After the minor trainwreck that was my performance in the Best of the West 3-gun a couple weeks ago, I was itching to jump back into another competition and see if all that practicing I’d been doing had paid off. So when a TTAG reader named Woody contacted me and invited me down to the Cedar Ridge Carbine match, I was on it like a fat kid on chocolate cake. Or, more accurately, like me on a Whataburger bacon cheeseburger now that I’ve been on my “don’t be such a fatass” diet for a few months . . .
I had been to one of the carbine matches at the Cedar Ridge Range before, and despite some misleading information on the website you do actually need a handgun there as well. A little competition shooting involving handguns was exactly what I needed, since my handgun was the gun I was having the most trouble with in my last competition. Even after the hours of practice on the range, there’s a distinct difference between your results when you’re practicing and there’s no pressure and how well you can perform when that buzzer goes off. I felt comfortable on the practice range with the handgun now, but I needed to confirm that all that new training didn’t go flying out the window as soon as I stepped up to the line.
When I rolled into the range, it looked like the attendance wasn’t as high as I remembered. Even here in Texas the ammo shortage is taking its toll, and people are deciding to conserve their inventories instead of shooting in certain matches. After the last great ammo shortage in 2008, match organizers implemented a .22lr division and allow people to use their cheapler stores of rimfire ammo and some people were taking advantage of that option, running a Ruger 10/22 instead of their AR-15. But since .22lr ammunition is becoming as scarce as centerfire, even that division had a rather small showing.
I was actually pretty happy about the smaller crowd. It usually takes about an hour to clear each stage (running each shooter in the squad through the course of fire, resetting the stage, etc.), but with a smaller turnout there was a glimmer of hope that we would actually be done in time for lunch. As I was trying to remember where the nearest Taco Cabana was located, Woody and his buddies rolled into the range and the shooter’s meeting kicked off.
The shooter’s meeting is particularly important at Cedar Ridge, since the rules they use are different from normal 3-gun rules. Cedar Ridge’s rule set uses a version of IDPA shooting, which is focused on practicing defensive shooting instead of the USPSA-based rule set that focuses more on the game-like aspects of competition shooting. That means the requirement to shoot and reload from behind cover or shoot on the move. It has to be one or the other, no standing out in the open and reloading. That would come back to bite me later in the day, but there was another rule change I really liked.
Normally, 3-gun shooters are limited to muzzle brakes that are no larger than 1 inch in diameter and 3 inches in length. This keeps people from attaching ridiculously huge muzzle devices to further reduce the recoil of the gun, which would give an advantage to the guy with the biggest brake. Keeping everyone restricted to the same size keeps things on the same relative footing, making the competition less about the gear than about the shooter’s ability. Cedar Ridge has no such rule. I couldn’t help myself. I cranked a 51 tooth adapter on the SCAR 16S and grabbed my silencer before I walked out the door that morning, and as I walked up to the first line I ratcheted the can in place, dialing the scope to compensate for the increased mass on the end of my barrel.
Stage 4, our squad’s starting point, was a pretty simple setup to kick the day off. Four targets at the end of the bay were to be engaged with the rifle while moving from one side to the other, and two closer to the shooter were to be engaged with the handgun. The stage would be run in two strings (you are timed twice, with a break in the middle) and a total of four rounds would need to be on the rifle targets and three each on the handgun targets.
There’s a way to “game” this type of setup, cheating in such a way that wasn’t apparent and was technically OK, namely by “stacking” the shots. In this case you could shoot two targets four times each on each pass, which would shave a second or so off your time as you wouldn’t need to transition between as many targets. Each target would have four rounds in it at the end, but you would only shoot two targets each pass. However, the stage designers had foreseen this possibility and discouraged the practice.
The stage actually ran smoothly. The only thing I had an issue with in terms of technique was firing the handgun single-handed. The stages are designed with the idea that the shooter is carrying a rifle with a sling, and while I have a spare single point lying around, the unfortunate fact is that when I thread the silencer on the rifle it becomes too long to just let it drop when I go for my pistol. There’s too great a chance it will dig itself in the dirt instead of dangling harmlessly on the sling. So I held the rifle in one hand and fired the handgun with the other.
The good news: my handgun work was actually pretty good. I had practiced a little firing single handed, but expected to do worse than I did. The real disappointment came with the rifle targets, though. I had zeroed my rifle at 50 yards, and even after adjusting for the droop of the barrel due to the silencer, I was consistently hitting a few inches low. Part of the problem is that the combination of the higher rail on the SCAR and the ridiculously tall scope mount Leupold sent me puts the optic over three inches above the bore. That’s considerably more than the 1.5 to 2 inches I was used to with the AR-15. When shooting at 50 yards or more, I can adjust pretty well. But for closer targets (these were less than 25 yards), I haven’t had a lot of practice and it definitely showed.
Stage two was something of an adventure for a couple of reasons, beginning with its swinging target. The key to a swinging target, especially one that peeks out from behind a no-shoot target, is to shoot it when it reaches its farthest swing point – where it can’t swing any more, just before it momentarily stops before reversing direction. That’s when it’s easiest to hit. A couple shooters tried to track the target, firing as it swung from side to side. One of them was rewarded by accidentally shooting the “hostage” target. That gets you something like a +10 second penalty for tagging a non-threat target, and in my opinion worth the extra two seconds it takes to wait for it to re-emerge.
I hit the steel activator with one round, and down it went. I was expecting more of a struggle, like at the last competition, but it looks like my aim has indeed improved. Once the swinging target got moving I pumped four rounds into it for good measure, and then dropped the handgun in a box on the table before loading up the rifle and tagging the rest of the targets.
