Central Pennsylvania



Back-country Road

I absolutely love central Pennsylvania, from the southern border with Maryland all the way up to New York state. Every bit of it is gorgeous and the people are warm and friendly.

Years ago, I spent a lot of time in and around State College up in the north central part of the state. On weekends, I hiked small segments of the Appalachian Trail that passes through the area. It was there one fall I came across a very large, mature buck who had frozen at my approach but, when my unseeing footsteps came within a dozen yards, it bolted and gave me one of the most severe starts I’ve ever experienced. That was one large animal!

Recently, I shot the Dutchman 2700 at the Palmyra Sportsmen’s Association outside of Harrisburg. Depending on local road and bridge construction, this can be an interesting club to find but, once there, there’s no need to go elsewhere.



Jeff Lutz (facing)

Jeff Lutz runs the show from registrations to running the statistics during the match to having the final scores posted just a few minutes after the final shot has been fired. And I must say that was one of the best run matches I’ve ever attended. (Wish I could say my Slow Fire targets turned out that good but, oh well.)

One of the small but convenient touches was having a menu from a local sandwich shop available at the beginning of the 2700, taking lunch orders from all the shooters, and then having the sandwiches back at the range when it was time to eat. It gave everyone more time to visit, more time to relax, and more time to just enjoy the whole experience.

Nicely done, Jeff. Very nice indeed!



My Firing Point

Since I’m travelling on business and by air to most of these events, I travel light. My “kit” includes a Smith & Wesson Model 41 (22 automatic) and a custom Essex 1911 (45 ACP), both with iron sights. The 22 is exactly as it came from Smith & Wesson and, other than the factory replacing the extractor after it disappeared while shooting, I’ve done nothing except keep it reasonably clean and lubricated.

The Essex 1911 is another story. I purchased it from another shooter who said it had been custom built for Air Force shooters in the 1960s. By the time it reached me forty years later, the gun was well worn. Indeed, if I shook my hand while holding it, automobiles would stop at nearby railroad crossings and look for the on-coming train. So, I sent the gun to Dave Salyer for an overhaul. Today, although you can see the mileage it’s been through, it’s a straight-shooter. (I value the same attributes in people.)



Tony Brong and Neil Kravits

Also on this trip, I finally got to meet Tony Brong whose blog I’ve read, enjoyed and learned from on many occasions. I’ve left Tony a comment or two over time, he has left me a lot of encouraging comments and suggestions, and we’ve slowly built a long-distance friendship without ever meeting.

But finally, the timing of a business trip perfectly fit that of this annual match at Tony’s home club and, when I told Tony I’d be there, he generously invited me to stay at his home. And on Saturday morning before we left for the match, Laura fixed us a pair of perfectly balanced, high protein breakfasts. (And from my scores, I can see I should’ve asked her to make something as a pick-me-up before my center fire.)

In the match’s final standings, Tony almost won the 22 competition coming in a very close second (878 versus 874) with the 22. For perspective, over the nine targets in that aggregate, promoting a couple of 8s to 10s would’ve tied him in first. That’s some very fine work!

And in the overall rankings for the 2700, Tony took 4th place.

Even better, in the EIC match, Tony won! In so doing, he also earned more of those extremely difficult to get “leg points.” Both a Master ranking and a Distinguished Pistol award are fast approaching for Tony.

Also shooting at this match was another individual I’ve come to know but never met, Neil Kravits, of NSK Sales. (Neil’s business is just over the line in Maryland.) Before I began reloading my own ammunition, I was a very happy customer of Neil’s for quite some time. He makes a top quality product at a very reasonable cost. My local postal carrier asked more than once, “What the hell is in this damn heavy box, 2000 rounds of ammunition or something?”

I would smile as I answered, “Yes.”

Since then, I’ve invested the money and the time to do my own reloading, and not a little of either. Making a top quality reload is, I have discovered, no small feat. Regardless of my move to making my own ammunition, however, Neil has continued to be a participant by recommending loads and measurements and sharing his considerable expertise, all without pay.

