The single best way to measure and subsequently be able to develop your shooting skills is not going to the range with some friends and plinking. No amount of burning hundreds or thousands of rounds is going to make you a better shooter. The problem is when you’re out horsing around blowing up jugs filled with colored water you’re not keeping score or even paying attention to how and why you make certain shots. The most powerful tool to make you a better shooter is to keep score. The absolute best way way to keep score is to have someone else do it.
“What about the fact that I might suck?” or “They’re going to laugh.” or “I’m going to feel like an idiot.” or any of a hundred other excuses are just that excuses. They’re excuses (and shitty ones at that) made by those that foolishly believe that the opinions of others are formed by the ratio of hits to misses of those they observe. It’s based on the attitudes of others. Not how good or bad they are.
My very first metallic silhouette match was the state championships. I was horrified about how badly I was doing. I ended up tying for last with someone, we’ll call him Chuck, that has been doing the game for many years and is well known by the competitors in the region. He just had a terrible shooting day that day and I had a relatively good one which was still bad by any normal measure. Not a single person said, “Chuck, you suck. Why do you even bother?” In fact, the only things said to Chuck were supportive and friendly. No chiding his running of every stage with clean misses. Not even good-natured ribbing.
I had the same score as Chuck by end of day and I was simply horrified at my performance. I was convinced the trash talking would start eventually but it never did. What did happen was pretty early on a girl came up and gave me some advice on stance and hold. Then the next round a guy that she seemed to know did the same thing. By the end of the day I was able to start making some hits because every time someone would see me doing it wrong they’d very gently point me in the right direction.
My first F-Class match I didn’t have anything like proper equipment. I brought a hunting rifle and a hunting bipod and hunting ammo and nobody gave me a hard time. What they did do was tell me what the complications were going to be and how to make the best of what I had brought. I didn’t make a single hit inside the 8 ring but every time I did manage to put metal on paper I got positive feedback.
My first IDPA pistol competition I didn’t have a holster, which was required. I also didn’t have even a belt. At the time I didn’t own one of either. Nobody chided me. The match director didn’t even sigh before he asked into the group collected around the signup table for a spare. He did ask if it was my first match and I said, “yeah”. One of the guys in the crowd handed me a holster and mag pouch and said he’d collect it at the end of the match. I didn’t even really see who gave it to me until he asked for it back at the end of the day. The match director told me to hang out with his son and they’d show me the ropes.
The more unprepared it seemed that I’d arrived the more the assorted match directors both didn’t seem to care and wanted to help. The worse I’ve done in any match the more helpful and supportive the other competitors. It’s been the same with Trap shooting, sporting clays, PRS, and long range tactical precision. Every time I go out to do a match I’ve never done before, or didn’t do enough research on, or have no gun or ammo or basic equipment for etc… It’s never been an issue.
So we can now be certain that nobody will laugh or point or snigger at you. Your pride will not be assaulted and you won’t be treated as an outsider. There’s an easy reason for all of these people going so far out of their way to help newbies out. It’s rewarding courage. Plain and simple. Nobody will ever say that out loud but the people at a match share the pride that they nutted up and showed up even though score was being kept and would be visible to everyone. Nobody is ashamed of their results after a bad score at a match. They’re disappointed very often but that’s derived from one’s expectations of their own performance. Shame/blame/etc… are externally applied but you won’t find that happening, not at a match. Guys and Gals at a match are there in the spirit of the truest fellowship.
If you want to try a match in your area, jump on a forum and ask where to find one, then show up and watch or shoot or help with range officer duty. You don’t have to shoot your first time. You just have to show up.