Sunday, February 06, 2005

Practical Shotgun

Last week I received an invitation from my old fried, Randomly Hittin', to join him at the Tri-County Gun Club monthly 3-gun match ... which (this month) is a "Shotgun Only" match.

He provided the appropriate incentives. "I've got plenty of cheap shot shells, and we can share my (semi-auto!) shotgun. The club will have slugs for sale at $1.80 per box of five, and you only need 13 slug rounds to shoot the match."

The last time (also the first time) I shot a Shotgun Only match was about 3 years ago, at Dundee, where I also borrowed a shotgun. I enjoyed that match, but didn't really know what it was all about. This week I couldn't refuse such a generous offer, so I readily accepted.

The match was scheduled for 9am on Saturday, and I got there about 8:30am. It was a foggy, foggy morning in The Great Northwet, so it took longer than I had expected to drive from Salem to Portland.

SWMBO had looked out the window that morning, calculated "foggy + cold + possibly_rainy + early_Saturday = no way!" She decided that she would spend the morning doing laundry, and in the afternoon she would rebuild her PC (add a 2nd hard-drive, another 256k of memory, and load Win98 over Win95.)

What a GOOD list of incentives for a Geek to be out of town!
I knew I would miss her, but I'm an Applications Programmer: I do software; I don't do hardware.

When I got to the Range, Randomly was busily hauling steel targets out to the various bays and helping to set up stages. He took a few minutes to hand me his shotgun and suggest that I go find a safety table where I could get use to the gun.

I mounted the gun to my shoulder a few times, and discovered that the stock was too long to shoot while I was wearing my heavy winter coat. No problem, I can take off the coat. I had three layers of shirt under the coat, including a heavy fleece sweatshirt. Found the safety, right where it belonged at the rear of the trigger-guard. The bolt release was on the right side of the receiver, there was an 8-round extended tube which gave me 9 rounds when one round was loaded into the tube. He had used velcro to attach an 8-round shellholder along the receiver, plus another 2-round shellholder just in front of the bolt port "so you can load easily to the chamber in case you shoot to slide lock."

Okay, I'm just a little intimidated.

After he finished his part in setting up the match, Randomly joined me again to explain the finer points of Practical Shotgun.

"It's all about reloads. It's just as if you were shooting a pistol with an 8-round magazine, but you don't have magazines. Every round is loaded individually, from either the shellholders attached to the gun or from the 16-round bandolier that I'll let you borrow if you're a very good boy. That means you load the bandolier and the shellholders before you shoot, and after you shoot so I don't have to do that stuff."

(Well, he actually didn't say that last part, but that's the way I paid him back for the free ammo!)

We started out with 17-round stage shooting at Pepper Poppers from shooting-boxes. Having been warned, I was not surprised to learn that the biggest time-waster was reloading ... which everyone had to do. A feature which was new to me (as an IPSC Handgun competitor) was three Pepper Poppers with Rebar 'wires' attached, two per popper, each holding a bright orange-collered Clay Pigeon. As soon as you hit the Popper, the pigeons were presented at targets. The first array had an 8" plate, a US Popper, and the Pepper Popper with the clay pigeons ... 5 rounds minimum. Then you moved to another box (reloading frantically!) where you could engage three more US Poppers. Then (reloading frantically, because you needed nine shots to finish) you moved to the 3rd box where you shot two poppers with double clay-pigeons attached, plus three 10" plates. If you got to the shooting position with a full (9 rounds) load, and didn't miss anything, you got a good time. If you missed anything, you lost time while you fumbled more rounds into the shotgun.

I lucked out; because I was so conservative, and dubious about my shotgunning abilities, I took my time aiming and actually didn't use any extra shots.

Funny thing: this would have been about a 15 second stage if it was an IPSC handgun match, but I felt fortunate in completing it in under a minute. But of course, it got worse.

The next stage (17-rounds), you started with aslug- shot at a gallon jug of water, which was dangling from a wire approximately two counties away. It was really only 50-yards (!) away, but I needed someone to point it out to me because I hadn't noticed it W-A-A-A-Y down at the far end of one of the two big bays. Then you marched down to the end, shooting square plates and pepper poppers ... one of which started a Texas Star revolving.

In my 9-man squad, ONE shooter hit the water jug. Many of the shooters found a kneeling position with a rest, where they could get the best possible shooting position. They didn't hit it. When it came my turn, I took a snap-shot at the water jug and just moved on ... I know I couldn't hit it because I had no idea where the gun was hitting at that range with a slug.
Randomly swore I missed the supporting wire by THAT much (indicating fingers held 3/4" apart.) I paid him $5 to say that, so I know my reputation is safe. Realistically, I'm pretty sure I hit the twelve-foot berm behind the target, but I wouldn't swear to it.

When I got to the Texas Star, I started off pretty good. But some of my shot hit the supporting arm instead of the plate, so I had to reload a few rounds. A couple of times. I finally knocked all the plates off the Star, but my time was noting to brag about.

