Lessons From My First 3-Gun Match

I first got my gun license in 2008 when I was 24.  When I did, My Sergeant Major from my Army Reserve unit invited me to see his gun room.  My jaw dropped when I first walked in.

One wall was full of pistols, one full of rifles, one full of tactical and competative gear, and one full of reloading equipment. Everything was neat, tidy and organized.

The Sergeant Major was a double black belt and international champion in some martial art (Jiu Jitsu or Tae-Kwon Do – I don’t remember).  Earlier in his career he was in the Canadian Airborne Regiment (the biggest group of badasses Canada ever produced).

After retiring from the Forces, he did multiple private contracts in various sandboxes.  His example left me with an unshakable desire when I have my actual mid-life crisis to try contracting myself (my daugthers will have to be married before I do that).

He also was (and still is) an avid target shooter.  To this day, every time I see him at a match, AGM or gunshow, I feel a tinge of terror at the prospect of fucking up and having to report to his office.

As far as I can recall, I don’t think I was ever jacked up for anything by him, but the responses from my fellow Privates/Corporals who did was warning enough to keep our shit sorted out.

4 years earlier, the Sergeant Major captained and coached my army reserve unit’s team for the first (and as far as I know, only) “Interservice 3-Gun Competition” at CFB Edmonton.

It was my first 3-Gun Competition.

We were clueless, but we finished middle of the pack among teams from the Alberta Sheriffs, RCMP, municipal police, and Alberta Reserve and RegForce military units.  There also was an awesome gun show with private vendors highlighting guns and gear.  That also sparked the affections I have for gun shows.

One hilarious highlight was how the PPCLI DQ’d themselves for unsafe handling. Allegedly, they later were charged after they left a rifle unattended (oops).

The correct conclusion to draw from that is that isn’t that Sigs are better Infantrymen but rather that competition shooting isn’t necessarily a test of infantry skills.

It is a trueism that when it comes to shooting competitions, range safety protocols are essential to know before hand.

Civilian ranges tend to be more strict than military range safety (which focused slightly less on muzzle control, sweeping, and designated safe zones and more on handling and condition).  I can’t comment on law enforcement safety protocols but from some police officers I’ve shot and trained with, I sense it’s similiar to the military.

Regardless, I suspect the Patricia’s broke a “competition” range rule that wasn’t relevant to military range rules, leading to their DQ.

Take away from that that when you’re shooting any competition, you HAVE to know the rules of the game (especially related to safety), or else, as the Patricia’s demonstrated, you’re going home early.

Another funny highlight was how the team from 41 Service Battalion was all decked out flak jackets (a rare piece of kit for reservists back then) but didn’t have enough ammo to shoot the match.  Midway through the match, they came to our support vehicle, begging for shotgun shells (which we had in abundance).

We were running the Sergeant Major’s personal Mossberg 500 (I think) and he provided us with an ammo can full of shells. We had more than enough to share. The correct conclusion to draw from that is that a team of clerks, techs, and bin rats are no match logistically (as ammo is concerned) for a team captained by a Paratrooper Signaller.

This emphasizes another truism with competition shooting: if you can carry it by hand, you probably don’t have enough ammo.

It sucks not having enough ammo to finish a match, so figure out a way to carry a lot of it.  A well organized match should have a published round count.  It’s generally a good idea to bring 1.5-2x that amount in loaded mags/clips and spare boxes/bags.  I use this wheeled toolbox to carry my ammo.

On one pistol stage, a four man team had to stack on both sides of a Bianchi barricade (one man standing, one man kneeling) to engage a series of paper targets.

We were issued only 3 mags per shooter, loaded to 6 rounds to balance for the Corrections officers only running revolvers. That’s all my unit had in stores.

On the stage there poppers most of us took bonus rounds to knock down and we didn’t have enough ammo to finish.  We just took penalties.

That story illustrates why it is important to have the right equipment as well as prior training.

My team’s performance with the pistol/shotguns was underwhelming because none of us had ever used either platform.

We still did better the other reserve teams though. I attribute that to the Sergeant Major running dry-fire drills in the weeks leading up to the match.

One drill that worked very well had us stand with an unloaded Browning about 4 inches from a piece of paper taped to a wall. We put a pencil down the barrel of the pistols, cocked the hammer and took aimed shots at a spot we had drawn on the paper.  The pencil would make a pattern on the paper and the objective was to get the smallest grouping. I ocasionally practice this drill at home.

This underscores the fact that dry fire at home helps a lot, but you have to have formal, live fire practice to actually be proficient.

Our rifle proficiency demonstrated this.

Military Combat Support trades like Signals emphasized 100/200 metre, static shooting.

We did fairly well on a rifle rundown stage, where a four man team started at the 300 yard point, ran to the 100 and 200 yard firing lines, navigated through a confidence course to get to fixed firing points.

We started unloaded and having taken up position, had to load, engage, and unload before moving to the next position.  It was a lot of fun, but the smokers in our group joked maybe it was time to quit.

Fitness is good.

For military and law-enforcement, it is an absolute requirement.  For civilian competitions I’m coming to the opinion it should be an elective.

One member of our Facebook group made a salient point that shooting competitions should focus on shooting skill, not fitness.

There is good reason for that.  An extremely fit 60 year old very likely can’t keep up to a reasonably fit 20 year old.  I’m 34 now, and between my family, businesses, volunteer work – I’ve let myself fall into terrible shape. It’s to the point that being an SO and chasing after some of these 20 year olds with a timer wipes me out.

That’s something I’ve been trying in vain to remedy (with only 2 months before the season starts, I’d better make my start).

Fitness should complement the action shooting sports, not be a requirement for them.  Regardless, do as I say, not as I do and get in shape. If for no other reason, do it for your heath.

To further elaborate on the point as to why fitness should be elective, I think it’s important to note that core physical fitness does not necessarily translate to core shooting ability.

The Sergeant Major, I presume is in his 50’s or 60’s.

He still carries himself like an ultimate badass (and I’m resonably confident he could still break me in half), but he’s had declining health in recent years.

It’s an inevitability and a part of growing up (in my case) or growing older (in his) that our physical abilities will decline with age.

The Sergeant Major directed an IDPA match I shot last year and he absolutely demolished me.  I thought I did pretty well, but I was mistaken.

Certainly, when I was a 24 year old Corporal, I may have been able to outrun him.  But the Sergeant Major, to this day can outshoot me.

I think that’s one of the beauty’s about the shooting sports.

Because it’s not necessarily dependent upon physical ability, it is a multi-generational sport where the older generations can mentor the young.

I believe it will be a truism that young people (boys especially) will always be interested in guns.

While with age, our physical abilities will fade, for the most part we can be proficient shooters well into our senior years.

In so doing, maybe one day those young boys we taught to shoot 15 years ago will look up to us as old men with respect and reverence.

I still look up to the Sergeant Major that way.

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