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The Outlaw Travis James
by on September 8, 2020

Shoot YOUR Game!

Wait, Do I Even Have a Game?

We just had one of the most fun weekends in recent memory!  Chickie and I drove 800 miles and stayed in two different cities to shoot two matches.  It has been a long time since I was able to shoot a doubleheader.  The last time was the third weekend in May when I shot the Southwest Florida Gunslingers and the Five County Regulators, both in Punta Gorda.  So it was a welcomed weekend full of Cowboy Action shoots! 

We left Jupiter on Friday night and drove four hours north to Gainesville to shoot with the Roughshod Raiders on Saturday.  This match is so fun and challenging that Chickie and I make the drive each month.  Then after shooting with the Raiders we drove two and a half hours southwest and stayed in Weeki Wachee so we could shoot with the Hernando County Regulators on Sunday.  And after all that, we drove four hours southeast all the way back across the Sunshine State to Jupiter Farms.  I put some miles on the “Big Brown Uptown” this weekend!

We circumnavigateed the the Sunshine State this weekend.

After two days of triple-digit heat indexes, 12 stages, and 10-1/2 hours of driving & thinking time; I learned a few very good lessons that I would like to share with everyone.  As usual, it takes a few lumps for the lessons to get through my thick skull.  But eventually, they sink in, sometimes.


Flashback to the third weekend in October 2019.  SASS Southeastern Regional, Ambush at Cavern Cove hosted by the North Alabama Regulators in Woodville, AL.

Our Posse Marshall, Santa Fe River Stan get's ready to read the stage instructions for a practice stage on side match day at Ambush.

It’s Thursday night and we are hanging out in the hotel.  Most all of us just had an awesome practice day at the beautiful range at Cavern Cove.  Delta Glen spent the evening fixing my shotgun in the parking lot so that Chickie and I had one to use for the match.  The weather could not have been better.  It was the calm before the storm that fed a false hope that the ominous weather report we had all been trying to ignore for a few weeks was going to be wrong.  It was not, hence the moniker “Monsoon” at Cavern Cove 2019.

It poured down rain nearly the entire Main Match.

But, I digress.  We’re all sitting in the hotel room talking about the day and a little bit of strategy for tomorrow.  Santa Fe River Stan looks at me and says: “Tomorrow, shoot YOUR game.”  He didn’t expound much, and I did not ask him to.

I thought to myself: “Yeah, just shoot MY game.”

At this point, I had been shooting for about a year and was still inexperienced.  This was my first Regional and out-of-state match as well as Chickie’s first annual.  The more I thought about it the more I realized I didn’t understand what he meant.  As I went to bed that night, I’m thinking to myself:

“Shoot MY game?!”

What was MY game?  I was not very confident in my shotgun yet.  My rifle was OK.  Pistols…meh?

“Is that what he meant?”

I was fairly smooth with my transitions.  I still fumbled my shotgun shells a bit.  My movement was not very efficient though.

“Maybe THAT is MY game!?”

The more I thought about it, the more confused I became trying to figure out exactly what MY game was.  The problem was I was asking the wrong question.

Fast forward to the present.  It is a hot and steamy Saturday morning at Roughshod Raiders in Gainesville.  In Florida, the level of competition at this monthly match is only rivaled by the Fort White Cowboy Cavalry which is about 30 minutes up the trail.  The number of State, Regional, National, and World champs shooting there is impressive.  With so many top tier shooters at Raiders, I have only made the Top 5 once, and it was last month.  I can have the run of my life and probably three or more shooters on our posse alone will easily beat my time.  Not to mention the outstanding shooters on the other posses. Because there is no pressure to win the overall or my category, I tend to be more focused on what I’m doing during my stage prep.  I can shut out the noise of everything else and be present at the loading table which helps me perform better overall. 

Posse 1 Playlist Roughshod Raiders

Now, let’s jump ahead to Sunday morning.  HCR is a much smaller club and the possibility of winning Overall is far greater if I shoot well.  When this happens, I sometimes focus more on what my competition is doing than what I am doing.  While at the loading table, thoughts of my last stage or what the other shooters' stage times were, tend to cross my mind.  Or I am too worried about not screwing up instead of going out and simply executing my stage plan.

Playlist for Hernando County Regulators

Both matches are very similar.  Delta Glen and Shoulda Dun Gun use lots of knockdowns for pistols and rifles, lots of movement between shotgun, dissimilar sweeps for pistol and rifle, split pistols, and many other similarities that make them much more technical than the run-of-the-mill Cowboy Action matches.   I enjoy these matches because they tend to give the most well-rounded shooters an advantage.  Whereas a speed match (i.e. big and close) tend to give the speed demons an advantage.  Not that I am either of these types of shooters, I simply enjoy the nuance and subtlety.  Because of the similarities, they act as a good comparison for my analysis.

Back to Raiders, and it is Stage 1 and I am at the loading table.  Delta Glen’s scenarios tend to take a little more time to digest and get straight in your head.  And there are usually some subtleties that if you catch them, could help you navigate the stages more successfully.  So taking a bit longer to get a clear stage plan is not out of the ordinary at Raiders.  I’m also one of the leadoff shooters on our posse so I do not have the luxury of watching others shoot the scenarios.  I will listen to the stage instructions, ask any questions I may have, then go and grab my guns and head over to the loading table.

While loading my guns I cannot seem to keep my transitions straight in my head, the sweeps keep going in one ear and out the other, and the gun order is all discombobulated.  I suddenly realize I am going to have one of those dreaded ‘off days’.  One of those days where I can’t seem to be smooth no matter what I do.  But in realizing this, I know I must back off a bit or face the consequences.  So I do and the results where that I ended the match with only 2 misses and still placed 7th Overall in a very deep field.  I felt like I was performing poorly but I made the most of the situation by focusing on MY shooting ONLY.  I was not worried about how anyone else shot the stage because, in my mind, it didn’t matter.  I was competing with myself that day, not them.

