As with any sport, shooting has a great deal of equipment that you must be familiar with, in order to compete. Some are safety based and some will enhance the shooting experience. Remember: safety first and don't skimp on that which protects you.
Do you like to see the world around you, in addition to being able to watch your sights? If so, you must wear glasses to protect your eyes. When firing bullets, there can be a chance that a hot shell casing can sail through the air towards your eyes. Similarly, a ricochet of an air pellet could send a stray pellet your way. For these and numerous other possibilities, eye protection is mandatory. Get tempered glass that are impact and scratch resistant (plastic shop glasses will save your eyes, but they scratch easily and can be impossible to see through.)
Also, if you wear prescription glasses, get your optometrist to make a custom lens for shooting. Now, according to my optometrist, my standard prescription was light and I didn't need to have a different prescription from daily use. I'm 37 years old and the distance from my eye to where my front sight was approximately 90 cm (age, eye problems and distance between eye and front sight when in a proper stance are necessary for the doctor to make the determination.) As such, my standard prescription was fine. As I grow older (into my late 40s, early 50s), I may need to get a special prescription, especially if I ever need bifocals. Something to think about.
Finally, wear a blinder or patch over your non-shooting eye. You see, you really want to focus on your front sight when you aim. Eliminating your second eye (temporarily, please), reduces depth perception, reduces distractions and assist you in focus and concentration. Closing the eye or squinting usually causes a number of distractions. Preferably, the patch is a neutral colour and allows light to shine through it, but eliminates the chance of seeing anything. In a pinch, I have taken a piece of beige paper (target stock) and folded it so it hung inside my left lens (I'm right eye dominant.)
Ideally, you would buy a pair of shooting glasses (Knobloch, Champion and Varga are respected brands). There are minor design differences between the rifle and pistol versions, but both manufacturers offer accessories like blinders and irises.
Hearing, like sight, needs protection. As such, I cannot stress the importance of good ear protection. I've met more than one old time shooter who wore either one or two hearing aids. As a preference, I recommend muffs over plugs (although some people use both.) One of the issues brought up was that loud noise could damage the eardrum as the vibrations enter the head around the ear. If true, plugs would do nothing to stop this damage. I also have problems getting the plugs to stay in place, reducing their effectiveness. As such, I wear good ear muffs and only go for plugs if nothing else is available.
Another thing to remember: when wearing muffs, I use liquid gel filled ear pieces. Foam gets hard and doesn't form to your head over time, making a poor seal and degrading its usefulness. Liquid stays pliant and forms well, retaining its protective value. Also, in my opinion, its more comfortable.
Now, there are also electronic ear protectors. According to the ISSF Technical Rules for All Shooting Disciplines (Rule 6.2.3, Ed. 2001), "Ear protectors incorporating any type of receiving devices are not permitted for shooters." If you're using them, you may very well be in for a protest. As such, I wouldn't recommend them.
Lastly, ear protection tends to be rated against constant background noise, like sounds produced by running machinery or engines. Shooting produces a different noise: short, concussive, and loud. See what you can do for protection that addresses that.
As long as you protect your hearing and can understand the range officer's commands, you are set.
Learning is a reflective process. If you're not writing down what you've learned, then you're probably going to have to re-learn the same things over and over again. Everything that you learn, every time you shoot: write it in your diary. Whenever you go out to shoot: read your diary to remind yourself what you've learned. Coaches cannot emphasize this enough. By doing so, you may well shave years off of your journey to greatness. You can use tape recorders to take quick notes at the range and then enter it in your diary. Also, consider using your personal digital assistant (PDA), like a PalmPilot, Compaq iPaq or Handspring Visor.
Depending on your match, you may be standing on your feet for almost 2 1/2 hours. As such, footwear is important. Key things to look for are comfort and support. Now, ISSF rules state that the shoe/boot cannot extend above the ankle for pistol shooters. Furthermore, the sole must be able to flex.
Consequently, as examples, basketball shoes or combat boots would be disqualified. What would work? Well, I was recommended to use indoor soccer shoes which are comfortable, grip the floor fantastically, and offer side support. Unfortunately, they look a little odd and my girlfriend won't be seen in public with me when I wear them. Such is the price of function over fashion. Another option are court shoes which have a wide base and grip the floor.
Just remember: they must be comfortable because you'll be standing in them alot, usually on a concrete range floor.
I've heard that you should be wearing loose, comfortable clothing that protects you from the elements. Tight clothing restricts circulation which is counter-productive to shooting, unless you're a rifle shooter wearing a shooting jacket and pants. Pistols shooters are not allowed such aid.
I've been shooting in a cold range and my scores were lousy until I put on a jacket and stopped shaking. So, bring a light weight jacket for such occasions. Also, make sure that your clothing isn't too loose. I belonged to a team that had great jackets. First match outdoors, we all proudly decided to shoot with the jackets on. Unfortunately, when we raised our pistols, we soon found that the cloth between the sleeve, armpit and body was acting like a sail, catching the wind and throwing off our stability. All of a sudden, the" team image" went back in our respective shooting bags, so we could carry on.
