This past Saturday I finally got around to attending the 2-gun (rifle and pistol) “Tactical” match at my local club. Being the first match after a cold winter and unseasonably warm weather brought a record turnout of 60 shooters! I foolishly committed to another event in the afternoon and had to leave before my squad got to shoot the 2nd stage, but I had a great time and shot much better than I usually do.
I shot my 20” A1 MuttAR (now wearing surplus M16A1 triangle handguards and fixed stock! 1967 baybee!) and again with my stock Springfield M14, with my long suffering Norinco 1911A1 as my sidearm for both rifles.
Guns ‘n Gear notes:
For my M14 rig, I bought a Modgearchest rig and 2 Modgear “308” double MOLLE magazine pouches from Cheaper Than Dirt. The Modgear chest rig seems to be built OK and was comfortable enough, but getting it properly adjusted was a pain. It also relies too heavily on fastex buckles and a pair of circular pivoting buckles that seem very flimsy. For $30 it’s not bad for gun games, but for srs bsns I’d recommend something else. The 308 magazine pouches suck for M14 magazines. They aren’t deep enough and the elastics are too short.
About a half dozen folks in my squad had .22LR ARs of some sort. I didn’t take close notes but it seemed to me that the dedicated .22LR upper / complete rifles were more reliable than the conversion kits, which were problematic. These were the only firearm related failures I noticed.
I saw a lot of cheap red dots. I am still of the opinion that if you can’t afford the $400 for an Aimpoint or Eotech, you’re better off sticking to irons. Cheap dots are generally not as reliable (though none failed that I saw) and tend to wash out and blur in direct sunlight.
I suppose the trend these days is to have your vertical or angled grip way the heck out on the forearm. This seems to create a stable firing platform at the expense of flexibility and a stable moving platform. I saw one guy almost topple over after moving!
The quick adjustable 2 point sling like the Blue Force Gear VCAS or the Viking Tactics VTAC has overtaken the 1 point in popularity. These were very common with shooters who ran slings, and their pistol transitions were smooth and easy and safe. They’re more comfortable to wear all day than a single point, and offer just as much control over the gun. I think they’re far superior to single and three point slings, and my long guns have started to sprout them.
I was saddened by the uniformly poor quality of other shooter’s pistol rigs. Flimsy, thin department store belts and Fobus holsters were depressingly common. Folks, a good belt is not expensive and will stop your pistol from flopping around. I know Fobus and Passport universal holsters are cheap, but they suck! and you can get something much better for about the same price! If you want an inexpensive belt holster, I can recommend the Uncle Mike’s Kydex line and the Blackhawk non-locking holsters.
The only other guy with an M14 in my squad showed up with a fully sniperized rifle with an adjustable stock, bipod, stainless match barrel, 10x scope, and a mount that obscured the iron sights. This setup was rather suboptimal for a course of fire where the longest shot was 30 yards! Even with a 3-4x scope, you can easily get lost in the tube at that range. And even for a long shot, it can take the shooter a long time to find the target in the glass if you’re servicing multiple targets in a row. For all purposes within about 200 yards or so, non-magnifying optics are just fine, and probably superior under 100 yards.
Stuff I did right:
I arrived about half an hour early and stopped off at the 50/100 yard range to check my zeros on both my Mutt AR and my M14. Both were where I expected them to be and I walked up to the firing line reassured. This was a big boost to my mental confidence and enabled me to find my no-space.
For once I actually stuck to my game plan of “Slow down, make the hits, screw the clock”, and was only a handful of points down for my first run with the AR, and my M14 run I was only 4 points down! My times weren’t too bad, either.
On the first section of the first stage, we had to shoot around a close no-shoot that was obscuring a target. I stood at the very back of the box to get the widest angle around the the no-shoot. All the other shooters I saw stood at the very front of the box.
Iron grip, flexible feet. More than a couple times I shifted my feet to get a better angle between different targets. I did not have to readjust my grip between shots.
Stuff I did wrong:
Reloading the M14 is tedious and fiddly, and because it starts the race 10 rounds down to the AR, you do it more! Need more practice.
