Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Newbies are more important than you are

If there was something I thought should get more attention from match producers it would be new shooters. The title says it all, but not everyone in the action pistol community gets just how important new shooters are.
We've all been on the range on match days and seen clusters of the more experienced competitors pretty much steering clear of the bumbling, inept new shooters. Sometimes there can be derision, even, snarking about how little this new person grasps the vital concepts of competitive shooting.
The practical aspects of this attitude take on serious implications when the old heads deliberately try to squad up avoiding taking on the new shooters, as if they would be some sort of problem for their enjoyment.
We were all there, once, even the hottest of hotshots, goofy-seeming, clueless, not getting it, asking the lame questions. Then, worse, we went out there and mishandled the guns, dropped the ammunition, froze in panic, and in some cases, lost concentration and threatened a bad discharge or sweep.
That's part of the process of getting good, and we shouldn't forget our own beginnings.
I was fortunate, in that at the first real match I happened to go to, there were people willing to go out of their way and help me with the baby steps. A couple, including the match director, were downright solicitous, taking a teaching stance right away.
That's the way it really is across much of our shooting sports, though, and I wouldn't want to characterize the whole thing as being that way.
The one point that I would want to make to my cohorts who do find the newbies off-putting is this: once you get them going, actually shooting and having fun, they'll never vote against us in the polling place.
Nothing gun owners might do is more important to the preservation of the sport and rights aspects of shooting than bringing in new shooters. More important than trophies or nailing the perfect split or cleaning the drop-turners while the steel's still going down.
Look across the shooters meeting at the next match, and I'll wager you'll see a rather mature crowd. Too mature, as far as Your Correspondent is concerned.
Yes, gray-haired guys who've been shooting for forty years (such as yours truly) have a "right" to go out and have fun shooting stuff, but the lack of a good, solid contingent of young adults, most especially younger women is troubling to me.
In the previous post, I remarked upon the novelty of having a woman win an action pistol match overall. That's what that was, too, just a novelty; SS won because she was better that day that the other shooters, and that's good.
But between those two matches put together, there was but one other woman entered, at but one of the matches. And, she was a wife, of a regular match-maven.
Not that that is a negative, and wives of regular shooters would be a most welcome thing to have become more common.
But the sport, and with it, the whole of gun ownership, has not in modern times seen women get up, go to the gun store, and get involved in any serious way in shooting. True, since 9-11-01, there's been a noticeable uptick, and of course, media both mainstream and special-interest have noted rather often anecdotal evidence of gun stores seeing more women buying guns on their own.
But we're still not seeing that at the firing line. Last month's USPSA match at the "home" club N had no female competitors at all. At club O, there was only one out of 55. That's not a lot.
Some clubs go no-match-fee for women (and often, juniors as well) but the effect isn't being felt in the actual numbers.
Yet, in the political realm where gun ownership and rights are in the most danger, it's women who usually represent the larger danger to those rights, as they tend to vote away from gun rights and candidates who support them. No, not always, but the tendency is there.
Get those voters to the range, make them comfortable with the real-world gun culture we here all know is friendly and safe, and get them having low-stress fun, and they'll never vote against us.
Case in point is Your Correspondent's own Significant Other: daughter of a Chicago cop, urban origins, graduate degrees, professional... a demographic we'd all agree might well be anti-gun.
Pretty much the case, too, until a visit to a steel match, where the guys all pitched in to make it comfortable. SO now agrees that of all of the outdoor sports and activities we've engaged in, the shooting sports people are the nicest, friendliest, and most welcoming.
Good job, guys, let's find ways to do that some more.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A girl won my match

Did you ever go to an action pistol match (of decent size, of course) and it was won by a person of the female persuasion?
I never had, until last October. Even more impactful, it was my own match.
Then, the very next match, it happened again. Twice in a row. Same woman.
Never saw that before.
