Calling The Line

Yours Truly in “The Tower”

“Attention! Attention on the line! Your three minute preparation time begins … NOW!”

And so begins another relay.

At the recent Desert Mid-Winter competition in Phoenix, I took turns with Tony Silva calling the line. The Conventional Pistol portion spanned three and a half days starting with a Service Pistol 900 and just under 80 shooters. We ran two relays with an individual 900 and then team, EIC (Leg Match) or DR (Distinguished Revolver) matches almost every day.

For competitors who shoot all events and compete in teams as well, that’s about 150 rounds, more or less, each day.

When not shooting, there’s plenty of time to talk shop, get some lunch and clean guns.

But for those running the match, it’s a different story.

As I discovered, when you “call the line”, you become the person everyone goes to for answers.

“When are the scores going to be posted?”

“The Men’s room is out of toilet paper.”

“Where can I get some good Thai food?”

“What time is 45 Team today?”

It behooves you, therefore, to not only have a copy of the match bulletin immediately at hand, but also to have a couple of runners who can be directed to take care of the unexpected requests.

The Desert Mid-Winter competition is known to be well-run and we try to make it, as least for the line-calling portion, as much like Camp Perry as we reasonably can. In a sense, we view the competition as a training ground for those who will be making their first trip to Perry five months later in July.

So, to make sure I was “calling it straight”, I reviewed the official rules and prepared a script. Hopefully it sounded very much like the one that will be used in the Nationals shortly after Independence Day.

But there are exceptions such as range alerts that need to be announced. Late last year, for example, a Mohave Rattlesnake was discovered underneath the firing line bench where Jason, a local shooter, was sitting. The snake was apparently a juvenile and, if you look it up, you’ll find out this is one of the most dangerous rattlesnakes there is.

So this year we included a “rattlesnake alert” in range announcements. (None were seen nor heard during Desert Mid-Winter, thank goodness.)

But Desert Mid-Winter isn’t Camp Perry. It’s smaller, more friendly, and because we don’t have the crush of competitors that Ohio will see, we can take a less hectic approach.

“Attention shooters. When we ask, ‘Is the line ready?’, raise your hand and holler if you are not. We will stop and give you the time needed. There’s no hurry.”

During one of the matches this year, for example, we had a gun that refused to function. We stopped to allow the shooter to change guns. Not having a spare, he was in a dilemma until his neighbor offered a spare. And while he was being briefed on how the sights were set, the Air Reserve gunsmith standing nearby took the disabled one to see if it could be repaired. Two targets later the original gun was back, repaired and ready to go back into competition. (Thank you, Dan!)

Calling the line also means keeping track of re-fires, when they are or are not allowed for a specific shooter within a match and how many total shots are to be scored (whether or not that many were actually fired). Of course, the individual shooters could also keep track of this but, in the interest of following the rules as closely as possible to be consistent with the Perry competition, the line caller takes on this responsibility.

“Shooters, if you have a malfunction and want an alibi, do not clear the malfunction. Instead, continue to hold your firearm with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and raise your hand. Someone will come and inspect your firearm and tell you what to do.

Range officers then assist by inspecting alibi claims before they are cleared, determining if the alibi is allowed or not. (For example, if the shooter forgets to click off the safety, no alibi is allowed.)

But above all, safety is the first and last concern.

Someone always checks the range to verify that it is clear.

“The range is clear. You may handle your firearms.”

When someone shouts, “Not ready!”, the line caller repeats it, tells everyone to keep their firearms pointed in a safe direction but to otherwise “Stand easy.” And then tells the shooter with a problem, “Take your time and solve the problem safely. Take as much time as you need.”

And before going downrange, there’s the well-known, “Let’s make the line safe. Magazines out. Cylinders open and empty. Slides back. Empty Chamber Indicators in place. Guns on the table.”

This year we added, “When your firearms are safe, step back from the table.” And then we watch and wait until everyone has moved back. (Sometimes it takes a reminder or two.)

Nonetheless, mishaps still happen.

Someone shot a hole in the firing line table but — good for them — they were following the safety rules and had the gun pointed in a safe direction, downrange. (Gary plugged and painted it and then did his normal job of refacing all targets before competition resumed the next morning. Thank you, Gary!)

