Book Review – Saul Kirsch – Thinking Practical Shooting, A guide to Outstanding Match Performance

By Black Sheep Straight Shooter and Greg Hamilton
June 11, 2024


5 min read

“The conscious mind cannot control our shooting. Shooting is too complex an activity to be thought through, step by step. In no way can you consciously think your way through an IPSC stage quickly enough to shoot it well. You cannot think about trigger control, and then sight picture, and then gripping pressure, and so on. All these functions need to be accomplished subconsciously.” SK

BLACKSHEEPSTRAIGHTSHOOTER awards this awesome book 5/5 stars. Everything in quotes is quoted from the book, “Saul Kirsch – Thinking Practical Shooting, A guide to Outstanding Match Performance.” SK

I bought and read this book quite a long time ago (2017) when I was regularly shooting IPSC Production Pistol. I then read it again straight afterward with a green highlighter. I read it again just the last few days with a yellow highlighter, then pink highlighted some of what I wanted to quote.

The mental game in shooting is more important than gear in my opinion. A proficient shooter knows his gear intimately, doesn’t shoot past his current level of skill and his self-image aligns with his unconscious competence. Mastery occurs when you give your conscious mind something deliberate to focus on and let your subconscious get on with what it knows. Perfect practice makes permanent, and the repetitions get ingrained in such a way that the work done well ahead of match day means the shooting should just flow as if on auto-pilot. Most people in the zone / in good flow can’t really recall what they were thinking about – it just happened.

“How we train affects the quality of the subconscious skills we develop, and how efficiently they are developed. You cannot cheat or cut corners. There is absolutely no other way to build subconscious skills other than doing multiple good repetitions.” SK

“It has been said that the only two things you need to know in order to be the best precision shooter in the world are:

  1. Learn to shoot a perfect shot.
  2. Repeat step 1, until the match is over.

While this may sound like oversimplification, it is in fact true. Once you have the ability to perform a skill well enough, all you need to do is control yourself and your surroundings in order to execute this ability again and again.” SK

I had this explained to me in a slightly different way during an informal shooting clinic by the Australian Army Shooting team coach during an international skill at arms meeting. He asked how many rounds in a magazine? Some answered 30, 30 plus one in the chamber, full loadout capacity on your person and some other creative answers. The coach replied with one perfect shot 30 times for each magazine. This had a lasting effect on myself as I still remember it to this day over ten years ago. I completely understand the premise of boutique single shot break barrel hunting rifles. The shooter becomes more invested in firing one near perfect shot which must count, because a miss means the game runs off. Psychologically, a hunter will put more conscious effort into making the best use of the first three rounds in a three round magazine compared to the first three rounds in a ten round magazine. The trick is seeing what you need to see with unconscious competence and calling the shot with good follow through.

 In IPSC this is a little different because a miss means a penalty and if you have paid attention to where the shot broke on the target by calling your shot, you can take another follow up shot if it felt bad. In Australia we are limited to ten shot handgun magazines for sport use, so a make-up shot might mean an extra reload.

“Understand that trying harder allows your conscious mind to push your subconscious to perform at a faster pace than it would like. A ‘conscious override’, if you will. This rarely produces the results you want. Your subconscious speed is developed through practice, and it cannot be increased simply because you consciously decided to do so. And when you do shoot faster, your accuracy and control deteriorate. You should aim to train your subconscious to deliver the results you want, and trust it ‘to drive’ on match day.” SK

You need to back yourself on game day. This belief in yourself to perform under pressure and rise to the challenge comes from having done the work and knowing it ‘is like you’ to step up and get it done. Being able to get the best out of yourself and be fully present with the right mindset leads to a congruency that winners come to know. There is nothing like having won before – to know you have it in you to win again. This is why winners keep winning.

“So often we are dissatisfied with the results we achieve in our sport, or in our lives, for that matter. We look for ways to change these results. We buy new equipment – we change calibres, change divisions, or modify technique. We focus all our energy on changing external factors, not realizing that it is ourselves who need to change.

Our self-image produces a comfort zone in relation to any task, and then tries to keep us within that zone. Often the fastest way to change one’s level of performance is to shift that zone. Change your preset self-image to the one you want, and results have to follow.

If you see yourself as a top 10 finisher, you have a good chance of getting there. Your self-image allows you to tap into additional power from your subconscious, in order to perform in your new comfort zone. If that zone requires better shooting to make the top 10, you are likely to find you can shoot better, if this improved performance resides within your comfort zone as dictated by your self-image.” SK

 Practical shooting is all about execution, belief in your ability and performing on demand.

Saul’s book also covers the whole spectrum of what is required to succeed off the gun, and being best prepared for match day with a very wide scope of hints and tips.

I truly believe that a good shooter can do more with less. And it is also true the old saying ‘beware the man with just one gun, because he knows how to use it well’.

I think it was Lt Col Dave Grossman said in ‘On Hunting’ that Amateurs talk hardware whilst Professionals talk software. We can all re-write our own software and change our inner self-talk.

Saul Kirsch – Thinking Practical Shooting, A guide to Outstanding Match Performance

is a great book, well done Saul! This one lived in my range bag for a time.

A lot of concepts, examples and content from this book make up parts of the BSSS Freedom From Self-Sabotage Straight Shooter program.