Business Travel, How Boring

I have a business trip coming up at the end of August to the Pittsburgh area. With several weeks of advance notice like this, I can often work in a competition with my trip. Here’s how it goes…

Ok, work is August 25-29 in West Mifflin, PA. The map shows I’ll be near Pittsburgh so parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia are within driving range.

Looking in Shooting Sports, I see that the Palmyra PA club has a 2700 on the 23rd, a Saturday. And there’s a 1800 in Lynchburg Ohio on the 24th and a Registered (2700?) at Canton Ohio on the 24th.

Hmmm… Well, I’d prefer to shoot a full 2700 and, looking at the map, Lynchburg is all the way across Ohio from where I’ll be.

I’ll strike Lynchburg off my list as too far to drive. (If the two 2700s don’t pan out, I can always resurrect Lynchburg [no pun intended].)

Canton looks do-able and I’ve been there before. Nice range.

And Palmyra is Tony Brong’s home range. I read and frequently comment on Tony’s Bullseye Blog¬† (http://www.tonybrong.blogspot.com/) but we’ve never met. This might be the chance I’ve been hoping for. (Note to self: Tony’s getting pretty darn good. Better look for a restaurant in central Pennsylvania selling “Humble pie” because I’m gonna need a slice.)

But wait, the Palmyra range is pretty much on the other side of Pennsylvania. That is going to be several hours driving, there and then back, from Pittsburgh.

Hmmm…

What if I fly-in to BWI instead of Pittsburgh and then drive up to the Palmyra area? That looks like an hour, maybe two hour drive at most. I could do that on Friday, spend the night and then shoot the match on Saturday. That’s not nearly so much driving.

Then, depending on how lazy I want to be, I could enjoy the evening there and head west to Pittsburgh on Sunday, or I could grab the gun box immediately after the Palmyra match, drive to Canton and shoot that 2700 on Sunday. Then, after that 2700, drive to Pittsburgh Sunday evening for work on Monday. That’s a lot more driving but, hey, two 2700s in one weekend? Is that sweet? (Will I still be able to hang on to the ball gun for the Sunday ball match or will I be limp-wristing the white-board marker at work on Monday?)

Still, two 2700s in one trip. Sure is tempting…

But this is do-able regardless if it’s one 2700 or two. The travel works, the driving is, well, drive-able, the car is essentially free and I’ve got the hotel points.

Ok, let’s check the gun rules for these states.

Checking the gun-travel book (“Traveller’s Guide to the Firearm Laws of the Fifty States”), I’m OK in Maryland if things are 1) separated into two locked containers (guns versus ammo), 2) stored in the trunk, 3) I’m just “passing through” that state, and 4) have a copy of the program for the competition.

Pennsylvania is more permissive as long as I keep things in the trunk and fly home from Pittsburgh, not Philly, the so-called “City of Brotherly Love” where handguns are strictly “Verboten!”

And Ohio is gun OK also so long as I keep things locked in the trunk.

Let’s check the Palmyra and Canton programs on-line.

Googling “Palmyra 2700” leads me to http://www.palmyrasportsmens.com/ and, therein, click “Pistol” and, yup, there’s the link for the 2008 Dutchman 2700 Outdoor match on August 23, 2008. There’s the registration information on page two … and there’s a Leg Match, too. Great!

Print that and put the hardcopy in my briefcase in case a Maryland trooper needs to see my invitation to “pass through” his state with my firearms.

And now let’s google “Canton 2700” … uhm … Ah! it’s a bit farther down in the results but, yup, there’s the link to the Canton McKinley club (http://www.cantonmckinleyriflepistol.org/). Therein, let’s try the “Match Schedule” and, yes, there’s the “Ohio State Championship” on the 24th of August that starts at 9:00AM (registration and set up a half hour earlier). But I don’t see a link for the details yet. The club’s home page still shows the Perry warm-up on July 4-6.

(Poking around the website.) Well, I don’t see the match program for the 24th but, regardless, it’s in their calendar, and they sent it to Shooting Sports, and it says it’s the Ohio State Championship so, yeah, I think there’s a match there on the 24th.

This is gonna work!

