The Pick-Up Gun

4-Jan-13 – 12:50 by ToddG

When I was shooting IDPA more seriously, each year our team would attend a major match that invariably had a pick-up gun: a dedicated gun provided by the match staff that you had to use for part of one particular stage. On its face it makes for an interesting twist, but the reality is that pick-up guns really don’t belong in serious matches.

Why? Because once you add a different gun to the game that every competitor must use, you’re disadvantaging some competitors compared to others.

As an example, one year the pick-up gun was a j-frame. Your match score depended on your ability to shoot that j-frame. Instead of being evaluated based on the gun you chose to shoot, you were evaluated based on a gun someone else forced you to shoot. Maybe you’re a revolver stud and it gave you a leg up compared to the competition… or maybe you’ve never shot a long, heavy trigger in your life and your score was dealt a significant blow.

P30-gray-P7sIt’s all well and good to chant that “people should be able to shoot anything they pick up” but we’re not talking about World War XYZ. We’re talking about a competitive event that is supposed to be, above all else, fair. It’s fair to expect every competitor to be familiar with his own handgun. It’s fair to expect every competitor to practice with his chosen handgun. But throw an HK P7M8 on the table and suddenly the match results depend more on who knows how to run a squeeze cocker than who knows how to aim & shoot fast.

Which raises two other issues about pick-up guns that make them unfair:

  • Not everyone can operate every gun on the planet. I’ve watched shooters who didn’t know how to unload a revolver properly because they’ve never used one. I’ve seen competitors who couldn’t rack the slide on some guns. One of my favorite pick-up gun moments was when we used a DAO Beretta at a local IDPA club match at the NRA back in the 90’s: an IPSC Open GM picked up the gun and thought it was broken because the gun wouldn’t go off when he put a few pounds of pressure on the trigger. He pressed the trigger a bit, racked the slide to clear a malfunction; pressed the trigger a bit, racked the slide; pressed the trigger a bit, racked the slide… he never got off a round. All because he didn’t realize there were semiauto handguns that needed 12 pounds of pressure on the trigger to go bang.
  • What do you do when the gun has a malfunction? Normally in an IDPA or USPSA match, if your gun malfs that’s your problem because you’re responsible for your gear. But when a pick-up gun has a stoppage, is it really fair to penalize the shooter? Maybe he doesn’t use that particular type of gun because he knows he can’t run it without a malfunction. Maybe the gun just hasn’t been maintained adequately during the course of a long match. Counting a pick-up gun’s problems against the shooter is patently unfair. But letting every competitor get a reshoot with a balky gun is a major administrative hassle.

g19-mrdsIf you use a common gun, such as a Glock, then you’re benefiting the competitors who are already shooting Glocks as opposed to the competitors who are used to running guns with different controls, grip angle, etc. If you use an uncommon gun or one with an odd feature, such as the mini red dot sighted Glock pictured here, then you’re benefiting the competitors who are familiar with that oddball gun at the expense of the folks who showed up thinking they were going to be judged based on the pistol they brought, per the rules.

So while using a pick-up gun might seem like a fun idea to the match staff, primarily it just adds a serious degree of unfairness to a match.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

(Glock photo courtesy of DocGKR)

  1. 14 Responses to “The Pick-Up Gun”

  2. Just think of what could happen if a pick-up gun was at the end of a stage:

    “If you’re finished, unload and show clear.”



    “um…I don’t know how?”

    By Andrew on Jan 4, 2013

  3. I agree with the principle that you should, ideally, be able to pick up any gun and use it effectively, but that’s a solid point about competition and fairness.

    I, for one, would probably have to throw a revolver at the target if it didn’t immediately do what I want, since I’ve only shot one once, ever and that was over a decade ago.

    For what it’s worth, it would motivate me to go get my hands on one and get familiar so it didn’t happen again, but that’s because I treat competition as skills practice, not as, well, competition. I realize that’s not normal.

    Interesting point.

    By Arclight on Jan 4, 2013

  4. +1 Arclight

    One of the things I liked about the DTI courses I took was getting a chance to run a number of different weapon systems and learning to operate them when they fail.

