So what happens when you hit an unexpected payday, get mongo sized margaritas and hit Walmart for ammo? Well…
On this particular Friday night you take friends up on an offer to enter your first shooting competition. You set out some food for the cats, a quick pack up of everything you can grab, gas up the car, grab some water and head of for Michigan and the GSSF Great Lakes Regional Classic XII in a thunderstorm, with rain dripping into the car, having no idea what to expect. For those of you who are thinking about taking up competitive shooting, hang in there, get a feel for it through my experience and pay attention to the tips at the end; for those of you already involved, you may get a chuckle or two from this; for everyone else… well just enjoy.
Okay, I should explain that this actually started the previous Monday, when Steve Grankowski sent me a message and said he would be competing in the GSSF (GLOCK Sport Shooting Foundation) competition in Brighton Michigan; the text message also included an invite to join he and Lynn, if Susan and I were interested. I had a full week of teaching ahead of me, and the idea of attending a shooting competition sounded like the perfect way to let off steam and see two of my favorite people. Susan and I had talked about competing in matches, but never really took the time to figure out how to get started. All around it was a great idea but with only one minor flaw… money. There is a lot I love about working freelance as a designer, but the feast or famine nature of paydays is not one of them. When the offer came through I was facing at least two weeks before I was going to see any payments coming in so I let Steve know we had to decline.
Fast forward to Friday, it had been an all around awesome week, teaching was great, I was in a great mood, and my wife and I were looking at catching an early afternoon train out of the city to start our weekend because… against all the odds a payment had come in. Time for GIANT MARGARITAS… and I mean giant; like fishbowl the size of your head, on the rocks, salt on the rim, cure all of your ills until the next morning margaritas. If you are ever in Joliet and love margaritas, hit Senor Tequila, you will not be disappointed. We capped the drinks off with a run to Walmart for ammo, so we could hit the range over the weekend, and that is when it started. See, Friday nights have become sort of a visit with old friends night 2016 style, around 8:00 I will get a group text, from Steve or Lynn or Susan and no matter where we are, we start chatting, usually leading to a string of messages about how we should drive to Ohio, and how much we all miss each other. Sure enough, Steve said they were in Brighton, the offer still stood to meet up with them, and we could still enter the competition. He even offered to let us use any of his pistols to compete. GSSF is open to GLOCK safe action pistols only, and my GLOCK 19 would need to be put back to original condition for me to shoot as an amateur. The offer hit us hard, when Steve and Lynn continued to coax us, I made the statement that changed the weekend. I looked at Susan and said, “If i had known i was getting paid I would have gone up there.”
I turned and walked into our dining room and what I said had hit me, it was 8 o’clock, the competition started at 9 the following morning, we had money, time and ammo. I went back and asked Susan “Do you want to go?”.
“Yeah” came back in the best little person voice Susan could muster.
“Really?” shock and awe.
“I have no excuses not to go, lets go”
Susan sent the text saying we were on our way, we packed up, fed the cats and made our way to the car. The drive up was pretty uneventful, driving from Joliet, Illinois, to Howell, Michigan (where we booked a room from the car , gotta love modern technology)is a 3 to 4 hour drive, 4 when you have a leak in the roof that provides the passenger with a nice foot bath in a thunderstorm, and yes, there was a thunderstorm. We pulled into the Kennsington Inn just after 2 AM local time, checked in , and after quick hugs with Lynn and Steve agreed to meet up for breakfast at 7:30 am. The hotel was a quick and cheap place to stay, and offered wonderful close experiences with some of Michigan’s wildlife in the form a a skunk prowling the parking lot as I unloaded the car. but the room was ‘clean’ enough, and as I finally laid down i wondered what the hell happened that I am here right now, a thought that would be echoed when i woke up in the following morning.