We had three other short ranges where I acquited myself somewhat less than admirably, then we got to the "All Slugs, All the Time" stage. The targets were IPSC cardboard. Two of them were long-range (which I consider anything over 10 yards, but I think these were about 20 yards)

The rest were from 7 to 10 yards, and two of them were moving targets. I mention this only to make the stage sound more difficult than it really was, in excuse for my mediocre performance.

Before I got up to shoot this stage, Gary The Toolman said:
"Hey, Jerry! Shoot Fast!"

"Shoot Fast?"

"Yeah, shoot fast. Don't worry about hits, just ... go really, really fast!"
You may not know it, but I LOVE to shoot fast. This was as close to a "hoser" stage as I could find, so I got up there and shot really, really fast. Including 4 rounds reloaded, I finished in 21 seconds! Wow! I was really impressed with myself, and I had no trouble at all ignoring the 3 misses out of the 12 possible hits on the stage.

I had Shot Fast!

Sometimes, it doesn't take a lot for me to impress myself.

Others in the squad were not as impressed, but they all agreed that I had, indeed, "Shot Fast."

Style Points, that's the ticket. When you can't shoot for shit, shoot fast.
That's my motto.

The final stage was something of a divergence from the rest of the match. You could call it a "deal breaker" stage.
It was set up in a HUGE bay, probably 50' from side to side and 100' long. There was a lot of steel, although only 18 rounds were required to complete it. There were three 'traps' involved, each of which held one clay pigeon which threw a bird from one side of the bay to the opposite corner. The rule of thumb on fast, low quartering shots on birds is, as I understand, "you can't lead them by too far". I shot the static targets on each of the 3 arrays, then turned to where I could see the birds start. Followed the birds with the gun, waited until I got at least eight feet ahead of the bird, and shot while the muzzle was still moving.

I got one of the three birds.

Wow! I thought. I've got this licked.

The last two shots were from the end of the shooting area (a 10' wide by 30' long roped-off area), stand in a shooting box, and knock down two 10" plates close to the ground.

I managed to knock down the first plate ... and then realized that my front foot was touching the shooting box ... but I wasn't in it.

Taking another step forward, so I was entirely in the box, I knocked down the last plate.

I got points for hitting one of the three birds, but a procedural penalty for not being in the box for one of the static plates at the end.

RJ the RO said "okay, we got one in 3 birds, plus all the static targets, so two misses. Plus one procedural for not being in the box while engaging that plate down at the end."

Tough, tough RO.

My time? I don't know. Not enough to be Somebody, surely not enough to Be A Contender.

At least I didn't embarass myself.

I even got some photos.

Maybe I don't have any pride in myself, maybe I'm not motivated, and maybe I had low expectations at the start of the match.

But I went to the Practical Shotgun match with the intention of having a good time, spending the day in fresh air and occasional sunshine with my friends. All of these expectations were met. I don't care that I didn't win the match. I didn't care that I looked like a Bozo out there, trying to figure out the rules as I went along.

I've been shooting IPSC handgun matches since 1983. I have vague memories about how intimidated I was back then, being the NuGuy and not understanding the rules. I didn't remember the FEEL of being a NuGuy, or how nervous I was at my first IPSC matches.

Perhaps I've got a little of that back now.

I knew most of the people I was shooting against. I have some confidence in my basic gun-handling abilities, my understanding of the rules of gun safety, and the etiquette of shooting a "Practical" match.

Still, I found myself somewhat intimidated by the knowledge that I was, after all, a New Guy.

You should know that when a New Guy shows up at a match, he isn't sure how to act or how he will be accepted. The best thing you can do, as an experienced competitor, is to be friendly. Include him in the cameraderie of People Who Shoot Guns Because It's Fun. Applaud his successeses, no matter how small they may be. Don't focus on his errors, and don't give him 'tips' unless they're essential to being safe. Just let him make his mistakes ... he'll figure out what he can do to 'do better' the next time, or the time after that. If you have a lesson to share, do so in the context of mistakes YOU made ... don't dwell on the mistakes HE made.

The most important thing is not to be critical of the new shooter.

I guarantee it will increase his confidence, his determination to come back and try it again and again.

Let the new guy find a home, and friends, in competitive shooting. He'll come back time and again, to eventually evolve in his own time and at his own pace, into someone who wants to encourage the next New Guy as much as he was encouraged in his first few matches, and into someone who you will be happy to be part of your squad.

He won't ever say anything; but if he did, he'd thank you for it.

PS: I don't know that I'll ever take up "Practical Shotgun" as a regular activity, but I have to say that I was impressed by it and wouldn't mind trying it again, sometime, if the conditions are right. My thanks to Randomly Hitten' for his contribution to my enjoyment of what would otherwise have been a no-shooting-matches weekend, and for introducing me to another aspect of competitive shooting.


Anonymous said...

Jerry did better than he let on, at least in 'style points'


Jerry The Geek said...

Thank you, I'm pretty sure.