Good competition shooters become one with their guns. They understand their quirks and limitations (the guns). They can sense when their firearms need maintenance just by the way they feel. It’s a relationship formed through hundreds of hours on the range, forged in the heat of competition. It can take days if not week to adjust to a swapped component. So when I picked up my new firearms from FNH USA—three guns significantly different from those I’d been running—I knew I was in for a rough couple weeks . . .
The firearms arrived at my FFL less than a week before my first scheduled competition of the year: a local match near Liberty Hill, Texas. Luckily I had a day off during the week. So I schlepped my new guns to the competition range and ran through some drills. I was also using the Safariland belt system for the first time; I needed to make sure that everything was in the right place.
I had fired the SCAR 16S once or twice before but never at “competition speed.” The first order of business: dump a mess of rounds downrange quickly at some standard targets. Thanks to the ammo shortage, I’d almost depleted my usual supply of 5.56 ammunition.
Winchester has generously agreed to sponsor me. Unfortunately, the Winchester ammo has yet arrive. So I was running off my stock of exceedingly crappy ammo scrounged with RF’s funding. Freedom Munitions 5.56 and 9mm, to be exact, which was described by some of the guys on the range (and confirmed by my own testing) as “good enough to cycle, but don’t expect to hit anything.”
Even with the substandard ammunition, the SCAR 16 ran just fine. Double taps to target “A” zones were easier than basic multiplication. I was on target on the long-range steel. Or close.
Leupold provided me a Mark 6 1-6 scope for the season. But instead of the 5.56 reticle, they shipped me one with a 7.62 reticle. They said the rest of the team was using that set-up, so I went with the flow.
I was a little concerned that the markings wouldn’t match up with the bullet’s trajectory. Out on the range things worked remarkably well. The impacts were within 100 yards of the indicated markings. With some heavier rounds I think I could reliably hit the 750-yard target. Even with the crappy 55gr 5.56 stuff, I was tapping that 750 yard steel using Leupold’s holds.
Next up: the FN SLP MK1. FNH USA’s shotgun uses an operating system remarkably similar to the Mossberg 930 that I use—used—in competition. The sighting system is slightly different. It has a crossbar safety instead of a tang safety and a pistol grip on the stock. Despite the differences, the FN SLP MK1 and I quickly became firm friends. In the interests of time I ditched practicing moving and shooting in favor of standing reloads.
For those who don’t shoot competitively, you practice a “standing reload” where you still have targets left to shoot from a particular position—but you’ve run the gun dry. Competitors prefer reload on the move, practically eliminating the time it takes to reload the gun from your overall time (since you would have had to move anyway). Multitasking is always best, but shoving shells in your gun in an “OH CRAP” moment is still an essential skill.
The most effective method of reloading the shotgun is a “weak hand reload.” Using some shotshell caddies attached to your belt, you swipe four shells into your hand at once and then slip them into the mag tube. If done properly, it’s an extremely fast and effective way of getting back in action.
I’d been practicing this reload for months. When I picked up the SLP things just started falling into place. It was like there was some sort of magic funnel pulling the shells exactly to the right position for loading. My reload speed increased significantly. I maintained a relatively slow loading pace to make sure I was doing it right. In the next few weeks I’ll put pedal to the metal, practicing until a speed reload is second nature.
I practiced with the pistol last. In hindsight, I should have started with FNH USA’s handgun.
I usually shoot a SIG SAUER P226, a double action/single action gun. That translates to a tough and terrible first round trigger pull, leading to a nice, crisp single action thereafter. The striker-fired FNS-9 is my new ballistic BFF. The trigger pull is exactly the same every time.
The only wrinkle: the FNS-9’s got an external safety.
In competition shooting, the rules for abandoning a firearm dictate that the gun must either be completely empty (no magazine, no rounds in the gun, and an empty chamber) OR have the primary safety engaged.
For handguns like the Glock 19 without an external safety you throw it in the holder and keep rolling. To leave the SIG SAUER P226 behind you click the decocker before dropping the gun. With the FNS-9 (or a 1911) you have to flip the safety to the “ON” position before moving on to another firearm.
Competing with my beloved P226, I’d become accustomed to dropping the mag and racking the slide a couple times before abandoning the gun. I could have slapped the decocker and been done with it, but I figured it was worth taking those couple extra seconds to be 100 percent sure the gun was empty. I’ve seen a couple competitors disqualified from competitions because a safety wasn’t completely engaged, and I didn’t want to fall into that trap.
FN makes a safety-free version of the FNS-9; I’ve asked Larry if I can swap my current handgun for that model. Until I get the green light, though, I’m back to dropping the magazine and racking the slide.
My only real concern during the practice session: making sure the FNS-9 was shooting and running well. Talk about one with the gun . . . I’d become so comfortable with my P226 that I could wave it in the general direction of an IPSC target and walk away with an alpha-charlie (one shot in the “A” zone and one in the “C”). It’s gonna take some time to get used to the FNS-9’s trigger.
It’s not the trigger’s fault. The FNS-9 has one of the best triggers of any striker-fired pistol I’ve ever shot. It’s just that I’m just used to the break and reset of my usual companion.
Before I could reach that old level of competency, it was time to leave the range for the day.
Looking back on my practice session after my first competition (article coming soon), I did things back to front. I should have focused on running the handgun. But now that I know what needs work, the real improvement can begin.