Saturday, September 18, 2010

Unsolicited Advice

LAST weekend (September 11, 2010) I managed to make it to a USPSA match and shot the whole thing! This is my goal at all matches, of course, but you may recall that at the Monster Match the weekend before, I only competed in the first day of the two-day match.

In itself, this match is not particularly exceptional. It was a great club match, I had many (too many!) stages where I almost did it right, I had a lot of fun and I enjoyed shooting with some good people.

But this is what I have learned to expect from a match. Just enough mistakes to keep me from looking like I know what I am doing, and the company of good people making it worth the effort and expense of, basically, "showing up".

I did take a lot of time taking pictures, which is another thing I enjoy.

Well, no. I don't like taking pictures all of the time, because I would rather just watch folks shoot as other people do .. with the naked eye. Trying to film as much as I can is a great distraction, and I only do it for a couple of different reasons.

First, because it I can later give the edited films to the people who are shooting with me on that day, and second because it gives me video to include in the articles I write here.

The first reason is the real purpose.

I learned a long time ago that people don't object to me filming them, even when they screw up because it gives them the opportunity to critically review their own performance.

My own experience, when someone has video-taped my stage runs, is that I can not only see what I did wrong, but I can also see what I do right. That helps me understand both my weaknesses and my strengths, so when I am walking through a stage in the future, I can choose the best way to shoot it by determining whether I can capitalize on my strengths.

And of course, it also shows me the things I need to practice.

As if I ever practice.

One of the better events in this match is that I was squadded with some people who were students at the "Introduction to USPSA" class which I teach.

This is a 3-hour course (often extended for the convenience of the students) which attempts to teach folks who have not competed in USPSA matches what they need to do. We not only teach safety rules, we also teach etiquette, the rules of competition, and what can help your performance. And we strive to make every new shooter the rules of safety, and all of the ways in which they can avoid to violating those rules.

At this match, I was pleased to learn that I had been squadded with several people who had taken that course. They are all good folks, and I like them. So I was especially gratified to see what they had learned after having taken the course, and then getting a couple of matches under their belts.

It's not easy to get started in Practical Shooting, and I've learned that they will often make mistakes .. but they rarely violate the safety rules. At least, those who are obviously paying attention learn that.

Yes, I got to matches with, and I squad with, the people that I teach. I've learned that they have enough problems with just becoming comfortable to the competitive environment. They don't need someone offering unsolicited advice. They will learn to dope out the best way to shoot a stage sooner or later. The important thing is that they shoot safely. All of the other stuff won't be learned until they mess up a stage or two. Or more.

So I don't offer advice. When they want it, they know they can ask. Usually, they don't ask. They want to make this sport their own, or they don't want to continue competing.

All they want, is to shoot. Eventually they will learn ways to shoot which make them more competitive, but the best thing to do is to just ... let them shoot.

Sometime during every class, I make this point to the students:
"When you go to your first class, you need to make it clear to your squad that you are a New Shooter. If asked, they will put your scorecard down at the bottom. That's good, you are new at this and you need to 'go to school' on more experienced shooters.

And sooner or later, one of the more experienced shooters will offer you advice. You should listen to them carefully, smile, and thank them for the advice. Then just go shoot the stage they way that seems best to you."

Usually, unsolicited advice is an annoyance at best, and insulting at worst.

The moral of the story is, if you are one of those "more experienced shooters", you should be reluctant to offer unsolicited advise. Whatever you say will probably be right, but as long as it is not a safety issue, or a clarification of the rules (which they have violated, or might have come very close to violating), the kindest thing you could say to them is "Good job! You shot the stage safely."

I'm sure glad I got that of my chest, and thank you for listening to my unsolicited advice.

Now, I'm including a video from the last ARPC club match, featuring two shooters who have only a few matches experience. I've already sent this video to them, but I want to include it here to show that even relatively 'raw' shooters can do just fine in competition. They may do some things that you think you could help them to do better, but I think it's a really good idea to treat them with the same courtesy and thoughtfulness that you expect others to extend to you.

In other words, consider not bothering them while they're finding their own best way though the competitive jungle.

If I need to be more clear: just shut up and let them rock!


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Monster Match 2010

Here's the Bad News:

In the spring of 2010, land developers encroached upon what had been "safe" over-the-berm areas to the west of the Chehalem Valley Sportsmen's Club in Dundee, Oregon. Because all but one of the shooting bays at this Dundee range had been oriented to the west, it became necessary to go in with earth-movers and carve new shooting bays oriented to the south. At a club-cost of $40,000 to $50,000, the Dundee club had managed to get most of the earth moving done, and most bays established, by July of 2010. They still needed to do 'other' range work, including establishment of a semi-permanent building in what had been the "Croc Bay" to serve as a stats shack. Mainly because work was still in progress, the Dundee "You Got Bullets?" Croc Match was not scheduled for this year.

