Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Bill and Steve Show

Finally! After months of not attending actual USPSA matches, SWMBO and I managed to catch the February match at Albany Rifle and Pistol Club.

A word of explanation: Between illness, vacation, family obligations, equipment malfunctions, bad weather, ammunition shortage and ennui, SWMBO shot her last match in September, 2007, and I shot my last match in October.

While I've managed to fill the blog-hours over the last 5 months with related subjects, we have both missed actual shooting at matches. Not only have we missed the matches, we've missed the fresh air, the joy of spending the day in an activity, and the cameraderie of our friends.

For those of you who keep track of such things (nobody but me), I didn't participate in the 2007 Croc Match, but SWMBO and I attended for a few hours to watch. I had managed to dump a bottle of water in my camera bag, rendering my HP R807 digicam hors de combat. I replaced it with an HP 967 digicam which has many new features, including the ability to automatically refocus AND zoom while filming in video mode. I haven't had much time to play with it, and have under 700 shots with it. This doesn't matter to you, I think it's a Geek Thing.

We were determined to attend the match whatever the weather, but were pleasantly surprised to discover a warm, sunny day with lots of blue skies as we loaded the D.O.F. (Damned Old Ford) at 44 degrees. It warmed up to 54 degrees by the time we came back home at 3pm, having experienced 5 hours of standing on gravel while remaining dry; meeting new friends; equipment malfunctions; and our first match under the brand new 2008 USPSA rule book.

When we signed up for the match, we ignored our common practice of signing onto a squad with the most people we knew and enjoyed shooting with. Instead we just found the 'shortest' squad (8 people signed up) and ignored the other names. We had come to play, and enjoy the unseasonably lovely Oregon weather, and if we found new shooting friends, so much the better.

There were 68 people signed up to shoot the match, which is almost unheard of in February in Oregon. I think we were all getting cabin fever, and welcomed any excuse to get out of the house. Also, ARPC is one of the most weather-proof clubs in the country, so even though February matches are typically soggy we didn't much care. At least it wasn't snowing, and the wind wasn't blowing.

We were also surprised to discover that there were four new shooters at this match. These fine folks had been so determined to start the sport of Practical Pistol shooting, they had started during what was ordinarily one of the most climatically foreboding months of the year. (In February of 1995, the Mid-Willamette valley area experienced severe flooding blocking all but one entrance to the town of Corvallis.) The very good news was that two of these new shooters were assigned to our squad, bringing the total squad size up to a healthy 11 shooters.

Before the match actually started, Match Director Mike McCarter took me aside to emphasize that, according to the new 2008 Rule Book, the Range Officer was allowed to 'coach' new shooters. I'm glad he mentioned that, because I was so focused on the new "Make Ready" command (replacing "Load and Make Ready" that I had completely forgotten the improvement.

As it turned out, our squad had only 3 certified Range Officers ... me, SWMBO and Mark K. That meant that not only were we three going to do our fair share of taping cardboard targets, setting and painting steel targets and brassing, we were going to have to do all of the RO chores. (Fortunately, most of the other squad members were happy to help out with the scoring, and only a few of them required instructions on how to fill out the score sheets. That meant that the RO's needed to pay more attention to foot-faults and checking that all targets were taped or reset, but we had only a few false starts due to lapses in this area.)

Our two new shooters were Bill and Steve. Both were state employees ... actually, Geeks! ... from the state capital in Salem. Bill was under 6' tall, had a belly which rivaled my own. He was wearing a fire-engine red shirt with suspenders of the exact same hue. Steve towered over my own six feet height and wore a desert camo headscarf and a chambray shirt. Both were shooting in Production Division.

Before we started them shooting, I talked to both of them about their experience. Neither had done any Practical Pistol shooting other than during their Certification Classes, but were experienced hand gunners as they proved during the match. Their priority was to get through the match safely to complete their Certification process, and to have fun.