At the "home" club, I'm fortunate enough to be allowed to put on a handful of IDPA matches every season. I like doing it. I like the design challenge. I like how six-shooter-friendly IDPA matches are (if they're done right, it goes without saying).
Better still, the IDPA program director Marv likes it when I do matches because I don't bug him with lots of whining. He shows his appreciation by not whining back. All he does is run the registration and do the scoring. Happy, happy, everywhere.
The IDPA program there is a pretty successful one. The average attendance is about 45 a month and it always draws a good mix of actual masters and omigod-first-match-ers.
We always get excellent setup help and if I ask to do something the afternoon before, I'm sure to get willing hands pitching in.
The next two matches were November and March due to weather. I caught them both. The November one, I showed my IDPA friends what a USPSA match really looked like by building genuine USPSA stages cut down to 18 rounds and then substituting cover for fault lines and other minor adjustments.
At the start, the serious IDPA guys who were to be the SOs were crabbing (a little) about things like, "Where's cover on this stage? Where's the cover procedural? What order are you supposed to shoot it in?".
Being good shooters, of course, they all got with the program and we all had a nice time. One of the masters actually told me it was one of the most fun matches he'd ever been to. I still can't get him to come to USPSA, though. Lucky for those USPSAers, as he wields that Kimber like a professional paid-to-do-it guy.
When the scores came out, it was a pleasant surprise that my friend SS (for "Single Stack", her usual USPSA division) came out with overall best score, about a half-second ahead of the next two master-level guys also running 5" 1911s. I had to stare at the scoresheet for ten minutes before it sunk in.
It was the very first shooting competition I'd ever been to won by a woman.
But it wasn't the last.
We normally shoot through the winter at "home", at least IDPA does. But last winter, our excellent gravel range floors iced over and wouldn't de-ice, so we didn't run again until March.
I planned the match as sort of the diametric opposite and labeled it a "carry-style" match. Close and fast, what IDPA really should be. All from cover, all close range, all walls and corners. The longest shot of the eight stages was only 21 feet. The average was probably nine or ten. (I don't like to get inside of five feet because the targets don't last the match.) Every round was around a wall corner. Every stage was the IDPA "ideal" round count of 12, wherein every division except BUG is forced to do one reload only on the minimum round count.
We had 34 turn out on a chilly day and I'm glad to say most attendees took the "carry gun" thing to heart and showed up with actual smaller guns.
I, for one, chose to use my long-barrel Detective Special with a real-life IWB holster and a handful of Safariland Comp III speedloaders stoked with hot .38 +Ps.
There were two guys with BUG-division guns that I saw, maybe more. I think only about ten shooters fell outside of my arbitrary "carry division" invention of sub-four-inch barrels and less than two pounds of weight.
And I'll be damned, SS showed up with her Glock 19 and won the stinking match.
That was two, in a row.
Of course, SS immediately let me know I'm an exceptionally good stage designer (no surprise, there).
And I'll allow a moment of unattractive immodesty to point out that Yours Truly finished forth overall with his little Colt, which to me tended to reaffirm SS's assessment of my match directoring.
I'm not doing another IDPA match until October, as far as I know, as the USPSA season eats up my time, but I just might, just barely might have, conned SS into trying my 686 for the ICORE match in May we're doing at the "other" home club. Having only fired twelve rounds from a revolver in her whole life (at a practice match, using my 586), she'll have to rely on innate talent to replace experienced skill to do well. But, sigh, she will.
I sure don't mind her kicking my backside in USPSA Single Stack or even in IDPA, but at my own revolver match, I'd better damn well practice up and not let her get ahead of me on that one.
That would the source of enough humiliation among my peers to last the rest of my lifetime.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How to make wall panels

Okay, here are some basic points.
Everybody wants to shoot fast, but they want to set up and tear down even faster. Funny how that works.
The keys are lightness, durability, and simplicity of use.
Not everyone comes down to the club to get a nice weightlifting session in, and lots of them couldn't haul around a sixty-pound unit if they wanted to.