This high-round-count match has always been both a well-appreciated, well-attended match, but also one of the staples of the club's annual match income.

We local people were disappointed, especially because the 2009 match had been canceled due to the general unavailability of reloading components to the public -- due to the combination of heavy Military consumption of ammunition, and a general public 'run' on ammunition and components after the election of Barack Hussein Obama in the fall of 2008.

Here's the Good News:
This year the Albany Rifle and Pistol Club (ARPC) chose to put on a somewhat similar high-round-count match.

Scheduled for Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend (September 4-5, 2010), the match criteria was: Eight stages in two days, OVER 450 round minimum required to complete the match, $50 match fee, and competitors ARE permitted to pick up their brass as long as it does not delay the match.

Speaking personally, that has been one of the main reasons why I have not been able to attend the annual Crock Match in recent years. Those matches were going to ten stages, 650+ rounds minimum requirement ... and the ammunition cost was often as high, or even higher than the match fees.

Thanks to the good offices of the Hobo Brasser in loading 1200 rounds of ammunition for me (all new Winchester .38 Super brass), I was able to attend.

Author note: I was unable to attend both days, for the simple fact that my recurring battle with Insomnia kept me from sleeping after the Saturday round. At 7am on Sunday morning, I had to call the MD, Mike McCarter, and notify him that I wouldn't be shooting that day as I was in no condition to run&gun. It is important to notify the statistician so that my missing score sheets would not cause them to delay release of the final scores. I ended up in 39th place.

The match ran smooth as clockwork and according to the final scores (apparently not yet available online) 50 people showed up for the match. Four DQ'd, and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

I managed to get videos of all of the 5 stages I shot. Too bad I didn't get to shoot the other three stages, because some of them seemed very challenging ... with lots of steel targets, including the Texas Star.

Here are the stages and the descriptions:

Stage 4: Swinging
This 240 point, 48 round was mostly shooting at cardboard, with the only 'gimmick' that the last two ports were covered by a door which had to be manually moved by the shooter to engage the second port, both of which were available from the same location. It should have been a hoser-fest, but as it was the first stage of the match for this squad, most of us were very deliberate in both movement and shooting pace. One squad member, Bill J., had gun problems within the first few seconds of this stage: broken extractor on his 1911 Limited gun. Fortunately, he managed to find a replacement pistol and completed the match.


Stage 5: Cross Over
This second stage (230 points, 46 rounds) was very similar to the first, without the door. There was an alley to traverse, targets available through ports on both sides, and at the end there was a mixture of cardboard and steel targets which couldn't all be seen from the same port.

Also, one of our youngest shooters, Dante (son of Adam, who you will also see a couple of times in the videos) had more gun problems: his 1911 Open gun would not reliably return to battery between shots. There was a question whether his small stature and musculature just wasn't providing sufficient resistance to the recoil to make it function correctly ... a not uncommon situation derogatorily described as "Limp Wristing". Eventually Adam found someone who had a lighter 1911 Recoil Spring, which when swapped out for the original seemed to solve the problem.


Stage 6: Sit Back
Except four the round count (285 points, 57 rounds), this stage was somewhat similar to the preceding stage, in that it involved traversing an alley and engaging targets through ports on both sides of the alley. The targets were mixed cardboard and steel. A couple of barrel-stacks at the end of the alley made it necessary to engage targets from both sides of both stacks, and one of our squad just didn't see that sneaky US popper hiding behind the right-side barrel stack.

The shooting ports were 20" gaps between the (snow fencing) vision barriers, and more than one of us ... including myself ... ran past a port toward the end and had to back-pedal to complete the stage without Failure To Engage and compounded Miss penalties.

The necessity of starting out sitting in a soft car-seat, back touching the back of the seat, was a safety related concern for people who, like me, were using Race Holsters. The choice was to lock the pistol in the skeletal-framed holster and then fumble with it on the draw, or to be VERY careful in the way you sit, your posture, and controlling the gun when standing up. As far as I know, nobody DQ'd the match because of this issue during the match.

These three stages, in sequence, may seem boringly similar ... especially in that there is some lateral, then some deep "vertical" (uprange to downrange) movement required. In the actual event, each proved to have its own challenge, and represented variations on the theme of requiring the shooter to be thoroughly familiar with target disposition and the best place to engage them. This is particularly important because of the large number of targets, and the limited number of places from which they could be engaged. If nothing else, they emphasized what must be every IPSC shooter's mantra: "Do a thorough walk through, know each target and shooting position, and be VERY aware of the need for tight ammunition management!"

Yes, in this match this was very true even for hi-cap shooters.

Note that every stage was carefully designed to be 8-round neutral. As is always the case in high-round-count matches, Revolver shooters had to be very aware of places where they could minimize standing reloads, and 10-round limited (Limited 10, Production) shooters experienced ammunition management challenges throughout the match.