Roughshod Raiders September Monthly Results

Sunday, we get to Hernando County Regulators and I am sure that the ‘off day’ was behind me.  I have never had two in a row in the short time I have been shooting.   And at this match, I could win the overall if I can shoot a smooth and mostly mistake-free match.

I get to the loading table for Stage 1 and feel like the confusion is worse than it was the day before.  “How can this be?”  It has never happened two days consecutively like this.  Also, my focus is now on what the other shooters are doing because I am too worried about besting their stage times instead of worrying about shooting my stages.  I go up and post a very pedestrian 26.66 raw time with two misses, bobbling my shotgun shells, and having an accidental discharge on my rifle.  Not the way I wanted to start the match.

At the unloading table, I am saying to myself: “OK man, you got through that with a couple of bumps and bruises but now the challenge is to stay focused on MY shooting and recover.” 

But for whatever reason, I just could not stay focused.  I found that I was beating myself up for the mistakes I was making and actively checking the score sheet to see how my stage times compared to everyone else's.  I was not focused on my shooting and was letting these distractions get in the way of executing my stage plans.  The result was seven misses and two procedurals.  Yes, 55 seconds in penalties because I was too worried about keeping pace.  I went out each stage and was pushing to go faster and compounding all the problems I was having.

Looking back at the score sheet, I had the fastest raw time but was 5th overall and over 45 seconds behind the winner.  At lunch afterward, I brought that fact up to the winner Shelleen who responded: “Good thing for me raw time doesn’t matter.” 

And he is correct.  My raw time was fast but makes no difference if I couldn’t hit the targets or shoot them in the proper order.  Instead of backing off as I did the day prior, I pushed harder to go faster and make up for the bobbles and miscues.

Hernando County Regulators September Monthly Results

Lesson # 1: When I am feeling a little bit off my game, back off just enough to make sure I don’t compound any problems.  I did so on Saturday and even though I felt my times were lacking and not very smooth, I still managed a decent match overall.  On Sunday, I pushed way too hard and just made a difficult day that much worse, resulting in 55 seconds worth of penalties.  I also had so many shotgun makeups I don’t even want to count them. 

Now let’s return to the search for MY game.  Going back to what Stan and a lot of other experienced shooters have said to me.  What is MY game exactly?

Lesson # 2:  What MY game entails is staying focused on the stage in front of me.  Block out everything before and after the stage and be present from the time I pull my guns out of the cart until I put them back in.  If I can do this I will allow my subconscious to take over and the stage will be much easier to shoot without any distraction.  Never try and keep pace with anyone else because that puts me off MY game and then I am thinking about their game, which is something I have no control over. 

How do I stay focused on My game?  Some days, like this weekend was for me, it is a challenge.  Even the top shooters have their off days but they understand how to minimize the damage to their match.  Luckily for me, these days do not happen very often.

I use a few different techniques to help me maintain focus on MY game.  I use a technique taught to me by Fireball as soon as I go to my cart to get ready for my stage.  I take deep breaths in through my nose and out my mouth.  Making sure to use my diaphragm instead of my chest.  This ensures a really deep breath.  By doing this, I am telling my subconscious it is time to take over.  Then the operation of the guns is one thing less I have to consciously think about. 

I also repeat a very short mantra to myself on each exhalation while loading my guns which is a technique I used in my race running days.  This should be tailored to each shooter depending on their specific goals, strengths, weaknesses, and needs.  Mine is “Smooth.  Sites.”  I make sure and repeat this at least three times before I finalize my stage plan.  Make sure and keep the mantra short and concise.  Two or three words maximum.

Once I have finished loading my guns, I then visualize and shadow shoot my stage plan.  The reason I wait until I am done loading is so I am not distracting myself from what I am doing.  If it is possible to see the targets from the loading table, I will look at them while I shadow shoot.  I make sure and look at each target when I break the shot during my visualization.  This helps to engrain the target order in your mind.  I see and hear each target being hit and when I am done shooting the stage I hear the TO saying clean.  I do this so that I set myself up for success.  I also make myself smile and feel how it feels to shoot a smooth and clean stage.

Then, just before I go up to the line, I take one last deep breath and clear my mind of everything except that breath.  I feel it fill my nostrils, then my lungs, and finally my diaphragm.  This centers my focus on the present moment only.

Once I stage my guns and step off the distance between shooting positions, I get ready and do one final deep breath before giving my line.  This helps eliminate all distractions.

The mental part of our game is the thing I have and still do struggle with the most.  I am very high energy and when I first started, I was too amped up while shooting.  This lead to too many stupid mistakes.  Not everyone will need to have such an elaborate pre-stage routine.  But for the rest of us, it helps a lot to keep you focused on YOUR game.  This gives you the best chance of a smooth and clean stage run.

the OTJ

SASS # 107517

Topics: florida, sass, cas, schedule
Like (16)
Good stuff!
September 9, 2020
Johny Blackhouse
That is exactly what I am struggling with. Focus sounds like such a simple thing, yet I have trouble finding the line between trusting my subconscious and focusing on the moment. I think too much about not missing a target instead of finding my sight, thinking about my transition, before I’m finishe... View More
March 12, 2021 Edited
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JP Law
March 12, 2021
Thanks for a great read!
March 12, 2021
The Outlaw Travis James
Thank you for reading. Give it share on Facebook if you are so inclined.
March 12, 2021
Camo Cowboy
Great info and thank you.
March 12, 2021
View 1 more reply
The Outlaw Travis James
Thank you for reading. Give it share on Facebook or other social media if you are so inclined.
March 12, 2021