    I guess I get a little flinchy when people start complaining about what’s fair. I quit SO’ing a sanctioned matches this year because of all the whining and range lawyering that goes on at IDPA and USPSA events.

    At the matches I have shot, the SO unloads the pick-up weapon.

    To each his own I guess.

    By Gerry on Jan 5, 2013

  5. This is one where I must respectfully disagree.

    This comes down to an earlier dispute over what the structure of a stage should be. If one feels that the point is to provide a technical measurement of skills and equipment across a common game platform, I can see where a pickup gun can seem to really throw away the point of the contest. But I don’t see most practical / tactical shooting stages as having that point. Rather, I see a vehicle for experimentation in which shooters can test themselves, and their choices in gear and tactics, against a common standard that also allows them to compare themselves to others.

    While I have expressed this before, I think it bears repeating. It is less useful to have matches in which participants drift towards the same “most effective” weapons systems, carry methods, and specific stage tactics where the design of the game has reduced the number of variables in the real world down to so few that the min/max calculations are lining up to be the same for every shooter. This way lies the evolution of the competition in much the same manner as happened in fencing. There are without a doubt better equipment and better engagement choices for the shooter. But ensuring that one actually tests these with a robust pool of participants, and that these folks obtain individual experience in why something may be better, is valuable. Likewise, showing that the real differences in question may not be enough to matter can be critical to building confidence for the times when a shooter finds themselves out of their normal situations.

    Now, I have no doubt that Todd can out shoot me with just about any weapon one cares to drop in as a pickup. But on the other hand, knowing that I have stepped off the aircraft in quite a number of places overseas to have handed to me something in the proverbial brown paper bag, over which I have no choice in selecting to be my carry piece for the duration, the forcing function that keeps me flexible and current across systems is something I value. Yes, this is less than ideal from the perspective of training to the equipment that one normally carries, in order to meet the best standard one can meet. And no, this isn’t what I would choose for all of my forms of training (and not what I choose when it comes to EDC under conditions I control, such as when domestic.) But as an occasional stage, there is a good reason to have these in the mix if we are to consider ourselves serious students.

    Not every shooter may find themselves with the unique conditions that may prevail overseas. But there are always times when one may find oneself with a borrowed weapon in extremis… such as when visiting a relative when a crisis breaks out, or worse yet should one have to actually pick up the weapon from the ground in a violent encounter. Better to find out how one would react in training and competition than in the real world.

    As an entirely practical matter of the game itself, pickup guns also can be introduced in ways that allow even newer shooters to participate safely. In addition to SO control, as noted above, there are also design considerations that may place the weapon at the end of the stage, or at the end of string that permits the shooter to ground the weapon cleared before moving on. It also provides sponsors the chance to showcase their weapons, giving them incentives and giving shooters who may be looking a chance to try the platform. Better yet, many sponsors will also pay for the ammo for their weapon (wanting to run known loads for liability and reliability reasons), so in these times of higher ammo prices extra free ammo for the match can’t be overlooked.

    By abu fitna on Jan 5, 2013

  6. Respectfully disagree. Considering the shit sandwich that life has served you(healthwise) I would think you more than anyone would not expect fairness in life or matches or anywhere else. Consciously or otherwise, courses of fire typically favor right handers. RO’s miss calls, targets don’t react consistently, weather conditions change between stages and the footing gets muddier for the later seeds. It just ain’t “fair”. Is there any pick up gun out there that is fired by other than pulling the trigger? Just do it.

    Hope your doing good with your treatment, I’m ready for another class.

    By Jeff Boyes on Jan 5, 2013

  7. Some good points here, Todd. It’s interesting to note the differences in how the different shooting sports treat pickup guns – you see them fairly often in IDPA. Never in USPSA, in fact I’m pretty sure that USPSA doesn’t allow them. You get them in some of the bigger 3-gun matches, often stuff that is uncommon and fun to shoot. I remember at least one match with a pickup grenade launcher…

    Personally, I think that pickup guns are kind of gimmicky, but there are half a dozen things I’d like to see reformed in practical shooting before even thinking about pickup guns. We could start with unchambered and unloaded starts, hot reholstering, and reduced-size targets.