And ending the day was a wonderful home-cooked meal at Tony and Laura’s, one that I really appreciated with a week of teaching still ahead of me.

Sunday was another travel day as I drove west toward my work near Pittsburg.

I don’t know what the state of Pennsylvania considers to be its “central” portion but I’d have to say that, based on my many experiences there over many years, the “center” of which they can be proud is very, very wide.

Thanks Tony, and thanks to Palmyra and all of central Pennsylvania!

AP in England

Yes, you can shoot in the England but, if you want to shoot handgun, it’s going to be either air pistol (AP) or black powder.

I was there for a week on business and checked the local clubs. The Marlow (Berkshire) Rifle and Pistol Club’s website listed Monday evening air pistol and, after swapping emails with the club chairman (see the website) to find out if I could shoot and if the club had a pistol I could borrow and getting a “Yes” to both, I went.



Map to Recreation Center

As you can see from the map, the club is just south of the center of Marlow (in Berkshire). The building houses a recreational facility on the banks of the Thames River. It includes tennis courts, weight rooms, swimming pool and so forth. The shooting club has a dedicated space divided into a reception area and the firing range. The facility is west of London, a few miles outside of the M25, the “Motorway” (similar to US Interstate highways) that circles the city. The “car park” at the recreation facility is free after 7:00PM and evening event at the range starts at 8:00PM.

I arrived a few minutes early hoping to meet other shooters. As it happened, however, I was the only handgun shooter. The three others were all shooting air rifles.

The gentleman running the event offered me my choice of the club’s two air pistols, both pump action. After trying both triggers, I reluctantly chose the Gamo and prepared to shoot a few 10 round targets.



10M Range

But I must confess I was disappointed to be the only handgun shooter and, more so, saddened by the apparent demise of pistol shooting in England.

As you may know, handguns were banned in England and some other parts of the UK in 1999 except for black powder and air. Owners of all other types of handguns were forced to sacrifice their weapons. I’m told that many owners either sold their guns to people living on the continent where such ownership was still legal, or that they joined clubs on the mainland where they could visit a couple of times per year to shoot, clean and then lock their handguns away into storage until their next visit.

Disheartened, I shot three targets but was quickly losing interest and the desire to hit the 10 ring. And when I began the fourth but placed my first two shots outside the black, I decided to stop and take a break, and then to decide about continuing or just leaving.

I stepped out to the reception area, sat down and closed my eyes.

And it was then that I overheard a voice in the room saying, “And then after you’ve balanced your weight in your NPA, raise your arm slightly above your aiming area and then let it settle back down. The muscle along the top of your shoulder is much smoother when extending and you’ll get less wobble if you come down into the aiming area, not up.”

“I know this language,” I said to myself.

The voice went on, “In the nine week program, we’ll go through these basics, we will develop a shot plan — a couple of them most likely — and, toward the end, I’ll help you figure out a time sequence for shot release that will work for you.”

What’s this, I wondered?

I’ve seen a couple of different programs and workbooks in the US but nothing called the “Nine week plan.”

I opened my eyes to see who was speaking. The gentleman had his back to me. He was bareheaded, wore what appeared to be a sleeveless shooting jacket over a long-sleeve shirt, and wore khaki pants.

He was speaking to the fellow that had taken my evening’s registration and five pounds whom, I gathered, was interested in learning to shoot pistols from this expert.

Well, heck, so am I!

I waited for a pause in the conversation before asking if this was a program he had personally developed?

No, he said. It had been developed by the senior trainers throughout the country (the UK) and that he was merely the senior trainer for Berkshire. His job, he said, was to work with those air pistol shooters who had already excelled in preliminary training administered by designated (and trained) trainers at each of the local clubs and, as each of his trainees then completed their nine week programs, he might recommend a few of them on to the national program and its trainers.

I asked several more questions and he showed me quite a bit more of the program but, when I asked if a copy of the program were available in the United States he smiled and said that, no, at this point the program is only being used in the UK to encourage air pistol shooting in preparation for the 2012 summer olympics in Lonon.

