One of those FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) that seems to pop up on the Benoverse every so often is something to the effect of "I'm a new shooter, what should I read?". Many of us have our favorites, of course - Brian Enos' Practical Shooting: Beyond Fundamentals, for instance, or Saul Kirsch's Thinking Practical Shooting perhaps.

Those books are awesome resources, without any doubt. But both really require some background in the game to use them to the fullest extent. So, if a new shooter isn't going to get the best out of those books until they have a little bit of experience (and their gear squared away, etc), where do you point them? The answer has been with us since 1995 in the form of Matt Burkett's Practical Shooting Manual.

Before I go further, a little disclosure is in order. Matt is both a friend of mine, and a sponsor. I've known Matt since write after he released this book, and have been working with him as a trainer since 1998. I can tell you that I'll never use this blog to sell you something I don't believe in - I won't give a product a positive review unless it warrants it. But, if my relationship with Matt colors my opinion for you, well... that's your deal, and you can take it or leave it ;) Ok, that said...

So, the book was written 12 years ago (obviously, I'm writing this in late 2007). A lot has changed in the game since then - new divisions, new rules, blah blah blah. That doesn't negate the usefulness of the book - but don't expect to find intimate details on how to put together a Single Stack rig, or how to best trick out your Glock for Production.

The Introduction to the book opens with this question: "Why Am I Doing This?". The answer to this question seems silly, maybe, but its so fundamental to everything else you must do. Think about it, because recognizing and honoring the real answer will save you a lot of grief in the end. If you're just in this for fun and the social angle, beating yourself up over a poor performance doesn't make a whole lot of sense, nor does dry firing for 2 hours a day. If you're driven to win at the highest level, a different set of goals and actions would be appropriate. Knowing what you want out of the game is critical to setting a good set of goals to pursue.

Chapter 3 covers safety on the range, and includes a description of safe areas, range commands, and the actions that will get you sent home. Chapter 4, titled Decision Making, discusses choosing a division and firearm. The information is succinct - use what the big dogs use, and, especially for your first purchase, consider buying a used gun from a successful shooter (hopefully with the kinks already worked out of it for you...).

The Mental Game pops up in Chapter 5. Matt's take on it is much like the rest of his approach - distill things down to what really matters, and get to the heart of it. He touches on the desire and will to win, concentration/focus, visualization, positive self image and self talk, attitude, and creative learning. The end of the chapter has a good talk on goals and goal setting. When I first read this part of the book back in '96, it was my first formal exposure to what I've discovered is one of the most important skills we can learn to pursue not just this sport, but life in general. The discussion on the mental game in the Practical Shooting Manual is not long, flowing prose designed to be a comprehensive program for an experienced athlete. Like the rest of the book, its a quick hit - but reading it 12 years later, now, its surprisingly complete. All of the tools you need are here - other books expand on these concepts, but the foundation is complete.

Equipment is the focus of Chapter 6. Interestingly, in terms of Open, Limited, and Limited-10, nothing has really changed in 12 years. Matt's description of how to shop for a used gun is rock solid. He also discusses reloading gear and ammunition, stressing quality and chrono testing to avoid the dreaded surprise on the most valuable stage in the match. He also has, among other things, a comprehensive list for gear to stick in your range bag.

Coverage of the basic shooting skills and practice/training methodology are the subject of Chapters 7 and 8. Everything you need to get started, right there, including some great dry fire tips and self-training drills that you don't get in the other books. In fact, I think there are some things in there that aren't covered even in Matt's DVDs...

Budgeting. We all hate it. Its a sucky subject. But, Matt takes a clear look at the raw truth of it in Chapter 9. Failure to examine the reality of your financial situation can make for some uncomfortable goals or situations later. Be realistic, and target the things that you can truly afford - or be prepared to make the sacrifices financially that you'll need to make to meet your goals.

He closes with some information on finding a good trainer, recommended reading, the "making of" the manual, and some drill tracking sheets and tips. Make sure you ask Matt about the "drive-by cashing" story... ;)

While Matt's DVDs seem to have eclipsed his first work in terms of popularity, this first effort is a great read for its intended audience - the new shooter who needs help getting rolling, and understanding the ins and outs of what can sometimes be a frustratingly complicated game. There are better resources for info on the modern divisions, but everything Matt writes about in the Practical Shooting Manual is still as valid today as it was in 1995.

Buy a copy and give it to the next new shooter you meet at a match. He'll thank you for it ;)