    The MGM Ironman has a good way of handling pickup guns – they’re strictly for bonus points, and can be bypassed without penalty. You could also do a pickup gun side stage, cash reentry, if a sponsor has something they want to show off.

    By Chris Rhines on Jan 5, 2013

  8. I like the idea of a pickup gun being a bonus. It lets the competitor do the math and make the decision rather than just forcing it on everyone.

    By TCinVA on Jan 7, 2013

  9. Include the pickup gun stage, but treat it as a side match. This should keep both the gamers and tactical types happy.

    By cmoore on Jan 7, 2013

  10. I agree with the optional/side match idea.

    I think they’re a great thing at local matches, when the idea is build/practice your skill and expose yourself to things you may not have trained for.

    I agree that they’re horrible at any regional or national match where you’re travelling a long way and paying a lot of money to *compete*. The NFL doesn’t have games where you play with a college ball just to throw in an extra challenge, and the PGA tour doesn’t have special “wood club” stages.

    By ford.304 on Jan 7, 2013

  11. I agree with some points, disagree with others. I’ve shot several IDPA matches with “dropped/pick-up guns” and have found that it added to the match. Pick-ups have included an S&W J-frame with 2″ barrel loaded with 158-gr. lead bullets, an M&P 9mm, and an S&W Judge loaded with .45ACP. None was used for the whole stage–they were loaded/unloaded by SO’s, fired, then put down for transfer to your own primary gun, so it was tough to tank a whole stage based on a malfunction or unfamiliariity. The advantage was/is that it forces me to keep familiar with different types of guns and triggers (and ammo) while I practice with my primary gun (G34). I’ll “reward” myself after a good practice with my primary with a couple of targets and drills with a gun which might be a “pick up.” Obviously can’t practice with everything all the time, but it seems to keep the skills up on the guns that I might encounter.

    Like others, hope all is going well/better for you, Todd–I look forward to training with you when you are back.

    By Michael on Jan 7, 2013

  12. I agree with Todd.

    Problem is, when you pickup a firearm that you’re not expecting you may not be familiar with it, your competitors may. I get the real world training, etc, etc, etc.

    But reality is, that’s not real world training for the dude that shoots that gun in his free time. For instance, shooting a J-Frame DAO Airweight .38 SPL isn’t exactly fun. Long trigger pulls, light weight gun, lots of recoil, etc.

    Sure it’s the same gun for everyone, with the same loads.

    But some guys may use that as his BUG regularly even though he’s shooting a Glock 19, and some guy may’ve never held one.

    If you could ensure that it was the same level of familiarity with everyone (i.e., no experience, or the same amount of handle time), then it wouldn’t be “unfair”. It is a competition, and what’s new for one guy should be new for all guys is what Todd’s saying, and it makes sense.

    Because otherwise, it’s a walk-on advantage for one guy and a walk-on disadvantage for another. Until you can control that, then you’ve got problems.

    By BWT on Jan 9, 2013

  13. A good comparison might be like having a Unicycle on one stage. Sure we’d all look at that and go “Oh my god this is ridiculous, this is going to be hysterical”. Until Bozo the clown gets squaded with you, and the dude does that in his routine and juggles puddles while shooting a Glock 17.

    Who’s laughing now.

    By BWT on Jan 9, 2013

  14. Could the match bulletins list what the pickup
    gun would be?
    Practice could then be arranged, no?

    By Leon on Jan 10, 2013

  15. We don’t use pickup guns often in matches but they have always been well received. Typically we’d use them on a 6 round COF within 10yd.

    When I am match director (usually), malfunctions are cause for a re-shoot.

    Our matches are small and I think our shooters are looking more for entertainment and some range time with their gear. We’d never run a pickup at a club championship however for many of the reasons above!

    By raks on Jan 14, 2013

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