And an early shot was fired, long before the Rapid Fire targets turned to face. Again, the gun was pointed in a safe direction so no damage was done.

Perhaps most alarming was a shot during a three minute preparation period.

“I thought I was dry-firing!”

Yes dear reader, you are absolutely right: That gun should not have been loaded!

But that’s the very case the safety rules are designed to handle. That’s why the rules are what they are. That is the kind of accident — some will say “negligent discharge” — that is most likely to happen. And because the shooter was otherwise following the rules and had his firearm pointed in a safe direction, no one was hurt.

Here are the NRA’s rules:

  1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction;
  2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot; and
  3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

Here’s rule #1 again — there’s a reason it is #1.

  1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.


The line caller’s primary job, and that of every shooter on the line, is safety.

“Attention shooters. Anyone, I mean anyone, may call ‘Cease Fire’ at any time if there is an immediate danger.”

I’ve been shooting Bullseye for several years in Phoenix and in various clubs around the US during my business and vacation travel. I’ve spoken with shooters who’ve been engaged in this sport for decades, and some who’ve been doing so for more than half a century and I’ve yet to hear of a single injury from a bullet*.

I hesitate to point it out lest I bring down a curse, but the fact remains that Bullseye, in spite of what the public might otherwise expect given the nature of what we do, is a remarkably safe sport.

“Shooters to the line. This will be the Timed Fire portion of the National Match Course, two strings of five rounds, twenty seconds per string.

“For your first string of Timed Fire, with five rounds … Load!”


* Note:
I have witnessed injuries, however, from a red dot that broke away from a 1911 in recoil and smacked the shooter’s forehead, and I have heard of hand injuries from explosions presumed to be due to reloading problems — a double-charge or a normal round fired after a squib has plugged the barrel.
Accidents do happen.
And, someday, you will be the one at fault.
Practice those rules; your life really does depend on it.

Pass Right, Score Left

Five days, four guns, nine disciplines and over a thousand rounds, that was the Arizona Desert Midwinter competition for 2010.

And I’m pooped!

Tony Brong and myself


My good friend from Pennsylvania, Tony Brong, came out for the competition this year. Like many of you, I’ve been following Tony’s blog (click here) for some time. Tony is an accomplished Bullseye competitor and I consider myself lucky to know him as well as benefit from his Expert (soon to be Master) observations.

Our blogging and emailing friendship grew when Tony and I both shot the August 2008 Dutchman 2700 at the Palmyra club when I was in Pennsylvania for two consecutive weeks on business. The weekend “break” with Tony was great although I can’t say the same for my shooting.

With Tony returning the visit at this year’s Arizona Desert Midwinter event, I can’t say much more for my shooting as I had been “on extended hiatus” from shooting for several months due to personal issues, but getting to spend time with Tony again and to introduce him to all the wonderful people I’ve come to know at the Phoenix club was, well, wonderful.

Don Kling and Tony Brong

More PA in AZ

Don Kling, now an Arizona shooter, originally hails from Tony’s club back in Pennsylvania. Although their times at Palmyra didn’t overlap, they both knew many of the same club members.

Don calls the matches in Phoenix, both International and Conventional segments. Each has unique requirements. In Conventional, for example, it is not only common practice but typically encouraged for shooters to load their magazines at the end of each string before scoring targets. That way when they come back to the line, the next string can begin without delay.

But in the International disciplines, this is considered a safety violation and is grounds for immediate expulsion.

In International, shooters are forbidden to touch ammunition or firearms until commanded to “Load”. They then have sixty seconds to load a magazine or whatever the weapon requires, and no more than what the next string requires — typically five (5) rounds — and otherwise make their weapon ready to shoot.

At the end of that sixty seconds, the “Attention” command is announced and shooting ensues about three seconds later.

Well, for Bullseye shooters who are unaccustomed to but otherwise eager to try the International forms, Don patiently explains the difference in rules. He then follows up with an inspection and one-on-one “correction” with anyone who needs a little extra attention.

