The Texas Multigun Championship was an event I was already registered to shoot before I joined Team FNH USA. It’s a three-day long affair held every year at the Best of the West range in Liberty Hill, just up the road from my place in San Antonio. There was no way I was going to let a major match go on so close to me without throwing my hat in the ring, too. Getting to wear the blue and white of Team FNH USA for the first time in competition at the event and hanging out with Erik Lund and Dianna Liedorff was just an added bonus . . .
The rules at this event are slightly different from some of the others. Staged guns are all “cruiser ready,” meaning slide or bolt forward on an empty chamber and a loaded magazine in the gun. This makes shotguns with smaller magazine tubes an issue, as you’ll soon see. Also, paper targets only need two hits to be considered “clean” – they don’t score based on the position of those hits on the paper. So you can haul ass and be just as good with two “D” zone hits as you are with a double tap to the “A” zone.
Our squad started the day out on stage 10, a fairly straightforward design that had the shooter engage a number of steel targets with rifle then two arrays with either handgun or shotgun. I’ve improved my handgun shooting a bit, but since this was the very first stage of the competition and my very first time wearing the Team FNH USA shirt, I decided to use the shotgun for all of the steel targets. After my session with Larry and the load-two shotgun loading method, I figured I could be faster than if I tried (and failed, as I would have) with the handgun.
The SCAR and I ran fine. Maybe a little sluggish moving from one target to the next, but pretty much as expected. Where I started running into trouble was my shotgun shooting. The challenge with shotguns in 3-gun competitions is in keeping the guns loaded, especially with such limited mag sizes. I was using a bone stock FNH SLP Mk. I, which has an 8-round magazine tube (the competition allowed for a maximum of 9 rounds to start in the gun, so I was already at a disadvantage). That didn’t give me much room to load additional rounds. A miss on the plate rack threw off my count, which caused me to shoot the gun dry and then have to re-load the tube. While my shooting was sub-par, I was pretty happy with how my load-two reloads went under pressure.
Then, another dropped round on the next reload at the second array (this time from the 4-round shell caddies) threw off my count again, and a couple missed plates left me with an empty gun and two plates to go. As I grabbed for my next four rounds of shotgun ammo, something Mark Hanish said to me popped into my mind: “if you end the stage with rounds left in your shotgun, you did something wrong.” Loading more rounds into the shotgun than you need just eats up time without giving you any benefit in return. So after I loaded two rounds, I dropped the rest on the ground and knocked over the remaining two targets. It was a risky move, but in the end it paid off.
Here’s my time on the stage. And to give you an example of a good time, here’s Erik Lund’s as well (he won Heavy Metal division):
After I finished the stage, I noticed that I’d bashed my wrist on something and was bleeding pretty good. I didn’t even feel it during the stage, but by the time I’d finished, it was pretty obviously leaking. One call to the medics later (I had left my jump kit in my car, miles away) and I was all bandaged up. But it made me start thinking a little more about the positioning of my gear. I dinged myself because I came in to grab a “load two” shotgun reload too fast and caught it on an empty shell holder. By moving them around a tad, I figured I could keep that from happening again.
Having a smaller magazine tube on my shotgun was a definite disadvantage, so after I finished the stage I talked to Erik and he agreed to let me use his shotgun until I could hit up the guys from RCI who make the XRail for an extended tube. My gun held 8 rounds. His packs 10.
The next stage’s start position was seated in the cockpit of an old Mooney airplane that the range keeps around for just such an occasion. Starting with an empty rifle and a magazine staged on the seat at your side, you need to load your rifle and engage the steel rifle targets, then ditch the gun in a barrel on the other side of the window. You then get out, grab your staged handgun and shoot a bunch of paper targets on the move and through a barrel before ditching it. You end with the option of hitting some pepper poppers with either your handgun or a staged shotgun. Naturally, I opted for the shotgun again. In retrospect, though, it was probably a bad move.
