Held at the impressive CMP Talladega Marksmanship Park, the match was large, and long. The stages were generally challenging, without being overly difficult. There were some hiccups as can be expected in a undertaking this size, though they detracted little from the overall experience. I was expecting a little more stage "pizzazz" than we saw though. I did enjoy the pneumatically-powered and electronically-controlled targets. That so many of the stages were similar to what I often see at regional, and even local matches, serves as a compliment to our area match directors.
As noted previously, the shooting day was long. Since our group was on the low end of the points needed to qualify to shoot the match, we had last pick of the time slots. That meant instead of shooting in two half days, we shot the entire 18 stage event in one day. Shooting started promptly at 9:00AM. We finally finished around 8:30 PM. Our final stage was illuminated by car headlights. I felt there were a few match administration issues that added delays and extended the day. That the complete match could not be shot in the light is my biggest disappointment of the experience.
The weather for the day was hot, and humid, with a couple rain showers mid-afternoon. In a great example of watching out for shooters, there was a water wagon that made continual runs up and down the bays all day delivering cold water and soda. The much needed refreshment arrived several times while we were in each bay. Even if one was shooting when the water wagon came by, it was only a short time before it came through again. This touch was very much needed and appreciated. Another welcome detail was the trailer ride provided when we needed to move from the last bay up the long distance to the other end of the range. The transportation of shooters and gear was a welcome saver of both time and energy.
The SOs that ran us through the stages were all quite friendly and also efficient. Despite standing in the heat all day, with days to go still, they remained cheerful. I really expected to face a few sourpusses in the course of the day, but found just the opposite.
Excepting a few frustrating issues, the match was generally well-run. Putting on a match the size of the National Championship is no small feat, and overall I'd call this one was a success. The day was really all about the shooting. I admit to being a tad disappointed with my overall finish, yet at the same time was pleased to finish where I did in a national level match. There were a number of stages that I particularly enjoyed, which I'll describe below.
"Moving Standards" started with three static targets that were engaged weak hand only. We then moved to engage three more targets strong hand only. The last three targets were all disappearing targets that were exposed at varying times. The times varied at each exposure, but was the same pattern for all shooters. Being challenged to shoot movers one-handed is something I don't recall from my prior matches. Despite finishing 11 points down, I enjoyed the stage.
"Triple Threat" was a fun stage with a unique swinger holding three targets which moved back and forth behind a row of barrels, exposing the targets for only brief intervals. That swinging array was activated when we pushed our "child" out of the way. That action also activated a swinging non-threat that was moving amongst targets at the final shooting position. Getting good hits on the fast moving triple swinger was a challenge. After an intermediary shooting position that included a steel popper and a few paper targets, the next challenge was to arrive at the last shooting position before the swinging non-threat had slowed too much, or worse, had stopped behind a threat target. Even though I was -10 for the stage, which included a miss on the left most swinging target, this stage produced my second highest stage finish in the match.
After dropping our laundry basket in the stage "Dirty Clothes," we engaged a row of threat targets obscured by non-threats and shirts hanging on a clothesline. Depending on your personal "vertical challenges," you could shoot over, under or between the line of laundry. I shot from a single position while squatting slightly. While I shot the stage just -2, it was also my second lowest stage finish in the match. There were obviously a lot of shooters who completed the course much more quickly. I was moving slowly at this point it seems.
The scenario for "Office Robbery" featured a car that had "crashed" through your office. The stage offered a couple interesting challenges. Although our gun was loaded and holstered at the start, all the magazines for reloading were staged at a separate location inside a filing cabinet. Also, there was a threat target inside of the vehicle. Instead of the typical shooting from, or through, a vehicle, in this scenario we shot into the vehicle. It was a fun stage that I shot -0.
One of my favorite stages was "Grocery Aisle." The main shooting feature of the stage involved two disappearing targets which appeared at varying, but repeated, intervals from either side of the aisle. The targets were activated by the shooter knocking a can off the shelf. There was a static target between the moving targets, and most shooters were opting to shoot one of the disappearing targets, then the static target. They would then wait a second or two for the second mover to reappear. Other targets were then engaged on both sides of the "grocery aisle."
My original plan was to follow the same routine. However, as I watched the target movement as others shot, I was imagining my timing in my head. I started believing that I could get shots on both targets on one exposure. I made up my mind to do just that. I also knew success depended on not fumbling my draw, so made a mental note to revert my plan if the draw was slow. The buzzer sounded, I hit the can and drew, turning to face the left target and firing three shots. I made a quick transition to the right side and fired three more. I think that my third shot may have gone into open space as the second target disappeared. I finished the stage and anxiously listened for the SO to call the scores. All stationary targets were -0, and the two movers were each -1. I was unable to see if I had 2 or 3 hits on the disappearing targets, but was ecstatic to have scored so well. This was my highest placing stage, 119th overall and 36th in my division.
After that high point, which was on the twelfth stage we shot, the next few stages were a let down. I was getting extremely tired and found myself shooting a little sloppy. I felt slow and was pulling shots to the left. (I actually went to a safe area and confirmed my sights had not come loose.) Fatigue was setting in, and I was thoroughly wet from rain and sweat. It would take much concentration, and a large sugar cookie left over from lunch, to finish on a high note.
With two stages to go, the sunlight was fading. "Gun Store" was a stage shot while standing, with 6 threat targets arranged in three levels of priority. In the dim light, I stood no chance of seeing my hits on paper, of which there were to be three on each. I had to concentrate on technique. The SO's needed flashlights to score the stage, and I was just 1 down.
One stage to go, and it would be a challenge. The sun had set, and they were lining up vehicles at the front of the bay to light the stage. This only helped so much as the stage was deep, with walls and barrels blocking much of the artificial light. The stage started with a steel target that activated a swinger. The stage finished shooting prone under a low wall. While shooting prone, there were six threat targets, two of which were exposed by shooting two, 4 inch wide steel plates which fell to release the targets. I was excited to shoot the stage, both for the interesting course of fire, and to be done with the match. At the same time I was irritated by the poor conditions.
Hitting all the targets required shifting from side to side, as well as a reload while prone. Adding to the challenge, some persistent issues with my neck muscles made it quite difficult to raise my head to see the sights. Fighting through all the issues I had a very good run. Even though I could barely see them, I hit the kicker plates 1 for 1. My total was just -3 on the stage. Despite mixed results throughout the match, I would have a strong finish to reflect back upon.
Would I shoot Nationals again? If you had asked me at 8:30 on Thursday evening, the answer would have been an emphatic "no." In retrospect, it's still a "no" if I had to do it all in one day. There isn't enough daylight in the day, nor do I have the stamina of my youth. If the opportunity presents itself again, and I have enough qualifying points to get my choice of shooting over two days, I would consider it. Our schedule of Thursday shooting also made it impractical to stick around for the Saturday evening awards banquet. I think attending the social event with other competitors would add to the enjoyment.
Looking at my final score numbers, I initially felt some disappointment. I finished 229 of 355 overall. Other stats are 65 of 103 in SSP division, 92 of 109 in the EX class, and 26th of 29 in SSP EX. Since I was bumped to EX in the spring, I'm typically still in the lower range of the classification. However, looking beyond the numbers and factoring in the level of competitors, I'm satisfied. I learned a lot and gained some good experience. There was enjoyable shooting, and a five day mini-vacation of fun, food, and drink with good friends. Our group had rented a cabin on a nearby lake for the week, so even the non-shooting time was enjoyable. When it's all said and done, there's little to complain about.