Ok, let’s get down to the financial details. What’s it gonna cost me, match fees aside, for the extra travel?

First, as long as I don’t spend more money, the company will pay the airfare regardless of which days I fly. Southwest has one of its major hubs in Phoenix so I get good rates to lots of places in the US. Bottom line: the air tickets will be covered by the company because of the business trip. That gets me there and back.

Next, I’ll need a rental car. Fortunately, the rental car will be the same for 7 days as it is for 5 so no extra $ needed there.

And I’ll need Friday and Saturday nights from my accumulation of Hilton points for places to sleep. Oh yeah, I got plenty of those points. No problem with free places to sleep.

This is coming together very nicely.

And looking in the closet in the ammo boxes, I see plenty of 22 and … …

Oh oh, I’m out of both 45 ACP wad and ball.

And its 109 degrees in the loading room this time of year. (Why didn’t I put in that air conditioner this spring?)

[Sigh.]

I’ll just have to plan two hot evening sessions, one for wad and another for ball. And the extreme heat addles my brain. I need to plan doing the setup for each load while the neurons in my head are still working. Once the machine is calibrated, I don’t need to be quite as meticulous.

That is, once I start cranking out production, I’m sort of on auto-pilot with my eyes watching the powder level in each shell as it comes around. It’s true I have to pay attention but I don’t have to watch things down to a thousandth of an inch as I do when setting it up. Once I start pulling the handle, I can do that in the heat. It’ll just be hot. Real hot.

One reloading session for 400 rounds of wad and then a second one for 100 ball should do it. (I’ll crank out some more ball while I’m at it — why stop at 100 once everything is set?)

So, unless something changes, I’m going to plan on shooting the Palmyra match on the 23rd of August, and maybe the Canton match on the 24th.

And I’ll finally get to meet Tony! (Better drop him an Email.)

Who said business travel can’t be fun?

Have Gun[s], Will Travel [By Air]

Step 1: Check the local laws for where you are going and make sure you are 100% in compliance.

If you don’t follow their rules, whether out of ignorance or otherwise, at a minimum you would be risking a significant and probably awkward delay. Worse, you might lose your guns for a significant period of time and cost yourself a lot of money attempting to recover them, and that effort might fail and then your expensive guns would be gone. And worst, you could be locked up, charged with a criminal offense, tried, found guilty, fined and even sent to prison. You don’t want to do that. (And please don’t email me claiming that innocent people don’t get wrongly convicted. If you’re that naive, you shouldn’t be handling firearms.)

So check the laws where you are going and make absolutely certain you follow all the rules to the letter.

With that warning, now we can look at what’s involved in travelling by air to Bullseye competitions.

Note that I’m going to present things in what some might call a reverse-chronological manner. This is because I’ve learned a lot of this “the hard way” and often found myself going backward to redo something before going forward to the next step.

So we start this at the baggage check-in where you are going to turn over your unloaded guns and equipment to the airline.

First, some of what you need won’t be packed. You’ll need it in your pockets to use or show at the ticket counter and/or at the checked-luggage security station — you may have to hand these to someone who then manipulates the locks outside of your presence:

  • Keys for padlocks, if any; and
  • Written note with lock combination(s) for numbered locks, if any.

At the luggage check-in, you will say something like, “Hi, I need an ‘unloaded firearms’ tag.” The agent will provide one, partially filled in, which you will complete and sign.

Ask them where the tag should go. Although the rules state the tag should go inside the locked case with the guns, I had one agent insist it belonged on top of the locked case. When I tried to show her the printed rules from her own airline, she called over her supervisor who got real snippy. “Do it like we said or leave the airport.” (I did as they insisted.)

Most of the time, the airline wants me to stay with the luggage until after it has passed through TSA security. I say “most of the time” because more than once, they pitched my now closed (with gun cases locked) suitcase onto the luggage belt and away it went. When I asked what they would do if the TSA wanted to inspect the insides, they said, “We’ll page you or something.” Both times this happened, I found a seat close by and waited fifteen minutes before going on to passenger security and getting my own self through and onto the plane. And yes, my suitcase and guns always made it through OK.

