Tuning for Maximum Match Performance

by Bob Londrigan, as published in Front Sight Magazine, November 2003

It’s time for the big match – the one you’ve been looking forward to for so long.  You’ve put a great deal of time and effort into training, and you’re primed for the match of your life.  But will your equipment equal your performance level?  What can you do to ensure your gun will run at its best?  There are actually several things you can do to maximize your chances of getting a flawless performance out of your equipment.  With some advance planning and preparation you can minimize the chance of equipment failure during a match. 

Realize that any part of your equipment can fail during a match, and this will adversely affect your performance. This article focuses on the gun and magazines, but you should check all your equipment.  Items such as your holster, ammo, glasses, footwear, and even nutrition and hydration can all impact your performance.

It just seems to be a law of nature that if equipment is going to fail, it will do so in a match.  Minimize this by practicing with your “match” equipment.  Several people have told me they use a primary gun or only certain magazines for a match, and they use backup equipment for practice.  The logic is that they’re saving the good equipment for a match.  Although this may mean that there is less of a chance that something will go wrong with the “match” equipment, it also ensures that if the “match” equipment is going to go wrong, it will do so in a match and not in practice.  Think about it…  If 80% of the ammo you shoot through a gun is during practice and only 20% is during a match, then if something is to go wrong with the gun, it will likely be during practice.  It’s a straight line equation – your chances of gun failure during practice as opposed to during a match would be 80%.  If the gun is going to fail and it fails during practice, you still have time to fix it.

So let’s assume you’re now practicing with your match equipment.  By following my tiered defense, you can reduce the likelihood of problems at the match. 

1 Month Out:

One month before a match, it’s a good time to give your gun a thorough going over to make sure all parts are whole – no unusual wear, no cracks, etc.  At this point, you still have enough time to make necessary repairs.  Also decide on your final match setup for the gun.  From now on, don’t make any changes in the following areas:  extractor, ejector, scope or sighting system, mag button, magwell, guide rod, recoil spring, magazine pad or springs, trigger pull weight, compensator, barrel, etc. 

2 Weeks Out:

Two weeks before the match, replace any springs that need replacement.  Do not change the poundage.  This includes recoil springs, Aftec extractor springs, and magazine springs. Because you may get a bad spring or one that has been mislabeled, you want to have several practice sessions with the new springs in place to be sure everything works properly.  Two weeks out is also a good time to have all your match ammo loaded and chronographed.  Don’t wait until the last minute -- your loader or chrono might break down.  I also stress that you use new brass for a match.  The extra expense is insignificant compared to what you’ll spend on match fees, travel, etc.  And don’t forget to chamber check all your rounds with a case guage.  Remember, we’re trying to minimize surprises at the match.   

1 or 2 Practice Sessions Before the Match:

Make any final tuning adjustments when you have at least two practice sessions left to test those adjustments.  Sight your gun in using match ammo.  Check zero at the beginning and end of every practice session from now until the match.  If your zero is moving around, check to see if anything is broken or loose.  Before your last practice session, completely tear down the gun and check again for cracks or any unusual wear. Fix what’s broken, but do not change anything else at this point.  Even something as simple as a different lube can cause problems. 

Before the Match:

Right before the match do a final tear down and cleaning of the gun.  Check once again for cracks or unusual wear and fix only what’s broken. Lube the gun and, if possible, do a final function test by firing one magazine full of ammo through the gun.  Replace your fiber optic rod, if you’re using one, or replace the battery of an electronic sight. Then properly store your gun so that it does not get knocked around during transport to the match. 

At this point, you have done everything you can to make sure your gun will function flawlessly at the match. Now you have to prepare a game plan for what to do if, in spite of all your efforts, there is still a hiccup.  The best preparation is to have a backup for every part in the gun and a backup gun to boot.  Having a backup gun is nice, but it’s an extravagance many shooters can’t afford.  If I have problems at a match, I go to my backup gun only as a last resort.  I usually scavenge parts off the backup gun to make the primary gun run well.  Since every gun is a little different, I prefer to continue using the one I have been practicing with. 

This being said, I think it is prudent to have some backup parts in your shooting bag.  You don’t want new parts right out of the wrapper, rather ones you know will work in your gun.  To put together a good set of backup parts, take working parts out of your gun and replace them with new parts.  Then test the gun with the new parts.  If it functions well, continue to run the gun with the new parts and keep the originals as a backup. This way you know your backup parts will be reliable.

Important parts for which you need a backup include:

 In addition to these parts, I suggest carrying spare recoil springs, firing pin springs, a mainspring, fiber optic rod, and batteries for scope and hearing protection.

If you make all these preparations, you will be well on your way towards having a trouble‑free match.  But if in spite of all this Murphy still visits, come see me in the vendors’ tent.  I can probably help.

1911 parts at Brazos Custom