I thought it was me.

When I heard the shot timer go off at the Steel Challenge state championships, and I couldn’t find my front sight fast enough.

I thought it was me.

While I practiced with friends and watched my usual grouping scatter far and wide.

I thought it was me.

As I stood on the firing line at Gunsite Academy, and my shots kept hitting way off to the left.

I thought it was me.

As I took a deep breath, slowed down and lined up my sights carefully to take the 20-yard shot … and missed.

Those missed shots and those mediocre targets weighed heavily on my mind, and I honestly thought it was me — that somehow I was not physically or mentally doing the right thing or giving it my all. And, sadly, I spent a few months considering what I needed to do and wondering what was wrong with me. I couldn’t help but immediately turn inward and place the blame on myself. Instead of checking my gear, I figured it was my fault. Instead of inspecting my firearm, I started inspecting my skills, and I started believing I just couldn’t do it anymore. I spent all that time — wasted time — being angry with myself and questioning my skills but not once questioning my firearm. So when I finally discovered the problem, I was relieved. I was thrilled! But I was also angry … that I blamed myself for so long that it completely blinded me from what was really wrong.

“I think my sights must be messed up,” I mumbled to the safety officer who was standing beside me, ready to time my next string. I was fed up and frustrated … but finally focused on the real problem. And, sure enough, after I holstered my M&P 9mm and peered downward, I noticed exactly what was wrong. I reached over and poked lightly at the rear sight with my index finger. It moved. Then I grabbed it with my hand and felt the whole thing slide to the right. “It’s kind of loose,” I heard myself sarcastically say. Then I smiled. My rear sight had been drifting all this time. It wasn’t me!

Apparently the screw on my rear sight had come loose. Perhaps it hadn’t been tightened down properly at the store when my husband gifted me the new Dawson Precision sights for my birthday. Or perhaps the screw simply rattled loose from hours of training. (That sounds slightly better, so I’m hoping it was the latter!) But when I carefully took aim and missed the steel plate (for the fourth time), it was clear that something was wrong — with my gun.

I realize that I am my own worst enemy and my harshest critic, but I believe that this experience has made me a wiser gun owner. Guns are mechanical tools made up of many different parts, and sometimes those parts can wear down, malfunction or fail. So whether it’s a firearm for competition, for hunting, for training or for self-defense, you need to give it some focused attention. Inspect your clear, unloaded gun; look for areas that may appear to be wearing improperly. Check the magazines. Cycle the slide and pull the trigger. Ensure the firearm is functioning (e.g. hammer falling, striker releasing and resetting, etc.). And check those sights. They should not be loose or damaged.

Undoubtedly, it’s important to clean and maintain your firearms. As the saying goes, “If you take care of your guns, they will take care of you.” But a good function check now and again can also be a big help. I know firsthand that it’s just as important to look closely and think carefully about those other details …  and all those little things that can possibly go wrong or go awry!