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.

Family Air Pistol

L to R: Daniel (firing), myself, Makella,
daughter Mary, her husband Scott,
and on the swing are Elijah and Melissa
(Click for larger)

I’ve written before about solo shooting in my backyard air pistol range. It’s good iron sight work and, with next to no recoil, it’s a good way to practice that smooth release.

On the occasion pictured here, however, Daniel and Melissa had brought Elijah for his first visit and my daughter and her family were all present. (My son and his family couldn’t make it.)

After we all got to hold Elijah, someone suggested we go out on the patio since the weather was nice.

As we went through the door and knowing I’m a shooter, Melissa said, “My Dad was a shooter.”

“Would you like to try an air pistol today?” I asked.

In five minutes, the range was ready.

Most of them had never fired a gun or for the few who had, it was a long time ago. So, one at a time, I took each one through the basics of safety, operating the Baikal IZH-46M including cocking, loading, aiming and firing.

I let each of them dry-fire so they could feel the trigger and get accustomed to the noise. From there, we’d move to live fire and I’d stay close to handle the problems that always arise with new shooters.

As each one finished, we would retrieve their target and put up a fresh one.

As you might expect, some were good and some weren’t (A big backstop is a must.)

My granddaughter, Makella, had shot this AP before. The grip is large but she’s grown since her last try and she did good. All her shots were in the paper. (At the regular range several months earlier, she fired my ball gun and immediately displayed the toothy grin that often accompanies that first shot of 45 ACP ball ammo.)

Daniel was handicapped by my right-hand custom grip. As you can see he’s a leftie. Nonetheless, he did pretty good with most shots in the target.

(Note to self: Get an extra set of grips and carve them for ambidextrous use.)

Scott, Makella’s Dad, shot very well. He’s got the upper-body strength that benefits pistol shooters and he’s fired other guns. Even the air pistol’s light trigger benefits from a solid grip.

My daughter, she … well, let’s just say she fired two shots before saying, “Thank you”. (See note herein about a “big” backstop.)

And my wife declined to shoot. Like mother, like daughter, it’s just not for them.

The surprise was the new mother, Melissa. At the regulation 10 meters, she was good! Each time she fired, a new hole would appear in the black. Grinning, she would say, “Let me do another.” Pretty soon she had more than a dozen holes, all in the black.

(Never underestimate a Mother with a handgun!)

An air pistol range needs a space of about 40 by 10 feet with a good backstop and no cross-traffic.

The noise is minimal; we used no ears but the absence of eye protection is a serious oversight on my part. Oops!

Elijah didn’t seem to mind the noise and as long as you keep a good watch of the shooter and what others are doing, it should be safe. (Little kids running around would be a show-stopper.)

Check with your local Police Department to be sure it’s legal in your own backyard.

The Baikal is not inexpensive, but neither is it expensive like today’s better air pistols. I paid $400 a couple of years ago for mine. It is accurate and reliable. I have less expensive air pistols but they don’t shoot as well, have a strange balance, or just feel downright klunky.

The IZH-46M, on the other hand, is what the former Soviet Union air pistol shooters used in the Olympics a decade or so ago. Be sure and tell the family that. Knowing “this is not a toy” will both raise their safety awareness and heighten their intensity since they know it’s a good piece of engineering.

For new shooters, make it a non-competitive game. The rule could be “five shots and even totals have to set the table and odd totals clean up.”

“Shooters to the line!”

Did You Bring Enough Water?

Mojave Desert
(Click for bigger — please!)

Did you bring your desert hiking boots?

I’ve got a bit of a trek ahead.

Shooters are ranked by the NRA according to their scores in official competitions. These are most easily expressed as the appropriate percent of the perfect 100.

  • Marksman – Less than 85%
  • Sharpshooter – 85-90%
  • Expert – 90-95%
  • Master – 95-97%
  • High Master – 97% and above

To earn a higher ranking, a shooter must record a total of 360 shots at the new level.

