It’s been a couple weeks since I completed the 2021 Wolverine 5K. I had the pleasure of meeting many, many TTAG readers at the event and was happy to interact with and hear feedback, which I of course will take to heart. The people I meet at events like this that inspire me to not just write about these competitions, but also to get in the trenches with the people that spend their precious time reading my ramblings.
I had a conversation with a regular boring-ass local news reporter in the course of preparing for the event and he asked me why I just don’t watch. Well, I told him as I will tell you, I think there is (or used to be) a distinction between a journalist and a reporter in that the former seeks to experience, whilst the latter merely observes.
Journalism is a joke these days in the mass media. Elites and self-anointed aristocrats with a column write about oppression and justice from their allegedly lofty stations, but know nothing about either, beyond what it can gain them in brownie points from this year’s newest designated marginalized group.
Point being, I don’t think it’s fair to merely observe events like this, take a few photos, and stand around talking. If I’m going to report on this, I think it’s necessary to sweat and bleed right next to the average guy who’s doing this to better understand what is like to be in this level of athletics.
So, baseline I did well. I did my research and prep based on last year. I ended up with some very nice guns for the shooting part and some good minimalist gear for the land navigation portion.
I was more comfortable this year than I was last year, but the heat became so oppressive that I ended up making my own AC by taking off my boots and putting on my old Converse All-Stars after rolling my pant legs up into makeshift shorts. Being on the range that day was like being blasted with a hair dryer full of sand, but more on that later.
The beginning of the day was the land navigation course; this time 5K on water and 5K on land. Unlike last year, this was a fairly straight shot back the the MTC complex from the exit point of the river.
The water portion was a lot of fun. We did that in 2-man canoes and went down a winding, beautiful river as only can be found in the depths of Northern Michigan. The waterway was full of fallen trees and a good number of teams went into the water. I heard that at least one backpack and one expensive plate carrier entered Davy Jones’ locker never to be retrieved.
Along the way there were mandatory checkpoints that had punch cards to prove you were there. At each check station there was also a smiley/frowny face that had a mix of features for the target ID stage where you had to identify ten faces and shoot them with a precision rifle at 100 yards. Sounds easy, but it is, in fact, not.
I was sad that the river adventure had ended. I love being on the water and it was quite cool and enjoyable. Some of the competitors and I were joking that it should have been the last stage of the event…fastest time and most beers drank on the river wins. I’m a practiced drinker and rower so I have every confidence I would have placed in the top ten of that part of the competition.
The exit point was the grounds of the company renting the canoes. We went ashore and got our packs and shoes ready for the land 5K. Unlike last year, it was more of a long walk with stops on the way. I don’t think anyone got lost this time around.
The walking portion was fairly easy, but it felt like it was mostly uphill. The hardest part was a 100 yard-ish climb at about a 40 degree incline. Or so it seemed. My legs were tired.
The rest was all downhill, as they say, and we ended up at the exit checkpoint back at the facility. Now, I’m usually pretty good about shooting competitions but, man, I was wishing I was back on that cool river when the heat of midday set in.
The stages were all Red Dawn themed, and each was meant to test skill, strength, problem solving, and marksmanship. Compared to last year, I felt that the shooting portion was substantially more difficult and a bit more complicated. It was so difficult that many teams didn’t complete all the stages or received zeros on the ones the did complete, but failed to meet parameters. Tough stuff all around.
I ended up with two stages left incomplete despite taking no real breaks except to eat a burger and slam some Gatorade. On that point, I must say that I drank about four gallons of fluids between water, protein shakes, and electrolytes and I only peed once.
As I mentioned earlier, being on the range in the mid afternoon was like being in a desert. There was sand blowing off the top of the berms (the range was partially under construction in a few areas and there was new material that hadn’t yet settled). It was also H-O-T.
Remarkably, there was snow in that area just two weeks prior. Those of you not from Michigan may be surprised to learn that weather here is completely arbitrary.
I don’t really want to get into every stage as to explain each would make this into a full-blown novel, but you can see from my photos here that there is quite a bit of complexity to what was presented.
Shooters were expected to be proficient from 0-1000 yards. There was a dynamic shoot house, multiple physical challenges such as sprinting to fill and return with a 50 pound sandbag, technical skill challenges, and team problem solving.
Overall I’d rate this as one of the most challenging, if not the most challenging, single-day event I know of.
Let’s talk guns and gear. First off, this year I brought the right gear. I took my RMR’ed 1911, my Geissele URGI carbine, and the carbon fiber rifle in the Magpul Pro chassis and US Optics 5-25x. I did well with these and was competitive across the board in all categories.
There was a MASSIVE variation in gear that the competitors used compared to last year. I saw more variety in guns and gear than ever. Last year it was AR carbines with 1-6X optics and GLOCK 19’s across the board. I was an odd duck for having a 1911.
This year it was a very different story. The guns were much more refined for the most part and I counted no less than a dozen 1911’s out there. SIG pistols also had a much larger market share than last time.
Oddly enough I saw fewer PCC-type carbines out there than I was expecting. Last year there were several and for the ranges that they were fired, they were at least equal to their 5.56 counterparts.
In addition to this, there was also a great number of variety in precision rifles. Most people had only one or two per team, and the ones I saw showed a wide disparity in what was considered ‘precision.’
I had one of the more accurate rifles out there and this made me happy. I did pretty well on the target ID stage and on the long range portion shooting off of barricades. Not the best, but I did better than last year by a large margin.
My gear that day was somewhat similar to last year. I took my Hill People Gear Umlindi pack again for the navigation portion. However for small gear and magazines, I ended up using a minimalist High Speed Gear chest rig with three TACO pouches and a Triad Tactical AICS mag pouch. This little getup was comfortable and wasn’t heavy at all.
For my pistol, I used a custom BlackPoint Tactical holster and mag pouches on my old Galco belt. My clothing last year was hot and restrictive. This time I used a T-Shirt from Q in yellow to avoid absorbing heat and an old pair of Multicam pants. I ended up swapping out my footwear for something lighter about halfway through the event out of necessity.
I was at least comfortable in what I had taken with me, though I wish I had just changed into a pair of shorts instead of having to deal with rolled up pant legs. Oh well, there’s always next time. But for all I know it could be snowing next year.
Most competitors were hot and tired by the end. Many wore some serious gear that I would have shed right away, but it was their choice and some regretted it.
As far as failures go, I saw many rifles that lacked optical precision for the target ID stage. I had a 5-25x with great optical clarity and it was difficult given the amount of mirage coming off the sand. Some guys couldn’t make out the faces at all given they had only 10x or 15x optics.
Malfunctions did occur, as many times in the stages you had to set your carbine on the ground and throw a weight or something like that. I saw at least five debris-related stoppages.
One competitor had his carbine freeze up completely after it got full of sand. Other issues were somewhat rare. I’d say most were sand and lubrication related. My own URGI carbine was a mess when it came home. In fact, there is still dust in most of the crevices.
Many people did as I had done last year bringing too much gun with too much glass on carbines and others brought too little gun and too little glass for the precision rifle. Such things just take some learning from experience. I can say that this year my gear was perfect for the event, after learning the hard way last year.
Would I change anything about what I did in this year’s event? I don’t think so, except that I would have planned my stages better for more points, knowing that there was a hard cutoff for ceasefire. The winning teams did this, but I was solo and could float so it was more about what I wanted to shoot for fun rather than points. I wasn’t expecting to win anything. I’m good, but not that good. Or fast.
This event is hard to get into. It sells out really quickly every year and it’s a long day. But it is a very good time and if you get the chance to do this one day, don’t pass it up.