Going into this match, my expectations were pretty low. Despite the weather turning nice recently, I had been sidelined from practicing or dry firing by a hand injury until about two weeks before the match. That said, in retrospect, I had the advantage of not having really changed my gear setup in years, so everything was very familiar. Boring does occasionally have its upsides. Going into the match, I was particularly worried about fumbling mags on reloads from further back on the belt, but that ended up being a non-issue.
The one new piece of gear for this match was a Vice holster (yes, spelled like a crack pipe, not like the workbench clamp) from GX Products aka Lafe Kunkel. It took something like 4 months to get after ordering, because I’m pretty sure Lafe is still making every single one by hand. But the quality is impeccable. I was able to leave off the hair tie I usually keep on the holster mount for securing the gun during full-speed walkthroughs. The lever lock does the same thing, but you feel like way more of a badass when you flip it off and the magnet makes that cool snik sound. But I digress.
This was a 32 rounder that started with an unloaded gun and all mags on the barrel. I eventually decided there wasn’t any point trying to dance around it: just stuff three mags in your belt, load the gun, and shoot the stage like normal. Some folks talked about trying to move back to the barrel to pick up a mag as they left the first position instead of stuffing the mag at the start, but that was enough of a movement that it seemed like a wash at best. I did five minutes of experimentation in the hotel room the night before and what felt the most effortless to me was grabbing two mags with my left hand (basepads interlocked) and one with my right hand. Left hand stuffed a mag into pouch #2 while the right hand stuffed a mag into pouch #1. Then the left hand stuffed the other mag into pouch #3 while the right hand picked up the gun. Left hand grabbed a mag off the barrel, loaded while moving to the back corner, and that’s it. Went well, and I wouldn’t really do it any differently.
This is one of the situations where theoretically a magnet would have helped now that they are allowed in Production, but I can’t say I felt like I missed mine. Magnets are extremely fast to put the magazine on, but don’t hold the magazine in a consistent spot the same way a pouch does. (This is one place I find the DAA Racer/Racemaster pouches very easy to use: their funnel shape makes them very fast to stow mags into compared to something like the Ghost pouches I used previously.) And obviously, having to stow three mags, I would have needed a lot of magnets. Now, if it were a 26 round stage instead of 32, and we had 15 round Production, perhaps then it would be more tempting.
At that first shooting position, you had 9 rounds to shoot, three paper on your left, with a long paper and a popper on the right. The three paper on the left were interesting because the third one, which normally you would want to shoot as you moved forward, actually disappeared behind a barrel only a few steps forward of the first shooting position. The second paper was available perhaps five or six steps forward, and so most folks chose to skip the second target and come back to it and shoot it while pushing out of position. One strategy choice I maintained throughout the match was trying to avoid skipping targets I would have to come back to later, and I think it mostly served me well. In this case, I took what on paper seemed like a risky plan: shoot all 9 shots left to right, starting on the close paper and leaving on the big popper. The first target was actually the most restrictive instead of shooting angles, so I knew once I was set up to shoot it, I was in position for everything else.
In theory, leaving on the steel target was risky, but in practice you could see the whole target for the same five or six steps that you could see the second paper target on the left. If I had missed the popper as I started to shift my weight to leave position, I could have taken another one before getting up to too much speed. And I knew the magazine after that was only 8 rounds, so going to slide lock leaving the first position wouldn’t be an issue. Of course, as you can see, it went fine. I liked that sequence and would do it again.
The rest of the stage was mostly go-to-the-places-shoot-the-things. The only other two interesting notes were on target sequencing. First, going into the third magazine, I deliberately reloaded moving up to the spot to see the right tuxedo in the back of the stage, since that was the most precise position to hit. Once that was done, I could start shooting while walking toward the next two closer, open targets, before reloading for the last 7 shots of the stage. The target I took second to last was often taken by other shooters around the same place they took the two mini-poppers. But doing that meant transitioning right past it later in the stage, which as I mentioned, I was trying to avoid. And leaving it to the end also put it into a magazine of 7 where otherwise it would have put my mag #2 at 10 rounds as well, which was too risky.
The only real execution hiccup was the trigger freeze on the third to last target, which cost me a few tenths. But otherwise, very happy with the outcome. I put a lot of emphasis on letting the gun settle on the longer shots, and managed to only pick up 3 charlies total. I was the first shooter (as always) at 7:30 in the morning, so it was a good kickoff to the day.