I stepped out the next morning, to have a quick smoke and watched the start of what would become a torrential downpour. Susan stepped out and the look in her eyes was clear… what the hell are we doing here. After realizing that the breakfast offered by the motel was bad coffee, OJ and GFS muffins we decided to seek breakfast elsewhere. As we ate and watched the rain falling my thoughts shifted from excitement to wondering whether or not the match would end up cancelled and where the hell I could pick up a rain poncho. I had after all left the house with only sneakers, a clean pair of jeans and a T-shirt for the day. By 9:00 a.m. the rain was steady and we stopped in at a local gun shop to kill just a bit more time before heading to the range. As we arrived at the Livingston Gun Club around 10, the rain began to taper off and I thought things might be looking okay.
Like I said, we were ALL new to this, as a group I think that everyone was as ready as we could be; a collective of nerves, excitement and curiosity. We had NO idea what to expect and my review of the rules in the car at 11 pm the previous night really was only an academic orientation. I half expected everyone to be in team shirts and swat gear, but looking around I realized this was just another range day. The Gun club is located in a great wooded area, and it was not to mucky considering the rain that had fallen; people talking, laughing, and enjoying the day. A pretty nice place and way to spend a July day. No backing out now, we made our way to the registration area, and pretty much proclaimed we are new, how do we do this?! The registration area consisted of a table of forms, registration table, a table full of GSSF swag goodies for sale, and an armorer who was trying to knock the sights out of a pistol, Steve ran back to the car and grabbed his armorers block to help the guy out. We were directed towards the registration forms, and the sign in for the raffle, then made our way to a table to complete our registrations. Susan and I needed to join GSSF, something I had been considering for the last year, pretty easy. As for the actual events we could enter I looked at the list and realized that for a single brand of handgun, there were a ton of options, classes and side competitions. My brain told me to go slow, just enter one, get a feel for it; my heart started reminding me of the catalog of arms Steve was making available to me counteracting reasonable thought. I selected the Civilian class, and puzzled over the form when Steve recommended a second entry into the competition class; what the hell, the worst that could happen is that i would come in last; have Susan finish better than me, resulting in her gloating for four hours on the way home. I could handle that, I was pretty sure 26 years of marriage could handle that. Off to the registration table.
Getting there later meant that there was no line to register, but the process did take a while with the actual memberships having to be put in by someone who was a little slow on the keyboard. Waiting with Susan, I could tell she was itching to get on the range and give this a go, but the friendly apologetic demeanor of the registration guy made the wait relatively easy. Once Susan and i were finished, he handed us a roll of stickers (computer generated labels actually) which we looked at blankly and said “okay so what do we do now?”. He smiled and said that we would make our way through the three courses: 5 to GLOCK, GLOCK the Plates; and GLOCK ‘M. There would be a list, write our names on the list and our event number (one line on the list for each event mind you) and when we were ready to shoot put an X by our name and we would be called. We were definitely, ready and that seemed easy enough, we could get a feel for each course when we got to the stations.
We headed back to the table so we could load mags, and develop a plan on how to have four people sharing guns for the competition. We had four people, four different guns and one of those would be used 6 times between 4 people at each station, a problem that just needed logistical planning. Steve and I stepped out to smoke and as we discussed the plan of attack for the stations I watched as Susan made her way to the swag table. UH OH was my thought as Susan began perusing hats, something that did not make its way into our rush packing the previous night. When I looked again she and Lynn were talking to the event coordinator, Susan now sporting a brand new range officer hat. As they came out, she told us that they had volunteered to assist running scoring sheets up to the table after we finished shooting. The coordinator said we should start at the GLOCK ‘M station and then report back when we were done.
We headed to the course which happened to be closest, found the list, and noticed there were only a few people on the list ahead of us. we promptly filled out the sheet, and proudly put X’s next to our names because WE WERE READY!!! We stepped back and watched the people shooting with the sudden realization that we really did not know what were supposed to do. The GLOCK M course consists of 3 Steel popper targets and 4 standard D1 paper targets, shooters need to knock down one popper and put two rounds center mass in each of the paper targets on three strings of fire. Shooters are allowed 11 rounds for each string. Each string of fire is timed, with time added for shots away from the A&B target zones, misses, and poppers left standing. pretty easy, but not when you are trying to figure it out by watching and trying to read the rules on your phone.