At another airport, I walked with the ticket agent and my suitcase to the TSA luggage inspection station with my keys and combination ready. (TSA unlocks and inspects my guns about 50% of the time.) But on this occasion, the TSA agent picked up my bag, walked around the X-ray machine bypassing it completely and put it on the luggage belt for the airplane. As I stood there wondering what to do, the airline ticket agent came back and asked if my bag had been X-rayed yet. I told her what had happened and her eyes opened real wide!

“What does it look like?” she asked in a rush.

I described the bag and she took off at a run. Five minutes later she was back with the bag and, from her posture, it was clear she on the war path. She found the TSA supervisor, read him the riot act, and then stood there, hands on hips, and watched them run my bag through the X-ray machine. The TSA did not ask to unlock my gun case this time. I guess they figured the sooner me and my bag and the angry ticket agent were gone, then all the better.

When the bag was gone (again), the agent turned to leave and walking past me she said, “Thank you for having an easy to spot bag.” Then, looking angrily back at the TSA agents, she muttered the name of an anatomical feature we all have, except she used the plural form.

But I digress. Back to how to pack things.

All items go inside locked containers which, in turn, go inside “well travelled” (but secure) suitcases. The goal is to not attract attention, especially at the luggage carousel where it is possible, but admittedly unlikely, that your suitcases will come sliding out for public grabbing well before you get there. If that happens, you don’t want someone mistaking your bag for theirs and walking away with your guns.

Put big, obvious markings on your suitcases to individualize them. This will prevent someone grabbing one of your suitcases mistakenly thinking it is theirs. In this regard, I firmly believe that “ugly is better”. Although my wife hates my black suitcase with spray painted safety-yellow spots, the fact remains that no one has *ever* taken it off the luggage carousel by mistake. On the other hand, I’ve had plain black suitcases that were “lost” for 24 hours or more after my arrival, more than once, probably because someone took it by mistake but didn’t discover their error until reaching their hotel miles from the airport while leaving me at the “lost luggage” counter with no change of clothes until the next day.

Remember: Unique, ugly and worthless is a good look. People don’t take bums home for that reason, and they probably won’t pick up your crappy-looking suitcase.

Next, guns and ammunition should go in two different locked containers. Although most states don’t require this, for the few that do (and also while locked in the trunk of your rental car), always using two containers just makes it easier to remember what goes where. (The Republic of Kalifornia is one such place.)

When packing the gun box, put everything else in first, then the guns last. That way, the guns will be on top when the case is opened. The ticket counter agent may (or may not!) want to visually verify that the guns are unloaded. And the checked-luggage security station may want to do it again. One TSA agent in Phoenix, after inspecting my guns, came out to ask if they were target pistols. I ended up giving him a five minute introduction to Bullseye at the end of which he seemed interested so I invited him to the Phoenix club for the regular Tuesday night league. You never know where you might make a convert!

Depending on the competition, I will take either of two “kits”, minimal or maximum. (The minimal kit is shown above.)

For a minimal kit, I take only my 22 and ball guns, and both with just iron sights. I can shoot a full 2700 and leg match with just those, albeit with less than stellar scores — but it *is* good practice, you know? These two guns and the associated “stuff” will all fit (barely!) into a Pelican 1400 case. I can pack that and the ammunition case and also a couple of days of clothing into the suitcase. (It is a tight fit and may push the suitcase weight limit — you’ll want to check the weight on your bathroom scale so you know what to expect at the airport. [Ticket counter agents do occasionally seem to forget to check the suitcase’s weight when they have to do the unloaded firearm thing but you don’t want to rely on that oversight.])

Note, however, there will be a minimum of padding in this “cramming”. If your guns are pretty, you may want a bigger case. My guns aren’t. They just shoot real good. (But I do fit scraps of padding around the guns where there is metal-to-metal contact [but which is not shown above].)

And when packing the suitcase, put your clothes on the bottom and the gun cases on top so they can be opened easily for the required inspections at the airport.

While a Pelican 1400 is good for one or two guns without red dots, for a “maximum kit” with four guns, some of which may have red dots, a Pelican 1550 case is required. (And you’ll need a whole suitcase just to conceal the Pelican 1550 case with the ammo case going in a second case inside a second suitcase. As I said, most of the time I travel with the “minimal” kit and now you can probably understand why.)