And don’t forget your ECI — Empty Chamber Indicator — typically a 8-12″ piece of brightly colored weed-wacker (grass trimmer) line that is threaded through a gun’s empty chamber and out through the end of the barrel. The NRA (Conventional pistol rule maker) mandates these in every NRA sanctioned event.

But when, during an International segment whose rules don’t require ECIs, Don called “Empty Chamber Indicators in place”, one of the shooters objected.

“International rules don’t require those, Don.”

Without missing a beat however, Don replied, “I’m calling the match and I do.”

That was that and ECIs were promptly put in place.

Presenting the Case

Scoring Jury

Scoring of a shooter’s target for most Bullseye matches other than at the annual championship in Camp Perry is almost always done by the person to the right of each shooter.

At the beginning of a match, each participant is given a blank score card on which they write their name and firing position number.

The command, “Pass right, score left” tells the tale. (The shooter at the extreme right end passes his card to the one at the extreme left, who then has to make the long trek to the other end of the targets each time around. Some ranges will make smaller “loops” where the line is divided in half to save walking distance.)

Immediately after scoring a neighbor’s target, each shooter looks at his own target to see his score — scorers write the score on the target as well as on the scoring sheet — and to see if he agrees with it.

Late in the Desert Midwinter match, a shooter challenged the scorer’s call on a critical shot. The scorer and shooter discussed the matter but could not come to agreement. As per the rules, Don then formed an impartial jury and included several expert and better level shooters including Tony. Tony’s participation as an unbiased outsider who knew none of the individuals made him a particularly good choice.

After each of the jurors had carefully examined the target and listened to both the shooter’s and the scorer’s case, they voted. And both shooter and scorer, after seeing and hearing the honest assessments applied to the case, accepted the outcome with no further argument.

Cara Kraus, Long Skidder
(Click for larger image)

Does It Count?

Some shots, while dramatic, can end up being worthless.

This one, for example, is called a “skidder” and before looking at the possible numerical values, the scorer must consider from which side of the target the shot entered — did it enter from the front of the target or the rear?

You see, a shot fired on a turning target, if the target has turned away from the shooter, may over-rotate slightly and allow a late shot to hit the backside of the target first.

Shots fired after the target has turned away from the shooter don’t count.

But if the shot enters from the front of the target, it is good. The scorer then looks to see what was the lowest valued ring encountered and, if the shot also marked the next higher ring, the shot is scored for the higher ring. If not, then the lower score is entered.

Skidders can also obscure — destroy would be a better word — other holes in the target and make scoring unusually challenging for the remaining holes.

How would you score this one?

Dan Norwood

Dan Norwood

This gentleman is one of the top finishers at this year’s competition. He is on the United States National Guard Marksmanship Team.

And he’s a gunsmith.

Bill Weldon, one of the regulars at the Phoenix Rod and Gun Club knew Dan’s abilities and when I asked Bill to recommend a gunsmith to put a roll trigger on my wad gun, Bill suggested I ask Dan.

I did.

And he did.

In ten minutes using the extensive collection of tools he carries with him to competitions, Dan disassembled my 1911, measured and then dressed the parts, adjusted the three tongues of the flat spring and, voila, I now have a roll trigger. (Dan would later help Tony with his centerfire gun.)

Winners and Losers

In the end there are those who received awards and rightly celebrate their win.

And there are those who didn’t receive anything and perhaps some of them felt they lost.

I shot better than expected in some events, worse in others. In that respect, you could say I won some and lost some.

But a week later, I couldn’t tell you my scores.

You see, I’ve become pretty good at filtering what is important from what is not. I remember the faces you see above, the kind acts, the sincerity. I remember the smiles, the laughs, the jests and the good-natured ribbing. I remember the people.

So, I shoot Bullseye for the people.

Tony is one of them. So are Don and Cara and Dan and the shooter who challenged the scoring of his target.

Next time you stand at the line, look at the person to your left and then the person to your right. They’re gonna be good people, honest people, sincere people.

Pass right, score left.

You won’t lose.

Five Years

Me (floral shirt) in 2005

In this month of 2005, I competed in my first Bullseye competition.

Next week, I will again compete at that same annual event, the Phoenix Rod and Gun Club’s Desert Midwinter competition.