I came to the realization that this was going to be COMPLETELY different than the range time I had logged over the last year, having spent my time in indoor ranges in a single lane single target situation. I had not had multiple targets in my line of fire since i was a kid back on the farm. On the range, pegging a target in the next lane pretty much signifies very poor shooting, and is generally frowned upon. And these guys were shooting fast! Something else that most ranges frown upon considering that most people i had seen try rapid firing were bouncing rounds off the floor and ceiling tiles. “OHHHHH THIS IS GONNA BE FUN” I thought as i settled in to watch. I picked up how the course worked and the procedure quickly. The procedure was pretty simple, the shooter would take a ready stance, gun aimed down midway between the firing position and the targets, the guy timing would ask if the shooter understood the course, would ask if the shooter was ready, and would activate a timer which would let out a loud beep signifying that shooting could commence. Once finished the timer would call out the time, which was written on a score sheet with The competitors sticker affixed. After all strings of fire were complete the shooter would be instructed to clear the weapon, pull the trigger, and the scorers (and shooter if they chose) would walk to each target, call the hits as Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta or Mike (zone A B C D or miss). There were also nuances to what was happening, I noticed that the experienced competitors took time before their strings of fire to get a feel for the target placement sweeping the targets with the weapon almost like a practice run. I had to remember that. These guys were also made sure that they had everything ready when they stepped to the line to prevent distractions between strings of fire, another thing to keep in mind.
Okay, I can do this I thought as I watched, itching to take my turn. This was gonna be worth the drive up here. The clouds broke up and the sun came out slowly and I realized that I had been waiting longer than I expected. That realization seemed to hit all of us at once as we were nearing 1 o’clock and the list did not seem to have moved much. Something did not seem right, sure some people were shooting multiple classes, but that still did not account for it taking this long. I breathed a sigh of relief as a second lane for firing was opened and figured okay any time now. Somewhere around 1:00 I realized that people were walking up flipping back pages in the list and letting the person handling score sheets know that they were ready.
HUH??? Wait!!!! What the hell is going on.
Yeah this one slipped by us as the newbies. We were starting at the third station (you can do the stations in any order) so people who had arrived at 9:00, had gone to each station, gotten on the list at each station, and were now showing up at the final station in droves. These guys also seemed to be competing in every class so they were on the lanes for LONG stretches of time. Now with the sun out, and the mornings rain turning into humidity, my enthusiasm started to fade. When the coordinator for the event showed up, Steve had to ask what was going on. He explained that this was how most people do it, and that the X signifies when you are there. Okay I thought I get the difference in semantics, I understand that what people say and what people hear are two different things. But this would be a very good thing to make crystal clear for people on their first time out. He assured us that we should be up next since there we were on the list next. It was right after he headed back to the registration area that another wave of people dropped their X’s down ahead of us. When he came back an hour later we were still “next on the list”.
By now you are probably thinking, wow I have been reading for a while, and this guy still hasn’t taken a shot. That is EXACTLY HOW I FELT. With 3 o’clock approaching, and the competition supposedly closing at 4, we were ready to ask for a refund, go to a range, pop off rounds and curse GSSF. But I really wanted to shoot the course, Susan wanted to try this out, and I hated the thought of going through all of this without having shot steel. The Event coordinator walked into a shitstorm; not only were we upset, but several other people were feeling the same frustration, and not just first timers. Several of the experienced competitors were talking about the fact that people were putting X’s by their names when they signed in at each station then going back to whichever course they felt like in order to game the system. Evidently this had caused some tie ups at the other courses. To the guys credit he got us in next, and promised we would be allowed to complete the entire course that day, since none of us could be back on Sunday due to various commitments.
