training, mental prep and actual combat experience. One thing I've noticed about my own reactions to sudden, violent confrontation over the years is the lack of significant increase in heart rate. Looking back on my own experiences growing up as a fighter, I clearly remember getting a massive adrenaline rush and an elevated heart rate to the point that my fighting actually became less effective with the physiological symptoms that come with an extreme elevation in heart rate.

Over the years, with more and more exposure to violence, I found myself much more calm under these conditions and making much sharper decisions, fighting much more effectively. The same dynamic applies to fighting with weapons as well. There's no difference in physiological effect. A shooter who gets too amped is still likely to experience auditory exclusion, loss of dexterity, tunnel vision, repetitive tendencies and lack of mental clarity. All these things are detrimental in a modern firefight.

Because there is no sudden, inter-human violent confrontation, civilian competition shooting simply is unlikely to present such stress on the shooter. If the shooter experiences this level of stress shooting in a civilian sporting competition, I'd have serious concerns about his ability to perform to any degree, whatsoever, in a real life and death confrontation. Conversely, just because someone has performed well in combat, that doesn't mean they will necessarily do well against experienced competition shooters in their environment. Someone who trains extensively for perfect conditions will absolutely become very good in those conditions. We all adapt to the stimulus we're challenged with most often.

In combat, at least the spec-ops combat most of us are familiar with these days, the considerations of the shooter are many. The first glaring difference, after the fact that his life is in danger, is that it's not all about him. He has specific responsibilities which are part of a coordinated effort. Let's face it, in a spec ops unit, we're not worried about getting shot so much as we're worried about failing to cover our sector, or clear our zone, which would get one of our teammates...our brothers, shot. In a tactical unit, we are together what we can't be alone. The effectiveness of our unit is far greater than the mere sum of its parts. In single-man civilian shooting competitions, there is no such consideration.

Another aspect of combat shooting is cover. The combat shooter must also consider that he is a target and must make effective use of cover and concealment whenever possible. In such an environment, the shooter has to take into account how he is perceived by his opponent/s as he moves through the fight. If a civilian shooter is not behind a flimsy plywood barricade, there is no harm. If a combat shooter fails to make effective use of actual cover from the specific weapon his opponent is firing at him, he can be injured, killed, or get others in his unit killed. This is a severe penalty that cannot be replicated in the sport of civilian competition.

I could go on and on with the differences, but those are the first that occur to me. I could easily add the fact that many combat engagements throughout history eventually close in distance to face-to-face proximity, resulting in hand-to-hand fighting to some degree, which isn't for the feint of heart. The use of grenades, booby traps, IED's, the many aspects of mastering various form of comms, night vision gear, lasers, illuminators, the various methods of fire support, insertion, extraction platforms, working with the dogs, intel assets, emergency medical/trauma procedures, the heavy gear necessary to pull all this off, the physical training necessary to be an effective member of such a fighting force, and many more considerations all play a part in the overall scheme of a modern day combat scenario. So, in many cases, the shooting might very well be the LEAST of the considerations a combat “shooter” must weigh out at any one moment in time.

The last point I'll make is on the tools of the trade. Civilian shooters love their tricked out 1911 race guns, which work so smoothly on the range when perfectly clean and lubed, with just the right ammo. I've owned and shot some nice ones. Impressive, to say the least. So smooth, they shoot "like buttuh!"

In combat, however, such a “Princess” gun is a liability that cannot be tolerated. In my experiences in the spec ops world, and as an advanced tactical instructor, I've seen more malfunctions from other units' fancy 1911's than any other weapon, period. I've seen them fail in JSOC demonstrations to Congress. I've seen them fail on the ranges, with sights falling off, failures to feed, eject, etc, with the SWAT cops who were so proud of their fancy guns scratching their heads, wondering how their precious works of art could embarrass them so badly. Heck, I've even come back off SEAL missions with rounds spun backwards in my SIG magazine. Why? A little sand and salt bound up the magazine follower, preventing upward pressure on the rounds. Once the first couple rounds are fired, there is no more pressure and the rounds can tumble front to back... NOT what you want when you reach for your backup in combat.

With a weapon that is finely-tuned with very tight tolerances and geared for downloaded ammo, there just seems to be a far, far greater incidence of malfunction, especially with the introduction of any foreign material, like a bit of sand, carbon, lack of lube, etc. This is unacceptable in a weapon that must be counted on for survival. In combat, the weapon MUST fire, period.