This is the big event of the year for the southwest. Shooters will come from dozens of locations all over North America to compete. Some will drive and camp out while others fly in and stay at area hotels.

Tony Brong, a good friend I’ve made through this sport, is flying in from Pennsylvania for the event and will be staying at our home. Tony shipped his ammunition and empty gun box a few days earlier via UPS whereas his guns will fly with him, securely locked in baggage of course — er, the guns, not Tony.

Also competing will be the top finishers from the annual US Championship in Camp Perry Ohio, and several teams from both the US Army and Marine Corps.

I haven’t seen the roster but last year nearly 80 shooters, ranked from beginning Marksman through Master and High Master ratings, will stand side-by-side and shoot their targets at 50 and 25 yards.

In what other sport would you get to compete with the likes of Tiger Wood, Yogi Berra or Wilt Chamberlain?

And yet that’s exactly what happens in Bullseye.

“Hi guys, good to see you again!”

Events begin Wednesday with the International shooting forms, the same as fired in the Summer Olympics. This includes Free Pistol with some of the strangest-looking handguns I’ve ever seen, Rapid Fire (five shots in four seconds at four different targets!), Standard Pistol and Air Pistol.

Thursday will see the final International event, Center Fire, and the beginning of the Conventional Pistol (a.k.a. Bullseye) competition with a Service Pistol 900, so-called because there are 90 shots fired worth a maximum of 10 points each.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday have the 22 caliber, Center Fire (32 caliber and larger), and 45 caliber events, both individual and team. Ending the competition is the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) sponsored Excellence In Competition (EIC) event where the top finishers win “leg points” toward the much sought-after “Distinguished Pistol” award. (Tony earned this high-honor last year!)

And as much as I will enjoy the competition — I’m taking a week of vacation so I won’t have to miss a single second — I look forward even more to renewing the friendships I’ve made around the United States on my business travels where I was able to “work in” a local competition at clubs in nearly a dozen states.

And without question, I’ll be making new friends every day next week as well.

This week when they call, “Shooters to the line,” I’ll be stepping up.

10s and Xs!

Day 4 of 4, 45 Caliber and Leg Match


Little things:

  • John occasionally brings sweets — donuts, cupcakes, etc. — but won’t touch them himself until the match is over;
  • Younger shooters (that’s younger than 50 or so) are more passionate in their frustration and can become borderline reckless if their handguns jam more than once — keep an eye on them;
  • Renold usually has a tune going in his head as do I and, passing close to each other on the way out to the targets or back, we hum aloud to compare notes, but adopting his tune doesn’t help me shoot as well as he does;
  • Most of the High Masters have a lot of upper-body strength, often from childhood, but there are significant exceptions so it’s not a requirement for that level of performance, just a help;
  • Couldn’t see a double on someone’s otherwise excellent target one day, scored it as a miss, didn’t change my story when the shooter pointed out a slightly elongated hole, he challenged it (for a buck), the jury agreed with him, then I re-scored it but possibly gave him too much thereby apparently compounding my faults — like a shot in the five ring, “it happens,” and all you can do is move on;
  • The conscious mind can only think one thought at a time but Bullseye requires a skilled coordination of observations and actions — it can be a long road for those who insist on “figuring it out” because that path forces no more than one step at a time;
  • I feel an odd tension around Bill — we’re too much alike, perhaps, even though we appear to be quite different;
  • Bob will move up and out of Sharpshooter land after today — good, because he’s shooting Master-level scores which sure knocked me out of the run for one of those new pistols, the prizes for this competition;
  • I’ll need 90+alibi rounds of wad for the 45 competition today, plus 30+alibi of ball for Service Pistol team and another 30+alibi of ball for the Leg Match;
  • I lightly cleaned the wad gun last night so it’s ready; and
  • Yes, my shoulder and grip are both tired but no more so than yesterday or the day before — I’m ready.

Let today’s matches begin!


I won’t have the complete scores for a day or two but, at this point, I know how I did, and it was “extremely well” on this last day.

