Gadgetry and Performance – Skills over gear.

It’s a pretty standard mantra in the training community, and I believe it myself. However, we can’t get around the fact that gear is an important aspect in performance when it comes to shooting. 

My buddy Bryan likes to say, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” Conceptually, he’s right. In the execution of materials and engineering, he’s wrong. Red dots, compensators, lights and even appendix carry aren’t new concepts in shooting, but the efficiency and effectiveness of their integration has changed in both sport and combative applications. 

Golf has not changed from a conceptual standpoint basically since its inception. Take a crooked stick and whack a tiny ball towards a distant small hole. Do that for a set number of holes, and the person who hit the ball the fewest times wins. The technology has changed drastically during the history of the sport, though, and that technology yields performance results. In 1980, the player with the longest average drive averaged 274 yards. In 2021, it was 320 yards. 

The ways we measure and refine the human performance aspects of sports have also changed. Running has remained basically the same through all of human history. In 1936, Jesse Owens was the fastest human alive. He ran the 100-meter race in 10.3 seconds, the 200-meter in 20.7. In the 2020s, not quite 90 years later, he wouldn’t even win the national high school championships with those times. Conceptually, nothing has changed in either of these sports since their inception, but advancements in technology and the measurement and refinement of performance have pushed the fields to levels not previously achievable. High-speed and high-definition cameras now show athletes and their coaches small inefficiencies in technique that aren’t perceptible in real time, allowing them to improve on micro-aspects of performance that yield significant results. 

The process of integrating gear selection into our lives is an individual journey. I watch a dozen people a day ask the same questions about gear selection, from pistols and holsters, to lights and red dots, to stippling and triggers. The internet is awash in questions that get answered by a wide variety of people, and the quality of those answers varies by orders of magnitude. 

Some recent conversations both online and in person have now brought a question to my door step: Who decides what gear is relevant? Especially with regards to defensive applications.

The answer is obvious: It’s up to the individual. For defensive instructors, though, it is incumbent upon us to provide quality advice to help people shorten the learning curve and make their box of discarded gear smaller than our own. This requires unbiased testing and evaluation. Many instructors are high-volume shooters who abuse gear and search for incremental performance enhancements. You might think an idea is not worth the investment, but if the guy you disagree with has tested what he’s doing with 100,000 rounds, maybe you should look at how well you have evaluated the same thing. 

There’s no shortage of innovations hitting the market, and there’s also no shortage of industry old guys willing to generate controversy by opining, “We tried that before, and it doesn’t work.” Well, maybe it didn’t when you were 25 or 35, but perhaps it does now. Maybe the tech has advanced or the engineering has changed. We won’t know until a few of us try it out. The best pocket flashlight in 2002 produced about 100 lumens. Early red dots were large, fragile and needed batteries weekly. Today there are pocket flashlights producing 15 times that light output and small red dots that stand up to absurd abuse with battery lives measured in years. 

The law of big numbers matters. High-volume instructors see large numbers of students at all stages of their gear selection and evaluation journeys. This gives us a peek into what works and what doesn’t far more effectively than the individual gun carrier or even an individual and a group of like-minded friends. An enthusiastic shooter might shoot 10,000 rounds in a year through anywhere from 1 to 12 different guns. An instructor with a busy schedule or who is attached to a decent size agency might see 2,000 shooters fire 100,000 rounds in a year out of dozens of different guns with accompanying holsters and a wide assortment of accessories. The phrase “it works for me” is generally not worth uttering in gear recommendations when you have only seen a handful of examples.

Here’s where we all need to caution ourselves. Be aware of your biases. Be hard on your own opinions. Be open to challenging your own theories. Try to keep your ego in check. The science is never settled. Material advancements, engineering, and quality control measures are all moving forward. Don’t close your mind because you’ve seen something similar before and it didn’t work or didn’t work as well as it could have. It might now.