For the first two thirds of the competition, life was pretty good. I stumbled a bit on stage 4, but it wasn’t anything that I couldn’t recover from. The next three stages would be, in comparison, a train wreck. The thing about shooting the match with the staff is the time frame is compressed. For the normal match attendees, they shoot three stages a day over three days. For our squad, with the re-shoots and the shortened time frame, we had just finished shooting eight stages in one day and we had three stages left to go. We were exhausted, both physically and mentally. But with the finish line in sight, we wanted to push through and get the match done . . .
Stage 3 is where I had my biggest series of blunders. The stage mimics one that we saw at the beginning of the year in the exact same spot, at the first 3-Gun nation pro series competition. The shooter starts in the middle of the base of the triangle and can use whatever combination of handgun, shotgun and rifle they want to take down all the targets. The two targets on the furthest sides can only be seen from those respective sides, and there’s one long-ish range target that can only be shot from one of the sides of the triangle as well.
You could tell that the stage was supposed to be laid out such that there were two long range targets that needed to be shot from the corners of the triangle, but the stage didn’t match the plan and there was only one such target left. My brilliant plan was to shoot all of the paper targets at the end of the stage from that initial starting position, and then just remember which target needed to be shot from that one corner. Big mistake.
As I started the run, everything was rolling well. I forgot to charge the rifle on the start signal, but I chalk that up to the first stage jitters. The real issues started when I had a failure to fire with the ammunition I was using.
For this match, Larry asked me to bring along some rifle ammo just in case there wasn’t enough for the team to shoot. With the re-shoots and the extra rounds being needed, I was down to the bottom of my ammo pile. Wanting to save the best ammo for the longer range stage at the end of the day, I loaded up some Independence Ammunition rounds instead of the usual steady diet of Winchester ammo. The Timney trigger in the SCAR rifle has a tendency to strike the firing pin a little lighter than normal, meaning that the tough primers on the cheap ammo don’t always go off. Over the course of fire, this caused two FTF issues and cost me some precious seconds.
Flustered by the failure to fire, I completely forgot to shoot the last remaining long range paper target. As I was running to the other end of the triangle, I remembered what I had done and doubled back as soon as I finished off the paper target on that end. I could have simply ignored that target, but it would have cost me a 15 second penalty.
What happened instead was even worse: I ran out of ammunition. My bolt locked back, and I didn’t even realize I was empty. I thought I had another failure to fire, but the charging handle didn’t budge. So call it about four seconds to diagnose the issue, three seconds to reload, and seven seconds to run my fat ass back over to the other side of the stage and it’s about a draw in terms of time.
At this point, the smart move would have been to ditch the rifle and draw my handgun. I had staged the shotgun on the other side of the stage, and it was a long sprint over there for me to pick it up. All of the other targets could have been engaged with a handgun, but I wanted to use that shotgun. That was the plan, and I was running on autopilot. I sprinted over, picked it up, and finished the stage.
The fastest shooters shot this stage 100% with their handgun, and I can see why. The transitions between the firearms combined with the slower reload speed on the shotgun definitely put shooters at a disadvantage. But I thought that by using some guns with a little more range, I could cut down on the amount of running I would need to do and therefore make me faster. In the end, I just ended up shooting myself in the foot.
Stage 2 was a really interesting setup. You started behind a car, and then took out a whole bunch of targets at close range. Again, you were given free reign over how you wanted to shoot this stage and I saw it shot every which way.
I really liked my plan for this stage. Well, almost all of it at least. I planned to stage my rifle on the hood of the car and, just like last time, shoot all the paper plates with the rifle. This kept me from running downrange, and I could shoot a whole lot faster with the rifle than a handgun. The only tricky bit was that I would need to reload as I made my way to a position I scoped out beforehand where all the rest of the targets were visible. Then, I would ditch the rifle for my handgun as I went to the next pickup table, shooting the six steel plates that lined the skinny portion of the stage along the way. Finally, using some high-brass #6 loads, I would take the two steel plates at the far end of the stage.
Everything worked right up until the shotgun portion. I hit one target, but the other one refused to fall. I could see my shot pattern forming a nice circle around the target, but it wasn’t so much as rocking. I eventually had to run all the way up to the fault line and blast it in the face to get it to flip.
This is the one thing I would have done differently. Instead of ditching the handgun and going for the shotgun, I should have stuck with the handgun and hit those targets with some sweet 9mm lovin’ instead. It would have taken a couple extra shots, but it wasn’t impossible. And the time I saved with one less firearm transition would have made up for my crappy shooting.
One thing I want to talk about on this stage is the strategy behind where you stage your firearms, especially when you don’t think you will need them.
Things always go wrong. You forget something, a firearm jams, a target doesn’t fall like you expected, you run out of ammo… stuff happens. And when something goes horribly wrong, you want to be able to retrieve your spare firearm as quickly as possible without running very far.
On this stage, the fast shooters ran the entire thing with a handgun and left their other guns staged on the pickup tables. But a few shooters, specifically those on the H&K shooting team, left their rifles staged on the car hood (all the way at the beginning of the stage). They knew that they weren’t going to use it, yet they didn’t place it on the more logical position in the middle of the stage (less running if you need to use it when your handgun explodes).
I asked them about it later, and their logic was that they wanted to be nice and put the gun in a place where the RO could pick it up and place it back on the safe table easily. It’s a nice gesture, but one that would have severely hurt them if they actually needed the gun. When given the option, stage your “extra” guns where they could do the most good.
The final stage of the match that we shot was stage 1, which was a real ass-kicker. You started with a shotgun and needed to engage four slug targets followed by a series of steel plates through three ports in a wall. Then, you could either take out a series of long range targets with your rifle through three awkward ports in a nearby wall, or you could sprint about 50 yards to a log and use that for support instead. While that shooting position may have been more comfortable, the 50 yard sprint and the associated high pulse and breathing rate were not conducive to long range shooting.
Only one person on our squad used the log: Jayson Smith. I asked Larry about the log, and specifically why he put it out there when the logical thing to do would be to use the nearby ports. His reply: to give them the option to screw up.
There was really only one choice here, and that’s how you shot the slug targets. The faster shooters loaded up their shotguns with a combination of birdshot and slugs, such that they had four rounds of slugs and then a bunch of shot for the smaller plates. Personally, having never actually fired slugs through my shotgun at targets this small, I decided to load up the shotgun with slugs and take out the rest of the targets with the handgun instead. It also gave me the benefit of not needing to remember if the next round was going to be a slug or birdshot, as shooting a slug at a close steel target was a serious safety issue that I didn’t want to deal with.
My terrible handgun shooting cost me big-time again, as I sent round after round without connecting with the steel plates. It slowed me way down, and despite my awesome rifle shooting it couldn’t save my score.
At the end of the match, I was still neck-and-neck with Jayson Smith. That’s the trick to shooting a big match: pick someone on your same level or even slightly above you, and make the entire match about you and them. It keeps you from being discouraged about how you compare to the Godlike qualities of Daniel Horner. On raw time, I beat Jayson by a full 4 seconds (yeah, statistically identical scores). In the overall scores, he had me by about 17 places.
I finished 118 out of 270 shooters in Tac Optics, which is proportionally better than I did at the first match two years ago. But I know for a fact that I could have run that competition better. I know the mistakes I made, and I know that I can apply those lessons to the next competition. And win.
That’s what keeps me shooting: the drive for perfection and the knowledge that I can do it. And I’ll have one last chance to prove it this year at the Fallen Brethren match in Texas.