Here are my scores across all four days of this annual event:

Service Pistol 681-9 75.7%
22 Caliber 823-15 91.4%
Center Fire 773-12 85.8%
45 Caliber 811-17 90.1%
2700 Aggregate 2407-44 89.1%
3600 Aggregate 3088-53 85.7%
22 Team unk. unk.
CF Team 264-2 88.0%
45 Team 275-8 91.7%
Service Pistol Team 220-1 73.3%
EIC Leg Match 252-4 84.0%
Everything 4099-68 * 85.4% *

* will increase slightly with 22 Team score

After four days of shooting a 900 plus one or two NMCs in each day, my technique has settled down considerably.

Significantly, in both of those final NMCs, I think my performance was just about the same but for the Leg Match, I had changed to some ammunition given to me many, many months ago by John Zurek. This change seems to show the gift ammunition flying substantially better than what I had used just moments before.

About this gift ammo John Zurek had said, “Save this for a Leg Match. It’s really good stuff.”

And I’ve had it sitting in the supply cabinet for, what, maybe a year now? A while back, I tested a scant 10 rounds in the Ransom Rest and they printed within a 1.5″ circle at 50 yards. Oh yeah, that’s good stuff!

So today, I used another 30 of those rounds for the Leg Match.

As I released each shot, I called it and then looked in the scope. The truth of John’s words looked back at me because practically every shot was on call. And while it’s true I still messed up a couple of them, when the Leg Match was done I had a very respectable score.

With that, I also learned that the ball ammunition I had been using in the Service Pistol matches, both individual and team competitions, simply did not get along with my ball gun. At least some of the blame for the dismal Service Pistol scores goes to the ammunition / gun mix. They just don’t get along.

I have ten rounds of the “good stuff” left and I’ll have to figure out what to do with them. Certainly I’ll be measuring them with calipers every possible way I can think of. And ultimately, they’ll probably get fired from the Ransom Rest again but this time with a chrony in front and then a virgin target way out at 50 yards. Whatever I get from all that will be both my starting point and my goal in developing a ball load.

Yes, there’s a lot to be done.

But looking back at the last four days, it’s been absolutely wonderful.

  • I shot some really good targets in a major competition with 60+ shooters.
  • I renewed acquaintances with shooters from California and Colorado, and made new friends with others from as far away as New York state.
  • From the preliminary numbers, it would appear I placed very well within the Sharpshooter ranks — I think I came in second in that (my) classification.
  • I had quite a few very good trigger releases and have a very good idea what that should feel like, and a very good idea of how to make it happen more often than not. In other words, my “shot plan” has received some careful honing and is working substantially better than before.
  • I learned that I need to develop, not buy, a ball load that flies well from my ball gun. (The “White Box” ammunition John Zurek gave me as a gift is over twenty years old and is no longer being made. I have only those ten precious rounds left from which to begin my efforts.)
  • I had a really fantastic time!

Here are today’s pictures. (Click for bigger versions.)

John Zurek Visits Don Plante’s Tailgate Store

Corps Camraderie


Fresh Target

Jeannie Verifies Her Score

Jams Didn’t Fluster This Marine

On To The Next Target

Meeting of the Minds

Enjoying the Day

Move ‘Em In

Renold Schilke
Scores a Target

Parent Spectators

Spouse Spectators

Ron Scores a Target

Quick Repair

View from the Tower

On Break

Day 3 of 4, Center Fire


Today and tomorrow are the days in which my concentration — and repetition — need to be at their best. I will do the same things as yesterday but with a more challenging gun.

Today we shoot the individual Center Fire matches in the morning, and then the team Center Fire and team 45 matches after lunch.

Many shooters use the same gun for Center Fire and 45 for economic reasons. I’m no exception. My wad gun started life as a Springfield Armory Mil-Spec but has then been “matured” with a carefully fitted Kart competition barrel, trigger job, slide to rail adjustments and a red dot sight. The resulting race horse shoots extremely well when fed and handled correctly and, especially for the latter, that’s today’s challenge.

My ball gun will go along for the ride today for two reasons. First, it’s my backup in case the wadder becomes disabled in some way. Secondly, the trigger has to be weighed and, if it passes, the gun tagged before the EIC Leg Match tomorrow. The Marine gunsmith who makes that determination is available today (and tomorrow).

