Some competitions, you can feel that you’re going to do well. All the planets align. Life is beautiful. Then there are days like this past Saturday, where it seems that even your ammunition is trying to make you fail. Where you just power through the nightmare and try to make up as much time as you can. Our story begins the night before the competition . . .
I’d spent the previous afternoon cleaning my new FNH guns and getting my new gear ready for the first 3-gun match. Everything was set up the way I wanted. All of the ammo was loaded and waiting. I’d even staged liters of Gatorade in my trunk. There was nothing left to do but get a good night’s sleep.
That wasn’t happening.
I’d set my alarm clock the day before to give me a couple hours sleep, so I could force my body to sleep the night before the competition. But as I lay in bed the night before the competition, all I could think about was practicing shotgun reloads in my mind and doing ballistic calculations for my 5.56 ammo at different distances. I love my brain, but sometimes it just doesn’t know when to shut up.
I finally dozed off around 3 AM. My alarm clock went off at 5.
After a two-hour drive to the range, I arrived groggy and cold. The high temp for the day was predicted to be 90 degrees; the day started out at a brisk 50 fahrenheit. I thought I’d packed a hoodie. Apparently I’d decided it wasn’t necessary and took it out. To keep myself from freezing I helped out with the stage setup.
While we were waiting for the shooter’s meeting, I made friends with a competitor shooting his very first 3-gun match. We chatted about strategy and rules. I invited him to squad with me. He accepted. As soon as the shooter’s briefing was over we set off for stage 3.
Problem #1 for the day: I’d lost weight.
As much as I loved Whataburger bacon cheeseburgers, my decision to join Team FNH USA for the season led to another decision: to stop being such a fat ass. I’d started eating healthier and working out a bit. Evidently it’s taking effect.
I’d configured and adjusted my belt about a month back. Thankfully, the Safariland belt I was using is modular. Using my Leatherman MUT, I moved around a couple modules while sitting on my tailgate. Problem #1 solved.
This is the last 3-gun competition at this range before next month’s Texas Multigun, a three-day comp where 300+ people vie for a shot at a massive prize table. The match director was using the competition to fine tune his stages for the big match.
He was running the match like a “choose your own adventure” book. The organizers give you the stage layout. You decide how to engage the targets with your choice of firearm. You could stage guns however you wanted, and use any combination of guns to accomplish the goal.
It was a welcome change from the typical match, where directors like to dictate every move, down to which targets can be engaged from which positions with how many rounds.
Stage 3 was first for us (different squads started on different stages to speed things up). The basic layout: three stations with targets engaged within a box behind a wall. You could hit the long range targets from the first station. The second and third would need to be close-in.
I opted for rifle on the long targets and handgun for the closer ones, meaning I could run between the stations pretty quickly.
The rifle targets were dead easy. I only needed one or two follow-up shots from the SCAR-16 to get the hits and move on. There were a couple of paper targets to the side of each of the two other stations. While it might look appealing to hit those with the FNS-9 handgun it was WAY too close to the 180 line for comfort. So instead, I got them with the rifle, too.
When I was done I slid the SCAR into the barrel (making sure the muzzle was in the barrel before turning) and then bolted for the second set of targets.
While I was running my brain started to wonder if I’d really flipped the SCAR’s safety on as I dumped it in the barrel (I did). The momentary lapse in focus was enough to send me running past the mark.
My first shots with the handgun were good, but then I started hitting low. My SIG SAUER P226 usually hits a little high. I was compensating for that typical low shooting, sending the rounds from my FNS-9 off target. Thanks to my crappy handgun work, I probably wasted a good 20 seconds. Since I thought I’d figured out my handgun woes I brushed it off and thought nothing more of it.
Stage 4 was next. It started with some handgun targets and then transitioned into long range riflery. The guys at the range LOVE to use the long range steel whenever possible; it’s a given that there is always at least one 500-yard rifle shot. This week, there were two.
As soon as I got the FNS-9’s sights on steel, I promptly forgot what I’d learned in the previous stage. I continued shooting low. I burned through an entire magazine before I learned my lesson. The damage was done. I was behind. I needed to speed-up to get back on track. Luckily, the rifle is my best gun. I figured I could make up for it at distance.
There’s a long and storied history of people “gaming” the long range targets. Simply throwing a round at each one technically turns a “failure to engage” into a “failure to neutralize,” which is a lesser penalty. Any target over 200 yards with these guys counts as +20 seconds if you don’t hit it. It’s an effective deterrent, but a costly price to pay for those with crappy ammo. Like me.
The 100-yard targets were easy as pie. The ammo I was running through the SCAR-16 made the 300-yard and 500-yard targets much more difficult. Freedom Munitions makes remanufactured ammunition (i.e., once fired brass with reloaded components). It’s good enough for close range shooting but not very accurate at distance (as we discovered through my ammunition consistency testing series).
As soon as I moved out to 300 yards, the full value wind combined with the inaccurate ammo started making my rounds dance around the target instead of hitting. It wasn’t pleasant. I soon timed out the stage. Lesson learned: get better ammo.
The next stage consisted of two strings. First you knock down some steel targets as fast as you can pull the trigger. Then you do it again.
Given my less-than-stellar handgun shooting in the previous stages, I switched to the FN SLP MK1 shotgun. However long I spent reloading, it couldn’t POSSIBLY be longer than I’d take staring at that plate rack and trying to knock the discs over. I’ve spent many an hour trying to master the plate rack; it’s not something to be taken lightly.
This is where the Safariland QLS belt system started to shine.
When I started shooting, I used a simple belt. The pouches were strapped directly to the belt. If I wanted to change the configuration of my ammo pouches, I needed to head to a safety table, unholster my gun, remove my belt, then thread the pouches back on, holster up, and re-load the pouches.