Stage 7: Double Stack
This stage (220 points, 44 rounds) was a sudden change in design. The access to targets were not so much restricted by vision barriers as it was by the need to engage them while positioned in one of five boxes .. and the last two target arrays could ONLY be engaged from the box farthest downrange.

Again, having a good game plan before starting the stage proved critical. It was possible to shoot the mirror-image stage without visiting all of the boxes .. but the two targets behind the barrels before the last box are extremely difficult to hit from that position, exposing as they do less than a couple of inches of target from the fifth box. Better to engage them from the middle-right box, as you will see both shooters in this video doing.

I, being the first shooter, didn't do such a good job. As I was crouching in the last box to get below the last vision barrier, I realized that I had not engaged those two deep central targets from the fourth box. Faced with the need to either move backwards to the fourth box, or take the slim margin available from my last shooting position, I chose to lean to the right and shoot around the barrels. I got double-D hits on the lower target. The upper target exposed the B-zone and the upper A-zone, so I got one hit on each target. Major penalty of time involved in making such careful shots, but it took less time than moving backwards.


Stage 8: Watch Your Step

This last stage was ARPC's answer to the well-beloved "Jungle Run", as the similar stages at the Croc Match have historically been called. It was a high-value stage: 270 points, 54 rounds minimum.

The Croc Match built its Jungle Run along a path following a small creek. There was a little up-hill running, some down-hill, but it was mostly level.

This Jungle Run was uphill, all the way!

When we came on the stage, we took the better part of a half-hour just walking through the stage trying to find all of the targets. This was necessary, because at least two targets were not visible to competitors who just followed the narrow road which defined the course of fire.

After getting to the top of the road, a path branched off to the right (still leading uphill) where ten cardboard targets and two pepper-poppers lurked. The competitor could stop just a few feet from the turn, and engage all of the targets ... many of them at long ranges (in excess of 50 feet, especially for the steel.) But that turned out to be a Bad Idea, because some of the targets were double-stacked ... an obvious target stacked high on the target frame, and another target below it on the same frame, which could only be seen by running (or in my case, trudging) another 20 feet up hill. The problem? The targets were sited in thick, thigh-high underbrush, and could only be seen from the uphill shooting position.

One of the first shooters in our squad elected to not move any further uphill, but engaged the visible targets (10 IPSC, 2 US Popper) from the turn. He got miss and FTE penalties on the two hidden targets, and panting while engage steel targets from 50 feet is a very tiresome exercise ... especially when it takes a dozen hits to down the steel.

I made several trips up and down that hill during our extended walk-through, and ran the score-sheets up and down the hill for the first 4 or 5 shooters. Well, I was far down in the shooting order, I thought I could do that and still do well.

I was wrong. By the time I turned the score sheets over to another (and younger!) squad-member, I was in pain and out of breath. When my turn to shoot came up, I didn't do a lot of running.

But I knew where every target was, and I had no miss or FTE penalties. Of course, it took forever for me to get through the stage. I took over 73 seconds, all of it uphill. The top shooters were completing the same COF in half the time. (Yeah, but can they program in COBOL, SQR, SQL and Pro-C? I think not!)

The video below shows a pair of shooters, from my resting position uprange of the starting box. They are not very good, because I was shooting into the sun (hence the purple haze on the video) and because you can't always see the shooter. I left the camera rolling for one shooter as he went out of sight, just to capture the sound of many more shots from his hidden position around the turn. And on the last shooter, I allowed the camera to drop JUST when Iain was doing his fanciest shooting ... double-tapping a close target on the way past it, strong-hand only.


It is difficult, and perhaps unfair, for my to draw conclusions about the whole match when I didn't experience the whole match. I can truthfully say that I regretted not returning for the second day, in which we only had to shoot 3 stages. I think they were probably the most interesting stages.

About the only criticism I can feel good about is that the Jungle Run stage was more a test of strength, stamina and endurance than about shooting skill. And that's small potatoes, when you consider that IPSC started out by depicting real-life "combat shooting" situations, as my be experienced by Law Enforcement Officers. In truth, I think that Col. Cooper, the Father of IPSC, would have approved of this stage.

It would have been MUCH better, in some ways, to have a dedicated RO and taping team running this stage. They would have had to be Iron Men, though. And not working the stage doesn't provide the average shooter with the opportunity to understand the stage and identify each target, and from where they best can be engaged.

Ultimately, the best I can honestly say about this match (or the portion of which I attempted) is:

It kicked my ass!

(Oh, and I will definitely be back again.)

It took me 2 weeks to complete this blog article .. sorry for the delay. It took one day to edit the videos into something that was even reasonable acceptable, and 4 hours tonight to load the videos and write the text.

The rest of the time, I was wondering what the heck I could say to make the article interesting, at least to the folks who were there.

I hope there's some interest also for the folks who were not participating.