Yesterday in the 22 matches I succeeded in finding the precise finger placement that resulted in neither a left nor right “flick” of the barrel when the hammer was released from the sear. Simultaneously, I had many successes in maintaining a solid but unbiasing and unchanging grip so that, again, as the hammer was released from the sear, my grip was still pressing squarely with no rotating pressure that would have “flicked” the barrel left or right, nor up and down for that matter.

In addition, well after I had assumed my 90 degree stance and brought the pistol up and then settled down into the aiming area and took up the slack on the trigger, I then focused my attention on the dot, started the trigger and then patiently “watched” the wobble and, when it lessened as it always does and the dot was deep in the aiming area, the shot broke and I mentally noted the dot’s “o’clock” position on the target but immediately returned the dot to the center of the aiming area and held for several more seconds. I then lowered the gun and verified through the spotting scope the new hole in the target where I had placed the shot. And on the few occasions where it was not where I’d called it, I analyzed what I had done wrong — finger too deep into the trigger pushing the hole left, rushed the shot to “get it over with” rather than simply observing the process as it developed before my eye, etc. — and re-rehearsed my shot plan so I’d return to it on the next shot.

Today and tomorrow, I simply have to do that again, and again, and again.

The shorter barrel of the wad gun (5 inch) as compared to my 22 (S&W Model 41 with the 7 inch barrel) means that those “flicks” will be all the more sensitive to my attentions today.

I will, therefore, need to be most diligent in my concentrations.

Today’s mantra, since my body follows this shot process almost completely without conscious guidance, will simply be

Ohhhmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm… [Bang!]


I was wrong.

The number one lesson in Bullseye is pressuring or moving your trigger finger straight to the rear … and not changing your grip pressure while doing so.

I broke that rule big time today and paid the price.

My Slow Fire scores were 80-0 (started good, went downhill), then 64-0 (hideous) and 67-0 with that three point rise due to finally, on the last shot, figuring out how to move only my trigger finger to break the shot.

But, well, the good news is that I did eventually figure it out. Every target from there on, the Timed and Rapid Fire targets in the NMC and their own matches, were all in the 90s including a 97-3 in Rapid Fire.

So, by the time the Center Fire segment was over, I was ready to shoot Slow Fire — Oops, too late!

I finished with 773-12, well shy of the 810 mark that would bump me up into Expert category I’ve been eyeing on the horizon. And it is unlikely I’ll recover enough points tomorrow to bring my average up to that level for the 2700.

And to be honest, with the “oops” that butchered most of this morning’s Slow Fire targets, it seems clear this Sharpshooter still has a lot to learn.

But it wasn’t too late for some measure of redemption because after lunch we shot team Center Fire and team 45 NMCs. With the trigger issue figured out, I was ready and since my scores could make or break those of the team, the pressure was on.

In the Center Fire team, one round of my ammo wasn’t up to snuff; it was the fifth round in the first string and it failed to fire, probably with a high primer — I’ve been getting one of those about every 200 rounds. In the alibi, I only partially regained my concentration and ended up trading my initial three tens and an X for four eights. That brought my score down eight points on that target!

But regardless of that, I was pleased because the Slow Fire targets in both team competitions placed me in good stead with my teammates. I had done my part fine.

Toward the team total in Center Fire, I contributed 264-2.

And for the team in 45, I added a couple to those lost eight and ended with 275-8.

As before, here are some pictures from today. (Click them for larger images.)

Squadding Chart

Another Day

Lots of Stuff

Tony “Stat Man” Silva

John Zurek, Jim Henderson, Adam Sokolowski
(Left to Right)

Art Pimentel Watches an Alibi
(I shot with Art at the Sunnyvale Club)

