My Road to 3Gun, Part 5

I really didn’t sleep much that night. Between excitement/anticipation, and hot flashes (mid-life is so much fun), I managed a couple hours’ rest but was awake at 4AM. So much for wanting to start the match bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Ahhh well – adapt and overcome, as they say. It was The Big Day – the one I had anticipated and prepared for for seven months. I checked and rechecked my gear, loaded the car, filled my water jug up with ice, and despite the knots in my stomach, got a drive-thru breakfast on my way to Rockcastle.

The excitement was palpable as hundreds of shooters gathered for the flag ceremony and start of the match. I met up with my Babes squadmates, and Lena and Randi gave us the plan for what stages we were shooting that day, and what time we should be there. Squad 6 would be shooting four stages that day, and three stages Saturday. It didn’t sound like much, but it would prove to be a marathon-type day. I also kept reminding myself  through my jitters that I only had two goals for the whole match – 1) Don’t DQ ( get disqualified for a safety violation), and 2) Have fun. I was resolved to accomplish both.

When we arrived at stage six (our first stage of the match) we met the guys who were sharing our squad. I’m not sure they knew what they were getting into, but they were very gracious and encouraging.
I’m glad Lena and Randi were there to give us advice on how they would shoot the stage, but I had such butterflies by the time we got through with the walk-through that I’m not sure I remembered much of anything. At least I wasn’t first, so I got to watch several other shooters work their way through it before it was my turn. It was a pistol/rifle stage, and Randi made sure I had all the gear I needed on my belt when I was “in the hole” and then “on deck”. I even had my new swag-bag AR mag pouch on. When it was my turn up, Lena made sure that the safety officer knew it was my first 3Gun stage ever, so they walked me through the loading and set-up step-by-step.

“Shooter ready?”… “Stand by”… “Beep” … and I was no longer a 3Gun virgin.

I managed the pistol targets ok, and I hit my long-range rifle targets with one or two shots each, (few sweeter sounds in the world to a newbie than “HIT!”, as they called out the reactive target response), and I didn’t even time out. The Safety Officer told me that he couldn’t believe that it was my first time ever. I was THRILLED! In fact, “thrilled” probably didn’t even cover it. I was on an endorphin high!

After an hour or so break came our second stage of the day. It was a pistol/shotgun stage, so it was the first time I got to use the newest of my skills. Unfortunately, my shotgun magazine tube extension was shorter than everyone else’s – I had a 6+1 rather than everyone else’s 8+1. (It was another consequence of the buying frenzy that went on this spring and summer – the longer tubes were all sold out and on backorder, so I took what I could find at the time) That meant that after walking through the stage with the other Babes gals and helping them with a stage plan, Lena had to backtrack and help me with a different plan for my shorter magazine. It meant I had to plan for more reloads than everybody else, but I was still getting to know my gun, so that was okay with me. I knew I wasn’t there to break any records. Unfortunately for me, this was the stage where I found out what the term “thumb-busting” means.

Randi and Lena supervised the “pre-loading” phase of shotgun preparation. That was when I realized that I hadn’t done a lot of practice loading multiple rounds into my shotgun. When it was my turn to shoot, I finished the pistol targets without a hitch, since that was my strongest skill-set, talked myself through “grounding” the pistol in the bucket, and then picking up my shotgun out of the barrel. (I’m on the short-ish side, so this took a bit of careful maneuvering), I verbally reminded myself to take the safety off, and proceeded to go for the shotgun targets. The SO must’ve thought I was a crazy person, as I talked myself through every one of these steps. (But Lena was also at my shoulder to remind me if I forgot something, thank goodness). I didn’t have any trouble with the shotgun targets themselves – it was the reloading in between that started getting painful. But I shot the stage “clean”, and didn’t time out, so I was quite happy. My thumb wasn’t so happy though – I had peeled back some skin and was bleeding a little. Still, it was just a boo-boo in the scheme of things, and I was very happy with my performance.

