Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My First Time

It was finally my turn.

My nerves were jangling and the butterflies seemed to have attracted large, predatory birds to my stomach.
"Do you have any questions?"
I knew all I had to do was be silent. I shook my head anyway.
"Make ready!"
I took a mag from my pocket, drew my worn P220 (an old police trade-in made in 1989) and inserted the mag. The slide snapped back and slammed forward, and I holstered the weapon with elaborate care. I dropped the mag, topped it off with one more round, replaced it and dropped my arms to my sides.

How long did they s-BEEP!
Move left. Draw slightly forward; follow the cant or the gun gets stuck. Support hand on, thumbs lined up, gun coming up--hey, cool, I've never done this under pressure before, I'm doing okay--there are the poppers, step back so the gun doesn't go through the window, front sight--
This isn't so bad! These things are falling like magic.
Time to go! Grab a mag. The old one won't drop free--yank it! New mag's in, rack the slide, out pops a live round. Huh. Pull the gun in, muzzle downrange, big step sideways into the hall. That strip down the middle of the target looks small . . . . thrust the gun out, front sight, boom-boom and I'm off down the hall. I'm walking, but it feels fast. . .
Big steps right, there are the last four targets, boomboom--boomboom--boomboom--boomboom and the whole thing is done. I show the RO safe, drop the hammer by dry-firing at a target (hard to get used to this--I have a decocker, but I guess that wouldn't show one last time that the chamber is empty) and I'm done.
"Range is safe, 42 seconds. Brand new shooter, everybody!" The applause was genuine; people were shouting. They sure were happy to see a new guy.

So, most of you know that I recently won a free trip to Blackwater's training facility in North Carolina to take a class in action pistol shooting from Todd Jarrett. That's pretty cool; it's the sort of thing I just wouldn't lay out the cash to do on my own.

But as I started to make arrangements, it occurred to me that I've never competed in action pistol . . . ever. No IPSC, no IDPA, no 3-Gun, not even Bullseye. Obviously, that's not the best way to get the most out of a Todd Jarrett class. Not that I couldn't show up with zero experience and still learn something, mind you, but there had to be a better way.

That led me to my local indoor range, Bullet Express, last Thursday night. The Springfield Tactical Shooters meet at Bullet Express every Thursday night year-round and shoot one stage per week indoors. Plastic construction fencing is hung from the ceiling to make "walls" and both cardboard and steel poppers are used. That was particularly new to me, since my gun club doesn't allow steel targets on the outdoor range. We have a Bad Neighbor Issue, unfortunately, and we just can't take the chance of doing anything that might allow ricochets over the berm. I figure that if I hang the steel by the top and the bottom, I can angle it with the top forward so that anything that strikes it will have to deflect down into the ground . . . . but I can't blame them for not trusting 250 members with keys to do the right thing every day, and it would only take once.

But I digress; we were discussing USPSA indoors. First, the people: Angela, Morgan, Than, and some others whose names I don't recall. Angela took possession of me as I walked in the door, then administered a safety lecture in the "safe room." There were really only two rules to remember, she said--first, the finger must be off the trigger whenever the gun was off target. Second, the gun must not "break the 180"--that is, the gun could never be pointed 90 degrees right or left, 90 degrees up at the ceiling, or 90 degrees down at the floor--it must be pointed downrange at ALL times, even if only slightly. It was no dishonor, Angela explained, to be disqualified for breaking these rules. I could always try again the next week. I began to sweat.

I had walked in with an old Galco IWB holster (a gift from Son Tao, whom some of you may remember, it was meant for a P226, but it fit my P220 well enough.) I had no magazine carriers, but I figured I could get a cheap universal one for single-stack magazines. In the end, I decided to pick up a FOBUS holster and double mag carrier, both with paddles. I was pleasantly surprised by these; they kept the gun and mags tight against the body, were secure, and once I figured out the draw, very smooth and trouble free. I'll probably use them for CCW in North Carolina, assuming I can stand to wear the long covering shirt to hide 'em.

Angela led me to the counter to fill out my score sheet. Name . . . number . . . . production class . . . . minor power. I didn't completely understand all this, but apparently the production class is always scored as minor power, even though I was shooting 230 grain .45 acp.
"Now just put 'NEW SHOOTER' across the whole thing." she told me.
"New? He's not new!" John behind the counter snorted with a smile. "That guy's been coming here for years. You're not gonna let him shoot for free, are you?"
I smiled back.
"Yeah, but I never had to move around and stuff. If I were chewing bubble gum, I'd be a real safety hazard."

