Questions from a friend and fellow competitor Part 2

Last week’s blog post was a large success and it made me think about what others do.  Martin Gephart and Jeff Jones have been so gracious to help us all out by answering the same questions to offer their perspective and some other nuggets of information.

Martin can be found on facebook at

Jeff can be found on facebook at


First Martin’s Responses to the same questions from last week:

Shooter: Martin Gephart, Harleysvile, PA – Shoots for The Heritage Guild, Tactical Solutions, Tandemkross, EGW, GT targets, and Weapon Shield

Specialties: SCSA – Rimfire pistol open, Rimfire Rifle Open, Open divisions. Occasionally dabbles in PCC, NSSF Rimfire challenge events, USPSA production division competition, Trap, and sporting clays for fun.


  1. Q: When I shoot a stage I always try to come up with some sort of plan. Steel Challenge is pretty straight forward. I know the stage ahead of time and have a plan. With NSSF, the best way to shoot the stage isn’t always apparent.

Do you ever have a stage where you told yourself you were going to shoot it one way, but when the beep sounded you shot it differently?

A: Yes, but I always shoot all the strings on a stage the same way once I start. Muscle memory will always make each successive string faster than the last.  Changing the way you shoot your plan mid stage is not helpful for me.  So…if I throw out my stage plan on the first run,  I stick with the new plan for the next 4 strings.

That said, I always have a plan, and if I am going to change things up, I try to do that only in my practice sessions and not in competition.


  1. Q: Any pre-match rituals that you’ve found really helpful? Do you avoid certain foods? Do you have to have a certain amount of sleep?  How do you calm down if you get really nervous?

A: Yes. I get a good nights sleep.

When I prep for a match, before I leave the house, I always double check the gear and guns to make sure I got everything I need for the day for each gun I plan to shoot. Once they are in the car…I check again.

For each stage: I watch the previous shooter, I clear my mind, and I play my plan over in my head. I listen to every shot timer beep, and focus on nothing but how I plan to shoot the stage.  When I step into the shooters box, I tell myself PMI (Positive Mental Image).  If I am confident I will perform, I will perform.  Focus, and positive thought.

Lastly at make ready – trigger prep, air gun the stage, load and nod that I am ready. Game on.

Regarding staying calm: That’s a good question.  I tell myself – “This is just another day on the practice range.  No one is watching, just you, the gun and the timer.  YOU GOT THIS!”

Food prep: 1 20 oz sugar free Red bull…1 20 oz Diet Mountain Dew…and a good breakfast a couple hours before shooting. Snacks for every 2 or 3 hours to keep my blood sugar even for the duration of the day.  Lots of water.


  1. Q: Do you dry fire practice? How often do you do dry fire practice? Does it actually help?

A: Yes, and it is never enough. I try to get a few minutes each day for dry fire.  I focus on trigger prep, and sight acquisition.  Just 10 mins a day has done wonders for me. I also use a guitar finger strengthener.  I use it in the car.  Slow, deliberate trigger finger resistance work.  Every time I get in the car, at least one full match worth of trigger pulls on the tool.


  1. Q: Any tips on maintaining confidence?

A: When I first started, I would not keep a PMI (Positive Mental Image).  I would run a bad string, and focus on the things I did wrong…and they would get worse.  A friend of mine kept encouraging me to eliminate the negative thoughts I had, and focus only on shooting the next string better than the last.  That really helped me stay confident in the box.  I only measure myself against my own shooting goals, with the intent of improving just one thing every time I compete.  I am only competing against my own goals and myself.  Who wouldn’t be confident facing themselves in the mirror?

Thanks Steve for letting me contribute. Looking forward to hearing what others have to say.

Marty Gephart


Second Jeff’s Responses to the same questions from last week:

  1. Do you ever have a stage where you told yourself you were going to shoot it one way, but when the beep sounded you shot it differently?

Not so much on the beep, but between strings I have changed plans. Showdown is a perfect example. My plan going in is 2 on the left, 3 on the right (I place 3 mags on the right side, no chance of shooting too many strings from the left). After my 4th string I’ll make a decision where to shoot the 5th.


  1. Any pre-match rituals that you’ve found really helpful? Do you avoid certain foods? Do you have to have a certain amount of sleep?  How do you calm down if you get really nervous?

Yes. I have a book with notes for all of the stages. Before the match, I’ll go over every stage, getting into the mindset for the match. I’ll also review again before each stage.

I get normal nights sleep and I eat a light breakfast, and then graze throughout the match. I’ve adopted a regimen of “reload the gun, reload yourself’. I rehydrate after every stage and eat something small every other. By doing this I never get thirsty or hungry during a match. When shooting 2 sessions with lunch, I again eat light. If subs are provided, I don’t eat the bread. You’re there for the match, not the free food.

I have a pre string ritual as well, and this tends to calm me down and get me focused. Before the first string I sight in every target to ensure I can see my sights/dot and adjust as necessary. Then before every string I have a mantra, “It’s like me to go fast, one for one is the fastest, get a good first shot, etc”. Find the words of encouragement that work best for you.

  1. Do you dry fire practice? How often do you do dry fire practice? Does it actually help?

No, but I should. I live 20 minutes from our range, and I have keys, so I can live fire more than most. I’ve also focused on rim fire and am just getting into center fire, so my dry fire will increase. I’ve have dry fired for USPSA and it definitely helps.

  1. Any tips on maintaining confidence? No matter what the timer says I don’t feel as if I’m shooting fast. I don’t consider myself to be a particularly fast shooter even if I place well. Seems like one has to strike a delicate balance between being humble but not too humble.

Find the gems you can focus on. Don’t remember the miss on string 3; remember your smoking time on string 4. Staying positive will increase your confidence for the next stage.

Steel Challenge is a sport where you are competing against others, but you are also competing against yourself, and you can determine if you’re improving. You may not win the match, but if you dropped time, you got better. Conversely, if you didn’t shoot as well, you know what needs to be worked on in practice. I go into matches saying I’m going to have my best match and not worry about how others are doing. I only have control over my shooting, not theirs, and I don’t worry about things I can’t control.

Everyone has a maximum speed and a match speed. We’ve all crushed Smoke & Hope in practice, and then were slower in a match. This is because there is no pressure in practice, misses and extra shots don’t matter in practice. Match speed and practice speed differ, but they are intertwined. Match speed is about 85% of practice speed. If you increase your practice speed, you increase your match speed.

Don’t confuse being humble with being confident. When getting a compliment, be humble, say thanks. When getting ready and when shooting, be confident and be your biggest fan.




Thank you again to Martin and Jeff for their help!  If you have any questions you would like to see answered, please send them to


See you out on the range soon!





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