FINALLY we get to shoot. Which means we need to get in a team mindset, we know what order we need to shoot in, and what we have to do to make this run smoothly. For me it means getting a quick reloading station up and running so we can load mags (we only had two mags for one of the guns) and not confuse the .40’s with the 9mm’s so that whoever is shooting has no concerns. Times like this you realize just what a wonder the Maglula UpLula really is. If you figure that each string of fire is lasting under 10 seconds and with the short amount of time to get reset, an actual round of shooting can be as little as a minute and a half, with another 2 or three minutes to score. Loading reminded me of the time I made fried pickles for a party, and was getting a basket back every two minutes,they are pretty great fried pickles.We worked together great each of us stepping in and keeping it running, I will take any of these guys for my zombie apocalypse squad. The activity after such a long wait helped me get back into the competition, and when I finally took the line I was a ball of energy and nerves. Taking the line, I followed the timers instructions, taking time to sweep the lane and get a feeling for the position of the targets. I was excited and ready. When I heard the Beep I started firing and was pretty impressed that i dropped the popper on my first shot. It’s stupid I know, but in my head, the steel targets were new to me, and for some reason I was just sure they were going to be harder to hit. I cycled through the other four targets for an 8.14 second string. NOW I was having FUN, even though observing the other shooters it seemed like the movement between targets was minimal, it is completely different when you are getting a sight picture from shot to shot, trying to recover while moving to a target and not getting hung up on where you landed your last shot. All it took was that 8+ seconds and I was hooked.
My second and third strings came in at 11.55 seconds and 9.14 seconds respectively, pretty fast for me, nothing compared to the other people I watched, but speed is only part of the equation… WHERE you hit is the key. when all was said and done, one popper was standing, with a third of my shots in the a/b target zone, and 3 misses. My second event at the station i took a bit more time, knocked down all of the poppers, with about the same hit placement hit placement. Okay I thought as I stepped back, that was fun, I did okay, nobody got wounded, let’s see how Susan does. well not to mince words, she kicked my butt. Her times were solid, nothing super fast, but she was hitting dead on; this was not going to be a fun ride home. Off to the next round.
We went to what was the first station for most the 5 to GLOCK. 5 D1 targets arranged in a V 1 at 5yards, 2 at 15 and 2 at 25 yards ( I am guessing the distances since this is a variation of the course and does not have the distances on the GSSF site). this one you simply had to put two rounds in each target as quickly as possible in three strings of fire. Now this one looked easy, aside from the fact I seldom shoot longer than 15 yards i figured this would be easy considering I had worked my nerves out on the first course. As for scoring, the procedure was the same…. beep then shoot, reload repeat. The range officers working the station had the look of guys who had spent the day enjoying themselves around people who were having fun. My appraisal of GSSF was moving back up since we were the last group shooting, they were relaxed knowing they would be able to wrap soon. As we set up, got into team mode, and prepped to shoot we were joking with them and I felt even more at ease. When I stepped up to the line I was amazed these guys were as pleasant as they were, the course was a quagmire, with planks running between targets to provide some protection for their shoes (which I could easily see being sucked into the muck), I scanned the course, tried to get the target positions in my head and when I heard the beep started firing. Again, I felt that weird time stretch as I fired and moved from target to target, kinda like the feeling you get on a roller coaster takes that first steep plunge and it feels like a years worth of adrenaline hits you in a couple seconds. My times were in the 9 to 10 second range, again, not too bad I thought, but the misses were getting to me as I looked at my score sheet. Susan stepped to the line, and when I watched her first string, and saw two rounds go dead center into the closest target I smiled at Steve and said “We created a monster.” We then had to explain to one of the RO’s that until a year ago Susan was the last person either of us saw taking shooting up as a sport. I listened as they scored her, and realized again she was kicking my ass. Okay I have to watch her this time, not as her husband, but to see what she is doing that I am not. The answer was pretty obvious, she was taking her time, a simple rhythm – fire, recover, fire move/recover, fire. don’t worry about where you hit, just know you hit.
