The benefits and serious problems with shooting standards

To a certain extent, the world of shooting is built on how well people do on standard courses of fire.

Medals, badges, ribbons, and pins are awarded in military and law enforcement organizations, as well as in competitive leagues and are awarded by some higher end instructors for performance during training.

These ranking, or caste systems, give us an easy way to group shooters of similar abilities, which can make competition more fun.  Many of these rankings are highly coveted.

Reaching these different levels and visual recognition of performance are a great incentive for shooters, and there’s tremendous value in that.

There’s been more than one time when I thought I was hot stuff, only to be humbled by my poor performance on a standard compared to other shooters who I considered to be my peers.  It caused me to buckle down and do what I needed to do.

A lot of times, firearms training is like a marathon…except you never know when or where the finish line will be.

In a marathon, sometimes you aim for the finish line, but other times, you just aim for the next intersection, turn on the trail, or tree.

With self-defense training with firearms, it’s possible and preferable to go your entire life without ever needing to use your weapon to stop a lethal threat…and that’s one of the ways that standards and classifiers can provide real value.

Standard courses of fire can serve the same purpose as using a tree in the distance as your goal…they can give you short term goals to help you get to your long term goal.

The danger is when these standards start being the final goal, instead of just being an inspirational and motivational tool.

So here’s 3 things to look out for and avoid with classifiers and standards:

First is training to the classifier…similar to cramming or “teaching to the test” in school.

I’ll give you an example…

IDPA uses a standard course of fire to classify shooters as Marksmen, Sharpshooters, Experts, and Masters called a “classifier.”  There’s nothing wrong with this.

Some people will show up at a local classifier, shoot it, and look at their performance as a measure of how much they’ve improved or worsened since the last time they shot the classifier.

But others will train to the classifier…the majority of their training is focused on how to do better at the classifier, which may or may not translate over to real world shooting needs.  This is fine as long as you understand what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

Most clubs will have classifiers once or twice a year.  Again, this is a good gut check on how effective your training has been since the last classifier.

But other clubs will offer the classifier every night of the week for an entire week so that people can keep shooting the same course of fire until they get the score they want.

The result at big matches is that shooters who train to be better shooters and gunfighters will often times beat several shooters who have ranked higher in classifiers.

To be clear, this doesn’t apply to the top competitive shooters.  They put in the long hours of training and cross training, several days a week, to make the impossible appear easy on a regular basis.

The 2nd danger of standards is that they can push shooters to cut corners that they won’t be able to cut in a real-world shooting situation.

As an example, I know several shooters who shoot the biggest pistol they can shoot in competition, but carry the smallest pistol they can for concealed carry.

Their carry holster is designed for retention and their competition holster almost throws the pistol at them if the wind blows wrong.

I used to game my gear like this, but I don’t anymore.  My two main goals for shooting are to be able to protect myself, my family, and our animals from lethal threats and make clean kills when I’m hunting.

If my gear is good enough to stake my life on in a life and death situation, it’s good enough for competition or training.  There’s nothing wrong with gaming your gear and wanting to maximize your performance at a standard or classifier or in competition…just be honest with yourself about why you’re doing it.

Some standards let you load your mags so your reloads happen at known or optimal times, you transition when you’ve shot enough rounds instead of when those rounds have had the desired effect, and other “skills” that may only have a benefit for that particular standard.

As another example that applies to both standards and competition…it’s not uncommon for shooters to immediately remove the magazine from their pistol, rack out the round in the chamber, and lock the slide back immediately after firing their last shot…without taking a moment to assess the targets they just shot.

I’m not saying that you need to be able to SEE where every shot went (eventually, you’ll know without looking because of calling your shots) but you should at least get in the practice of assessing a target after you shoot it.

In a lethal force situation, you probably won’t be able to see if/where your rounds hit, but you do need to visually assess whether or not the threat has been stopped or is still a threat before you would ever think about unloading your pistol or re-holstering.

The third danger of standards and classifiers is that there is always a risk that a shooter will do well and think that they are “good enough” and get complacent…and worse, think that a classification that they got 3 months, 3 years, or 3 decades earlier has any bearing on how well they can perform on demand today.