This was a very plain-looking stage that had more going on than was obvious. The first two positions offered meaningful risk/reward tradeoffs on how aggressively to move into and out of position. The second two positions required precise movement to avoid going deep into each port. And then the final position was just a straight up test of settling back down and getting points at distance.
Leaving the first position, drawing to the partial and rolling out on the open target was a no-brainer. However, coming into the second position, most folks took the middle target, then the left one and the right. Trying to keep things simple and not skip targets, I took the same approach as the first position of the first stage: start the array on the tight target so I know I’m in position when I can shoot it. I definitely gave up some ground with that choice, and shooting major, taking that target on the move would have been required. But playing it safe there let me just hose right across the array, and start to roll out on the last target. The rest of the stage went exactly as planned.
The main execution mistake was not quite having the footwork and positioning visualized well enough, so that as I was moving through, I was slinging quite a few charlies. Once I got to the end and lasered in on the points for the last three targets, things were fine–although I did choose to play it safe and just eat two Cs on the far horizontal hard cover target. There was so little A-zone available, the target was relatively far, and the rest of the stage was pretty fast, meaning the points weren’t worth taking too much risk.
This stage boiled down to four positions: the lean around the left wall, the low port with two targets, the front middle with four targets visible from either opening plus the drop turner, and then the back corner. You could go to the middle right opening and get an easy view on the swinger, but the extra movement wasn’t really worth it.
The best four hits on the drop turner were scored, presenting the question of whether to shoot it or not. Videoing the timing and watching it on my phone the day before, I reckoned it took about a second for the turner to expose, you had about a second to shoot on the first exposure, a second of it hidden, and a second of the second exposure. So somewhere between 3 and 4 seconds if you wanted to shoot both exposures. I didn’t want to just give up all those points, but didn’t want to stand there the whole time either. I’m reasonably happy with the plan to shoot while backing up, but I did not get very good exposures of the target being at the angle I was at. To be honest I’m not sure where the misses went. Not sure if I had two shots on one pass and none on the other, or one on each.
On the other hand, Tyler Turner won the stage with a time two seconds faster than mine, by just posting up and shooting four shots on the first exposure. That lines up with the idea that the second exposure added about two seconds of time overall. Given the ability to basically be at “Can You Count” distance from the target and throw .20 splits to get four hits in under a second, I think that way was probably overall the best.
A pretty straightforward 24 round hosing section up front, with a little box-to-box shooting to start for 32 rounds total. Not too much to say about this one, since the front section in particular presented a very obvious short path where you could see all the targets from.
The 7 charlies I racked up hurt, especially because two separate targets (the last two of the third magazine) had a nice group with both shots in the c-zone. I just didn’t quite get the gun to the right spot on the target before touching off the shots. And of course the trigger freeze that cost me a good six tenths. I’m not sure where I gave up the other second and a half to Tyler, but some of it was coming into the second shooting box too hot and having to spend some time letting the gun settle. Not a disaster of a stage, but definitely some room for improvement.
I took a pretty different approach to this one than most folks I saw. The typical stage plan was to load, shoot the first four targets right to left or left to right, then turn and run uprange and shoot stuff from further back. (Sorry there’s no hat cam on this one. The GoPro started having a case of the Mondays for a few stages until I figured out what to do with it.)
Instead, my idea was to focus on getting the starting load done, then set up for the fairly specific leans for the left and right targets. Then start backing out of position, shooting the open targets dead ahead (shooting on the move at stuff right in front of you is always the easiest). Stick a reload while maintaining momentum, and then the next four shots on the left and two on the right will roll into view. I got to walk it through at full speed just once but it was enough to convince me the timing would work out, so I went with it, and I think it was fine. Even shooting a high cap division without the reload, I’d probably just gas the rearward movement a little more and keep the same plan. Turning your body uprange and then back around takes longer than you think, and so if you can just carry rearward momentum for three or four steps, you’d be surprised how efficient it can be. Supremely un-tactical though!
The rest of the stage went pretty well, with a few issues by an inch. The first was just barely a full diameter barrel hit on the last shot in the third position, and the second was a no-shoot on the perf on the second to last shot, which I made up in case it wasn’t touching. Tough to have two penalties on what had otherwise been a clean match, but I knew otherwise it was a great stage run with one charlie, so I let it go and kept going.
This was a pretty straightforward stage, with the only real choice being where to shoot the option target that I took from the start position. I paced off the distance and it was about the same from the start as it was from the middle of the shooting area, and taking it earlier saved setting up for a far target. Shooting it at the start let me get all the long shooting out of the way at the beginning, then just have the middle section of close hosing and launch to the end.
