Back From the Range Again

Back from the range; another 412 rounds of 9mm has met its fate.

Went down to the Shelton Rifle & Pistol Club’s indoor range today (well, by the time I’m typing this, it was yesterday) for a little two-stage match. The first stage was a reasonably long 24-round field course. There were eight targets, on every one of them you had to do two to the body, one to the head. These were USPSA targets, the scoring system was Invented Here, they were doing raw time plus one second per point down; of special note the A-zone in the head was down-0, the B-zone was down-1. So, basically we’re trying to hit this little 2”x4” box at, I would estimate, around 10 yards at the longest, about seven yards at the closest. Four different shooting positions: barricades, walls, shooting under a table, movement, use of cover. I felt right at home.

This was just a little unaffiliated club match, not a USPSA club, not an IDPA club, so it was a bunch of guys who, in overwhelming probability, had never shot USPSA/IDPA. I only dropped one point for the entire stage, my score for Stage 1 was 21 seconds faster than the 2nd place guy. At this point I was figuring on cruising to an easy win.

The second stage was the exact same stage again, but in low light.

Allow me to seemingly digress for a moment. I have passed the Firearms Academy of Seattle’s Handgun Master test four times, once apiece with a Glock 19, Glock 17, Rock River Arms 1911 .45, and Wilson 1911 .45. One of the reasons I’ve been able to do that is that I’m usually the only guy who passes the dark house portion of the test. Also I’m usually the only guy who doesn’t have night sights on his gun. Actually my sights are usually all-black. At close range, even with almost no light inside the FAS dark house, I can just hit the targets with index.

Now, back to the match. Given the level of ambient light on the range for Stage 2, I knew– KNEW – I could shoot it without a light, though using a light was allowed. I wouldn’t even have to do it just with index (the head shots at 10 yards would have been a bit much for that), there was one HELL of a lot more light on this range than inside the FAS dark house. I could actually just use my sights. All false modesty aside, one thing for which I’ve always been grateful is that I have really excellent night vision. I can see things in dim light that other people can’t even see are there. By comparison to the FAS dark house, where the lighting is so dim that even I can’t see my sights, this stage was pretty much a gimme.

I was playing with the flashlight I carry clipped to my left front pants pocket, flipping it around in my hands while waiting my turn to shoot, thinking about it: sights or use the light? Go with what I knew I could do, or take this as an opportunity to practice my gun/flashlight shooting (I use the “syringe” technique). Finally I decided to use the light. Mostly because I hadn’t done it for awhile. Honestly, the last time I’d done it, also at a match, it hadn’t worked very well. I thought I’d ironed out those problems in dry fire, but I’d never really tested that live fire. So why not try it again, at this match? If I hadn’t worked the bugs out of my technique, if integrating the gun with the flashlight didn’t work very well, this was a low-risk way to find out.

It didn’t work very well.

I learned a few things I didn’t know. (1) When firing a gun in low light with a high-powered flashlight, after the first few shots, glare off the gun smoke makes it extremely difficult if not impossible to see the targets. (2) When using the syringe technique, when I broke my gun/flashlight grip to do a reload, when I reacquired my grip after the load it was very difficult to realign the light so it pointed inline with the gun. (3) My hands broke apart under recoil because the syringe technique seriously weakens your grip on the gun; really you’ve only got your ring and little fingers around the gun butt. (4) If your grip is not absolutely perfect, your support hand holding the light will accidentally depress the magazine release button and spit the magazine out of the gun. Ask me how I know.

When all was said and done, my performance, or lack thereof, on Stage 2 took me out of an easy 1st place down to 5th at the finish line. It was a painful lesson, but then the painful lessons are the ones you remember. Lesson: there are certain techniques that work great in dry fire that don’t work very well at all once you add things like gun smoke and recoil and reloading the gun. And the best place to find that out is at a teeny little unaffiliated club match.

After the match, I stayed on the range and did some more practice. I wanted mostly to fine tune my draw, using a descending par time. From 10 yards, do 5 second draws, then 4, then 3, then 2. At that point I dropped it down to 1.5, then started dropping it in tenths. At each speed I kept at it til I could hit the A-zone consistently at that speed, the goal being to push myself to failure, both to know what that level was, and then to move past it.

I am a big believer in “Train yourself beyond reality.” Train yourself in practice to do things more difficult than what you’ll probably ever see at a match. Train yourself in practice beyond what you’ll probably ever have to do in self-defense. Ten yards is far enough away from the target you’ve got to have your draw technique really grooved-in to hit the A-zone at speed. And when you’re used to doing that at 10 yards, when have to do the typical 4-7 yard draw at a match, you’ll feel like you’re practically standing on top of the target.

Everything down to two seconds was easy. But I wasn’t doing the 5-2 second stuff to push the time, I was doing it to burn in the draw, to discover flaws in my technique that might get lost at faster speeds. Honestly, at first I had trouble hitting the A-zone every time when I made the big jump from two to 1.5 seconds, but in short order the occasional misses turned into consistent A-zone hits turned into the nice, tight groups in the center of the A-zone that my ego demands. I discovered that the speed at which I can consistently hit the A-zone on the draw at 10 yards is 1.35 seconds, though I’m not happy with my accuracy at that speed. “Every shot an A-hit” and “every shot an A-hit in a nice, tight group in the center of the A-zone” are two very different things. Much below that speed and my “every shot an A-hit” performance turned into “mostly As.” Completely unacceptable.

Obviously there is definite room for improvement here. And improvement there will be. Descending par time draws at 10 yards is a powerful technique. As I continue to use it, I have no doubt my times will come down and my accuracy will go up.

It’s funny. There was time I would have thought consistent 1.35 second A-zone hits at 10 yards was a pretty darn smokin’ skill level. Now I can’t wait to be better.

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