I explained to each of them, individually as they came up to shoot the first stage, that the USPSA rules explicitly allowed coaching of new shooters. That meant that if I saw that they were experiencing confusion or other problems while shooting a stage, I would be free to offer suggestions which not only related to safety issues, but would help them to make tactical decisions. For example, if they were having trouble hitting a steel target and were making reloads, I could assume they were in a 'white-line fever' mode and could suggest that they shoot at other targets and come back to this one after they experienced success on those targets. This, and other coaching, were helpful hints which SWMBO and I had been offered by Range Officers which I first started shooting ... and in fact had been so helped even though the rules at that time did not specifically allow.

As the match went on, everybody started to loosen up. Our squad was a bit shorter than the squad preceding us, so we were often waiting for the squad ahead of us to finish a stage so we could move on to it. As a result, we often finished a stage with the squad behind us watching our own performance.

It is the general practice in the Columbia Cascade Section (CCS) to pull the score sheets of new shooters out of the line-up, shuffle the rest of the score sheets, draw the First Shooter, and then put the rest of the score sheets back into the line-up with the new shooters at the end. This allows the new shooters to watch everyone else in the squad and determine which tactical approach best meets their personal strengths. It also allows them to become familiar with the requirements of the stage. Unfortunately, it also makes them the shooters most likely to have a large audience while they are shooting. If you have been competing for a while, you may have forgotten how intimidating this can be on your first 'real match'. (I remember it; I was extremely self-conscious for my first two years of competition, and it is only due to the friendly encouragement of the 'old hands' that I ever got past it. Referring to my abysmal performance while trying to play Golf, it's comparable to being the first in your foursome to tee off on the first tee, while the groups 'behind you' stood around and discussed the impressive flare you demonstrated in topping the ball.)

Half way trough the match, we quit saying "Bill is On Deck, Steve is In The Hole". Instead, we just said "Followed by the 'Bill and Steve' Show."

To be honest, it was the 'Bill and Steve' Show.

New shooters are sometimes completely new to the art of handgun shooting. There are not only safety issues due to unformed gun handling habits, but the new shooters find it difficult to hit the targets. Their skills sets are not yet established, which makes their first experience at an Actual Match personally embarrassing for them.

Not so Bill and Steve.

They may have felt uncomfortable and unsure, but once the buzzer initiated the action, both competitors settled into a credible approach to every stage. They didn't forget targets, they didn'' forget to see the sights, and most importantly they didn't forget safety.

There was a moment on the final stage of the match where Steve overbalanced his foot position on the left side of a shooting 'box' while attempting a difficult shot around an intrusive barrier. As he fell forward his leading foot, his following foot left him facing to the rear. He managed to bring the pistol behind him, keeping the muzzle safely downrange while he turned the pistol upside down so it was easy to point it in a safe direction.

Then, since he wasn't sure what to do, he transferred the gun to his weak hand as he ended up facing completely up-range, while the pistol was still pointing safely downrange. Then he calmly discussed his options with the RO (SWMBO), who explained that as long as he kept the handgun pointing in a safe direction.

Given these instructions he turned back downrange while continuing to keep his pistol pointed in a safe direction, calmly reloaded, and continued the stage.

For a guy who was completely disoriented, I thought he demonstrated a masterful understanding of the safe gun-handling practices necessary for this kind of bizarre situation. This was the last stage of the match, and we were pleased to offer a standing ovation to him, and to Bill (who completed the stage with far fewer dramatic gestures) for successfully completing the final 'test' of his Certification process.

As I said to both Bill and Steve; "you can shoot on my squad anytime!"

Bill and Steve, I hope you are reading this. Every USPSA member (and IPSC members around the world) are typically more concerned with the safe completion of the First Match for new shooters than with our won competitive performance. I won't even go into the way you managed the difficult Texas Star target tonight. Although you both shot the Star well, it is not as impressive as the way you completed a difficult series of stages with grace, stage presence and safety.

Welcome to the League of Disenfranchised USPSA Bums, and I hope you enjoy many more years of it!

(Still photos of this squad are now available at the Geek Video Shooting Gallery.)

(This picture available here; all still photos from this match available here.)

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