I've been preparing for this match for the past couple months. There have been many dry fire sessions devoted to getting my handheld flashlight in position, and doing magazine changes with the light in hand. I've also used it frequently at the range. My recent work shooting at 20 yards also came in handy, even though that was mostly motivated by my experience at the Chesapeake Cup in February. I shot a new personal best at VIR, earning a first place finish in SSP Sharpshooter.
The match consisted of eleven stages. We shot a quick "warm up" stage, then five stages in the dark, follow by five stages shot with the lights on. The five light stages were the same or variations of the dark stages. Our squad was divided in half and each shooter in the group shot one of the five stages, as the other half waited. After scoring those five runs, the rest of the group shot the five stages. We then rotated to the next stage in the queue. The process was repeated until everyone had shot all five dark stages. After a few stage adjustments, the process was repeated for the light stages.
The warm up stage had a close, three yard target which required 5 shots to the body, and one to the head. After we all burned the pre-match jitters on it, we divided into the two groups and began the five dark stages.
Stage 1, "Fighting Retreat" had us starting with the gun loaded with just six rounds. We engaged three targets while retreating to wall with a port. Through the port we found a paper target, a steel popper the started a fast flip over target, and a round steel plate that activated a flip up target. The round plate was placed at the shoulder of a non-threat making careful aiming a requirement. Holding the flashlight, I struggled to hit the popper. When I finally did, I moved to the plate, forgetting the flip over target until too late, earning a couple misses. Interestingly, I hit the round steel plate on the first shot.
The scenario was altered for Stage 6, "Different Fighting Retreat," in the lighted half of the match. The falling popper was replaced with a paper target and the shooting requirements changed. We shot the first three targets weak hand only, and the remaining targets through the port strong hand only. I was relieved to hit the steel plate and avoid the non-threat again, even shooting one handed.
The course of fire set for Stage 2, "Going Back" in the dark, and Stage 7 "Fighting Advance" in the light provide the distance challenge. Two targets had a non-threat placed between them with part of each covered, and barrels were placed at approximately 7, 10, 15, 20 yards. For both stages all magazines were loaded with just six rounds. For the dark run, we started behind the close barrel and moved up range to the shooting positions behind each barrel, engaging the targets with two rounds from each position. In the dark, behind the smoke, hitting those 20 yard targets while holding a flashlight was quite the challenge. I made all the hits, and avoided the non-threat, feeling much relief to be only 4 points down. In the with the lights on, we began at the furthest distance and moved down range. The 10 yard position required strong hand only shooting, and the closest was done weak hand only.
"Family Hostage," Stages 3 and 8, simulated sitting in our car. From a seated position we engaged three "threats" before moving to three more points of cover. There were three paper targets and a falling steel popper to be found. The steel was placed menacingly directly in front of a non-threat target. The light version of the stage contained an additional non-threat target. Again, during the lights out run, I had an issue with the steel, hitting the no-threat before the steel. I shot it clean during the run in the light.
"Practice Session" was the scenario for Stages 5 and 10, and was unchanged between the dark and light rounds of the match. There were three widely spaced targets, two partially blocked by non-threats, and barrels marking three shooting positions. The gun was loaded with 6 rounds, one of the barrels had another magazine staged with 6 rounds, and a mag loaded to division capacity placed on a third. We started shooting from cover, and engaged all three targets with one body and one head shot. The gun now empty we moved the the center barrel, reloaded and engaged all targets, again with one body and one head shot while in the open. Moving to the third barrel, we reloaded and again shot each target with one body and one head shot, this time from low cover. Tactical priority requirements at each position required a different target order of engagement. A number of shooters earned PE's on these stages for forgetting that.
The match flowed extremely well. The match staff is well-organized and we were moved through each stage efficiently and quickly. The entire match is shot in under four hours. There's very little down time between your stages, however I never felt rushed. After each shooting round of five stages, the targets are scored, and we reloaded magazines while the other half of the squad shot. There was always time to review the written stage briefing before heading to the bench to await your next stage. It's nice to keep shooting, and not sit around waiting for your turn to shoot again. Shooters were also relieved from pasting targets, so we could concentrate on preparing to shoot.
The stages were all a lot of fun and offered a wide variety of shooting. The match also required you to think; one had to be aware of things like target priority, fault lines, switching hands, not to mention finding the targets in the dark. Near or far, there were few completely open targets. The well-thought out stage designs were challenging and tested both skill and awareness. Doing well was not just a matter of shooting accurately, but situational awareness as well.
I was mostly pleased with my shooting. There were a few shots I didn't like, and two hits on non-threats. I earned some PE's from lack of attention to my feet. I don't shoot many indoor matches with tape lines on the floor, relying too much on the tactile feedback of wooden fault lines of outdoor matches. Perhaps the need for more practice indoors will motivate some future attendance at the Monday evening matches at Colonial Shooting Academy.
I was very pleased to finish 26th of 83 overall, and 5th of 16 in the SSP division. Coming in first in SSP Sharpshooter is especially gratifying in such a challenging match. It was my best finish in a sanctioned match since my 4th in SSP SS at the Maryland State match last May. Needless to say, I'm now really anxious to get back to the range for more practice.
It was a long day that was made all the more fun by traveling with friends. We enjoyed a delicious BBQ meal on the way home. During the final hour of my drive, I drove through several squall lines of heavy snow, fortunately it sticking only to grass and trees along the highway.
I am already looking forward to next year's Indoor Regional. Stages shot in the dark offer a unique and seldom seen challenge. I think I'll practice with the flashlight on a regular basis over the next year just to maintain the skill.