Turn, step, draw, shoot. It is the fifth stage of my first United States Practical Shooters Association tactical pistol event and I have made it this far without being disqualified. This is the hardest stage yet, with the most opportunity to break the range safety rules and I’m a bit nervous on the starting block.
The range officer faces me, which is new, he’s been behind me at the starting block all day. Now my back is to the course and my hands are above my head. The CK Shadow that I’ve borrowed for the event is loaded and ready to shoot in the holster at my hip with the safety on. Three extra magazines filled to their 17 round capacity are on my belt.
“Are you ready?” he calls. I give the customary no response that event organizer Jesse Blankenship told me was what the experienced guys do.
“Standby,” he barked. Seconds later the starting timer beeped, and I was on the course. Turn, step, draw, shoot. I moved through the complicated stage slowly and methodically. I came around a turn to my left where I had to shoot three targets that held simulated hostages that I would be penalized for shooting. Then I had to shoot over the shoulder of one of the simulated hostages to hit two steel targets hidden behind a barrel. Both fell with two shots and I was moving slowly and methodically to my right.
My mentor for the day, Brent Gawryluk, had given me advice throughout the day on how to move through the stages without “breaking the 180.” The 180 rule means that your gun must always be pointed downrange during the event. If at any moment your weapon breaks the 180 degree plane of your body towards the back berm of the shooting bay, you are disqualified.
Gawryluk is a grand master rated USPSA came to the Miles City event from Dickenson, North Dakota. He’s been traveling to sectional qualifiers and working his way up the USPSA rankings in the production division for four years.
“Even the top pros have a throw away stage,” he told me before the event. Not every round is going to be perfect. The key is to move on.
As he’s gotten more involved with competitive shooting, he’s shifted much of his focus from the physical discipline to the mental game involved. A big part of that has been working on having a short memory and staying loose and focused during his runs. He hit two alphas (perfect shots) on every target on his last round. The feedback he took from that was that he wasn’t moving fast enough.
Speed is a huge part of the game for experienced shooters. But not for beginners like me.
“As long as you don’t expect to win anything in your first event, you’ll be fine,” Blankenship told me the night before the event. “Be safe, shoot well and have fun,” he said.
I moved to my right to another wall with crossover steps, weapon downrange, eyes on the next batch of targets. Two more targets with a hostage between them. The targets are brown cardboard in roughly the shape of a person’s upper body with perforations that denote different scoring zones. The hostages are the same targets, except turned so their white side is showing, which is an indication that it is a no shoot target.
I take two more quick shots at another target holding a hostage. They are both alphas. I take a knee and shoot under the no shoot target at two steel “poppers” partially hidden by a barrel. I’ve been watching the other shooters and everyone else stood on their tip toes to shoot over the no shoot. I’m proud of myself for seeing the stability of shooting under from a knee.
Reading the course is a huge part of the game. Shooters have a few moments before each stage to walk through the scenario and plan how they are going to shoot the targets in the quickest time possible.
“Watch Brent (Gawryluk), he’s the image of efficiency,” Blankenship told me before stage two.
I watched as he moved fast, but never looked to be in a hurry. He released quick two shot bursts at each target. Wrists flexed, hands strong, forearms loose to allow for quick target acquisition while controlling the recoil from each 9mm round that goes downrange.
In addition to planning the order he was going to shoot the targets, he also planned when he was going to change magazines. Most stages require the shooter to change magazines during the run. If not planned for properly, magazine changes can cost valuable time in a game where speed is paramount behind only safety and accuracy.
Fifteen-year-old Logan Muggli is a speed demon on the tactical pistol course. He won both the open division and overall championship at the July 11 Custer Rod and Gun Club event. He’s quiet, soft spoken and hard-working Miles City kid when he’s off the range. When he’s on the range he is a blur of tactical precision.
Muggli, his dad Vince Muggli, Mark Soderquist, Marty Scheid, Blankenship and a few others travel to events all over Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas to compete. They are the driving force behind the USPSA tournaments at Custer Rod and Gun Club and are excited about Logan’s potential. At the end of the competition they started working on details that would allow Logan to tag along with Gawryluk to some of the larger sectional qualifier events and build experience with and against professional shooters.
After clearing the targets to my right, I stand and move methodically towards the final opening at the end of a simulated hallway where I must engage and shoot two more cardboard targets and three steel poppers. I finish shooting, drop the magazine from the CK Shadow and clear the chamber.
“Show clear,” the range officer instructs from behind me. I tilt the weapon so he can see down the empty chamber.
“Hammer down and holster,” he directs. I dry fire the weapon to put the hammer down and watch the pistol into the plastic tactical holster on my belt. A dropped weapon is a disqualification as well.
“Range clear. Congratulations on your first tactical pistol event,” he concludes. Gawryluk and Blankenship congratulate me as we walk through the course. Two alphas on every target. A near perfect round expect for one of the rounds grazed a hostage on its way to taking out the captor.
My overall score is not worth mentioning. I was safe, accurate and had a lot of fun. Scheid congratulates me and invites me to come to the Thursday night tactical pistol competitions that he hosts weekly at the 181 Wednesday Drive facility outside of Miles City. In my excitement, I volunteer to come help set up on Wednesday before as well. I’m hooked.
If you want to give tactical pistol shooting a shot, you can learn more by visiting custerrodandgun.com or find a club or competition in your area at uspsa.org.