Back in April at the Arizona Regional Championships, I shot a 2440-35. The 2440 is a smidgin above the 90% mark of the possible 2700 points but only includes 270 shots. It is an expert-class score but not enough shots to earn a step up. (I’m Sharpshooter class at the moment.)

In today’s official 2700, I shot a 2441-53 over an additional 270 shots.

And that should be sufficient.


In the next couple of weeks, I should be receiving my Expert-class card from the NRA.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Expert class is also known as the “vast wasteland” that many shooters enter but few leave.

I think of it as the Mojave desert, completely barren and devoid of plant life, unlike the sometimes lush Sonoran desert we have around Phoenix.

But with a couple of gallons of drinkable water, some dried desert rations and a pair of good boots, I’m ready to begin my trek.

I’ll be the dried-up, leather-skinned, dusty-haired shooter at firing position #8 for a while.

10s and Xs, pardner!


I shoot Bullseye for several reasons. Those who know me can report that, yes, my #1 reason is for the camaraderie; I just plain like the people I meet who are shooting Bullseye.

But that’s not the only reason.

A sense of accomplishment is also important.

And with that also needs to be the knowledge that I’m getting better.

Well, the time has come to move up.

The NRA Pistol Rules rank competitors in several categories, among them are Indoor and Outdoor. My current Outdoor classification is Sharpshooter and it is there — outside — where I commonly shoot both 22 and 45 caliber guns, the latter having a heavier, and therefore more difficult, trigger.

My Indoor classification has been as an Expert and it is indoors where the 22 is more commonly fired. Indeed, some indoor ranges permit nothing larger. Consequently, shooters tend to do better.

But I’m now ready to move up. Indeed, I both want to get my Outdoor Expert card, and I think my shooting is just about ready as well.

The individual skill-levels are as follows.

Classification Percent 900 2700
High Master * 97 873 2619
Master 95 855 2565
Expert 90 810 2430
Sharpshooter 85 765 2295
Marksman less < 765 < 2295

My goal, the Expert class, needs a 90% mark. That is, I need to shoot an average of 810 points in Registered and Authorized 900s.

But scores are reported to the NRA for an entire competition. And, the NRA tallies “shots fired” as well as the score. In a 2700 I need to shoot at least 2430 as my total for the three 900s (3 * 810), and I need to “keep it up” at that level for at least 360 shots.

Within a competition, I can do better, or worse, on any given 900, as long as the average for the competition comes out at the 90% level.

For the 360 shots, at 10 points per shot, a 900 has 90 shots, and a 2700 has 270 — not enough. It takes four 900s, or a 2700 plus a 900 or, in my case, it will be two 2700s to accumulate the needed 360 shots.

For some time, my 22 scores have been around 840 to 850. If I shoot at that level outdoor, that will give me a 30-40 point “helper” on CenterFire and 45 scores. (And shooting 840 to 850, you can see that I could, on a good performance at several indoor matches, move up there as well — but I want to keep my Indoor and Outdoor classifications more or less in-line with each other. So I’ve been avoiding indoor Registered and Authorized matches for that reason.)

In the most recent outdoor matches, I’ve done better than expected. That’s especially true with my 45 caliber wad gun now that it has the roll trigger — thank you, Dan Norwood. It feels like I’m pressing on a soft pillow and, rather than needing to “build pressure” to break a shot, I now “keep it flowing”.

For the level of my ability at this time, the roll trigger is a real plus.

And tomorrow we shoot the President’s Day 2700 at the Phoenix Rod and Gun Club. It is an official event so the scores will be reported to the NRA.

And the following weekend has a second, and also to be reported, 2700.

If I can shoot both 2700s and score 2430 or better in each one, then the record of my most recent 360 (or more) shots will make the grade.

I want an Outdoor Expert classification.

That goal, and the determination to get there, will be driving my focus and attention for the next two Sundays.

Align the sights in the aiming area and then move the trigger straight back without disturbing the sights.

10s and Xs!


* Note:
Above High Master, there are the unofficial 2650 (98.1%) and 2670 (98.8%) clubs. Performance at these levels is truly stunning, especially when you take into account that this is not for one shot, but for a repeated performance over at least 270 individual shots.