With that, I was even more impressed, and interested.

We went on to discuss some of my immediate issues including trigger control, finger position, balance and head position, and the problems of eye versus hand dominance and the good and bad positions for cross-eyed shooting.

He generously offered a solution to one of my issues.

Specifically, although I am left-eye dominant, I shoot righty-righty because the only way I knew to shoot cross-eyed made my neck hurt. When I told him I was cross-doninant and demonstrated the position I had tried, before I could say why I quit using that position he said, “Don’t do that — it’ll make your neck hurt!”

And went on, “Stand this way instead and then learn how to deal with the recoil. It will be awkward at first but many have mastered it. You probably can too.”

But as much as I wanted it, the “Nine week program” wasn’t going to fall into my hands, nor would it be possible for me to complete the program. That impossibility was not because of my home address (outside of the UK). Rather, although the program could take longer than nine weeks to complete, it still required regular practice. But with my work and travel, that just is not in the cards I’ve been dealt for this period in my career.

So, I took the gentleman’s offered email address and said I’d drop him a note. I’m still very interested in the contents of the program and, although I’m unable to do all of it, some of the elements would still be of very practical use. My intention, and he was agreeable, would be for me to pick and choose the parts I could adopt, and that he would work with me by email to integrate them into my shooting.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Looks like it’s time.

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?

Clubs and Ranges

My work has me on the road a lot and, when possible, I try to get in some range time. Here are the clubs and ranges I’ve visited, both here in Phoenix and while traveling.

