Monday, November 13, 2006

Bad Plates

According to USPSA/IPSC rules, plates must be set up so that a scoring hit will 'knock down' the plate.

Text Box: January 2004 Edition Rule Book • 87

A small block of wood (indicated by dark shading above), approximately 2cm x 2cm, and about the same width as the plate, should be affixed in front of the base of the plate, to help prevent the plate from turning sideways when shot.

Unfortunately, in club matches, this rule may sometimes be abrogated during set-up because of accident or because the people setting up the stage just don't understand the rules (or don't understand the reasons why some sort of 'baffle' is included in the plate stand.)

Here we see a situation where the host club has used bolt/nut combinations in the plate stand to establish a mechanism which is intended to stop a plate from turning sideways when shot.

The stage procedure is to start sitting in a (very comfortable) chair with unloaded pistol and all magazines on a low table in front of the shooter. On the start signal, pick up & load the pistol, then engage two IPSC targets, two 10" plates, and two US Popper on one side of the stage. Then make a mandatory reload, engage a mirror-arrangement of IPSC targets, plates and US poppers on the other side. The average (Median?) stage time was about 20 seconds.

The plate stands are set up backwards, so instead of serving the intended purpose, they prevent the plate from falling when hit with a low (but legal) 'hit'.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usHere's what it looks like, from the target point-of-view. Note that the impediments (the nuts) would have worked well to insure that the plate is always set to present the same aspect to the shooter. Instead, rather than preventing the plate from "turning sideways when shot", it actually serves to INSURE that the plate turns sideways when shot, and prevents the plate from falling, when it is hit low (so that reaction is prevented by the bracing nut/bolt combination).

During the match, in a single squad we witnessed four incidences of the plate setup acting as a detriment to the competitor being awarded credit for the first-round hit.

In the first incident, Doug (not pictured) hit the second of four plates low, with a hit which would have obviously knocked down the plate. Doug did not contest the Range Equipment Failure, but instead continued to engage the plate until it fell from the plate stand. This increased his stage time by two or three seconds.

In the second incident (not pictured), SWMBO likewise struck a plate "low", and continued without protest to engage the other targets on the stage. However, after completing the stage she protested the Range Equipment Failure and was granted a reshoot.

In the third and fourth incidents, during SWMBO's reshoot she hit the 2nd plate low and turned it, but continued to engage the plate and knocked it down with the next shot. However, on the fourth plate she again hit it low which caused it to turn over thirty degrees so that the aspect presented was a target which was only 3 or 4 inches wide, rather than the original ten inches wide. She shot four more times until she was able to knock the plate down.

Her choice was to accept the stage time, which was at least 8 seconds longer (on a 20-second stage) than should have been necessary to clear the stage. The alternative was to accept ANOTHER reshoot due to Range Equipment Failure, and as this was the last stage of the day it was a Hobson's Choice.

Here's how it looked in the actual event.

The stage should have been corrected when the first squad shot it. Because it was a "Club Match", the stage wasn't tested and the error wasn't noticed until the last squad shot it. Consequently, the scores ... however erroneous ... were allowed to stand.

Note that your host (Jerry the Geek) DQ's due to an AD on that stage.

RO Question: If the stage results had been discounted ... if the stage had been 'thrown out' ... would the DQ have been allowed to stand?

Interesting question. There is no real reason to champion one opinion (allow the DQ and the stage to count) over the other opinion (disallow stage points to count as match points, disallow the DQ and allow the Geek match scores to count) because the match had no significant meaning.

However, if it was a Major Match such as the USPSA National Match, I wonder how the Arbitration Board would have ruled?

What do YOU think?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Geek KaBOOM!

It wasn't a true "KaBOOM!", at least not in the classic sense which I've described (or linked to descriptions) here and here before.

But the gun did go "Bang" when I didn't really expect it, and I did accept (insist on!) a Match Disqualification (DQ).

It happened on the last stage of the monthly IPSC match ... ironically, on Veterans' Day; I don't get no respect! ... and AFTER I had successfully completed the course of fire. The 16-round stage had the shooter sitting in a chair while firing, and the chair was situated under overhead cover. We had expected rain, so all of the firing positions for the entire match were set up inside the 3-sided buildings on Bays One through Seven which make it so nice to compete at the Albany Rifle and Pistol Club (ARPC) during the rainy season (nine months out of the year).

In retrospect, the only draw-back I can perceive in reference to shooting under cover is that the light-source is attenuated. That is, it's not bright enough to provide an acceptable level of brightness to a round in the chamber. This wasn't obvious at the time, but read on; you'll eventually see that this is a factor which must always be considered in terms of range safety.

After I had completed the course of fire, Gene the RO gave me the normal "If you are finished, unload and show clear" command. I dropped the magazine and racked the slide. I didn't see the last loaded round fly out. I blinked.

The RO looked in the chamber, didn't see a round there, and appropriatedly gave the next command:

"IF clear, hammer down, holster".

This is right out of the rulebook (2004), and has been slightly changed from previous versions which were:

"Gun clear, hammer down, holster".