Here is a detailed list of what I take in each of the two locked cases.

Locking case #1 (Pelican 1400 or 1550, for the “minimal” or “maximum” kit respectively) contains the following:

  • Business or personal identification card (inside this container);
  • Copy of the competition bulletin or program for which you are taking your guns (added 06/17/2009);
  • 22 handgun as follows:
    • S&W model 41 (with/without red dot);
    • Folded zip-lock baggie large enough to contain S&W model 41 (in case of rain);
    • Empty chamber indicator in place in S&W model 41;
    • Two (2) magazines for S&W model 41;
  • [Maximum configuration only] CF handgun as follows:
    • Center fire handgun with red dot;
    • Folded zip-lock baggie large enough to contain wad gun (in case of rain);
    • Empty chamber indicator in place in wad gun;
    • Two (2) magazines for CF gun;
  • [Maximum configuration only] 45 “wad” handgun as follows:
    • SA “Wadder” with red dot;
    • Folded zip-lock baggie large enough to contain wad gun (in case of rain);
    • Empty chamber indicator in place in wad gun;
    • Two (2) magazines for wad gun;
  • Ball handgun as follows:
    • Ball gun;
    • Folded zip-lock baggie large enough to contain ball gun (in case of rain);
    • Empty Chamber Indicator in place in ball gun;
    • Two (2) magazines for ball gun;
  • Two (2) spare batteries for red dots;
  • 22, CF and 45 snakes;
  • Scoring overlays;
  • 22 chamber brush (25 cal brush with right-angle bend);
  • Ear plugs (custom or “foamies”);
  • Clip-board for score sheet;
  • Roll of buff pasters;
  • Personal score/training log book;
  • Baseball cap;
  • Clip-on, flip-down eye occluder;
  • Spotting scope [NG 20×33] with eyepiece and primary lense covers in place;
  • Legs for spotting scope;
  • Pedestal for spotting scope;
  • Shooting glasses;
  • Toothpicks (for S&W model 41 bolt-face cleaning after the NMC);
  • Stopwatch;
  • Staplegun;
  • Refill staples for staplegun;
  • Small screwdriver to adjust sights (check fit to adjustment screws on all guns listed above);
  • Tightly-closed bottle of gun oil; and
  • Padlocks and key(s) or combination [with which to lock this case].

Locking case #2, the ammunition box, contains the following [Winchester Pistol Case WGS-7701 with most of the foam removed]:

  • Business or personal identification card (inside this container);
  • Copy of the competition bulletin or program for which you are taking your guns (added 06/17/2009);
  • Dillon hearing protectors and 4 replacement AAA batteries;
  • 100 rounds of 22 ammunition in factory-original packaging;
  • 100 rounds of CF ammunition in plastic reloading boxes;
  • 100 rounds of 45 ACP “wad” ammunition in plastic reloading boxes;
  • 50 rounds of 45 ACP “ball” ammunition in plastic reloading boxes; and
  • Padlocks and key(s) or combination [with which to lock this case].

NOTE: This quantity of ammunition gets very close to the airline limit of eleven (11) pounds. Check the weight of the ammunition before leaving home and make any necessary sacrifices. You may be able to purchase the 22 ammo there but, if you’re shooting something exotic, line up your source before going.

In summary, I usually travel with the minimal kit and shoot iron sights only. With the 22 and the ball guns in that configuration, I can shoot a full 2700 and a leg match. Ammunition goes in a second, locked case, and both locked cases (guns and ammo) then go inside (on top of clothes, etc.) an ugly, unique-looking suitcase.

When I open the suitcase, the gun and ammo boxes are on top. And when I open the gun box, the guns are, again, on top.

I’ve travelled on business trips and, on my own time, competed at local events while “out” quite a few times. I’ve always had a wonderful time. Bullseye shooters are always pleased to have someone from out of town. They know you’ve made an effort to be there and they appreciate it. They will want to see what you’ve got, talk about how things work at different clubs, ask if you’re going to Perry or not this year, and on and on and on.

