(Photos by Katherine Kostreva)
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We cover events like SHOT Show, NRAAM, SIG Freedom Days, and similar gatherings, but the recent Veterans, Guns, & Cigars event isn’t your typical firearm trade show. As the name implies, it’s aimed at military veterans and active duty servicemen and women. That said, anyone can attend. The events are put together by a husband and wife team through a military veteran networking organization called Meritorious

The goal of the event is to bring veterans together and offer them networking opportunities while also having a bit of ballistic fun. It’s a combination of a social gathering where vets can sit around and yuk it up with other folks along with a competitive shooting event. The VC&G event I recently attended had three competition events and the winners got everything from guns to some great hunting trips out west. 

I’ll walk you through the event I attended to hopefully paint a decent picture of the event, how it works, how much fun it is, and why you might be interested in going to one. 

Getting Going

I found out about the event via a personal invitation from Katherine Kostreva. She’s the co-founder and CEO of Meritorious and the wife half of the husband and wife team. The event was local to me, a mere seven minutes away at a facility owned by a company called PACEM Defense in Perry, Florida. I bought a ticket, which cost a hundred bucks, and was on my way.

My town has a weird collection of defense contractors that make everything from grenades to less lethal stuff, along with training for military and police personnel. PACEM Defense opened up its facility for the event, and it’s massive with all sorts of ranges, as well as some cell extraction courses, what looked like a shoot house, and much more. 

Meritorious Veterans, Guns & Cigars
Guns were some of the prizes up for grabs. (Photos by Katherine Kostreva)

The event started at 11:00 am with an hour-long meet and greet, a free lunch that was pretty fantastic, and an introduction to the RSOs and the range rules. RSOs were made up of a variety of local police officers from the Taylor County Sherriff’s Office and Perry Police Department, a sprinkling of volunteers from the Highway Troopers, and some I’m surely missing. 

Veterans, Guns, & Cigars attracted a pretty diverse crowd. There was an eclectic mix of vets like me, some active duty shooters, and just plain everyday folks of various ages including more than one set of dads with teenagers. After lunch and a safety briefing, it was time to shoot. 

Blasting Away…With Someone Else’s Ammo)

One of the big draws to Veterans, Guns, & Cigars was open range time for all who came, and you could bring your own guns and blast away for free. Not only that, but they provided crates of 9mm ammo as well as several handguns. I’m not sure how much they brought, but I certainly overhead someone mention that we had shot over three thousand rounds of 9mm. 

Meritorious Veterans, Guns & Cigars
All ammo and firearms for the event were provided. (Photos by Katherine Kostreva)

We weren’t shooting at a rinky-dink facility either. They opened up their rifle ranges as well as two handgun ranges. Targets were a mix of paper and steel, and it was a lot of fun. And any time you’re shooting someone else’s ammo, it’s a good time.

There was a fun sense of camaraderie at VG&C, and everyone took turns loading magazines, resetting targets, and helping the less experienced shooters ring some steel. After the open range portion, we were separated into three squads and pushed out to three different stages for the competition shooting. 

Shooting For Keeps 

The three stages were sniper rifle, carbine, and handgun. Meritorious typically does handgun, carbine, and shotgun, but PACEM Defense offers a sniper tower and ranges out to one thousand yards.

I started at the sniper course with my squad, and the challenge was to use a bolt action rifle to hit targets from 125 to 600 yards. You shot at five targets with five rounds, and if you shot it clean, you had an opportunity to shoot at sixth 1,000-yard target. 

I didn’t make it that far, missing my 600-yard shot. I think only one shooter made it out to 1,000 yards, but they weren’t in my squad. If you won this event, you won a Vortex Viper 6-24×50 first focal plane scope

Meritorious Veterans, Guns & Cigars
A thousand yards is just so far away (Photos by Katherine Kostreva)

After that, we moved to the pistol bay and shot a Smith & Wesson M&P at two targets. The first was a plate rack, then a Texas star. After that, we had to move to station two and engage three targets with a GLOCK 17. This was a timed event, and I did pretty well. The winner of the overall shoot won the S&W M&P handgun they shot with. 

Finally, there was a carbine competition. We fired an AR-15 at five targets from 50 to 100 yards in the standing position. We had to fire at each target in a specific order, and I totally goofed it. I messed up the order badly, so most of my hits didn’t count. My mistake…but a younger kid on our squad who had hardly ever shot a rifle before took his time and made second place, which was great to see. The overall winner of this match got the complete AR-15 jig they competed with. 