The rifle targets weren’t a problem, but ditching the rifle was. Since you couldn’t see exactly where the gun was going, you had to go by what you learned from your walk-through of the stage and dump the gun out the cockpit window. Apparently I got the gun in the barrel, but I slid it into the thing in such a way that the gun was hanging on the side of the barrel by the scope (which is what the rest of the squad was laughing at).
In other words, I had just slammed the full weight of a loaded rifle onto my Leupold scope and mount. When the RO pointed it out later and suggested that I might want to check my zero, I simply said the same thing that Mark says anytime he chucks his rifle into a barrel from a good 10 feet away: it’s a battle rifle and a Leupold scope; it’s designed to do that.
The handgun shooting was actually pretty good, only missing one on the paper before moving to the steel targets. When I grabbed the shotgun the first thing I did was slide two more rounds in – there were 10 targets and I started with nine, meaning I had a spare if I needed it. I hit every steel target square on, knocking them down, with the exception of one stubborn bastard in the middle. I didn’t hit it squarely enough the first time, then missed and had to load two more rounds to get it to go over. That’s a good 10 seconds wasted missing a target I should have hit the first time.
That’s where my decision to run with a shotgun instead of a handgun hurt me. In retrospect I probably could have taken those targets with a handgun no problem, but by switching to the shotgun I severely limited my ammunition capacity in the gun. Another run to file under the old Sun Tzu nugget ”if you know your enemy, but not yourself…”
My time: 62.08
Stage 12 was a medium range stage, hitting two arrays of steel plates (75 and 200 yards) from a barricade with a mandatory reload in the middle. Then you go hit a few pepper poppers with a handgun, and finish off the plate rack with either the handgun or shotty.
The rifle plates actually gave me a quick moment of concern, as I questioned whether my optic would really still be zeroed after hanging the SCAR from the mount. But after the first shot, any doubts I had quickly melted away. The only issue I had with the rifle was that I had positioned myself too deep onto the barricade, practically resting my magazine on the side of the thing. It made for a very stable shooting position, but when it came time to dump the rifle I had a moment’s trouble getting it moving and got hung up on the barricade briefly. It could have been a sticky situation if that barricade had been off center for some reason, possibly even making me break the 180 limit, but in that instance I was fine.
With the FNS, I actually ran better than expected. Once I took my time and settled in, I was hitting the pepper poppers pretty readily. It was only when I started to speed up that things got a little hairy. Slowing down and taking my time got me back on track. I did take an extra second to visually inspect the condition of the safety before moving on, as I had some issues in the past and wanted to be double sure that it was engaged this time. As for the shotgun, it ran so well that I actually sped up and hammered the last couple plates.
My time: 67.25
Erik’s time: 46.82
The next stage was an absolute blast to shoot. And to watch. It combined some of the more fun elements of 3-gun competition with some interesting terrain features, making for a unique design. You start with the rifle, shooting 10 steel targets about 50 yards away before popping four close-in targets and dumping the rifle. Next, you grab the shotgun for some steel targets and flying clay pigeons (activated by the pepper poppers falling over). Finally, you move into a gulley where you engage a plate rack with either a handgun or a shotgun, before taking out five of the longer range steels again, but with a handgun this time.
There was a sawhorse available at the start position, and while some people were opting to stand and hit the targets I figured taking the extra second or so to squat down would pay off by hitting the targets faster. It did, as I only missed one or two shots on the longer range steel. The difficulty came when I had to transition to the close range targets. I had dialed a touch of magnification on my scope and I didn’t have time to zero my offset iron sights so I wasn’t confident in their ability to hit the target. So I did the next best thing: I hosed the bastards down. I think I put four rounds in each target before moving on, which was greeted by cheers of “GET SOME!” from the peanut gallery, barely audible over the wind in the video.