The reason for the change in verbiage?

It absolves the RO from all responsibility if the gun is NOT clear.

Keep this in mind, because it is an important point, if subtle. The RO is NOT responsible for the consequences if the chamber turns out not to be 'clear'. However, if the RO isn't satisfied that the gun is unloaded, he will not allow the shooter to prove that the gun is not clear by dropping the hammer (by pulling the trigger).

This is not intended as an excuse; it merely acknowledges that the next action by the shooter is entirely up to the shooter. If that person is not entirely confident that the gun is clear, he should NOT continue with the normal chain of events. That is to say, the shooter should NOT pull the trigger.

Moving on:
Normally, I hold the pistol approximately gang-banger level and when I rack the slide the round flies into the air. Inappropriately, I usually catch the live round so it doesn't hit the ground, but I was sitting down and the stage was sufficiently bizarre that I changed my normal routine a bit.

Puzzled, I racked the slide again. Again, no round is ejected.

I looked at the ground around my feet. Didn't see an ejected cartridge lying at my feet ... but there was a short-legged table in front of me (the stage started with unloaded gun and all magazines on the table) and I couldn't see EVERYTHING; I thought the ejected live round must be lying under the table.

Just to be sure, I squinted at the chamber while holding the slide back. Nope, couldn't see the glint of brass in the chamber.

Just to be sure, I racked the slide two, three, four times more. Nothing happening here folks, move along.

It was the last stage, and I felt a certain amount of urgency because we all wanted to get off the stage so the rest of the squad could complete the stage before the threatened big rains came. (We had about 10 minutes of gusty winds and light rain earlier in the day, and we felt lucky that we hadn't had to bag the targets, because that makes it terribly difficult to see your hits AND to paste over the hits for the next shooter.)

Ultimately, I sighed, pointed the gun carefully at the berm down-range, and pulled the trigger.


Hmmmmmm ... I guess there was a round in the chamber after all.

Absolute silence in the bay, followed by a flurry of comments.

Gene, the RO, said "I saw you rack the slide, several times, and I thought it was empty!"

I said "Me too, but it wasn't empty. My responsibility. I'm DQ'd."

And so it was, after another flurry of comments.

The Hobo Brasser, the Match Director who was in the same squad, said "I wasn't watching because I was talking to someone, but I HEARD you rack the slide several times. The only way that round couldn't have been extracted is if your extractor was broken. " (There's a rule that if a discharge was caused by a mechanical failure of your gun, it's not a DQ.)

I opined that under these circumstances it didn't matter. I was the shooter, it's my responsibility to make CERTAIN that no round is left in the gun before I complete the "Unload And Show Clear" sequence. I pulled the trigger, there was a round in the gun, I'm outta there.

I wasn't really upset, there was no safety issue (the gun WAS pointed downrange), and I wasn't sure that it was safely unloaded. I admittedly did not KNOW that the gun was safe, pulling the trigger was my decision and I pay the penalty.

I was unhappy later when it turned out that I came within small percentage points of having actually won a stage, and I'm disappointed that the things I "did well" wouldn't get the recognition I felt I observed. In fact, it was one of the better matches I have shot recently. Except for that "one thing" (shades of "Curly" in City Slickers!)


The Next Day

The Hobo Brasser sent me an email citing rule 10.4.9:

10.4.9 Exception: When it can be established that the cause of the dis­charge is due to the actual breakage of a part of the firearm and the competitor has not committed any safety infraction in this Section, a match disqualification will not be invoked, however, the competitor’s scores for that course of fire will be zero. The firearm must be immediately presented for inspection to the Range Master or his delegate, who will inspect the firearm and carry out any tests necessary to establish that an actual breakage of a part caused the discharge. A competitor may not later appeal a match disqualification for an unsafe discharge due to the actu­al breakage of a part if they fail to present the firearm for inspec­tion prior to leaving the course of fire.
When I read this, I immediately dismissed it because I had pulled the extractor and performed a cursory inspection. I looked at the AFTEC extractor, and it looked okay to me. Besides, it doesn't matter if the extractor was broken. I pulled the trigger, it's my responsibility to make SURE that the gun is safe, and I failed in my responsibility. The reason for the Ka-BOOM is that I pulled the trigger. Nothing else matters.

But when I was checking the gun, I took some digital pictures as well, from several angles, because I thought it was a good subject to write about.

When I got home this evening and downloaded the photos, I discovered that the naked eye is NOT the best way to best way to inspect an extractor. My bifocals were not up to the requirements; I needed a lot of visual enhancements to perceive the problem, which you can only get with a strong magnifying glass OR photo enlargement.

(NOTE about the following photographs: the thumbnails you see are much-diminished in resolution. When you click on the image, you see the full-size image. To give you an idea about how much enlargement is required to perceive the damage to the extractor, look at the background. The extractor is presented on a background of a commercial cleaning patch. The grey grid you see in the enlargement is the weave in the material!)

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Picture 1, looking square-on at the extractor, looks fine. This is what I saw when I looked at the photo through my bifocals. You can't see squat by looking at the extractor through bifocals, or via the thumbnails. You really need to click on the FOLLOWING pictures to see the full-size image.