Chock Full O’ Marines

Day 2 of 4, 22 Caliber


The Plan

  • 6:00AM Up: One cup of regular coffee while surfing the net and reading the newspaper (online).
  • 6:30AM Breakfast: oatmeal with a pat of butter, one hard-boiled egg with pepper, a small can of low sodium V-8 juice.
  • 7:00AM Shower and dress for cool weather, lined bluejeans same as yesterday, fresh but similar thick cotton shirt, sweater with jacket on top.
  • 7:20AM Pack gun box with primary (S&W Model 41) and backup (Ruger Mk III) 22 pistols with their respective ammunitions (CCI Standard Velocity in the plastic box and Federal Gold Medal Match 711B) in sufficient quantity for the 900 and the follow-up team competitions plus enough for alibi strings (120 + 30 rounds). Also take a small can of the low sodium V-8 juice.
  • Switch to Northrop Grumman baseball cap for today. (I wore the Bill O’Reilly “No Spin” cap yesterday.)
  • 7:30AM Drive to range in rush hour traffic.
  • 8:30AM First shot.
  • Before the NMC: Drink the V-8.
  • Lunch: Probably a nearby Subway with some of the other shooters.
  • 1:30PM 22 team competition NMC.
  • Approximately 2:30PM Done. Record scores and head home.


Friday the 13th didn’t bother very many today. The weather was gorgeous, there was practically no wind, and by midday, most had shed their jackets and sweaters.

Scoring Targets
(Click picture for larger image)

Starting at 8:30AM, two relays totalling almost 60 shooters shot the 22 caliber 900 before lunch. And beginning at 1:15PM, nine (9) teams completely filled the line for the team 22.

I was with one of the home club teams in the afternoon and shot 277-5, one point better than my individual NMC this morning with 276-5 but the morning also included my best ever Slow Fire, 94-2.

Also in the morning but in the second relay where I helped out along the line, one of the groups of military had reliability problems with their armory-issued S&W 41s and I’m quite certain every Timed and Rapid fire target had an alibi, often with three or four shooters from their ranks.

After the NMC but before starting the Timed match, they described their problems which boiled down to not enough “oomph” to reliably extract the spent round, clear it from the gun, pick up the next round cleanly and seat it fully into the chamber.

“Maybe some ammunition with a little more pizzazz would help,” someone said.

“Try oiling the top round so it seals better in the chamber and gives a stronger blow back,” another suggested.

While the last of the NMC targets was scored, shooters from the first relay offered up ammunition and cans of oil to the afflicted shooters and, although these measures didn’t cure 100% of the problems, the alibi strings and number of shooters in each was significantly reduced.

My score?

Why, thank you for asking. I shot an 823-15. Not bad, not bad at all.

Here are some more pictures. Click any image for a larger version.

Targets in the Early AM Shade

Slow Fire

“Where’s that 10th hole?”

Right Side

Left Side

Relaxing While the Second Relay Shoots

Cleaning Before 22 Team Matches

Day 1 of 4, Service Pistol 900


Desert Midwinter competition for 2009 Conventional Pistol begins today with a 900 for service pistols.

Last night I gave the ball gun a light cleaning but didn’t touch the previously fouled barrel. It should, therefore, be ready to go, and repeatedly so, starting with today’s very first shot.

My shoulder feels mostly better but a distant ache remains from Tuesday evening when I fired that same pistol and ammunition in an International 600 as warm-up (for me) and fouling (for the pistol) for today. Tuesday was a calculated risk because I needed the refresher on iron sights and that lighter gun as compared to the wadder with its red dot that I’ve been shooting. And “refresh” it did because today’s challenge is going to be in consistently moving the trigger straight back in Timed and Rapid Fire. (Tuesday’s Duelling Fire was humbling in this regard.)

The International Center Fire is at 8:30AM this morning but I’m skipping that and focusing my attentions only on the Conventional program.

Service Pistol starts immediately after that, around 10:00 or 10:30. Accordingly, I will leave the house at 9:00AM for the 30-45 minute drive. That means I need to pack the gun box at 8:45AM.

Weather is predicted to be in the low 50s, partly cloudy but no rain, and with a light wind from the south-southwest. The range is shielded from that direction by a mountain so we’ll have some air movement but nothing strong enough to push an outstretched hand. I think I’ll wear my lined pants and a thick cotton shirt with the lighter jacket, but take a sweater to insert if it feels chillier than expected.

I’ll be shooting the Aguila ball ammo I fired on Tuesday night. It chrono’d at an average muzzle velocity of 908.1 ft/sec at almost this same temperature. That’s very close to the stated ideal of 920. In my tests a week ago, I measured a minimum velocity of 890.7 and a maximum of 929.6 over 20 rounds; an admirably tight range that is beyond my current ability to make on my own. And the standard deviation from one round to the next comes out at 10.1, again much better than I can make on my own. I’m confident this ammo will fly in a consistent manner from muzzle to target.