The Final Match 

After those three matches, we all went back to the gathering area, cooled our feet, and ate a barbecue dinner from Mission BBQ. During dinner, the organizers announced the final match, it was a three-gun stage that included the top three shooters from each squad. If you weren’t on that list, you could drink the free beer provided by Armed Forces Brewing Company

Meritorious Veterans, Guns & Cigars
Over 3,000 rounds were provided for free. (Photos by Katherine Kostreva)

Before the match, a number of veterans groups provided presentations. From Irreverent Warriors to organizations like Vets to Drones that provide training to veterans who want to become commercial drone pilots. There were lots of chances to connect.

Meritorious Veterans, Guns & Cigars
Free Beer is always apprciated. (Photos by Katherine Kostreva)

I made it to the final three-gun match after taking first in my squad for handgun (though not first overall). We faced a plate rack with the handgun, a Texas Star with the shotgun, and three small targets with the AR-15.

Shooters had to spring from station to station and engage targets quickly and accurately. It was a blast, and I was lucky enough to take second place in this shoot. I don’t even feel bad for losing because a very good active-duty Air Force Pararescueman won the whole thing. 

Meritorious Veterans, Guns & Cigars
The BBQ was on point .(Photos by Katherine Kostreva)

The prize for winning the whole shebang was a trip out west to hunt elk, all expenses paid. Not a bad deal. The first, second, and third place from each of the four contests received prizes, and the prize table was quite diverse with some great stuff. 

Worth the Trip 

I can sum up my Veterans, Guns, & Cigars experience as free ammo, free range time, free food, free beer, and plenty of prizes…all for a $100 ticket that supports a very good cause. You can’t help but have a good time when all of that is offered.

By the end of the matches, everyone was tired, but their bellies were full and they were in very good spirits. We’d been together for eight hours and had become quite friendly with each other. 

Veterans Guns and Cigars
Courtesy Meritorious

Overall VG&C was a ton of fun, and if they host one within driving distance of me again, I’m down. In fact, South Carolina in September doesn’t seem so far. 

Meritorious is a small but seemingly mighty organization. They have tons of gun-related sponsors and have grown to host these events in eight states. The next is scheduled for Cheyenne, Wyoming. They also sponsor some vets to attend, and if you want to support their efforts, I’m sure they’d love the donation. 


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  1. The Moon has a “We Were Here” plaque on it. That plaque has a dent in it. That dent was put there by me using a SmithCorona 03A3 using the riffles peep sights. I tried it again and 3 weeks later my spotter said “2 inches high and a quarter left.”

    • You irresponsible marsupial. That last round passed within inches of me. At least use glass to check the area around your target for safety.

      • S­t­a­r­t w­o­r­k­i­n­g f­r­o­m h­o­m­e! G­r­e­a­t w­o­r­k f­o­r-E­v­er, ­S­t­a­y a­t H­o­m­e M­o­m­s O­R a­n­y­o­n­e n­e­e­d­s­ a­n e­x­t­r­a i­n­c­o­m­e. G­e­t s­t­a­r­t­e­d. Y­o­u o­n­l­y n­e­e­d­ a zgh computer a­n­d a reliable c­o­m­p­u­t­e­r c­o­n­n­e­c­t­i­o­n­ s­o d­o­n’t g­e­t l­a­t­e
        t­r­y……. https://2no.co/profitcash1

  2. Ouch! How did I did not know about this? I drive through Perry at least once a month back and forth to Crystal River on US 19. One of my favorite LGS is in Perry. I bought Dustin’s HS graduation present there. A S&W 442. No kidding, my son’s girlfriend’s father is a officer with Perry, FL PD. I owe him a ration of shit the next the next time we speak!

  3. So what about the cigars? Cohiba’s? Punch? Upman? CAO?
    Cuban? Honduran?
    And why not a nice pairing of cigar and spirits for after the days shooting?
    Love me a good cigar with a good bourbon or scotch whisky. Nice way to end a day or enjoy good company and conversation.

  4. Shooting someone else’s ammo. I get to shoot my buddy’s reloaded 10mm and free is always nice! But the best way to shoot someone else’s ammo is to take it off of your dead enemy.

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