  • Phoenix Rod and Gun Club, Phoenix AZ. My “home” range. Except in the hottest summer months, there is an authorized or registered 2700 each month, a practice 2700 each month, and the Tuesday night (6:30PM) Nighthawks where we alternate Bullseye and International targets at 25 yards, and on rare occasions, shoot a Police L-Match.
  • Usery Mountain Range, Mesa (Metropolitan Phoenix) AZ. Good outdoor range in the so-called “east valley” area. [01/07/2008]
  • Scottsdale Gun Club, Scottsdale (Metropolitan Phoenix) AZ. For a while, my office was within a couple of miles of this very nice, upscale, indoor club so I was a member and practiced regularly at this range. Later, when my office moved and it became too far, I dropped the membership. Regardless, it’s a nice place to go shoot especially in the desert summer.
  • Ben Avery Shooting Facility, Phoenix AZ (north thereof). Very nice facility with several sport-specific ranges as well as a public range. But note that public ranges can be scarey. My recommendation is to watch the shooters to your left and right and pay particular attention when they have a gun jam. Invariably, the barrel seems to end up pointed in my direction. And almost always, the gun will eventually fire as the owner struggles with it! My rule is to watch them like a hawk and get ready to yell REAL LOUD. I’ve had to do exactly that more than once at a public range. (I’ll take a bunch of Bullseye shooters over novices any day, thank you.)
  • Arizona Tactical / Arizona Shooter’s World, Phoenix AZ. An indoor range. I visited once but found it depressing and in a less-than-pretty neighborhood. (I was glad I had my guns.) [03/01/2005]
  • My backyard, Phoenix AZ. 10 M air pistol range.
  • Old Colony Sportsmen’s Association, East Pembroke (S. of Boston) MA. Fired a borrowed 22 (thanks, Ron Hawkins) at their indoor range during a business trip. Met Bill Dutton who came down from NH as well as several other Bullseye shooters. [06/15/2006]
  • Arvada Rifle and Gun Club, Denver CO. Shot two NMCs at this indoor range. Received good coaching from Steve “Slocat” Locatelli. [09/21/2006]
  • Square Circle Sportsmen, Gibbsboro NJ (east of Philadelphia PA). Shot an indoor 900 with a borrowed S&W 41 from John Gemmil, Sr. [01/21/2007]
  • Illinois State Rifle Association (ISRA), at their range near Kankakee (Metropolitan Chicago) IL. Fired an NMC using Jeff Battaglia’s Hammerli 208s.
  • Sunnyvale Rod & Gun Club, Sunnyvale (Silicon Valley, S. of San Francisco, NW of San Jose) CA. Very nice outdoor Bullseye range. On my first visit, I shot a Hammerli 280 loaned by Liz David and also an Ed Masaki 1911 loaned by Norman Wong (after getting a fabulous, very detailed, and customized-for-Bullseye shooter’s eye exam and prescriptions from Dr. Wong the day before). [05/16/2007] And then on a second visit, I brought my own weapons and, again, shot an 1800 at their 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month evening competitions. [04/16/2008]
  • Canton-McKinley Rifle and Pistol Club, near Canton OH. Site of the annual “Perry Warm-Up” competition, but that wasn’t when I was there. Shot two NMCs with my own S&W 41. [08/23/2007]
  • Port Malabar Rifle & Pistol Club, Port Malabar (SE of Orlando) FL. Outdoor range. Shot a Saturday AM 900 with my own guns. Met Tom Morissey who came down from Orlando to check out the club and to meet me. (Thanks for the novel, Tom. Really enjoyed it!) [02/09/2008]
  • Haltom City Rifle & Pistol Club, Haltom City (Metropolitan Dallas/Ft.Worth) TX. Brought my air pistols for an evening silhouette event. Slaughtered 4 chickens, 5 pigs, 4 turkeys and 6 rams and had a great time. [Warning: Those Texas boys are serious about their shooting!] [02/18/2008]
  • San Bernardino Gun Club, San Bernardino (far east LA basin), CA. Shot an 1800 with guns loaned by Pat Clarkson. [03/02/2008]
  • River Bend Gun Club, Dawsonville (N of Atlanta) GA. Stayed through after a business trip to shoot a 2700 with my own guns. (Hint: Get good driving directions or take a GPS for navigation.) Very nice club. Wish I could’ve stayed longer. [06/22/2008]
  • Newport Rifle Club, Newport RI. Borrowed one of the club’s 22s and shot the “rapid fire” (non-standard Bullseye) and the “fun” (traditional NMC) events on Monday and Wednesday evenings, respectively. [07/14/2008 and 07/16/2008]
  • Marlow (Berkshire, UK) Rifle and Pistol Club. Shot the club’s Gamo air pistol in open practice but was the sole pistol shooter for most of the evening. I did, however, meet the county AP coach who gave me several personal tips which should be of considerable value. [08/11/2008]

Newport Rifle Club

The Newport (Rhode Island) Rifle Club has “Rapid Fire” and “Fun Shoot” events on Monday and Wednesday evenings at their indoor 50′ range. These events are Bob King’s doings and, largely if not completely because of his enthusiasm and twice-a-week support, they are quite a success.

I was in Newport to teach a class, a four-day seminar, at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center during a week in July but had also prepared for my relaxation by visiting the club’s website, http://www.newportrifleclub.org, and noting the upcoming events and regular calendar. Unlike a recent trip to Atlanta where I had stayed over the weekend to shoot a 2700, my visit to Newport would be shorter but had the advantage of two weeknight evening events. This was actually preferable to a full 2700 because it fit directly into my travel calendar and required no extra nights on the road. And it would be a far sight more enjoyable than watching TV in the room of my hotel-du-jour.

So, upon arriving in the Newport area and because the club’s location like many shooting clubs was somewhat out of the way, I decided to follow their directions and find it. In due course and with no surprises, I was there, and all by myself as there was nothing going on at that moment.

Checking the front door, I found three names and telephone numbers. They were the same as had been on the website so I decided to call them in order to verify the schedule for the week.

When I explained my background and interest, my first two calls were both answered with, “Oh, you want Bob King. Do you have his number?”

Bob was the third on the list. I called and connected with Bob, and the instant I mentioned the Monday and Wednesday night events, I was invited, offered a 22 to shoot, and told that each visit would cost me about $8, or less.