Our third stage of the day was back out in the fields again. Some previous squads had gotten backed-up here, so there was a good bit of “down time” spent waiting. Like several of the previous days, the weather was disgustingly hot and humid, so I made sure I was hydrating and eating some beef jerky for the salt and protein. The water-pregnant air soon couldn’t stand it anymore, and a huge afternoon thunder storm blew up  as we were getting ready to start our squad’s turn. Having already had the experience of soaked socks and squishy shoes that week, I opted to wait out the storm in my car – besides the fact that I have a philosophical objection to being under a canopy with metal poles during an electrical storm. I’m just silly like that.

But, several of the hardier souls in the squad decided to stay under the canopy with the SO’s. This was a humdinger of a storm, and at one point the canopy decided to fill up with air and try to take off. I took a photo of it filling up like a parachute, but missed a shot of the intrepid ones grabbing for poles as the canopy attempted to fly. It was quite the mid-match adventure and entertainment. But, it was a fairly long-lasting storm, and as time dragged on, I could feel my energy and enthusiasm draining away as my two whole hours of sleep that night started to have an effect. I even managed a ten-minute nap in the car while I waited, but I was reaching a nadir for the day and the tired and grumpy mood was setting in.

I tend to call these my “Post-call” moods, because they remind me of how I felt during my residency training, after I was on duty for 30-straight hours in the PICU, with no sleep, and nothing but 12-hour old coffee and crackers between me and a bad decision. You would think that because of that experience that I’d be “good” at functioning at that level. But the answer is “no”. I survived that period of my life by sheer force of will only. I was a forty-something year old with classmates who were twenty-something. I did it because I had no choice, but I never got “good” at it. But, I did get good at at least recognizing the mood when it came on, and trying to do something to help alleviate it with food or rest or a mental gear change. So, I ate more beef jerky, had some crackers, pounded more water and gatorade, and tried to psych myself back up. It did give me a renewed respect for these folks who hold down “real” jobs, while routinely traveling the country, shooting these matches while jet-lagged and exhausted. I was only doing this for “fun”, not for a second job. I don’t know how they find the stamina. Finally the rain stopped though, and the match resumed.

This stage was an all-out 3Gun stage. I needed ALL my gear for this one, and I even had to borrow a few extra shotgun shell caddies from the Babes loaner supply. As Randi and Lena both told me “There is no such thing as too much ammo”. I had three or four shell caddies holding four shotgun shells each (plus what was pre-loaded in the shotgun), three 17-round pistol magazines, an extra 30-round rifle magazine, plus the one in my pocket to pre-load the rifle with, and my holstered pistol. It was a helluva lotta lead, and my belt was freakin’ HEAVY!  Why, if I worked out regularly with this much extra weight, I’d soon look like … well, no I wouldn’t, but it’s a nice thought. Thus outfitted, I waddled my way downrange to get my rifle and shotgun into position with the SO, and waddled my way back uprange to the start position. This alone left me a little winded – geez, I need to get back into an exercise routine. Either that, or just do THIS every day!

At the start signal, I drew my pistol and engaged the cardboard targets on either side of the 30-odd yard path to the golf cart, rattling and jiggling my gear the whole way. Yes, I said “golf cart”. Did I forget to mention that? Yeah, there was a golf cart. The “grounding” bucket for the pistol was in the back of the golf cart, the rifle was pre-staged on the seat of the golf cart, and the shotgun was pre-staged in a barrel at the front of the golf cart. There were several steel shotgun targets arrayed “past” the golf cart, several cardboard rifle targets in similar positions, and two long-range rifle targets arranged along mowed paths in the field. I did well on the shotgun targets, but even with my taped-up thumb, the reloads were painful and slow. The tape started peeling off too, and I was afraid it might get stuck in the gun. But I muddled through. I grounded the shotgun back in the barrel – all the while talking myself through it – “back-up, don’t turn around”… “safety on” … I can even hear myself in the video. (Yes, there is video, but no, you can’t see it – even I have my pride LOL.)

