I've been looking forward to the Potomac Grail IDPA match for some time. Held at the Thurmont Conservation and Sportsman's Club near Frederick, Maryland, the Level 2 match featured 13 interesting and unique stages. Last year's inaugural event was shot in a half-day format, which led to a race to shoot all the stages before dark. This year shooting was done in full day format. (After the IDPA Nationals I've had my fill of shooting until, and after, dark.)
The Thurmont facility is very nice. Parking is on grass and right at the shooting area. It's a short walk from end to end to get to all bays. The event was very well-organized and seemed to run smoothly. We started shooting promptly at 9:00 AM, took a short break for lunch, and still finished by 2:30 PM. I was on the road home by 3:00 PM. The timely finish was most welcome as the traffic on the drive home, especially through Loudon County, VA, was horrific.
The match director for this match is Cody Claxton, the IDPA Area Coordinator for Virginia, Maryland, DC, North Carolina, South Carolina, and, wait for it, Iraq. Match directors generally have a style in their matches that one will come to recognize. In Cody's case, he likes to put us in odd positions, either at the start, or while shooting. The stages at the Potomac Grail were no exception. It would take too long to describe in detail all thirteen stages, but I will touch on some of the most interesting. I've also uploaded the match book here for those who want to follow along.
Our squad began our day on "Police Lines." This quick stage required us to shoot strong hand only while carrying, and looking through, a police riot shield. We experienced a brief rain shower at the start of the match which led to the clear window being rain covered when I shot, adding to the challenge. In retrospect I should have asked for a towel to clear the window, but I shot the stage fine nonetheless.
The next stage, set up in the same bay, "Caught In A Corner" had us shooting while jammed in a tight space. The first very close targets were shot from retention, before the final four targets were engaged freestyle.
"Train Terminal Terrorism" was a unique stage, which made use of a full-size replica caboose. (I'm assuming this is used by a Cowboy Action crew that shoots at the club.) Starting outside the caboose we turned to engage a target, with six rounds, through the entryway. Moving into the rail car, there were three target arrays, of four targets each, set from 2 to 15 yards. Those twelve targets required just one hit on each. Most of the targets had only head shots available. The 15 yard targets "technically" offered part of the body area, but for all intents and purposes, they were head shots too. Not feeling confident I took one or two extra shots on the far targets. I was later informed that I actually had made 2 or 3 good hits on each. Go figure.
One of the more unusual stages was "Grappling Fight." The starting position had us lying on our support side, our arms around the chest of a body dummy, weak arm underneath, strong arm on top. Our firearm, downloaded to six rounds, was placed on the ground in front of us and our "grappling partner." Three target arrays were down range with each target requiring three hits. Non-threats and hard cover added to the challenge. At the start we engaged the first two targets strong hand only. Then after a reload we shifted our position to kneeling, with one knee on the chest of the dummy, and finished freestyle.
It was my turn to shoot first on this stage, and I had a moment of "What do I do next?" when it came time to move to kneeling. Despite the challenging shooting positions and tight shots required, I was just three points down for the stage. When I first read the matchbook entry for this stage, I wasn't sure how it would work. After shooting, I literally wore a smile having enjoyed the challenge greatly.
Next up in the same bay was "Compressed Standard." This one offered indeed the most unusual shooting position I've encountered. We stood in front of a wall with a narrow opening in the center. The fault line was a mere 14" back from the wall. We stood between the fault line and the wall, with the gun at our chest. Our wrists had to remain against our chest the whole time and the gun barrel extended into the opening. Three open targets were shot through the opening, and we aimed by turning our bodies like a turret. It was good shooting fun.
"Sharks All Around" had as walking a 2x12 plank for the entire course of fire. Open targets, t-shirt covered targets, hard cover targets, and non-threats were engaged from various locations along our balanced walk. Staying on the boards was actually easier than expected and the stage was fun to shoot.
"Hold On To Your Kid" saw us carrying a "child" in our support arm. The entire stage was shot strong hand only. Eight threat targets with one swinging, one steel popper, and four non-threats, were found on the course. There were SHO shots taken from both side of cover as we moved between positions. I had a mental error shot one of the targets only once. I still can't explain how I muffed that. The PE and -5 miss added to what would have been a -2 run.
Up until the last stage our squad shot, most of the targets had been within 15 yards. That trend was broken on "40 Yard Standards." Eight targets were placed in a line, requiring increasingly longer shots as you went down the row. The first two targets were shot from a standing position, the next two while kneeling, and we went prone for the last four. Two required hits on each meant a minimum of 16 shots fired, but there was a limit of 18 shots allowed on the course. I saved my "extra" two shots for the final two targets. I didn't shoot well on the last few targets, apparently shooting low. I do wish I had the opportunity to practice my prone technique outside of a match.
As noted previously, the match was exceptionally well run. Our squad had only 6 shooters while most others I think had eight. We occasionally backed up to other shooters, but never had to wait too long. The longest down time was the 30 minute or so lunch break we took.
I had a great time at the match. We had a friendly squad of shooters who encouraged, and also ribbed each other as required. The staff all worked hard to keep the match going smoothly and promote an enjoyable experience. I was generally pleased with how I shot, although I don't feel I quite shot to my ability. Even 13 quick stages challenges my consistency and stamina. I had one regretful HNT and earned one PE for a mental error. Overall, I placed 58th of 129, a total which included 4 PCC shooters. The stats work out to 17/41 in SSP, 26/34 in EX and 6/7 for SSP EX.
Overall, the Potomac Grail was an exciting match that offered some out-of-the-ordinary shooting, without being onerous. I enjoyed the challenge of shooting from some positions that I don't, and can't practice. That mental error PE stuck in my mind for much of the weekend. Interestingly, the exercise of compiling this review, helped to remind me of the rest of the match, and the enjoyable and entertaining day of shooting we had.
I've posted some additional stage photos here.