In his career as a professional shooter, Matt Burkett has won more than 150 state, national and world titles, including an IDPA National Championship and five MGM Iron Man 3-Gun Championships, produced a highly regarded DVD series teaching practical shooting and currently hosts his own weekly internet radio show. He regularly teaches police and military the techniques he's learned through the years.
"My mom got me into shooting," Burkett says. "I shot my first handgun when I was three and we lived in North Dakota." Burkett came from a military family--his mother recently retired as a full colonel--and so guns were a part of growing up. "I had more of a gun collection when I was 13 than I do now," he says with a laugh, "but it wasn't worth as much."
When he was an up-and-coming shooter, Burkett says he spent two to three hours a day or more dry-firing, but his shooting really took off in college.
"I was taking golf, racquetball, and weightlifting all at the same time, and then shooting," he says. "You get some of the mental game from golf, racquetball gives you the quick speed hand/eye coordination, and you get some of the power from the weightlifting. It was a good combination of sports for the competition shooting arena."
Like every other person who has ever picked up a gun, Burkett has strengths and weaknesses in his shooting. "I know where my weaknesses are, and generally they're the things I don't like to do--strong- and weak-hand shooting. It does nothing for me. I've got two hands, so unless I'm carrying a baby to safety or something, I figure I can use both of these things."
As for his strengths, in the past few years Burkett has become one of the dominant forces in practical three-gun competition (pistol, rifle and shotgun). "I think I've figured out the three-gun game better than anyone else except perhaps Taran Butler," Burkett says. "I'm pretty well-rounded in my shooting now."
In response to the old argument whether competitive shooting sports are good training for police or civilians who carry a gun for self-defense, Burkett argues that there's nothing better for teaching people to shoot fast and accurately under stress than practical pistol competition. "The one thing that can't be argued with," Burkett insists, "is that the most tactical thing you can do in a gunfight is shoot the other guy first. Speed is tactical."
Burkett can think of nothing that will help a new or struggling shooter more than dry-firing practice. "Dry-firing is the most important thing you can do to improve your skill," he says. "You can't learn as much from live-firing as you can from dry-firing. Almost everything you can do with a gun you can do while dry-firing. The only thing you can't do is recoil control. That's it. You can work on target transitions, splits--you can run entire stages if you dry-fire realistically.
"You can work out all these detailed techniques, discover that you've never really seen all the annoying little things you do because you're paying so much attention to an end result instead of internal factors. Dry-firing helps you clean up all these things. Instead of focusing on the bang and the hit you get to actually see everything else that's going on. And it's free!"
The most important tip Burkett has for police officers is just as applicable to those civilians who carry a gun for self-defense, and that's dry-fire draws out of their unloaded duty rigs.
"If every officer did this, it would improve his survivability on the street," Burkett explains. "Every time they put their guns on, whether it's at home or at work (after making doubly sure the gun is unloaded, of course), they should do 20 dry-fire draws out of their rigs.
"It brings them back to the fact they have a gun on, and it beats a cup of coffee in the morning to wake you up. At the end of the month that's 500 draws. Just that familiarization alone is something they can do to help keep them alive."