It was the very first stage of the 2013 Crimson Trace Midnight 3-Gun. Larry Houck was on the field, tearing it up. And then the unthinkable happened: he tripped. In the darkness, his foot connected with a small plant and it sent him flying into the dirt. For a less experienced shooter, that would have been the end of the stage and the end of their weekend via an instant DQ. But Larry was able to get back up and finish the stage. And the reason he was able to keep on trucking is that he knew how to fall the right way . . .
First let’s discuss the rules and why falling down during a shooting competition can lead to a DQ.
There are only a few things that can get you thrown out of a shooting competition and just about all of them involve doing something massively unsafe with a firearm. That’s where they get you in this instance – the DQ-able offence isn’t the fall, it’s the “unsafe gun handling.” In particular, there are three applicable rules that can get you kicked out if you skip and fall while running with a firearm:
- Unintentional Discharge of a Firearm: There’s always some variation of this rule, but the basic idea is that if the gun goes bang and you weren’t aiming at a target then you’re going home. It’s a rule that is designed to prevent people from shooting their gun dry instead of clicking on the safety before dumping it in the bucket, and also functions as a catch-all for negligent discharges and other trigger finger related issues. If you fall and squeeze off a round at the same time, this is what would send you home. In the USPSA rules, this is the 5.2 section.
- Dropped Firearm: The rules require shooters to maintain control of their firearms at all times until they are safely placed in a dump barrel or holstered. Mark Hanish likes to push the limits of this rule a bit by chucking his gear into dump barrels while still miles away, but they always make their way into the barrel. If a firearm ends up on the ground and it wasn’t deliberately placed there by the competitor in a safe manner, it’s a sure-fire ticket home. In the USPSA rules, the specific rule is 5.3.3.
- Breaking the 180: When you’re falling, by definition, you have lost control of your body’s orientation. So it’s kinda hard to keep your guns pointed downrange. Even if you don’t drop your gun, if the muzzle is anywhere near that magical 180 line, you’re going home. In the USPSA rules, this is 5.3.2.
So really, the falling isn’t the no-no. The issue is what your firearm does while you’re doing your best Babe Ruth impression and diving for home. I was talking with Larry about his experience on this subject and I think he had some pretty good advice on the topic.
First and foremost, accept the fact that you’re about to fall. Some stumbles may be recoverable, but trying and failing to recover will only make you fall harder. Plus, you’ll be very unstable and have less control as you try to keep from hitting the deck. Better to accept your fate, get it overwith and get back up than risk it all.
As always, your finger should be nowhere near the trigger when you start to fall. If your sights aren’t on a target, your digit shouldn’t be anywhere near that bang switch. Nevertheless, if your finger has wandered down in that area, get it out. Immediately.
The first thing Larry did when he went down was to assume the Superman pose – arms forward, palms down, muzzle of his handgun pointed downrange. Oh, and finger off the trigger, too. It’s a more natural position, and allowed Larry to maintain control of his handgun on the way down. Having recently taken a tumble during a practice session myself, I can attest to how hard it is to keep hold of a handgun when you don’t tilt it to the side that way.
The second thing Larry did was to get up immediately. You’re allowed to place your firearm on the ground, so long as you retain “direct control” over it the whole time. So using your firearm-holding hand to push yourself up is A-OK. Just make sure to keep the muzzle pointing downrange.
The reason Larry wanted to get up immediately? It wasn’t his score. According to Larry, he was certain that the Range Officer running behind him was about to join him down in the dirt, and he wanted to be back up and running before the guy landed on top of him.
The last thing that Larry did when he was back on his feet and running was to tilt the barrel of his gun towards the ground. Having just landed in a massive dirt pile, Larry was pretty certain his barrel was now full of high desert dust. Any barrel obstruction can be hazardous, so before Larry took that next shot he wanted to make sure that the barrel was clear. A quick tilt accomplished that for him and he was able to successfully complete the stage.
Falling down, in and of itself, isn’t the end of the world. Heck, you can do one of those super-ninja “tuck and roll” tactical summersaults on the course if you like. The trick is that you need to make sure that you maintain control of your firearm at all times, because that’s the real offense that will get you sent home. Everyone falls at some point, but knowing the rules and what to do if you find yourself suddenly closer to the ground than you expected will keep you in the game.