As a general rule, you’ll never REALLY level out at any skill.  At any given point in your life, you’re either moving forward and improving or you’re getting worse…stagnating…giving up hard-earned ground.

Am I saying you shouldn’t shoot standards or classifiers?  Not at all.  They can serve as a valuable benchmark…as an impartial mirror that gives you feedback on how effective your recent training has been, and they serve as great short term goals.  But don’t look at a classification, medal, patch, badge, or pin that you earned in the past as an excuse not to practice today.

Which brings me to Father’s Day and a promotion that I’m doing for the weekend…

If you’ve got a father in your life who was or is a great shot…someone who takes their role as protector seriously, I want you to get them the 21 Day Alpha Shooter course for Father’s Day by clicking >HERE<

It’s the training that former tip-of-the-spear guys turn to to keep their edge after leaving service, and it’s the choice of many tactical law enforcement and military guys for breaking through plateaus in performance.

It focuses on perfecting the fundamentals, which makes it perfect for newer shooters and expert shooters alike.

When you sign up >HERE<, we’ll send out the DVD, a set of Dry Fire Training Cards, and other bonuses within 1 business day, but you’ll get immediate access to the on-demand training so that you and/or the dad you’re buying it for can start the training immediately.

This weekend, every time someone signs up for 21 Day Alpha Shooter through the links in this article I’ll be donating a set of Dry Fire Fit cards to one of two departments.

Here’s the deal…

A friend of mine is having a fundraiser on Saturday for 3 local officers who have been shot near us recently.  It’s basically a way for the people of our area to say, we back the blue with actions in addition to words AND that we take care of our first responders and their families. (

Two years ago, Kootenai County deputy Greg Moore was shot and killed while performing a routine traffic stop.

The second incident was earlier this year when Bonnar County deputies Gagnon and Penn were shot in the process of serving a warrant.

Jeff and Dana from Selkirk set up the event tomorrow to raise money for these families.

I can’t be there for the event, and I don’t have the ability to donate enough money to matter for these 3 families on my own, but with your help, I can donate training materials to these 2 departments and possibly give some of their deputies the edge they need to have a long lifetime of Father’s Days.

So, whether you get the training for yourself, whether you get it for a father in your life, or whether you get it because you want to support law enforcement, I’d ask that you get it this weekend by clicking >HERE<


  • Ted Throckmorton

    Reply Reply June 16, 2017

    This article Mike has provided contains information that potentially means the “Difference between Life and Death”.
    I have a lot to do on my plate today, and for me to stop what I was doing in order to re-enforce the value of this information that Mike has provided is worth every minute to me, if it helps someone.

    There is a “Life and Death Difference” in shooting at the range and becoming a proficient shooter, as opposed to your ability to be able function efficiently when you are confronted with a life and death situation that you must overcome in order to save your family, friends or your self.

    “PRIDE” in believing that being a good shooter at the range will transfer over to your ability to be able to successfully defend your self, when confronted with a life or death situation will most likely get you hurt or killed.

    You will fight like you train!

    I must sound like an old man who is just squeaky wheel that needs some oil, so I will stop squeaking.
    But as long as I have breath I will speak out about things such as this that are so very important in peoples life’s.

    I have lived (thank God) through many skirmishes and obviously made it through.
    I have been in action with the very best of the best, and I have also seen the people who were shinny and brave on paper, and also in their own minds,
    But, When S…. hit the fan they were paralyzed and acted like a little girls.
    I have also served with highly trained men who in the face of hell, functioned like a very well oiled machine.

    The difference was in their training.

    I know what I have said sounds brash. But that is just how it is.
    I have lived it.
    So, I suggest, and submit to you, to pay attention to what Mike Ox has to say.
    Mike’s approach in developing you’re fighting skills, are sound.

    If not with Mike, do your homework and be sure your receiving the best training available. Your life may (arguably) depend in it.

    Train Well, Train Often.

    • Ox

      Reply Reply June 19, 2017

      Thanks, Ted. I appreciate it.

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field