“Do you need directions to the club?”

“No, thanks, I’ve found it already.”

If I had to describe Bob in one word it would be “enthusiastic“. When I arrived on Monday evening and introduced myself, he was in the midst of three jobs: He was showing another shooter how to clean and assemble her Ruger (I watched carefully, too), pulling targets for everyone for the evening, and making me feel welcome and setting me set up with a gun, ammunition, ears and having me sign the usual waiver.

Single-tasking, it still takes me 10 minutes and three attempts to re-assemble my Ruger. Bob did it doing three things at once!

So, I paid Bob for my ammo — $6 for two boxes of CCI Standard Velocity paper box (50 rounds each) — and another $1 for the first relay’s profile targets. Bob said I was his guest and didn’t need to pay the $1 guest fee that evening.

I was on the range in just a couple of minutes and under his watchful and safety-conscious eye. Bob works with newcomers as well as strangers and I appreciated his watchfulness. You can’t be “too safe” in this game.

In this picture (copied from the range’s website), the indoor range is through the two large windows on the right. Straight-ahead and through the doorway can be seen the kitchen. The outdoor range can be accessed through the door at the far end of the kitchen or by gates outside. Finally, the door on the left leads to the parking lot “out front” of the range.

The loaner handgun was a Mark I Ruger with red dot and Volquartsen guts. I have a Mark III with the same trigger parts as my backup 22 and was pleased to feel that same long roll on the trigger as I fired a few shots to warm up. I guess Bob noticed my standard Bullseye NPA stance, shot release and gun handling and decided I was safe enough to be on my own because after a couple of shots, he left the range to help others get ready for the evening’s event, the Rapid Fire match.

And after twenty rounds, I left the gun (locked open) on the bench and left the range to find out about the evening’s competition.

After meeting several of the other shooters and hearing the briefing on the competition for the evening, we went back into the range and got ready to shoot.

Monday Evening “Rapid Fire”

We would be shooting three groups of ten rounds onto profile (reduced size man-shape) targets at 50 feet. The first ten rounds would be fired standing, the next ten seated, and the final ten would be shot prone. And within each group of ten, the first five would be right-handed, and the next five would be left-handed, ten seconds per string.

From Bullseye, I’m very comfortable at only one of those six variations, standing and shooting right-handed, so my expectations weren’t too high.

I put my first five shots (standing, right-handed) into the 9-ring or better. Of the next five, left-handed, they started better than I had expected until I jerked the fourth shot several inches to the right. With only ten seconds for each string of five, I didn’t have much time to get my wits back together for the last shot which sounded simultaneously with the buzzer. Glancing at the target before handing it to Bob, I could see that most of the left-handed shots had landed to the right of center plus the one jerked even farther that same direction.

Pulling up a chair for the next target, I fidgeted and adjusted until comfortable for the right-handed string. That one went great. All 10s and Xs.

And the left-hand string also went well because two-hands were permitted as long as the left pulled the trigger. I took full advantage of that opportunity and, when the target came in, it was better than the previous “standing” target.

But prone was going to be a problem.

When I was 8 or 9 years old, I had a diving accident and injured my neck. Ever since, neck mobility has been a problem.

And I now wear progressive glasses.

And I had on my baseball cap.

Laying on the mat, the first problem was that I couldn’t roll my head back far enough. The bill of the baseball cap completely blocked my view but, since the line was “hot”, I couldn’t shed the over-the-head hearing protection to take it off. So I pushed the cap up and back as far as I could.

Then, I could see the dot except there were to of them: one through the top of the progressive lense, and a second one completely above the lense.

Since the dot shows where the bullet is going to land and because both views were showing the same position of the dot within the scope, I figured it didn’t matter which one I used. The dot above the lense, however, was decidedly clearer as I wasn’t looking through oil left on the top of the lense by my bushy, and oily, eyebrows.

I decided to use the “above the lense” (clear) dot.

