It was a couple days into the 2013 SHOT Show when it happened. The daily grind I had come to expect from trade show coverage was in full swing – long days, short nights, and the insatiable thirst of the Internet for news about the latest and greatest. Little did I know things were about to get even crazier . . .
The show was closed for the day. The articles were written and it was time for some dinner and relaxation before the whole mess started again the next day. Dan and RF had run off to meet with some PR reps from FNH USA over dinner, leaving Chris and myself to our own devices. We grabbed a burger and some chili cheese fries (thanks to Dan Baum, whose loss of $100 in a bet to RF funded our dinner), then went our separate ways. As expected, my ex-girlfriend was covering the show as well and to my surprise she accepted my offer to grab some drinks that night. However, as I should have also expected, she stood me up. Again. Still.
So there I was, sitting in my palatial Venetian hotel room that I shared with Dan, filled with cheesy potatoes, beer and disappointment, while I considered turning in for the night. That’s when Dan texted me. And thanks to Google, I have the exact transcript:
DZ: Don’t go to bed yet. Need to talk tonight. We’ll text when we’re on our way back. Half hour or so. 12:07 AM
Me: Good talk or bad talk? 12:08 AM
DZ: Very good 12:08 AM
I had no idea what was going on. Before they left, Dan had asked me what guns from FNH I wanted to review, and I figured his enigmatic text might have meant they were finally going to send me a Ballista to try out. Or maybe just give me one. For keeps. That would be so cool! Or maybe I could swap for a SCAR 16S instead…
My firearms ownership fantasy was cut short, though, when Dan and RF barged into the room, all smiles and alcohol fumes. Naturally I was concerned, but then they dropped the news: I would be joining the FNH USA shooting team for the season.
There was a moment when I was absolutely certain that this was a joke. A sick, twisted joke of the type that I had come to expect and cherish from my fellow TTAG writers. But as they started laying out the particulars, it became obvious very quickly that while they may not have been completely sober, they were dead serious. I was about to be given the opportunity to shoot the matches I had always dreamed about. And do it alongside some of the best in the business.
Those who know me are familiar with exactly how competitive I can be, especially when it comes to shooting. I have a blast shooting in matches and hanging out with the other competitors, but I play to win.
My competition shooting career started in college when I shot with the Penn State rifle team against other schools. But Olympic smallbore rifle shooting is exceedingly boring, requiring no mental and very little physical exertion. I wanted something harder, something that required not only the ability to shoot but the ability to think. And when I first heard about 3-gun competitions, I fell in love.
What I liked about 3-gun competition are the unique challenges that test not only the ability to shoot from different positions and under stress, but the requirement to problem solve when things go wrong. It’s a fast-paced game, and if you can’t think on your feet then you’re sunk. For an adrenaline junkie (and Battlefield 2 aficionado) like me, it was the perfect fit.
In my first 3-gun competition, I came in second to dead last. But as I practiced and got more comfortable with the buzzer, I started improving. Within a couple months I’d moved up to the middle of the pack. Shortly thereafter I was beating all of my friends, some who had been shooting seriously longer than I’ve been alive. And then I started breaking the top 10 at local matches.
When I moved to Virginia, I started competing with the guys at Summit Point. The match director was awesome, the competitors were all really cool and the stages were exciting. Whether it was the bone-chilling cold of winter or the blazing heat of summer, the competitions were always fun. But there was always one good indicator that my chances for breaking the top 10 were in the dirt; namely when the blue and white FNH USA team truck pulled into the parking lot.
Every single time the Team FNH USA guys were entered, it seemed they completely dominated the results page. It was a pretty impressive sight, watching them speeding through the stages with their polished guns and sparkling clean team shirts. It felt like I was at a track day in my Ford Focus trying to keep pace with a Bugatti Veyron.
So as I sat there in that Las Vegas hotel room with Robert and Dan telling me about shooting with Team FNH USA, the feeling of disbelief and excitement slammed directly into the brick wall of an “oh $%!%” moment when I remembered exactly how badly I had been trounced by my soon-to-be teammates in the past. Sure, I’ve more than doubled my 3-gun shooting experience since the last time I shot against them, and even in the local matches I was doing miles better . . . but the doubt was still there.
Getting picked up for a sponsorship for competitive shooting is something I’ve always wanted, but I had wanted it to happen on my own merits as a shooter. And since I was being embedded in the team as a reporter first and a shooter second, I had my doubts that I could really play at their level. But as Robert stumbled out of the room and Dan settled in for the night, I knew one thing for sure: I was going to give it my best, and have one hell of a fun time doing it.