That was all well and good, but I discovered that there was skepticism in the peanut gallery regarding my ammunition supply. I had brought three of my four magazines, but the course that night was held to be a tough one, it was thought that I might run out of ammunition. The stage required shooting eight steel poppers through a window, then moving right to engage a cardboard target at the end of a hallway with two hits, then charging down the hall and to the right to finish by putting two rounds each into four more targets next to a no-shoot target. Each of the cardboard targets had a large area covered, so the the shooting had to be fairly precise. Running through with no misses would take 18 rounds; I was carrying 21, 22 if I topped off the magazine at the beginning. The concern was that even the veterans often missed the poppers; I would probably miss several, and then I'd be out of ammo by the end. I told Than that it was no big deal, I was just shooting for fun. Actually, I was wondering how far away these poppers were, that missing was such a concern. Generally, my old, well-worn P220 will do anything I ask of it as long as I do my part. She doesn't look like much, but she outshoots me by a large margin.
That's when Morgan piped up.
"I must have an extra 220 mag around," he said. "Lemme go look!"
Sure enough, he returned after a few minutes with a stainless P220 magazine with a large bumper floorplate. He'd drawn a squiggly line on the back so I would know it wasn't mine. He needn't have worried; I knew mine were the old blued models with the flat floorplates and the shiny spots all over! I was suitably grateful. It wasn't long, though, before I discovered that one of my earplugs had popped off the cord. In swooped Thanh to toss me his electronic muffs, and I was in business.

Angela had shown me in the "safe room" (where guns, but never ammunition, could be handled--everywhere else, ammunition was OK but to draw one's gun without a Range Officer's command was grounds for disqualification for the entire night) how to stand ready, what the commands from the Range Officer would be, how to make ready and how to finish a stage correctly. I moved into the range with her to see what the other shooters were doing. For the most part, they were scoring targets and picking up each others' brass and magazines. It took quite awhile before my name was called; there were 68 shooters all told that night, not counting second and third passes through. Between runs, I asked questions and shot the bull. Angela turned out to be married to the uncle of one of my high school classmates; one of those little coincidences that almost define small-town life. Watching the other shooters would have been entertaining enough. There was the older gentleman who walked the stage and shot a Ruger P97 with his support-hand thumb crossed over his strong hand. That was enough to make me cringe--my wife has a nasty scar on her left hand from doing the same thing with a little .32 a few years ago--but he has apparently mastered his technique; no blood was shed. There was the young guy with dreads and a belt literally full of Glock magazine holders. No kidding--it looked like a Bat-Utility Belt. If there'd been a 350-round marathon stage, that guy would have been ready to go . . . if he'd only had the magazines. Then again, for all I know, they were sitting in his range bag just in case. There was the 11-year-old girl who was only picking up brass that night, but who I was told had been shooting with the group since she was nine. There was the uniformed Sangamon County Sheriff's Deputy who showed up mid-match and was immediately put in the "in the hole" place in line, drawing protests from no one. He stood holding his radio up near his ear protection, and told us he wasn't on lunch, but "training time." His quotes, not mine. He was carrying a 1911 cocked and locked, and he certainly knew how to use it. I could see who you'd want to respond to your mugging or attempted murder up in Sangamon County--I would have felt OK with that guy shooting past me if he'd had to.

When my turn came, I made my run carefully, walking from position to position. I knew I'd been slow, forgotten a popper, and probably reloaded in the wrong places. But I'd done it, I hadn't gotten disqualified, and I'd had a blast. I gathered my brass and magazines. I paid no attention to my score at all. I was just glad, I told myself, that I hadn't gotten DQ'ed for a safety screwup.

"Hey Don!" someone shouted. He was standing next to the 8th steel popper. It was a small one, it was behind a big one, and suddenly I realized why I'd still had a round in the chamber when I left the poppers--I'd taken seven shots at eight targets!

I went out to the shop and filled out another score sheet.
"Now you owe me five bucks!" John crows behind the counter. "It's like crack, only the first one's free."
The second run was a much shorter wait. This time, although I still took my time and wasn't in much of a hurry, I was smoother. I cut five seconds off my first time, apparently, which was nice and all. And I once again went a perfect seven-for-seven shots on the (eight) poppers. I've never been great with numbers.
"Is it too late to go over there and kick that one?" I asked. I think they thought I was kidding.

This Thursday night, I'll be back. I was surprised at how much fun this game is!


Joe Allen said...

Congratulations! It's fun isn't it?

You gun pusher is right, it's like crack: I'm up to IPSC every Friday, local IDPA once a month, 100mi. round trip IDPA once a month, Practical Shooting Club once a month and another 100mi. round trip for a Combat pistol league once a month.

I've got to start reloading!


Anonymous said...

Damn, that sounds like a blast... blast you for giving me an itch to go watch something like that around here...

Matt G said...

Shooting matches is a damned useful tool to create that little bit of necessary stress.

I'm glad you're doing it, Don.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the addiction!

Yeah, there's nothing like the startle response created by that little beeper on the timer.

For those interested in watching or participating:

Jeff Pulice said...

Kudos! I plan to shoot IPSC for the first time on Saturday. If I do HALF as well as you did, it'll be a good day. I am very nervous about moving and shooting, but it's a skill I want to...master? Not much chance of that!

Anonymous said...

I'll add my kudos, and thanks for the step by step description. I've been meaning to try something like this for some time, and you have given me a kick in the pants.

St Paul

Anonymous said...