Once I grabbed the shotgun and racked a round into the chamber I loaded two more shells and wiped the steel and clay targets clean. With the clay pigeons, the shooter is able to initiate their launching by hitting the pepper popper in front of the launcher. When the steel target slams down on the seesaw-like lever of the launcher, it launches the clay bird, tossing it a good 20 feet or so.
Some people like to hit one activator, go to some other targets while the clay pigeon gets up in the air, then hit the clay pigeon, and THEN hit the other activator. That gives you more time to engage the other steel targets while the activator plates are falling. Personally, I like to hit them both at once, as by the time I’ve transitioned to the other activator and hit it, the first one should just be throwing the bird. Also, you’re shooting both aerial targets at once which minimizes the movement of your shotgun.
I ran the steel perfectly to plan, which meant I had two rounds left in the shotgun (one in the chamber, one in the tube). So as I ran down to the plate rack I loaded four more and took out the plates with one round each. The shotgun empty, I chucked it (quite literally) in the dump barrel before moving on to the long range handgun targets.
It was my best run of the day to that point. I was singing steel and knocking down clay pigeons smoothly, on track to catch up with the big boys time-wise. But when I drew my handgun, the entire stage went to hell.
My first mistake was resting my hands on the ground. As Erik would remind me later, while it may seem more stable, it actually changes the way the gun shoots and recoils. That’s a bad thing. What I should have done was squat down and shoot the steel plates freehand. Once I re-learned where my handgun was shooting I did fine, but getting to that point wasn’t fun.
My time: 80.15
The last stage of the day was stage 2, and while the target arrangement was pretty straightforward, it was the movement that threw most people off. You started in a car, hands on the steering wheel with your feet on the floor. Then you hop out, grab a shotgun and take out some close range steels. You then dump the shotgun and grab a rifle, hitting an array of longer range steel before booking it to some paper targets around the corner. There you hit the longer range steel again and finish off with more paper around a further corner.
Most people hadn’t had any experience getting out of a car in a hurry during a competition. Thankfully, since the Best of the West 3-gun guys LOVE using their car this way, I’d had plenty of practice. The key is to position your body facing the door as much as possible, while still keeping your feet on the floor and hands on the wheel. Then, when the buzzer goes off, you grab the roof and hurl yourself out the door.
The shotgun was no problem, and the rifle was good right out of the trunk. Since there was a minimum round count for the rifle of over 30 rounds, I decided to bust out the Surefire MAG-60 magazine so I didn’t have to reload. I’d had some issues with it in the past, but in this instance it ran like a champ.
As soon as I hit the last rifle steel target, I turned to my left and hit the gas. Running left with a long gun is an issue for right-handed shooters, since if you want to run with the rifle in both hands you’d be pointing it at the crowd – an instant DQ and ticket home. My solution was to hold the rifle in my right hand as I run, keeping it pointed down and slightly to my right (i.e., downrange). The guys at BotW LOVE so-called “180 traps” like this, where you’re tempted to do something unsafe that would get you tossed. This one didn’t catch many people, but other stages disqualified 10+ people on the first day due to breaking that 180.
As I rounded the first corner, I sprayed a couple bullets at each paper target before posting up at the barrel and going one for one with the longer range steel. While it worked, what I should have done was continue moving forward until I hit that wood plank lying on the ground (which marked the end of the shooting area) and shoot from there. It’s a good extra 10 – 12 yards that I added to the distance of the shot that didn’t need to be there.
This last stage was one of my best stages of the day. And I don’t think anything could highlight that better than this comparison:
My time: 51.85
Erik’s time: 54.34
Less is better, just FYI. But to be completely honest, Erik had a trainwreck of a stage: he dropped a magazine mid-stride, causing him to stop and stare at it a bit before moving on, and then slowing down to conserve ammunition.
At the end of the first day, I was pretty pleased with my performance. I was steadily improving in terms of times on stages, and the next day looked like it would be some simple and fun stages. Boy, was I wrong about that – the match was about to take a decidedly dark turn soon. But for the moment, at least, life was grand.