I grabbed my rifle and engaged the cardboard targets off-hand and then tried to use the upright post of the golf cart to get steady for the long-range shots. This really wasn’t something I had practiced a lot, and it showed. It took what seemed like forever to crank my scope up to a higher power, as my hands were sweaty and the ring was stiff. I finally had to switch hands and do it with my right hand, and that ate up a whole chunk of time. (note to self – get one of those wing-tab thingys that you saw other shooters with) Then to top it off, I couldn’t see the target. I could see the”flasher” above where it was supposed to be, but I couldn’t find the round steel target underneath. Finally, after more long seconds ticked by, I took a shot at where I thought I saw it, and missed. The timer went off, and I had timed out without even engaging the last rifle target. ARGH!!  My exhaustion was showing again, and I blinked back tears of frustration (There is NO crying in 3Gun!). They did at least go repaint that target to make it more visible, but people ahead of me had shot it fine, so I know it wasn’t that. It was just my inexperience at play. But I had done so well on the previous two stages that I had allowed myself bigger expectations than my inexperience was able to accomplish this time. Never mind that it was only my third stage ever, first full 3Gun stage ever, and first time with a flimsy golf cart pole as a prop LOL! Back to reality and the “Just don’t DQ, and have a good time” philosophy for me!

At least that stage was over and we could finally move on. Between the back-up and the storm, we had lost a couple of hours there. But when we arrived at our last stage of the day, the same forces had been at work, and there was a back-up of at least an hour and a half there as well. But it was good news in one way – Randi was able to give me the best advice EVAR – “We have time, so go get some dinner – you’ll feel better.” Yes, Ma’am! And off I dragged my sorry butt to find some real food.

In the end, some hot food, and a break in an air-conditioned fast food joint was exactly what I needed to recharge. I returned to the stage feeling (almost) like a new woman. This last stage of our day was set-up where Rockcastle holds cowboy action shoots, so there was a boardwalk and building facades with windows to shoot through, out into the dip and hills beyond. Problem was, the previous storm had left the stage a mud bog, so the boardwalk was getting slippery. It was also starting to get a little late in the day, and the previous storm had caused an early evening mist to start to rise from the low points. It was a pistol/rifle stage, so there were long-range targets to be shot through that mist. As I recall, there were three of them. There were also shorter range cardboard rifle targets, and cardboard pistol targets.

I opted to start with pistol rather than rifle, since I was more comfortable with pistol. I was afraid if I started out with rifle, and got rattled on the long range targets, that I’d never finish. Some people might call this “caving in to my fears”, but I prefer to call it “playing to my strengths” (I told you before, I can rationalize ANYthing! Ha!) So, away I went with what passed for a stage plan.

I did okay on pistol, grounded it, and proceeded to rifle. I hit the first two long-distance targets (Yay!), but the third one had virtually disappeared into the mist. But, learning my lesson from the previous stage, I engaged what I could see, gave it up as a lost target and moved on. (She CAN be taught!) There were several “windows” and several different cardboard targets that were visible from various locations. I have this same problem with pistol matches – if I change positions, and see things from a different angle, then I sometimes forget which targets I’ve already shot and which are “new” targets. This is what happened to me at this point. I engaged every target I saw, but I might have engaged the same target twice, or forgotten one along the way. But, I was afraid it would take too much time to go back and figure it out. This strategy-thing is hard. At least I didn’t time out this time. Yay!

By the time our squad got finished with that stage it was 7:15 pm.  We were the last squad finished. I never would have dreamed that it would take ALL DAY to shoot four stages. But, I only had club level pistol matches to go by, where we get 5 stages done in a morning. This was an eye-opener. At least the bulk of it was under our belts, and we only had three stages to shoot tomorrow.

I had a nice chat with one of the SO’s from that stage over dinner, and I brought up the “last squad finished” thing. I was kind of discouraged by it and thought maybe it was a reflection on the fact that many of us were new. I apologized for keeping them there so late – but he would have none of it. “Oh no,” he reassured me, “You ladies weren’t even the slowest squad we had all day, and you were some of the most ‘professional’ we had.”

Wow! Really?!  That made me feel A LOT better. It gave me a huge boost, and made me ready to take on Day #2. Thank you Sir!