Even so, I just could not get down all the way while keeping my head back far enough to shoot. I ended up slightly elevated on my elbows with the gun about 9″ off the mat. I fired both right- and left-handed strings that way but tried not to look at the target when it came in. I’m sure it wasn’t pretty.

The Newport indoor range has 8 bays and all were in use for the first relay in which I shot. A second group was waiting to come in when we finished but had a couple of positions open. I had another box of 50 rounds and asked if I could shoot again?

“Just pitch another buck for the targets and get ready,” Bob said.

Thirty rounds and another relay later, we were done.

Bob had me put the Ruger back in the range safe and lock it.

“Put the ears in there,” he said pointing to a cabinet in the kitchen.

I washed my hands, thanked Bob and said I’d be back on Wednesday.

Wednesday Evening “Fun Shoot”

It was hard not to arrive early.

My class had finished on time at 4:30PM, I’d had a light (fast) dinner somewhere forgettable, and had nothing to do until the competition. To kill time, I explored the countryside but found myself going past the range several times. Finally I saw some cars in the parking lot so I pulled in and stopped.

Bob was again getting everything ready as I entered and, again, I found “enthusiastic” to be the operative word to describe him.

“OK if I shoot the same Ruger, Bob?” I asked.

“Hi, Ed! Sure. You know the routine. We’re shooting a regular National Match Course tonight. Standard Bullseye. See you on the line.” Bob went back to work helping other shooters.

That’s all I needed to know.

I paid my three bucks for one box of 50 rounds — I’d just shoot the one relay tonight — a dollar for targets and a dollar as visitor and signed the sign-up sheet. The gun safe was open as was the cabinet with ears. I picked up everything and moved to the same position at the indoor range I’d used last time.

There were a lot more gun boxes on the line Wednesday than there had been on Monday.

These are Bullseye shooters, I thought to myself. I’ll have to concentrate and do this right so I don’t embarass myself too much. Shooting different guns each week does make for an added level of difficulty but the club’s Ruger felt like mine. I was hoping to shoot my Indoor Expert classification that evening.

In my first Slow Fire string, all my shots landed about an inch to the left of center. This is a chronic problem for me. I’ll get everything working and shots hitting center and then something will change and they all move left.

Lucky for me, Bob had also noticed.

He came up and said, “You have an awful lot of finger in there and that’ll push your shots left. Move it out some and see what happens.”

Sure enough, the shots moved back where they were supposed to be going!

But ten rounds later, the same thing was happening even though my trigger finger was in the new place. If I kept moving the finger farther and farther, pretty soon it would be completely out of the trigger guard and pointed toward Maine.

Something else was going on.

Bob was right about the finger position but now I’m not coming straight back with the pressure. I’m pushing it like I do a mouse button, “down” which translates to “toward the left”. I need to move it straight back, instead.

“Straight back,” was my mantra for the next string in what was by then the Timed Fire target and … the shots came back into the center of the target.

Hooray!

But that long roll of the Volquartsen trigger still takes practice. Once it starts moving, the best thing to do is just keep coming straight back until it goes, “Bang!” So I hung in there through the two Rapid Fire strings with my finger in the new position and trying to come straight back with the pressure while keeping the trigger moving through that long roll.

I’d hoped to shoot my classification that evening and I did, but just barely.

My targets were 88, 92-1 and 91-0 for a total of 271-1. The expert classification starts with a score of 90% of the maximum and, for the three target NMC, that is 270 points. With 271, I’d made it with one point to spare. (A few more Xs would’ve been nice but that’ll have to wait until “next time.”)

Regardless, I was pleased to have received a tip from an expert that had fixed a long-standing problem, to have identified another problem and its solution on my own, to have shot my classification in a strange place with someone else’s gun, and to have had a real nice evening that was much more enjoyable than flipping channels on the hotel room’s TV.

Thanks, Bob. That was great!

P.S. – Hint to other clubs struggling to keep or start a Bullseye program: Go to Rhode Island and watch Bob. He’s the secret.

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!)