When I looked down in the box at my abandoned handgun, my heart sank. After a pretty damn good run, and being more than halfway through the competition, I was staring at a loaded handgun that was abandoned with the safety very clearly in the “fire” position.
The common practice in competition is that all firearms, whenever they are abandoned, need to be made safe. Depending on what you’re doing after you drop the gun, sometimes you’re required to leave the gun completely empty with the magazine removed, and other times just throwing it on “safe” is good enough. Either way, I had failed pretty spectacularly.
The FNS-9 I’m running is a striker-fired pistol. That usually means that it doesn’t have a manual safety. The trigger is a “safe action” design similar to the Glock or M&P, neither of which have frame-mounted manual safeties. But the FNS-9 is billed as a “double action” handgun and has a manual safety mounted to the frame that needs to be engaged before being holstered or abandoned.
I remember sliding my thumb up on the safety, a maneuver that usually ends with the safety firmly in place. I can even see my hand doing it in the video. Dumping the mag and racking the slide wasn’t an option in this case since I was holding my rifle in the other hand with nowhere to ground it. However, this time my attempt at flicking the safety on didn’t get it done. The safety was still off, and the gun was live.
I firgured I was about to be disqualified, thrown out and sent home for the day. But as we cleared the guns, the RO didn’t say a word about it. He just kept rolling, moving straight into scoring without a second thought. Woody was standing right next to me, and watching the full video again, it sounds like he may have noticed, but it completely and totally passed under the RO’s radar. If anyone had needed to go forward of that gun during the stage I would have pointed it out and taken my DQ like a man, but since there was no one forward of the gun at any time, and the RO didn’t seem to care, I was happy to let sleeping dogs lie. Nevertheless, I’m determined to keep that from happening ever again with that handgun. Ever. Lesson learned.
By that point in the day, everyone’s rifles had been lying out in the Texas dust, covered in carbon and with any last traces of CLP long burned off their AR-15s. The effect the conditions were having became painfully obvious when one of the rifles a guy in our squad was running completely and totally locked up in the middle of this stage. He had fired four rounds at the first couple targets, and his rifle refused to extract the last round fired. A spent case was stuck in the chamber and it was only with the proper application of a cleaning rod and a hammer back at the safe table that the case was extractedd. He tried to run the gun again, but it only took 2 rounds before it locked up again.
The diagnosis from the more experienced shooters was that the extractor was stuffed (“stuffed” being a scientific term). In short, his rifle was down for the day. Seeing that he was now in need of a long gun, I happily offered to let him use my SCAR 16S. The look on his face that of a kid who had just been handed the keys to a Ferrari. We’d been talking about piston rifles on previous stages, and it sounded like he was in the market for one, but hadn’t made a decision as to which one to get yet. After he had run the stage with my SCAR, it sounded like his mind had been made up.
The final stage of the day came just in time for lunch. We started forward of a barricade, rifle staged on a table, engaging two targets with three handgun rounds each while retreating back to the barricade. Again, that IDPA slant sneaking into the competition. Once at the barricade you ground a safe handgun in a box, pick up your rifle, and engage three sets of two rifle targets through a couple different ports.
Remembering my earlier issue with the FNS-9, I decided to only load six rounds in the magazine. But I seem to have miscounted and a seventh worked its way in there anyway. I fired my six shots, and when the handgun didn’t lock back I racked the last round. I wanted to be absolutely sure this time, since we’d be moving downrange of the handgun. As soon as I picked up the rifle, the rest of the stage flew by in a blaze of well-placed rifle shots.
After we had broken down the final stage, said our goodbyes and left the range for the day, I was sitting at the local Chipotle munching on a burrito (I had decided against a burger) contemplating the lessons I learned from the day.
First and foremost, I need to be more vigilant about the condition in which I leave my handgun. The safety on the FNS-9 is on the smaller side, meaning it can be hard to flick on and off under pressure. I definitely need to drop the mag and rack the slide whenever possible, but if I can’t use my other hand then I need to visually inspect the safety before I abandon it. That may cost me a couple seconds, but I’d rather spend those seconds than be tossed from a match.
Also, I probably need to zero my offset iron sights for much closer range targets. I have a solid 50 yard zero on my Leupold optic, but seeing how low I was hitting with it on the close-in targets it might be useful to have a different zero on the offset iron sights I run on the side of my gun. Right now they’re zeroed for 50 yards as well, but I’m thinking 10 yards might be a better option. If I’m transitioning to them from the primary optic, it’s a good chance that the targets will be at damn near contact distance (match directors love forcing you to transition quickly from extreme long range to extreme close range).
The results of the match were posted later that day. And for a match where I was more focused on having fun and making sure my equipment was running, I was pretty pleased with my placement.
Division: 7th out of 26
Match: 9th out of 40
Just a hair over 20 seconds separated me from the top of the pile, which was almost all due to my constantly low shooting. I came in among the top two or three in terms of raw time on every stage, but with the “time-plus” scoring, I was kicked down to 7th thanks to my failure to keep the rounds in the “A” zone. Which might be my last lesson for the day: trading a little time on the stage for a higher score is a good idea with time-plus scoring.
Next weekend I’m off to practice with the rest of Team FNH USA, hopefully fine tuning my skills and shaving a little more time here and there. I’ll also be covering their Pro Series 1 competition in West Virginia. The following weekend I’ll be shooting in the Texas 3-Gun Championship at the Best of the West. Then I have a week off before the NRA Convention. Things are going to get very busy very quickly, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.