And here’s one final tip: Keep a couple of hours open in your schedule for after the competition. I often find that’s the most memorable time. I can remember some really nice times in Massachusetts, California, Texas and Florida that all took place after the guns were packed and we drove a couple of miles to a different place to relax. And I regret not having that same extra time to relax with the Bullseye shooters in Georgia and Illinois because I had to fly out right after the match.

I call the time after a 2700 and a ball match, “the 31st target.”

Make time for that “31st target”. It just may be the best part of your next business trip.

Shooting Strange Guns

I travel for a living. My job often sends me out on a Monday and home again on Friday but sometimes there’s a Sunday “out” or a Saturday “back” day. As such, it’s difficult for me to shoot the Tuesday evening Nighthawks here in Phoenix. Worse, I often miss the once-a-month 2700s on Sundays when an outbound leg starts with a mid-afternoon flight.

So, I try to find weeknight leagues in which to shoot at my destination. In so doing, I shoot at a lot of different ranges, experience the occasional “unique to this range” rules, and most enjoyably, I get to meet a lot of really nice people.

On occasion, however, I travel to places that aren’t particularly “gun friendly.” That is, the local laws either prohibit or otherwise discourage me from bringing my own guns. And some airlines are even more un-friendly in this regard.

But even when gun-less on my travels, I still like go to local events. The people are still friendly and it’s still a sport I enjoy even if I don’t shoot. I look at the guns and talk with the owners, watch how the shooter’s shoot (and note the consequent results) and enjoy my “night out” from work.

And as you might imagine, shooters offer their backup guns (and ammo!) to let me shoot on an almost unfailing basis. I’m more than a little embarassed to count up how often I’ve shot someone else’s gun and ammo only to leave them a dirty gun and empty brass. (I do try to sneak a couple of bucks to the owner to make up for what I’ve consumed but, having cleaned my own 1911s many times, I know there’s nothing I can do to compensate them for their time. I am truly grateful.)

But it does give me a chance to shoot a lot of different guns and, over that experience, I’ve started to form some opinions about how to adapt to different grips and triggers and, much to my surprise, I find that what’s important aren’t competition versus slab grips, dots versus iron sights or flat versus arched mainspring housing. But before I tell you “the secret”, let me tell you the routine I’ve developed for shooting a strange gun in Bullseye competition.

First, with a borrowed gun, one of my cardinal rules is to leave the gun with the same adjustments as when I started. If I need six clicks up, I’m always careful to crank six clicks down before returning the gun. And the same for the dot size: I’ve started shooting with a big orange dot but I try to note what the owner prefers and put it back that way when I’m done.

But for a competition grip, that pretty much means I can’t move the palm shelf up or down. There are no marks and it would be difficult to get it back to the original position. This means that “grip” is often less than ideal. Indeed, there is almost always some awkwardness and, in many cases, it’s just downright close to painful. I’ve shot some competition grips where my (big) hand could only be jammed in as far as my knuckles while leaving most of my hand hanging out the back. Other times, holding the grips felt like hanging on to a 3″ diameter piece of pipe with no contact above or below my hand. (If I can’t hang on to the gun safely, I don’t shoot. This has only come up once.)

Ideal finger placement on the trigger is often impossible. Indeed, sometimes even a “reasonable placement” can be beyond my ability to control. If I can’t get my hand into the grip, odds are I’m just barely going to be able to reach the trigger with the tip of the finger. Or if the grip is like that of a broom handle, my finger will be all the way through the trigger guard and in danger of going well beyond the first knuckle.

All of that is noticed and dealt with before ever raising the gun to see how the sights line up with my eye. And in most cases, the gun is pointed off at some scarey angle or, at a minimum, at a target three or four positions away from mine. So I have to stop, try and adjust how and where the gun fits in my hand, and in some cases, horror of horror, I even have to bend my wrist to make eye, rear sight and front sight all line up.

Once that’s accomplished (and I shuffle my feet so I’m then lined up on my target), it’s time to learn the trigger.

“Learn the trigger.” Now there’s an understatement!

I have been utterly astonished at the variety of triggers I’ve experienced. Some guns have a lot of take-up, some have virtually none. Some have a long springy feel followed by a larger amount of resistance, others have virtually none. Some slide smooth as glass from there until the shot breaks, some feel like I’m pushing a red brick across a slab of concrete (fortunately there aren’t too many of those), and some have virtually no movement whatsoever before the break. There are the “gee, was that even two pounds?” triggers, the “is the safety still on or something?” triggers, and the “ooh, that was nice!” triggers.

