"That was fun!" "What a great match!" Those exclamations are the common theme of shooters I've talked to after this weekend's FNH Virginia Maryland Section Championship match. Held Friday through Saturday at the Fredericksburg Rod and Gun Club, the match drew some 300 participants from the around the mid-Atlantic region. The match was comprised of nine stages, requiring about 240 rounds to complete. In contrast to the large squads at a typical monthly match at Fredericksburg, squads at the Sectional had just 8 shooters, so things moved pretty fast, with very little down time.
I shot the match on Saturday morning. The weather forecast for the weekend was best described as "iffy." The prognosticators were calling for rain Saturday, in various forms ranging from scattered thunderstorms, to occasional showers, to steady rain. As it turned out, there was a light, sporadic rain most of the morning, along with one brief period of heavy and steady rain.
I always view the first stage of the match as the place to get the kinks out, get loosened up, and put the pre-match nerves behind me. I was happy that I drew a fairly straightforward stage as my first of the day. Fourteen targets laid out along an L-shaped course. I ran my stage plan without hesitation, made smooth reloads, and got my hits. With that, the nerves were gone and I was ready for the rest of the day.
One of the more exciting reasons for going to major matches is the opportunity to shoot unique courses of fire that don't come up in monthly matches. Stage 9, "Stan Hurley's Hallway" was one such course. The course was a narrow, curving roofed hallway constructed of plywood with narrow ports on both sides through which most of the targets were engaged. For this stage I wore foam ears plugs underneath my electronic ear protection to cut down on the inevitable echo. There were a few targets before entering the dark hallway, as well outside at the end. The rest of the targets were visible from narrow points in the tunnel. I had been looking forward to this stage since first saw the stage diagram, and it didn't disappoint.
There were a couple "memory" stages, where it was imperative that you had your plan down pat, otherwise it would be easy to miss targets, or shoot some twice. I asked one of the RO's how many targets were in one such course, and he jokingly replied "Eight. Or seven or nine, depending on how you shoot it." One of my goals this year has been to be able to visualize the entire stage, before shooting it. I was happy that this goal was realized for this match, especially for these memory stages.
There wasn't a lot of steel in the match. One stage had a couple of falling poppers that activated some clamshell targets. Hitting the steel then swinging to hit the rising target before it is covered is one of those challenges I enjoy seeing in match, but one that I do not get to practice.
All the other steel in the match was on Stage 6, "The Whole Nine Yards." This was the last stage I shot, and it was both challenging and fun — a good way to end the day. You started out facing a wall with two targets to engage on either side of the bay. It was then the shooter's choice to advance down either side of a wall that extended down range. There was a low port in the wall mid-way down, through which a single target was visible. It was at the end of the wall that the real excitement happened. Five falling poppers, and the oft-dreaded Texas Star, where waiting, along with more paper targets. Also there were strategically placed walls which blocked access to the entire group of poppers, the star and the remaining paper. Depending on how the shooter chose to engage the targets, there was some back and forth movement required to get them all. During the 5 minute walk through period, our squad was clustered at that end of the stage determine how we'd engage those targets. The challenge was increased by the Texas Star behind partially blocked, possibly requiring the shooter to wait for the plates to swing around again. (He writes knowingly.)
Despite a few misses and a couple "tactical" errors, I was very happy with how I shot and I enjoyed this match immensely. Even the one stage I shot in the pouring rain did not dampen the fun. After shooting well at the beginning, I found myself beginning to go too fast on a couple of stages and dropping points. I quickly calmed down and got back to focusing on making my hits. The courses of fire were all well-designed and offered a variety of shooting challenges. There were extremely close targets that could be shot on the run, long-range targets that required careful aim, wide-open shots, and targets visible only through small openings. And often all these aspects came together on the same stage. The course designers did an excellent job! The match flowed smoothly and was well-organized. Without a doubt this was one of the most exciting and fun matches I've shot. I came home with wet gear, wet clothes, and a smile on my face.