A few weeks ago in Arkansas, I was teaching a 40-hour class for armed citizens and off duty cops. The course finishes with a tough written exam on deadly force law and tactics, and a 60-shot live fire qualification encompassing dominant hand only, non-dominant hand only, speed reloads, shooting from cover positions, and cetera. Before the students shoot, the staff runs a “pace-setter”: we shoot the timed course of fire while they watch, so they can get a good mental image of what the stances and techniques they’re expected to perform look like, and how fast they’ll have to do it to score well. Given that there are fixed time limits, this also lets the observers kinda “set their internal clock.” Part of the incentive is, whatever score I shoot, if the student ties me they get an autographed dollar bill inscribed, “You tied me at my own game,” and if they outshoot me, they earn an autographed five-dollar bill that says, “You beat me at my own game.”
Nothing makes me prouder of my students than giving them one of those dollar bills. I confess, however, to mixed feelings about having to pay out a fiver. On the one hand, as I tell them beforehand, there’s no greater compliment a student can pay an instructor than to outperform the teacher in the skill being taught. On the other hand, there’s the personal excoriation of “Oh, crap, I blew it!”
I normally shoot it with a perfect 300 out of 300 points score, as I damn well should, having run this course for decades. But – less than half an hour after telling them to stay at a “conscious competence” level and think about every shot as they’re squeezing it off, I violated my own rule and let myself slip into the “unconscious competence” mode sometimes called “automatic pilot.” The sight alignment was hard and solid from the fifteen yard line, but my stance wasn’t quite perfect for natural point of aim apparently, and about the time that I saw the well-aligned sights had drifted to the right and realized that I was automatically pressing the trigger, there was a very brief instant when I thought, “The sights need to come more left but my finger is pressing the trigger and” — BANG!
The sights told me the story before I saw the bullet hole: I had broken the shot prematurely with the gun aligned to 3 o’clock of where I needed the shot to go, and that was exactly where the 230 grain Winchester .45 ACP hardball bullet hit…just outside the maximum 5-point zone and into the four-point zone. I did what I should have done beforehand, and turned off the auto pilot and went back to conscious competence – thinking about what I was doing. The rest of the shots went center, but I finished with a 299 out of 300…and yes, that cost me more than one five-dollar bill.