The wall panel is the basic barricade in action pistol. Your Correspondent is saddened by the growing predominance of snow fencing being used to make wall panels.
Yes, it's extremely cheap. Yes, it's extremely light. Yes, it does make for an easier time of clearing a stage after reset.
That last is a safety issue, and I'll cut that one a lot of slack. When you're the range officer, it's really, really important to know everything with a pulse is uprange of you except the shooter.
The others, well, okay, fine.
But snow fence can be seen through during the run, too. This allows the shooter to visually get a fix on things like targets before he or she gets there. To me, this is akin to cheating. At least, it reduces the challenge of the course. A sight picture being acquired a second and a half prior to arriving at the actual start of trigger-mashing is too... easy. It reduces the demand for shooting skill.
To say that viewpoint has been warmly challenged would not be an overstatement. Too bad; it's still true.
The safety aspect is beatable in other ways, which we'll get to.
It so happens Your Correspondent has passed the last 3.8 decades making walls and similar objects during the course of business. This means that, like any old tradesman, speed and efficiency are of high importance. So is doing the work exactly once. You don't last a long time in the trades without a good record for not producing callbacks.
(Here's another tip about old tradesmen: the most important thing inside their heads is a clock. Everything is about time. Everything. Time describes and delineates everything. Tick-tock, it all counts, it all adds up. Good quality work is a given; it's a baseline, but time is where it all gets serious.)
Anyway, there are a few important things the eager wall-making novice should know.
Most action-match wall panels are best made with decent-quality 2x2 lumber in their frames. Straight, non-cracky stuff that won't disintegrate over time, or warp out so bad it pulls off of the panel material.
Most of the time, you will do a better job if you simply predrill your holes for those kick-ass deck screws you're using. Splitting the end of the stick is a waste of wood and time.
Here are the primary rules for power-driving screws: Use a brand-new driver tip. Always. Use new screws. Always. And push straight and hard when driving. Hard. Don't let the tip walk up and out or you'll just be starting over.
To repeat: new parts, push harder.
I like to miter the corners of my frames. In this age of everybody's-got-a-chopsaw, it's not really that hard, and it gives a stronger, more long-lasting joint that allows you to install fasteners in two different directions. That's how it's stronger.
Getting metal fasteners on angles is really good for strength, too. Even a few degrees of angle can double the resistance to pullout, plus it sends the fastener in across the wood's grain so it doesn't just follow a ring and crack the wood.
Bracing the corners is where I see the most pain for enthused amateurs. Making little triangles of thin plywood and screwing them on over the 2x2 corner would work if done on a large scale, but not in teeny little 8x8" sections.
Inside brace your corners with right-angles of 2x4 instead, as shown below in the folder wall picture.
It only takes a few minutes and some short scrap material to make them, and they allow many more fasteners at several angles- really good stuff.
Put some exterior glue (Titebond II) or construction adhesive (Liquid Nails) in the joints before you put them together and you'll add a year or two to their life right there.
Plus, with the inside bracing, the panels are flat in section and can accept panel material easily, and stack and handle much more nicely. You'll see.
After all the corners are braced, you're likely to find that intermediate sticks aren't really so necessary, particularly if you use good panel materials in the first place, and not that infernal snow fence.
Snow fence not only likes to part ways with its frame when you don't want it to, it has no structural value. It can't help hold your panel together, or square.
Thin plywood (lauan underlayment) and plastic corrugated sign material (Corboard) in 1/4" nominal thickness can. Use it. It's not that expensive, for heaven's sake, and the wall panel will last three times as long without worrying about frantic-to-leave teardown crews breaking frame joints tossing your artwork around.
Glue that board down to the frames and corner braces and then screw it in place with twice as many screws as you think a sane person would use.
Two years from now, you won't regret the extra effort.