I carry half a dozen 22LR dummy rounds so I can dry fire the target guns of that caliber since you aren’t supposed to dry fire many of them. And with the center fire guns, I always ask the owner, “May I dry fire it?”

But during a weeknight league, everyone isn’t standing around waiting on me to learn the gun. Instead, I get a quick “here’s how this gun operates” lesson from the owner and then it’s time for the first Slow Fire target. I will use up several of that first target’s ten minutes working out these details.

One of the hardest things to figure out during this time is how to move the trigger straight back. With different guns, my trigger finger lands on the trigger in different ways. Sometimes it is flat and at a right angle but, when the grip fits me poorly, sometimes all I can manage is a finger tip at a steep angle. Consequently, each gun requires a different way of moving the trigger finger in order to get that straight back direction.

Heavy triggers with big fat grips are particularly challenging because it’s hard to get the trigger finger “around there” and flat on the trigger. Instead, if all that can be managed is a finger tip at an angle, mustering enough strength to pressure it straight back can require an inordinate amount of effort. And that has to be done over and over throughout the evening.

At the Sunnyvale (California) Gun Club on a recent Wednesday evening, I had the privilege of shooting a Hammerli 280 with iron sights (thanks, Liz) and then a Masaki 1911 set up for wad ammo with a red dot (thank you, Norman).

For those who don’t know, the very, very, very best handguns are referred to not by their manufacturers but, rather, by the name of the gunsmith who worked on them. Well, Ed Masaki had brought this particular 1911 to utter perfection. His work is legend in the sport. Shooters wait years — I’m not exaggerating — for one of his guns.

The slide on this 1911 was bank vault tight and moved just as smoothly. Shooting the wad loads, the action was so silky I hardly noticed the recoil. If it hadn’t been for the loud bang when the round fired, I would have removed my hearing protection just to hear the gun cycle.

Both the Hammerli and the Masaki shot magnificently that evening. I shot a (respectable for me) 531-7 out of 600 with the Hammerli. That’s 88.5% with iron sights, well into my current SharpShooter ranking. I was happy with that.

Ah, but the Masaki was another story, I’m afraid. Perhaps I was over-confident. Perhaps I rushed through the preparations. Clearly, I didn’t dry-fire enough to figure out that straight back motion because it seemed that after every shot, the gun would turn to me slightly and say, “You pushed me left on that shot.” We (me and the gun) would hunker down for another shot but, again, the gun would sneer, “Nope, you flipped me a little bit left again.”

And just as I was tempted to crank in 2-3″ right on the sight, everything would feel perfect and we would shoot an X.

“There,” the gun would seem to say, “you did me just right. See what we can do?”

But sadly, the repeatable fine control needed to shoot straight at 50 or even at 25 yards with that gun was beyond me that night. I knew it could be done, could do it every now and then, but doing it over and over again was more than I could manage that night.

So, what have I learned from all this, you might ask? Is it better to stick with one gun and learn to shoot it accurately before starting over with another gun? Or is there profit to be had in shooting many different guns and “dealing with” the issues and learning to shoot in spite of them?

What I’ve found is that in both approaches, the lessons to be learned are the same. Regardless of whether you want to shoot one gun or many guns, regardless of whether you prefer red dots or irons, slab or competition grips, roll or crisp or light or heavy triggers, the one (1) thing to be learned is the same.

The one (1) thing to be learned is to align the sights and move the trigger straight back.

Everything thing else can be adjusted, compensated, ignored, held funny, squished awkwardly, accompanied with long slow “effort noises” or whatever else might be needed.

Just align the sights and move the trigger straight back, that’s all.

Everything else is minor. Everything else can be imperfect. Everything else is irrelevent.

Align the sights and move the trigger straight back.

Don’t think, just do it.

That’s it. Straight back now…

BANG!

X!

There, see? You can do it!

Align the sights and move the trigger straight back.

Good.

Now, let’s try it again.

(Thanks, coach!)