Murphy's law demands that when you need your sidearm, you're in a fight for your life that is so pressing that your primary has already gone down, or gone dry and there is no time to correct it. Now you're down to your pistol. Are you hit? Where? Your primary hand? Are you bloody now? How banged up are you? Helo crash? How many are coming for you? How close are they? How many of your teammates are hit? What is your position relative to your teammates? Do you need to continue to move to continue covering them as you press forward your assault? Do you need to sprint to get into position? Are you winded? Night vision focused, or splattered with anything? Are you covered in bile, spinal fluid, feces, dirt from blasts, hydraulic fluid, dust in your eyes, night blind by a blast you didn't expect? Wearing a gas mask, sucking wind like a lung shot buffalo? Heart rate screaming? NOW shoot your civilian race gun with your bloody weak hand!

Make sure to get a perfect grip, because that grip safety won't negotiate. Get it perfect, or it doesn't shoot. Great thought, huh? Oh, and don't forget to flip that lever with your numb and bloody weak hand before you shoot, or you're DEAD! Oh yeah, keep that lever from flipping up while you're fighting for your life, because if it does, you die!! Oh yeah, don't forget to change those single-stack mags twice as often with that one hand, because those thin single stacks don't last but a couple seconds in a violent confrontation.

I know, you're cursing me for pointing out that the “Princess” guns are not as cool as we all thought, especially after forking out a few grand for a big name brand. Well, some of those are the ones I'm talking about. Whatever a combat shooter chooses, it should be, above all, simple and RELIABLE under adverse conditions. Why? Simple. Inter-human conflict is an inherently imperfect scenario. A flawed arrangement. Struggle is awkward, ugly, far from glamorous, and rarely goes according to anyone's perfect plan. A complicated and finicky sidearm is the last thing an operator needs to have to worry about when it's all down to that. Just my take.

Rage on!

SAWMAN, I agree with much of what you wrote but also have some debating points I would like to submit for your consideration. I am by no means as knowledgeable as you in these matters, but I do shoot competitively and I have been in combat (gunfights). Again probably nothing at the level that you have experienced and I am sure these points I make will probably seem silly in reference, but I think they are important to point out all the same.

Stress: the stressors in life or death vs. win or lose are very different and fully agree with that aspect of your post. However, adding stress to tasking's will always allow for refinement and proficentcy, either it be performing the fundamentals of marksmanship, changing a tire, programming a radio, formulating a plan, or any other possible duties. No it will not equate to the same stress found when your life is in jeopardy, but it will give you the performance background (skill sets) to perform if you choose to do so (pick fight over flight). I think it’s important to acknowledge that stress through competitiveness is beneficial to building skill sets to be used in combat.

Competitive Shooting: I personally believe that my refinement through competition in the application of weapons skills and fundamentals of marksmanship gave me an edge in combat. My ability to make my hit count vs. the other soldiers in my unit, who were not competitors, was very noticeable. My personal standard of “its never good enough” has allowed me to outperform my peers in training and in combat.

I firmly believe that competitive shooting compliments combat shooting, no they are not the same but they do complement each other. If we look throughout history we can find that many of the well known top performers in combat, we can find that many of them came from two types of backgrounds. 1) Competitive shooting, and 2) hunting. Just to list a few:

· SGT Alvin York – WW1 Medal of Honor recipient, 28 confirmed kills and 132 captured.

· Vasily Grigorevich Zaytsev – WW2 Russian Sniper named hero of the Soviet Union, 242 confirmed kills.

· Gunny Sgt Carlos Hathcock – Vietnam Sniper Silver Star recipient, 93 confirmed kills.

· SGM Kyle Lamb – SFOD-D veteran – well known badass.

All of who have competitive and hunting backgrounds, prior to combat and after combat. All of whom are well regarded and known as being top performers during their combat assignments and who helped establish many of the training and standards used today.

That said I would not put words in their mouths that hunting and competitive shooting made them better in combat, but I do believe that it did, as it did me. No I do not think they are the same or that the stressors are the same, but building solid skill sets will always make you better and competitiveness in those skills makes those skills better. I think it’s important to point out that these facts and that they are not invalid.

Cover: the plywood may not be actual cover but it is a simulation. Having a clear understanding of what cover actually is and how to properly use it is not what I take from competitive shooting. However, most competitive shooters (non-combat vets) do not understand this and are simply playing the game. So I fully agree with your remarks, but I would say that using a piece of plywood to simulate cover with proper enforcement of how to use it and clear explanations of what cover is, is not a bad thing at all.

Weapons: I have never used a pistol in combat, I was never issued one in combat and I am not sure I would care to have one in combat. That said my personal defense weapon while running around the mean streets of San Antonio is a Glock and always will be. 1911’s, own them; think they are great, but not a carry weapon for me. However, there are many people who do carry them and have killed many people with one in combat and in personal defense. Just because some are built for comps, doesn’t mean the weapon system as a platform is worthless or unreliable.