Okay I can do that I thought as I moved to the last station – GLOCK the Plates. This was the one I really wanted to do, it was like a shooting gallery. 6 steel plates in a row, 4 strings of fire, knock the plates down as quickly as possible. The sun was now well behind the trees, and with the clouds rolling back in it looked later than it really was. I think all of us started feel a bit tired and rushed. The station also presented a problem since we were not aware of the 4 mags needed to complete the course, we just had to be spot on while loading, and for this course we figured out a way to use both lanes to finish up. This time around, I stepped up to the line, trying to block out everything else, and focus on knocking down the plates. At the beep I aim, and miss, take a followup shot and… miss. I force myself to move to the next plate, just keep moving and clean up later. that first string was not so good, a few misses but I was able to pick up all but that first plate on the clean up. As I took on the second string I had a plan, just move down the line fire and move while you recover, you either hit or you don’t. Don’t rush just take clean shots.When I squeezed off the first round after the timer beep and and heard that ping indicating a hit, I almost laughed but held to the plan, working down one direction, then cleaning up afterward. I turned to the timer after the string, and happily said ” Got it that time”. I pretty much held to the system through the rest of my strings, and with the exception of a jam that I cleared pretty quickly and a malfunction possibly due to ammo, I did okay. Reasonable times, and only one other time I left anything standing. I am guessing you know what happens next, yes my wife beat my times. What could I do? The only sane thing to do was warn her that next time I am only loading six rounds per mag on her, just to gain some kind of handicap advantage.
We made our way to the car to load up, retrieved Steve’s armorers block, and had the armorer check the gun that had been malfunctioning. The event coordinator made good on the hats and RO shirts he promised Susan and Lynn and we headed off for the only things that could cap off the day… pizza and beer! Susan and I had four hours to relive the day’s events on the ride home, and she managed to only gloat about how much better she did for about 10 minutes per hour during the trip. With the preliminary standings out, she is confirmed as having placed higher than any of the rest of us, taking third place in the Glock Girls Side Match – pretty damn good for a first timer on a gun that she never held before that day. I placed into the lower third of my competitions… but not last and I am okay with that on the first time. so would I do it again?
HELL YES! Hey I have my GSSF membership, and in all honesty, until the zombie apocalypse hits, I gotta put that range time to some use. Shooting in the match gave me a completely different perspective on shooting, it made me think about what I do and why with regards to technique. I also want to see how I improve in regards to times and where I stand when the smoke clears. I also really enjoyed being around other people who like shooting talking to them and seeing other peoples techniques; again, something that is not always easy on a range, especially an indoor range.
Now that is not to say I will not change a few things the next time. I am really gonna plan the next time better, driving til 2 am then being up at 7 is probably not ideal for a positive mental attitude, and I think it might be a good idea to have more than a random T-shirt and some jeans for the day. The 3+ hour wait to take a shot is not gonna happen again, at least not if I can help it. The four of us all walked away from this with varying levels of excitement based heavily on the lack of mentorship for new competitors. GSSF seems to be pretty good as far as making sure that there are events occurring in my area, and I am not going to judge them on the process based on a single event; plus before I look at any other organizations I do have to take membership costs into account.
So for anyone who wants to give competing a shot (pun intended) here is my list for things to do before your first time:
- Understand the rules enough to be able to follow basic procedures. We learned fast that had we have known we could sign in at all courses we might have avoided problems. Also understand the process and terminology, the RO’s may use terms you are unfamiliar with, like telling you to “hammer down” when they want to to squeeze the trigger on an empty chamber before casing your firearm. Silly RO, GLOCKS don’t have hammers.
- Dress appropriately, have clothing that will suit whatever mother nature throws at you, the event will run rain or shine. Sneakers are good, but i will make sure i have a jacket and rain gear next time. (don’t wear ballerina flats like Susan did)
- Arrive early and pre-register if possible. most shooting associations let members pre-register for events, which means you can get in pick up stickers or score sheets and get moving. If you are registering/joining on site, remember that that takes time.
- Make sure your fire arm(s) is ready before you show up, as much as i enjoyed shooting on borrowed guns, I still wish I had prepped my 19 for the event.
- Have fun, I would love to have won in my first match, but I was happy to take the plunge and give it a go. Watching the other competitors, I can see where I need to clean up my technique and push myself when I practice. AND there are many prizes distributed, not just for placing!
Hope to see yah on the range!