The 3-Gun Nation Pro Series events are all individual competitions (someone leaves with a check after every meet) but they also lead up to something bigger. The culminating event is the 3-Gun Nation shoot-off held during SHOT Show week in Las Vegas every January. That’s where the 30 best competitors shoot it out against each other, head-to-head, for a $50,000 prize. In order to be eligible for the shoot-off, you need to prove your worth during the Pro Series competitions. And four of Team FNH USA’s shooters were on the bubble . . .
Here’s how it works. There are four competitions during the year in which those who have qualified (the top 60 or so shooters in the United States) compete against each other for match points. The points are based on how well you scored relative to the first place finisher (all based on how long it took to finish the stages), and your top three scores are then added and compared to everyone else’s top three scores. The top 30 head to the shoot-off in Las Vegas.
For the last three matches, Daniel Horner had absolutely spanked the competition. In a sport where the difference between fifth place and twentieth place can be measured in tenths of a second, Daniel had a habit of finishing a good 10 seconds ahead of the next closest shooter. He had the same effect as that really smart nerd in your college classes did: he blew the curve all to hell. Even though other competitors may have finished well, they didn’t get as many match points in exchange as they had hoped.
For the fourth and final match, though, everything changed. Daniel didn’t compete. So even if you finished in the exact same spot numerically as you did the rest of the season, your finish would be worth more points. For those shooters who were on the cusp of making it into the top 30 for the shoot-off, it was as if their prayers had been answered. Making things even better: some of those with guaranteed spots in the shoot-off (well, guaranteed in their minds, anyway) decided not to shoot either. They had their three scores and were safe. So the door was wide open for shooters to make their move and secure their spot in the final 30.
Larry Houck, Team FNH USA captain, was running in 24th place coming into the competition. He was riding high from his last showing where he finished in the top 10 for the day. As he said, people have a little more respect for you when you can prove just how thoroughly you can kick their ass. But while he was within the top 30 at the beginning of the day, there was just enough room for other shooters to sneak in and steal his spot.
Larry’s plan for the day was “slow and steady.” As long as he finished with those six shooters still in his rear view mirror, he’d be safely on his way to Las Vegas. And for a 3-Gun Nation Pro Series match, “slow and steady” means not making any mistakes.
Pro Series stages are, as some shooters have described them, boring. There’s really nothing on the stages that can be “gamed” and there’s really only one way to run them. It’s why I stopped doing stage breakdowns of the Pro Series events — they all look the same after a while. But while there may not be a strategic challenge in the stages, the challenge comes from the other shooters. They’re so good that you simply can’t afford to make any mistakes. Not a single one. As soon as you miss a target, your count gets thrown off and you start leaking time. So while Larry may have been deliberately running at more of a jog than a sprint for the last Pro Series shoot, he was doing it in the hopes that he wouldn’t miss any targets along the way.
For others, the removal of Daniel Horner from the equation was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up. Instead of taking the slow and steady approach, they decided to go all-in to secure their spot in the shoot-off. One of those shooters was Team FNH USA’s Karla Herdzik.
Coming into the final competition, Karla was in trouble. The top six women shooters go to the shoot-off, and the only way that she could make it with her current score was if Randi Rogers didn’t show up. But Randi was there and Karla needed to pick up the pace and put some serious points on the board in order to keep from being cut. That need to succeed made her stick her neck a little too far over the line, and she got burned.
On the second stage of the day, a stage very heavy on close-range rifle targets (something Karla isn’t very fond of) she racked up four misses. That single mistake was enough to knock her out of the running and needless to say, she was a touch pissed. But as I was sitting with her watching the top 10 shooters of the day compete for the day’s top prize, she admitted that it was actually kind of a blessing in disguise. She was burned out, tired of the boring Pro Series stages and wasn’t having fun at the competitions anymore. As soon as she was truly and officially out of the running, she says she started having fun again. She wasn’t shooting for score, but just for joy of it. And she loved hanging out with her squad.
Larry had maintained his position by playing it safe and at the end of the day he was in at #24 for the year. Karla needed to pick up some points to make the cut, but the added pressure of neeing to get on the gas caused her to make a fatal mistake and drop out of the running. But two members of Team FNH USA didn’t show up, and the results were not pleasant.
Eric Lund started the year with an absolutely disastrous first Pro Series competition. During the last stage of the day, Eric’s handgun tumbled out of its holster while he was running down the stage and he was disqualified. In order to make the cut Eric would need to run the next three competitions almost flawlessly, and that didn’t happen. Going into the final competition there was a possibility that Eric could make it to the shoot-off, but the competition coincided with one of his son’s football games. Eric did some back-of-the-napkin calculations and decided that his chances of getting into the final 30 were too slim to miss the game, so he stayed home instead. Eric didn’t post enough scores to make the cut, and as a result dropped out of the top 30.
Mark Hanish had a shot at the shoot-off, too. Running at #22 coming into the final competition, Mark wouldn’t have been wrong to think that his position in the shoot-off was a sure thing. So instead of coming to the last event, Mark hopped a plane to Africa to go on a safari instead. The safari had been something Mark had dreamed of doing for ages and the planets had finally aligned to let him go kill some large creatures in Africa. But that decision knocked him down to 40th place, showing just how much Daniel Horner actually throws off the scoring curve.
In the end, the only members of Team FNH USA to make it into the shoot-off were Larry Houck and Dianna Liedorff (whose consistent awesomeness secured her spot long ago). Both are shoot-off veterans and there’s no doubt that they’ll have a good showing in Las Vegas this January. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to watching.