Now, at our club we came up with these 4x4' folders and are totally in love with the things. Done right with lauan skins, they weigh about 20 pounds, well within the strength range of your overpaid range help. Make them 6'2" tall and leave the bottom open like that so you can clear the range by looking underneath. You needed to spend more time on your prayer bones anyway. With this 4' wide layout, it uses exactly one 4x8' sheet per folder assembly. Drill holes in the bottom and top rails before your assemble them for ground spikes. With the panels glued on, they're well-nigh indestructible and so fun to use the setup guys will be giggling with joy.
They set up in seconds without even picking the screw gun up. Two spikes in the bottom rail at the outside corners will hold it in place fine for 30mph gusts. Add two more and you can take another ten knots.
They can be spotted up instantly so you can see your course develop before your eyes without the distraction of screwing panels to brackets.
A couple of inexpensive hinges is all the hardware. You don't need ports, but you can cut them if you can't help yourself.
A handful of these can do wonders for your setup time. Another important thing is that you can set a couple up and then start attaching conventional 8x4' wall panels (in trades-speak, the width is always the first number, followed by the height) to the folders and save on wall brackets big-time.

Now, you're going to need some wall brackets for all of the rest of those panels. We'll get to that later. Get your pilot drill and glue and get going.

More on stage designing and production

No, not "moron", more on.
I wish I could explain why designing IDPA stages is more interesting to me than doing USPSA ones. Perhaps just because they're shorter and easier.
I do know one reason I trip up a little bit with USPSA stages is the rise of the eight-round rule in USPSA planning. The USPSA book prohibits any one position in the course from requiring more than eight rounds. However, it seems to be getting over-interpreted, if there is such a term. I've been assailed at a match I'd put on for allowing a course that permitted more than eight rounds visible from any one point; not that some of the nine-plus couldn't be gotten elsewhere on the course, just that nine-plus could be seen at any one point.
This hit a high point at the two state sectionals I participated in in '08 and '09. The rangemaster (the higher-authority person in charge of making stages safe and legal, and overseeing safety at a match in general, plus the final arbiter on many rule interpretations) made us modify every course we had set up to prevent more than eight in view at a time. In the case of a nine-stage match, that was a lot of changing. We literally ran the club's supply of usable wall panels out struggling to cover up targets.
I don't really want to go into interpreting USPSA rules any further than my weekly obligation to while officiating at club matches and supervising the ones I'm responsible for at my "home" club. I don't have the history or gravitas within the USPSA community to be a big shot.
I just try to read the book and apply it as literally as I can. And my literalist take on the eight-shot rule is that it only goes to where more than eight rounds are needed from any one position where the excess cannot be gotten elsewhere. That's a significant difference from "cannot see more than eight required hits."
In the case of a wider field course with movement during shooting, it's well-nigh impossible to prevent the view of nine-plus rounds from every possible angle the competitor might take.
Even if it was, few clubs have a stock of obscurants (panels, barrels, barricades) sufficient to cover the possibilities of even a five-stage match if the stages are "long" (greater than 16 rounds).
The intention of the rule is clearly to prevent overly simple stand-and-shoot designs wherein a shooter goes box-to-box and just pops away. I'm sympathetic to the intention, but there are clubs that just plain can't afford to buy, make, and/or store enough stuff to do stages elaborate enough to avoid the box-to-box approach. Yet, these folks would sure appreciate being able to shoot something, instead of nothing, even if it is boring or retrograde.
That demand for props arguably is what makes IDPA more accessible to smaller clubs and startups. The more-restrictive IDPA course rules are tolerant of specifying positions by decree, whereas USPSA starts right out by saying that courses have to be as free of such dictating as possible.
That, and the vastly simpler Vickers scoring of IDPA, that you can do on the scoresheet as you walk between stages, without a single copy of Windows visible from any point at all.

Friday, April 2, 2010


This one just cracks me up.
Let me just go ahead and admit that either/or comparisons are a little bit on the skate-easy side of the writer's intellectual scale, but it really does let one argue away. With one's own self, so any hurt feelings usually can be assuaged by some chocolate or something.