Here's another piece of apparel that makes my girlfriend cringe. Unfortunately for her, its really very helpful as a shooter. The shooting cap is similar to a baseball cap, except that the bill is longer and that there are blinders that hang down both sides of the front. This shields the eyes from the glare of overhead lights or the sun, plus blocks out other shooters and distractions. It looks dumb but works well. Its a good investment.
Every match is timed, and its reassuring to know how much time is left. Sure, the match clock/timer is official, but a close approximation in front of you helps keep you on time. Also, its helpful for training, timing rapid fire shots, average time of hold, and practicing for the finals (10 shots, each one delivered within 75 seconds).
You must have your sights in absolute focus and a bit of glare can reduce their clarity. As such, sight blackener is imperative. It creates a temporary matte surface on your front and back sight, either through burning or spraying a sooty material. You can get either a special butane lighter, an aerosol spray, or in a pinch, a low grade, cheap candle (smokeless candles would be a waste of time). Try to use them whenever you are shooting, practice or match, as well as dry firing and wall holding. You must imprint the sights with razor sharp clarity. Just remember: before you use a lighter or candle, make sure it won't melt parts of your gun!
When you attend larger matches, you may be obliged to attend gun check. At gun check, officials will determine that your firearm meets the ISSF technical rules. One such check is the trigger weight: a trigger weight is hung from the trigger, and the unloaded and cocked firearm is lifted. If the gun fires, then the trigger is set below the weight and the firearm will fail. Make sure that your trigger isn't too light before you arrive at a match.
When you've finished the match, you want to know how to score your target. Some shots are difficult to score: perhaps they sit on the border between and 9 and a 10. A scoring gauge has an eyepiece on one end and an etched magnifying lens on the other. By looking through it, you can determine the exact value of the shot. This is not the 'most' official means (like a plug gauge), but it is non-destructive and helpful.
Having your rounds (either pellets or bullets) organized makes a match easier to compete in. You know what shot you're on and how many you have left. Its very reassuring.
In most events, you are allowed a spotting telescope, which will allow you to see where your shoots are landing without having to head downrange (bad idea when other people shoot.) In most cases, you want a 20 power scope which will allow you to see the shot holes from 10 to 50 metres out for pistol shooters. Usually, where returning target system are in place, spotting scopes are either unnecessary or not allowed.
Modern guns are complex and require lots of tools. For my airpistol, I have a few tools: one which adjusts the sights and trigger, another one which allows me to remove my grips, another for swapping gas cylinders. One match, I forgot the grip tool. My serial number is hidden underneath the grip, and this caused problems at the equipment check. Bring everything important and save yourself the hassle.
No ammunition means no shots to score. Bad ammunition leads to poor groups. Almost as bad is getting someone else's ammunition which your gun doesn't like. Make sure that you have the ammunition which functions well in your gun, which you practice with, and that you have confidence in.
A properly cleaned gun is more accurate and less likely to fail, so you'll need a cleaning kit for whatever calibre you shoot. Also, get an appropriate ramrod for your gun. My airpistol, for example, can be set to dry fire, but that doesn't make it safe if it's loaded. The pellet can only be removed by either firing it out or by pushing it out with a ramrod. For cleaning, I've obtained some cotton swabs that look like pellets: just load and fire into a garbage can.
Hydration is important and sometimes "comfort food" reduces match nerves. Keep these in your shooting bag at the range, so if needed they are handy.
Some people like to have nutrition bars or some other form of meal replacement handy. Be careful with these because some of them are high in sugar and carbohydrates. They supply energy but can also cause a sugar rush, causing little shakes in your stance. You might want to hit a protein bar instead, or anything else that is just low in carbs and sugar. Better yet: talk to a nutritionist. Lastly, try to knock off the espresso and bottomless coffee cups before the match.
Everything goes in here. As such, the gun must be securely contained and locked. Everything that you need for the match must be here. Ideally, you could pack everything in the box and/or bag (I use both simultaneously.) When you need to go shooting, you just pick up the case and head out. Sure, you should confirm the contents, but it is a distraction running all over the house, looking for your ear and eye protection, that little screw driver for adjusting the aperture for your rear sight and that allen wrench to tighten your grips. Everything in one place can mean less surprises at the range.
In a match, knowing the rules can be the difference between disaster and victory. Ok, that may be a little exaggerated, but it underscores the importance. The rules detail how the match is run, what equipment you can use, how a malfunction is handled. You can get the rules from your sport organizing body and you should know what they have to say. I guarantee that some of your competitors know them inside out.
The rules ensure the integrity of the match and there is nothing wrong in lodging a protest. You should know when and how a protest is lodged, as well as how to respond to a protest lodged against you. I would recommend that you have a copy of the rulebook with you in your shooting bag. You can also download a copy of the ISSF rules from their website.
Another important rulebook to learn inside-out is the Drug Classification Booklet, available from the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES). An important part of their mandate is to provide athletes and others with information about what substances or practices are banned or restricted in sport. Remember: ignorance is no defence against losing a medal.