But it kicks hard and, with the “Zins grip” I’ve been using for several months with the heel of the backstrap tucked into the thinnest part of the V notch across the palm of my hand, I’ll feel each shot all the way up into the shoulder. If my calculated gamble fails, I’ll know it by the end of the National Match Course.

But as is true with the ball gun with its Kart barrel and fitting by Dave Salyer, this ammunition also “shoots” better than I do. What the target says will be what I did. If the shoulder holds up, I’ll do well. If it doesn’t, well, it’s up to me now.

Time for breakfast. I’ll have a full serving of Coach’s Oats (whole grain oatmeal) with a pat of butter (and no sugar!), a boiled egg with lots of pepper, and a small can of the Low Sodium V-8 juice. And, yes, for those who ask, I have my one cup of coffee in front of me now. I’ll also take another small can of Low Sodium V-8 for a last minute dose of nutrients a few minutes before we shoot. After that, a bottle of water from the refrigerator in the pistol office will suffice for the match.

Today’s mantra will be, “Front sight, straight back, front sight, straight back,” and then, “be quiet and let your body shoot; it knows how.”


Compared to the wad gun and the 22, both of which have red dots which increase the overall mass, the ball gun is a lightweight. Couple that with the full-strength ball ammunition and the gun becomes a real challenge.

My first two Slow Fire targets were pretty bad with one or two shots completely outside the scoring rings. By the third, I figured out I had my trigger finger in way too deep and was pushing the shots off the target to the left. Although still not very good, at least the final Slow Fire had all ten shots in the scoring rings.

Timed Fire in the National Match Course had some promise. Although not great at 88-1, it was notable for two reasons. First, it had a decent looking “cloud” of 45 caliber holes.

But when I looked through the scope after the second string, there were too many holes. Someone had cross-fired onto my target!

Too Many Holes!

I was shooting 45 caliber ball whereas the cross-fired shots were 9mm and the gentleman scoring my target easily identified four of the five erroneous shots. The fifth, however, was not so easy so he dropped the one worst shot on the target and tallied my score, 88-1.

But looking at the photograph, I now suspect that the 3 o’clock ten might be the fifth 9mm hole which would have reduced my score to 84-1. But at the time, well, neither of us could tell for sure so it was scored as 88-1.

The cross-firing shooter was apologetic but, hey, we’ve all done it myself included. So we moved on to the next target.

My best target of the day was the first Rapid Fire at 91-4 and, as if I didn’t know better, I mentally congratulated myself saying, “You’ve got it licked, dude!” And that, of course, caused me to relax, lose my concentration, and shoot a dismal 65-1 on the last Rapid Fire.

Rule One in this sport: Never congratulate yourself.

Or is it: Focus on the front sight.

But then again, maybe it is: Pressure the trigger straight back.

(Too many Rule Ones!)

I finished the Service Pistol 900 with a 681-6, not very good but, then again, I learned where to put my finger on the trigger, I had a couple of good targets in Timed and Rapid, and even my Slow Fire scores were headed in the right direction.

This is progress!

Jim “The Kid” Henderson and
“The Old Man” (Me)
(Click picture for larger image)

After packing things away, I cornered the gentleman you see to the right and asked if he’d let me get a picture of the two of us together. I said I wanted something to hang on the wall so I’d know who I had to beat. Steve Reiter was nearby and I asked him to click the shutter. James said, “Don’t jerk it, Steve,” but even with that, Reiter still had a “failure to fire” (the shutter) and we had to try again.

Tomorrow morning is the 22 match. For today’s Service Pistol the line was full (35 shooters) and two had to wait for the second relay. I glanced at the squadding chart for tomorrow to see which relay I’m in and it looks like they’re both very close to full. I shoot early in the first relay with first shot at 8:30AM.

And I’ll have to remember that dainty little 22 has a much lighter trigger than the service pistol I was shooting today.

But it’ll be “straight back” again tomorrow.

10s and Xs!