Excessive motion when reloading after moving. I usually bring the rifle up to my face when reloading, so I don’t end up bent over and looking at the dirt. Combine this with moving in Sul and it probably looked like I was trying to flag someone down.
It felt like it took an eternity between the buzzer sounding and getting the rifle on target. Part of this is the limitations of iron sights, but more is my lack of practice. This is something you can practice easily and safely at home. Do it!
I brought too much stuff in too many bags. Getting 3 bags, 2 rifles and a pistol case from my car to the staging area required two trips up and down a steep hill. I want to bring a folding chair next time and hopefully consolidate my gear down to one bag.
I attended without a folding chair and sunscreen. Oops!
Stuff other shooters did right:
I was really impressed with the safety and gun handling of all the competitors, including the new shooters. I didn’t see anyone get swept and we didn’t have any rounds cranked off into the dirt. I guess all that kvetching about the 4 rules is starting to bear fruit!
The fastest shooters all displayed complete control of themselves and their guns, with little wasted movement or dithering.
The aforementioned extreme forward position of the support hand on the foreend seems to offer good recoil control and fast transitions between targets. This is excellent, but is it worth the compromise in stability and defense against unexpected physical blows? I think a happy medium can be found.
Not a lot of chicken wings or contorted NRA High Power stances. Most shooters understood they would be moving as well as shooting and assumed a more flexible stance.
Stuff other shooters did wrong:
Looking down at the ground while loading, unloading, reloading their guns. This isn’t such a huge deal when you’re loading and making ready, but why not use that opportunity to develop a good habit? Stop looking down at the ground, there’s nothing important to see down there. Keep your eyes downrange and bring your guns up into your line of vision and do your work there.
Feet of clay, grip of play-doh. More than a few shooters would move into a position and commit to it for the entire string even if they were having trouble getting hits at the initial angle their feet dictated. The pistol portion of the stage had an almost ninety degree separation between the first and last targets to be serviced, and most shooters just twisted hard at the hips! Uproot your feet and move! Heck, just picking up one foot and pivoting would do it! At the same time, I saw a lot of shooters regrip their pistol between shots. Practice acquiring a strong master grip on the draw and keeping it and you’ll shoot a lot faster!
Also, way too many support hand fingers hanging out on the front of the trigger guard. Why, people, why?
Confusion while moving laterally. The three rifle segments of the first stage were laid out so the shooter had to travel laterally from right to left. This is awkward for a right handed shooter to do while maintaining correct muzzle direction. Some shooters one-handed their rifles to the right and ran for it. Some kind of side stepped and shuffled, some crossed their legs over like it was football practice. I put my rifle into a half-cocked Sul, twisted downrange and trotted to the next station, which seemed to be safe and quick. This is one of the little things that screws people up that doesn’t become apparent from stationary plinking. Uprooting your feet and solving these little problems is one of the best parts about shooting competitively.
If you’ve got a DA/SA gun that has only a safety and no decocker, why would you start from hammer down if the rules don’t require it?
Inability to smoothly change mental gears. The three rifle sections of the first stage had a number of IDPA sized cardboard targets to shoot, and then a single clay pigeon further away on the berm. Not breaking the clays incurred a 5 second penalty per bird, so most people at least tried to engage them. I noticed that many who decided to engage the clay after shooting the close cardboard targets banged away fast at the close targets, then banged away fast at the distant clay. Only a few guys mentally downshifted and took a slow, careful sight picture on the smaller, further away target after hammering the close, large targets. I think a good drill would be to have 2 IDPA targets, one at about 15 yards, and the other at about 25-30, and then repeatedly shoot the close one with a hammer, then make a single shot on the head on the further target.
The more I shoot and learn, and learn from other shooters, the more I believe that a balanced diet of at home dry fire and manipulations, casual plinking, formal competition, and professionally led training is vital to the productive development of a shooter’s skills. You need classes to iron out the bad habits and hone skills. But few people can afford to attend a class every month, so we practice what we can at home and try it out on the range by ourselves or with friends, then put it to the test against the clock in a stressful, objectively graded environment at a match.
Spring is just around the corner. If you haven’t made plans to shoot at least one match this year, please consider doing so! Get out there and test yourself and your gear!