Friday, June 01, 2012

Chronograph: War Stories!

In 1998, I (and SWMBO) traveled to my first Major Match, which was the Area 1 match in Reno, Nevada.   I was shooting The Beloved Kimber (.45ACP) in my 200gr SWC load,, and I was entirely confident because it had chronographed consistently in Major Power in my own Chrono Tests, and in the Chrono Tests which my Home Section (Columbia Cascade Section) provided during the Section Match.

So it came as a complete surprise when Doctor John and the Chrono Crew in Reno found that my loads were just a little too slow to prove Major Power!  What's this?  I'm shooting a .45 .. how can it NOT be Major Power?

This was the first Surprise Event in my competitive career, so I wasn't sure how to handle it.  But they shot six rounds, and I was still decimal-points short of the speed I needed in my ammunition to make Major Power.

Chrono Man gave me the option; should I re-weigh the last bullet, or shoot it for speed?

Since my original bullet weight had been measured within one tenth of the declared weight, I  was reluctant to expect that the last bullet would be anonymously heavier.  I asked them to shoot it for speed, and fortunately it was much faster than all the other rounds which I had submitted for testing.  I ended up shooting in Major Power .. but just barely!

The thing is, I was using Hercules Unique powder, which is notoriously coarse-grained.  It did not measure accurately from one round to the next; it was only dumb luck that it had tested 'faster' in the last round.

I finished in the lowest 5% at that match .. in at least one stage, I was the lowest non-zero scoring range.  I wasn't very good, but I was still having fun!

Since then, I have changed to fine-grain powder (Vihta Vourhi 330 or VV 320) for the .45 ACP loads, which weigh much more accurately.  And I quit shooting the .45 ACP in competition, for that reason.

(I use only fine-grain powders in competition, even in Level I matches where the ammunition is unlikely to be choreographed.)

I've said this before, and I won't go to the bother of looking up the links to previous posts, but if you expect to compete in a Major Match, you would be well served by using a fine-grain powder which measures more consistently and accurately in most reloading presses.

BTW, I used the same coarse-grain powder in my next Major Match; the Limited National match at Las Vegas later in 1998.  I overloaded the rounds, and ended up with a Power Factor of 198.  It was a bear to shoot, but I managed to do well enough to jump from C-Limited to B-limited based on my scores at that match.

Knowing the limitations of my ammunition, I was careful to shoot for accuracy, not for speed.  This may serve as an object lesson, as my scores in the National Match were just barely high enough to jump me from C-Class to B-Class in Limited.  That, using a single-stack Kimber (cost: $238) with borrowed 10-round magazines and untested ammunition.

I've got the best job in the world!

Last month I squadded with some of the students from my previous "Introduction to USPSA class", and as usual I was treated to the rewarding demonstration of people who are experiencing their first match.

I had a Father and Son pair show up at the class.  They were shooting reloads, but toward the end of the class they began to experience squib load.  The first time was an anomaly; the second was a trend, and so I was reluctantly obliged to discontinue the class; there was only one other shooter in the class, and it would not have been fair to anyone to complete the class with only one shooter.

Besides, it's always better to quit than to reinforce negativity in competitive shooting.

The next weekend, the Father (Chris) and the son (Dominic) showed up with Factory Ammunition.  Sure, they had reloading problems; but they were not about to miss the fun just because of that!

They both did well during the match, but at the last stage it was clear that Dominic, at least, was determined to have his 'best stage ever'.  He was working hard to get through the stage in a minimum amount of time, and we could all see the big grin on his face as he double-tapped every target on the stage.

At the end of the stage, I approached Dominic and said: "Hey, Dominic ... the stage is over, you can calm down now."

He was still grinning like a Cheshire Cat, so I continued:

"Hey, you're still excited?  What is it?  Do you like this stuff?"

He replied breathlessly:


The only one there with a bigger smile than Dominic was his father, Chris.    Well, I was pretty happy for him, too!  He had completed his first match safely (it was my privilege to present him with his Certification card), and from now on he can shoot at any range in the Columbia Cascade Section, and compete at any match safely.  He has proven himself.

That's what it's all about.  

When you can prove your ability to compete in the toughest, most rigorous competition shooting venue in the world; when you can stand up in front of your father and your friends and demonstrate that you are not only competent, but "Safely Competent" ... then you have shown that you are the moral  and competitive equal of any man.  They may be 'faster', and 'more accurate'... but they are not 'better'.

And when your own parent beams with pride at your accomplishment .. well, nobody else really counts quite so much.

Not everyone can do that.  Many of us need a couple of tries before we meet the challenge.  Some of us never meet the (deliberately difficult) challenge at all.    I've known grown men, with a lot of experience, who just couldn't meet the test.

But when you do, then that's the truest test of all, of your ability to be fast, accurate, and safe.

I'll squad with Chris and Dominic anytime, and I'll be confident that they can both perform safely and competitively every time.  I can't say that about everyone I've hosted in my classes.  It gives me special pleasure to work with people who can allow themselves to reach for the maximum.  Perhaps they may not achieve it, but they do not falter in their attempts to be ...

"Faster.  Stronger.  Better."

Monday, May 28, 2012

Chrono Questions

I recently received a technical question from a friend and viewer (Rock):
Will a change from our close-to-sea-level altitude here in the valley, to Bend/Central Oregon, approx. 3300’, have an effect on 9mm ammo that is normally about 127 power factor? 1110 fps X 115 Gr?
This is a reasonable question, and one which has plagued competitive shooters since IPSC was invented  (shortly before Christ was promoted to Corporal).  After serious reflection, I decided to address this important technical question.

Taking into consideration all of the salient factors, this was my reply:

Altitude difference will influence measured power factor inevitably, and usually to the detriment of the shooter.

Other factors which may lower a competitors power factor include, but are not restricted to:
  • Humidity
  • Ambient Temperature
  • Time of day
  • Exposing your ammunition to the heat of the sun
  • a dirty barrel (always clean and oil your firearm before going to the Chronograph Stage!)
  • Different brass, powder, primer or bullet .. not just weight (bullet and powder charge), but lot and brand
  • Length of time since your ammunition has been loaded
  • The number of times you have reloaded your ammunition
  • Your religion; are you "Good With The Lord"?
  • How long since you have bathed?   [Whew!]
  • The cost and importance of the match
  • Travel time and inconvenience of timing of the match
  • How long since you have chronographed your load
  • The physical characteristics of your firearm
  • Your personality: "jerks" never chronograph as Minor
  • If you  squad with your spouse or child, one of you will be Minor Power (or under!) with the same ammunition
  • Your financial situation:  have you slipped a ten-spot to the Chrono Crew?
Hope this helps.

Don't thank me ... it's my job to be helpful.