Once again, I took the approach in the last position of moving until I saw the tight target behind the barrel, and knew I was set up for the partial that was the last target of the stage. (I was not feeling lucky enough to shoot the partial on the move.) Obviously I over-cooked the movement a bit and had to do the one foot thing since my center of balance was slowly teetering out of the shooting area. But it worked out okay.
Everyone was talking about this one “Holy Monkey” swinger, but the verdict of the NC crew I was shooting with was to just be waiting on first pass, put two on it, and be done with it. The unpredictability past the first swing made it very risky, and each swing added an easy two seconds to your time, which was not worth it for a few extra points as long as you had two on the cardboard.
Unfortunately, somewhere in the first four targets, my GoPro decided to beep at me and shut off, which completely threw me off. I point-shot the third and fourth targets, resulting in the one D of the match, which was only barely on the paper. My target order in the second position also got thrown off, because I was thinking about the camera and then not seeing my sights. This camera has been very reliable for years, but something about it recently has made it stop recording after 20 or 30 seconds. After it happened again on stage 8, I figured out to just start the camera going way before I get the “Make Ready”, and that way if it turns off, I can just restart it.
Anyway, after hosing through the first two positions, I tightened everything else up, and managed AC on the swinger which I was more than happy with. I was not looking to do anything heroic on this one, just get it done.
The only real strategy choice on this stage was on the first four targets. In retrospect, this is a place where trying to shoot backing up on the second target did not really pay off, I don’t think. If I had to do it again, I’d take that target after shooting the back left outside target. Come back to the middle, shoot the two targets available from the back middle, then reload and run up to the front of the stage, where you had 20 rounds exactly, so no room for errors.
Other than that, went as planned.
I was feeling good about this one. The main thing that I did differently on my stage plan was after the third position with the two no-shoot partials. Most folks turned to the right and shot the open-and-partial double stack as they walked to the right. I chose to reload moving towards them, which meant by the time I got there and settled in, I could shoot them as fast as I could pull the trigger, and then shoot the three long targets. Shooting them from where I did had the effect of making the shots a few yards farther compared to moving to the front of the box while reloading. But I made sure to give myself permission to get a nice stable stance and just let the gun float to each target. Then I loaded, cut the corner slightly, shot the open target coming into position, and took the two double stacks from another stable setup.
I was especially pleased with the points on the far targets and partials throughout the stage, and knew this was a solid run as soon as I was done.
I thought this stage was going to be a dumb gimmick, but it actually turned out to be a pretty fair test. The activators were available from two different spots, and the bobbers were open targets that were not too far away. You had every chance to do well on this stage, if you could put it together.
When the bobbers first came out, each pair of targets were exposed at almost exactly the same time. But as they cycled in and out, one got ahead of the other, which I thought would be advantageous for shooting them without downtime. Shoot the first one to appear in each pair, then the second one, instead of rushing to shoot them in the same window of time.
As you can see though, I missed the key element of shooting the second activator before the right inside double stack. I recovered fairly well from the mistake, and amazingly enough was able to get four alphas on the two right targets on their first, synchronized exposure. But that threw me off my plan enough that I rushed shooting the left bobbers, and had to take two passes at each one, and racked up a miss on my first shot on the pair.
My raw time on the stage still ended up being the fastest by a little, but the profuse charlies and the mike made this an 89% finish. I knew from looking at Practiscore Competitor that I had a chance to win the match if I could snatch the stage win on this last stage by a good margin, but that wasn’t going to happen. Still, I’m happy with the recovery and how the stage went.
Overall, I shot way better than I expected given the limited practice. Shooting 10 stages in 6 hours thanks to staff reset was amazing as always. I was genuinely not really looking forward to this match due to my lack of preparation, but it’s now given me quite a bit of fire in the belly to get back into things and keep building on what’s clearly a more solid foundation than I gave myself credit for.
This is the second year that Belton has put on the match and they are doing a great job. The stages were a good mix of shot difficulties (tight and open targets; near, medium, and far shots), and even the three unloaded starts I didn’t mind. Making the low-capacity shooters stuff 3 or 4 mags on Stage 1 was kinda lame, and could have easily been designed differently. In general, the round count on most stages was higher than it needed to be, and every stage could have had at least one target deleted with no real loss to the stage in my estimation. Having more variety (more than 27-32 rounds) in stage design is a good thing, but for being a typical high-round count American match, this one did not disappoint.