I would need to preface the question at hand by running the credentials out. I put on matches of both disciplines. A pretty fair number.
And to the partisans who don't care for (or just plain hate) the "opposing" game, that might seem borderline impossible, but the plain fact is that I like to do both because they're different.
Early on, while being subjected to partisan lectures about why the other kind of cardboard-shooting was something between inferior and appalling, I reacted by saying that I was simply glad there were two different games with two different approaches.
That makes me hasten to get right to the first thing you're likely to hear- the reloading thing. Specifically, IDPA's collection of rules intended to govern the refilling of the handguns and to make it have some degree of relevance to actual gunfighting.
For those unfamiliar, these rules pretty much require reloads that either happen when the gun's empty (slide lock) or are performed in a way such that no ammunition is left on the ground.
Should there be even a single round left in the gun, even just the chamber, the magazine being removed must be retained for the rest of the course of fire, and in a very specific manner: by being placed in a pants (or vest) pocket.
Not a shirt pocket, which is a kink that often draws some derision, and I can't much argue with that derision. A pocket's a pocket, I'd say. I usually can fathom the reasoning behind competition rule-making, and doing so usually makes an awkward rule easier to get along with. The pants/vest pocket thing, I don't get.
But retaining magazines is anathema to USPSA/IPSC shooters, who consider movement during the course to be ordained for refilling the pistol. They wear scads of mags and leave the range floor littered with partially-empty ones like flower petals at an Easter parade.
Indeed, going to slide-lock at a USPSA match will literally bring hoots of scorn down upon the competitor's earmuffs. It's wasteful of time, and time is the golden currency of USPSA shooting.
But I am here to tell you tonight that the difference between IPSC (pere) and IDPA (fils) is not the reloading. In fact, the whole big thing about the refills is really just hooey. It's not that big a deal, and both "sides" should just settle down and deal with the hand they have in front of them. Stop fussing and just do the game.
Nor is it about concealment garments (typically called "IDPA" or "shoot-me-first" vests), tiresome "scenarios" explicating the course of fire by giving it some seeming connection to armed personal protection, or even IDPA's refusal to use scoring overlays (clear plastic cards with bullet-diameter marking to help establish the true path of the bullet at the scoring-zone lines) and USPSA's insistence upon them.
Nope, it's all about one thing: cover.
Use cover in USPSA and you're toast. Don't use it in IDPA and you're out.
While there's some overlap, where USPSA stages may force shooting around the edge of a barricade, and the too-common IDPA stage without any definable cover to take, the real brass-tacks difference is that IDPA insists that cover be taken whenever available. No options, no fooling, gotta do it.
Among people who study gunfighting and train people for it, cover is the holiest of grails after actually having a gun in the first place, and then, not even always. The impossibly good gunzine writer John Connor so strongly demands that cover be the first, last, and practically every other priority that one would be embarrassed to meet Mr. Connor and shake his hand without at least moving towards a wall corner.
The upshot of all this, for the stage designer/match director who just so happens to go both ways is that once this concept is taken fully to heart, waaay down inside, then stage design goals and the resulting designs actually become clearer and more comprehensible.
The courses then, are completely different from one another, including that most important of all design elements, how the shooter is forced to move and reposition.
USPSA can do it with fault lines, wooden sticks nailed to the ground. IDPA prohibits fault lines, another facet I disagree with because of the strain on resources it puts on the clubs- walls are far more expensive to make than fault lines doing the same thing in those certain cases.
So the IDPA designer uses barricades such as walls and barrels to direct traffic, knowing that the shooter is forced by rule to use cover. He or she must use semi-specific positions (cover) to shoot, as determined by barricade placement.
There is overlap in this regard as well, of course, such as ports, but the fundamental issue is cover.
In USPSA, it's something to be gotten around and past; in IDPA, it's the goal and the law.
Makes doing up stages pretty much more interesting.
And it's none too easy to convert one type to the other, either, but a good learning experience as a designer to do so.
Of course, then there's those round count rules...