The final point I would like to submit to you: As much as I understand your reasoning behind this post and do support the information you wrote, I think that you’re selling yourself short here. I think if you were to go in depth a little further and add some clarity to the differences in stress, skill sets, competitiveness and how they do differ and how they do complement each other would make this post more receivable. Not just by the competitive community, but also by the combat community and the combat veterans that use competition for means of training or advancing their skill sets.

You have the background and knowledge to influence many people, competitive, young, old, veterans, new recruits, ect, ect. Even though you and many others like myself may think “this is bullshit, not combat, worthless weapon, ect” it is also important to acknowledge that our personal understandings, preferences and rules don’t always apply to everything and everyone. There is always more than one way to skin that cat, we develop assumptions based on our individual experience and passed on knowledge gained from people such as yourself. All in all you could catch a lot more bee’s with a little added honey in this post, meaning open a lot more understanding with some well defined clarity.


Great points by both of you gents.

I may be mistaken, but I thought the S&B Short Dot was developed in conjunction with Delta/ CAG. The Short Dot and models which are very similar to it, dominate 3 Gun competitions.

As a guy who is gearing up to shoot competitively I do see a lot of crossover between the two and some blurring of the lines. I totally agree with the part about the "Princess" guns. I would never dream of using my USPSA Production gun to defend my family and home, much less a Limited or Open Division blaster. I think a lot of the shooting fundamentals are the same, but a combat scenario has FAR more variables and stressors than civilian shooting, regardless of the level.

Personally, I see the two as complimenting each other; fundamentals are fundamentals.
JAB, I don't disagree with you one bit. In fact, the reason I didn't write more about the competitive side is that the post was getting a bit long and I was trying to wrap it up. I'll continue the post soon. When I do, I'll talk more about the benefits of competitive shooting, which are extensive. One thing that has helped me tremendously as a sniper is shooting long range rifle matches. It's very different from combat, but still extremely valuable. The biggest thing I failed to mention is competition shooting is intended to be FUN, which it definitely is. I'm currently rounding up gear to do more competition shooting, myself. I'll write more about all this soon. But until I do, just know I actually agree with your points and will cover much of that in my next addition.
I still have those that show up on the civilian range and rag on me about my Glock. Oh well.......First 1911 was issued by Uncle Sam when I was an AB. Qualified and was proficient with it, but, after a couple of wheel guns and semi's, I went with the Glock long before I got into LE. Nothing special, nothing fancy, just good grips, tritiums and practice. Practice using off hand (One handed) reload drills, weak hand shooting, holster and non holster draws and presentation, stance, FTF applications etc. Only thing is when dry firing and practicing is adding snaps.

Aside from real world experience, there's something to be said when it comes to USPSA, IPSC etc, but, to and for me, there's nothing better than running a Hogans Alley or using a FATS with either a simunition or paintball unit and a cam operator unit firing back at you.

Gets your heart rate up, makes you apply breathing skills with C and C rules and choices, betters your acquisition choices and your overall shooting abilities under stress. MILES gear never did half of what these setups ever did and I'm glad my last harness and transmitter is still rotting away at JRTC somewhere.

Anything that will induce "Stress Fire" situations during practice is and should be welcome by all. Course we all know saying it and doing it are sometimes worlds apart....realizing this at the moment of truth is probably the last reality check you ever get...then again, maybe not.
I must say... GREAT THREAD. I usually make it about 2 paragraphs into a long post, and it becomes white noise. Not so with this one. Very informative and I also am looking forward to your follow-on posts
Just to add more to a ooooollllddddd thread. I shoot some competitions... rifle and pistol. I get asked quite often why I don't "trick out" or "upgrade" my systems so I can compete more evenly. My response is always the same. I compete with the system I am going to carry on a regular basis. Im not "in it to win it" I am in it to learn and improve. If I win... Whoopty Doo! Great. But as long as I come away smarter... that is the point in my mind. Now, I have done a few things to my rifles and pistols... but nothing that is major.
In 26+ years as an LE and LE firearms instructor I agree with every point Sawman makes! I have seen it over and over again! A new blaster that has had thousands in custom gun smithing fail miserably when hot, ( tight tolerances ) dirty... Same. Under lubed, post tightening of slide to rail fit, match barrel/ barrel bushing, ect. Please don't get me wrong. A royal actioned Colt Python, a Smith custom supreme actioned L frame, a Les Baer 1911, Wilson, Ed Brown are marvelous play things. But for me, a stock well lubed Sig or Glock is what I'll take to a two way range. Every pistol I will "carry" is bone stock ( with the exception of replacing dimming night sights ) and run wet! I.E grease on frame rails and moderate viscosity oil everywhere else. I appreciate very much the art of custom gun smithing and custom gun builds. Many BBQ guns and Go to meeting guns are tangible art. In a pistol I'll take stock tolerances, practice, practice, practice and "Minute of bad guy" accuracy every day.
Just say'in