With the QLS system, I simply snapped off the pistol mag pouches and snapped on the extra shot shell caddies that Safariland had sent along. The Safariland product may be a little more expensive than directly-attached pouches, but it’s far more convenient.
String #1 was a trainwreck of shotgunning. I’d left the FN SLP MK1’s “full” choke at home by accident. I’d left the “modified” slug-safe choke in the gun. My pattern was massive and light. With a gale force wind blowing against the targets the SLP didn’t have the force needed to consistently topple the poppers. I also fumbled one of the reloads, dropping a shell. It forced me stop to grab another four rounds sooner than expected.
String 2 went pretty well. The only exception was the first reload. I’d slapped three more rounds in the gun, but the third round got stuck in a position where it wouldn’t pop out but it wouldn’t pop all the way into the magazine. I almost went to rack the action to see if it would pop out again, but I decided to shoot instead and see if it worked or jammed.
To my surprise it worked, and I was able to proceed normally. String #2 was about 10 seconds faster than string #1, thanks to the much smoother reloads.
By stage 1, the day was already going long. First round downrange was about 10:30 AM (setup started at 8),and it was closing in on 3 PM. The Texas sun was starting to beat down on the competitors. The fair weather 3-gunners were already peeling off to hit up Whataburger rather than finish out the day. For me, things were about to get much worse.
During Stage 1 I used all three guns on the same stage. It’s a rare opportunity. I decided to take my chances.
I started with the FNS-9 handgun, since I was shooting at close range paper targets. As I moved down to the next station, I dropped the mag and cleared the chamber of the handgun—to be doubly sure that it was safe when I put it on the table. When I grabbed the FN SLP from the barrel, I forgot that I’d left it in “cruiser safe” and not “cruiser ready” condition.
Cruiser safe means the magazine is full but the bolt is forward on an empty chamber. Cruiser ready is bolt forward on a loaded chamber, but safety engaged. The last few competitions had allowed cruiser ready, so I was accustomed to flipping off the safety.
Not so this time, as the “click” when I pulled the SLP’s trigger reminded me. A quick rack and I was good to go, knocking over steel targets like they were nothing. I almost forgot to eject the last round out of the SLP, but flicked the firearm open as I was about to drop it in the barrel and abandon it.
And then it was time for the SCAR-16.
I get the feeling that the ammunition had heard me complaining about its poor performance on the long range steel and decided to stage a small mutiny. Only a few rounds into my first magazine, my trigger pull was greeted by a click instead of a bang. From what I can tell from the video, the round wasn’t properly resized and stuck in the chamber, causing the bolt to fail to go into battery. Then, when I tried to clear it, the gun double fed and jammed.
When I set up the SCAR, I’d moved the charging handle to the right side instead of the standard left side configuration. I was concerned that I would grab the gun too far back and cause a malfunction, what with my bear-like mitts and all.
By moving the charging handle to the SCAR’s starboard side I’d extended the time needed to clear a malfunction. It took two hands to complete the “lock, strip, rack-rack-rack” maneuver cost me some extra time. After that the gun ran fine.
Better than fine. The first time I’d dry fired the SCAR I’d decided to call Timney for a replacement trigger. The SCAR’s combat proven stock trigger isn’t bad; it’s got the same heavy but reliable pull common to all “mil spec” triggers. Timney’s lighter, crisper trigger is simply more appropriate for competition.
[Geissele makes a similar two-stage trigger, but since I had used a Timney on my original competition rifle I wanted to keep that crisp single stage trigger going forward. Also, the layout of the SCAR trigger is a little complex; the drop-in package Timney offers made making the switch that much easier.]
Stage 2 was the final stage of the day. It combined some short range pistol shooting with a bunch of long range rifle steel.
Shooting at some pepper poppers, I finally remembered my errors from before—and started shooting WAY high. After I corrected I was singing steel thereafter (if only it was calibrated for 9mm instead of 45). A couple rounds into the paper and off I sped to the rifle station, dropping the FNS-9’s mag and racking the slide on the way there.
It was entirely possible to take the paper targets with the handgun, but I figured I’d had enough adventures with the FNS-9 for the day. I decided to take the paper targets with the SCAR.
The first two targets on the right were a little too close to the 180 line for comfort. I stepped back a couple steps to ensure I was well within the bounds. The RO was a little too close and stepped on my foot. Although I was eligible for a re-shoot, I wasn’t feeling like holding everyone up just to improve my score by one or two seconds—especially given how poor my showing had been to that point.
The SCAR once again failed to go into battery and went right into a double feed (ammo issues as above). After performing the double feed drill one stage previous, having gone over it in my head a couple hundred times since then, I sped right through the immediate action drill and was back on the gun in about five seconds.
Moral of the story: practice your malfunction drills.
At the end of the day, tearing down the stages, I was pretty disappointed with my showing. I would have smoked the stages with my old weaponry. Running new guns on less than an hour’s practice had landed me squarely in the middle of the pack.
I shot the match clean (except for the long range steel), no no-shoots and no misses. But I didn’t do it as fast as I could have. It’s not an issue with FN ‘s guns; these are the same firearms that have claimed a 3-gun Nation championship. It’s a simple matter of familiarity and training.
I’m confident that I can get up to speed and do as well with these guns as I did with my old ones. The only question is if I can get enough practice (and good ammo) and do it quickly enough to get better. To be competitive for the upcoming national-level match.
I have 24 days until I leave for the Pro Series 1 competition and 33 until the Texas Multigun. Something tells me I’m going to need some more ammo . . .