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But Picture 2, looking at the left corner of the extractor, displays a chip out of the metal. (This probably shows up better in the full-size photo ... click each picture to show it full-size.)

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usPicture 3 shows the right corner of the extractor, which isn't typically involved in gripping the case. This is what the left corner SHOULD have looked like.

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usPicture 4 is another square-on view of the extractor, under slightly different lighting. You can see the shadow indicating that the extractor material doesn't reach all the way to the left corner.

The extractor typically fails at the left corner, which is the fail-point of the part because the extractor doesn't usualy engage the case at the center of the extractor face, which is what you would naturally expect.

Typically, the only portion of the 'hook' of the 1911 extractor which catches the rim of the case is the left (or 'lower') end of the engagement face. This may be a design flaw, because I've had a half-dozen extractor failures in the 23 years I've been competing in IPSC and ALL of the failures were caused by a chip out of the left corner of the hook.

So far we've established that the reason the round didn't extract was because of extractor failure.

But why didn't I, or the RO, notice that there was a round in the chamber?

After careful consideration, I went back to my ammunition.

They're color-coded.

SWMBO and I have a routine we follow in loading ammunition. I tumble all of the brass we pick up, and reload it.

Then SWMBO (usually) inspects the ammunition by first using a case-gauge to determine whether it will fit into the chamber. The STI Open Gun she is using is the same caliber as the STI Open Gun I am using ... .38 Super.

However, the chamber in the gun she is using is much less forgiving; ammunition which is too fat for that gun will often fit quite reliably in the gun I am using.

Also, she has an extractor which is tuned for one case profile only: .38 super.

The gun I am using is fitted with an Aftec extractor, which will reliably eject .38 super, .38 super comp, .38 TJ, .38 AP, and any other rim-size.

After the case-gauge, she boxes the ammunition in Dillon ammunition boxes and the subjects it to a visual inspection. She is looking for high primers (which are pulled and either placed in the "BAD AMMO" bin or run through the primer-seating stage of the XL650 reloading press; the advisability of this step is a subject for a later article, which will probably never be written by ME because I obviously don't see a problem in reseating a primer in a loaded cartridge.)

Consequently, we mark our ammunition in hopes that people who brass after the stage hasFree Image Hosting at
been completed will know who 'owns' the brass:

RED: Every round which drops cleanly into the case-gauge, and is not some variation of .38 super comp, is marked red and she can use it with confidence.

RED WITH BLACK STRIPE: Rounds which drop cleanly into the case-gauge, but are a variation of the .38 super-comp, are marked RED with a BLACK STRIP so we know I can use it in my gun, but it may not extract reliably in her gun.

NO MARKING: Rounds which are too fat to fit the gun she is using, but drop clean into the chamber of the gun I am using, are not marked. If we don't get it back when we brass after shooting, we're not too worried.

BLACK: During ONE loading this month, I decided to mark FAT/COMP brass separately ... for no good reason. I suspect it was because I wanted people who were brassing the stage to be able to identify OUR brass, and return it to us rather than confuse it with the .38 super brass that they had shot without marking it. Admittedly, it was an experiment.

BLUE: Every round which is loaded using new (Winchester) brass is marked BLUE on the base. It has also passed the case-gauge test, and she can use it with confidence. Because we want to be SURE to recover this never-fired brass, we mark it specially so we only use it in classifer stages or any other stage where we are reasonably confident that we can find all of the brass,.

I'm not certain about this, but I suspect that the BLACK-marked brass (really, should have been saved for practice) was mixed up with the lighter-color-coded brass. We had used most of it the previous match, at Dundee, and got some of it back. But I noticed a few rounds of this black-based brass before the ARPC match started, and failed to consider that it might cause a problem.

NOTE: I've been competing in IPSC for 23 years, and STILL didn't see any way this might cause a problem.


IPSC/USPSA safety regulations represent the Belt AND Suspenders And Staple-to-the tummy approach to multiple safety factor insurance. If, after all of the safety rules have been compromised, any unhappy moments experienced are the fault of the shooter.

  1. At UNLOAD AND SHOW CLEAR, you (as the shooter) need to make certain that your chamber is really really clear. If you have any doubts, don't worry about slowing up the match. Notify the RO that you're not certain that the chamber is clear, even if it requires calling for a Squib Rod to ensure that the chamber is not occupied by the EEEEEEVIL Loaded Round.
  2. An expansion on Point One: If you are not comfortable pulling the trigger ... DON'T PULL THE TRIGGER!
  3. It's a really BAD idea to mark your brass by applying a 'dark' color to the base of the case. Use only bright, 'happy colors' to mark your brass. Test your marked brass to be sure that they show up when the chamber is inspected under 'normal' light levels.


Here's an RO test for you.

If you find yourself in a similar circumstance, and discover that the reason that the live round in the chamber didn't eject because the extractor was broken, does rule 10.4.9 apply? Or instead of the shooter sticking around for the awards ceremony, does he spend the afternoon salving his conscience at Dairy Queen?