31 March 2013

Working the Range

If you've shot or observed even one match, or watched some match video on YouTube, you're probably already aware of the most visible staff: Safety/Range Officers. While they're an important part of the shooting sports, they're part of a much larger team, including a team that isn't just there for match days. In an early post, I talked a bit about the work that goes into just one one-day event, but there's so much more...and sometimes, just saying thanks isn't enough. As we head into the warmer shooting season, I want to say a few words about range maintenance and work generally. While there are range facilities and shooting organizations with paid staff, many clubs and events run on the shoulders of passionate volunteers. You may not be aware of the many skills and the amount of grunt work that allow you to enjoy the shooting sports, or what you can offer to keep your club running on a day to day basis.

Last weekend, I was delighted to participate as an instructor at A Girl & A Gun Club's National Conference, where I taught a range of competitive shooting classes both on and off the range, as well as live fire sessions on target transitions and alternate shooting positions. With over 100 women attending from across the United States (and the UK!), plus speakers, instructors, staff, and vendors for the two and a half-day event, you can imagine the logistical nightmares involved in putting together what amounted to a combined professional conference and major match. It's easy to think of and appreciate the event planning and other "big" tasks that go into pulling off this type of three-ring circus, but it's also important not to forget the smaller things like putting together swag bags or stapling up targets. And while firearms-related skills are certainly an important part of this type of event and organization, it's not just that. You don't need to be a master-level shooter to be able to help with financial management, coordinate sponsors and vendors, design programs and swag, or make emergency runs to the store...and all of those things are just as necessary.

Special events aren't the only thing that need all hands on deck, though. My home club, like many shooting clubs, is almost entirely volunteer-run. As with a regular for-profit business, ranges need administrative work like managing bank accounts, reviewing membership applications, handling legal and insurance paperwork, and coordinating scheduling - along with physical upkeep and upgrades from the mundane work of keeping the clubhouse clean and the security system running to overseeing range safety improvements and target installation. We draw on the expertise of many members' "day jobs", including donated professional time, and it's always helpful when someone lets us know that they have knowledge, skills or access to resources that help in those areas. It's not just the white collar types of skills either. We've been very thankful in the past year or so for members with heavy equipment who are able to move the massive amounts of dirt required to expand and upgrade shooting bays. Don't be fooled into thinking that special skills are needed for all that needs to be done, though. The biggest tasks we tackled at the work day we had this weekend just needed people who could wield shovels, rakes, hammers, and drills - nothing more complicated than what you might need to do around your house. For those of us who have physical limitations, there are similarly important tasks needed year-round that can be as simple as stuffing envelopes for membership renewal letters.

Shooting is a lot of fun, but there's a lot of work that's necessary to keep our events and our ranges open. If we all kick in a few hours here and there, then we all get more time to get to the making loud noises part. How many non-shooting hours have you put into your range lately? What skills can you bring to your home club?

05 March 2013

The Winter of My 1911

Many shooters, competitive and recreational, take a break during the colder and shorter days of winter. Even for those of us who don't shoot at outdoor ranges, the holidays and other obligations often make it tougher to get out to the range between October and March. While I don't shoot as much over the winter as I do in the spring and fall, the match I co-direct does run year-round as do several other local matches. I also try to take advantage of my extra free weekends to get in some off-season practice and to fit in a few more private students than I usually have the time to take on during my competition/training season. I also like to use winter as a time to set my shooting goals for the upcoming year. One of my most popular posts has been about shooting your own match, and this quiet time is a good time to consider what that means to you moving forward.

As I ended last season, I was concerned that my improvement was starting to plateau. In order to combat that, and to give myself an opportunity to broaden my skill set generally, I decided to switch competition platforms. I committed to spend the winter months shooting a 9mm 1911, with a plan to go after classification in both USPSA Single Stack and IDPA Enhanced Service Pistol in the spring classifier matches that traditionally run in my region. Even with the slightly slower pace of matches, I thought this and consistent dry-fire practice would force me to learn enough about shooting this gun to be able to make a more informed decision about its positives and negatives, both in my hands and generally. My 1911 is a Commander-sized model with an extended magazine release, a slightly over-sized ambidextrous safety, and a beavertail. It also has a larger and beveled magazine well than is normally standard, and aggressive checkering on front and backstrap and under the trigger guard. Mine happened to come with these features stock from the factory, but it's a pretty complete collection of common modifications I've seen to the platform. About a month into the winter, I also switched to a pair of VZ Grips Slim Gator Back grips generously lent to me by a friend.

This winter, I learned that while single-stack guns like the 1911 are often recommended for shooters with small hands, they still may not present the best fit. Even with slim grips and an extended magazine release, I do have some issues reaching the controls and finding the mag release for reloads. I'll be getting slim grips with a "scoop" or "super scoop" to help combat that problem. I also have had to work hard on some very subtle aspects of my trigger press, as the slide trigger on the 1911 is a bit different from the hinged trigger on my M&P. Because the geometry of the grip is such that I do have to reach to get to my standard trigger, I have to be very careful not to nudge the gun as the trigger breaks. A short trigger may fix the issue, but in the meantime I've been doing a lot of wall drills and my personal variations on the dime/washer drill - something that will certainly benefit me when I return to my M&P.

My 1911 has been a return to 3-dot sights for me, which I'd left behind over the summer when I switched to a red fiber front/straight black rear sight set on my M&P. The front sight blade on my 1911 is also quite a bit fatter than on my M&P, and fills more of the gap between the rear sights. All of the lessons I've had in focusing on the front sight, and really seeing the perfect sight alignment became even more important with these 3-dot tritiums. Just lining up the dots isn't enough, especially with distance shots....a lesson I fully intend to transfer back to every other gun I shoot.

One of my initial concerns had been whether or not I could adjust to using a manual safety, since this is my only non-.22lr target pistol with a manual safety. It was almost entirely a non-issue. Over a handful of nights in dry-fire, I made a minor adjustment to my right thumb during the grip acquisition phase of my draw stroke. By pointing it a bit higher as my hand came down on the grip, my thumb naturally ended up on top of the safety, clicked it off as my hand rotated the gun towards the target, and stayed in place to ride the safety. I don't find that the slight change in where my right thumb starts on the grip acquisition to affect my draw of a gun without a manual safety. As a bonus, it's trained my right hand to really get high up on the grip, which has improved my recoil control.

When I discuss gun choice with new shooters, I often steer them away from the 1911 as a first gun, partially because they have more complex maintenance requirements than many more modern designs. While my 1911 was reliable all winter, I was forcefully reminded me of this when it more or less screeched to a grinding halt functionally, with no warning. I shot it last Monday for a short IDPA match and had no problems. On Saturday, my planned USPSA Classifier Match [pdf], I had an odd feed issue with one magazine in the 4-magazine field stage I started with. I then proceeded to shoot 6 classifier stages with malfunctions in every single stage ranging from simple stovepipes to doublefeeds to the unique - and as far as I know, unnamed - experience of looking down and seeing a round in the chamber, a round trying to feed, AND a casing stuck on the extractor. Not the best thing that's ever happened to my classifier scores, and the type of problem that's not easy or fast to diagnose and fix on the range during a match. It certainly gave me a lot of practice with my mental game, though.

I've learned a lot about 9mm 1911s in the past few months. And while I respect and appreciate the platform more now than I did, I'm also pretty sure that I don't like it as a long-term option for me. I think I'll still return to it occasionally for fun though, or to work again on the skills it's made me focus on. And I'd definitely recommend trying something new for a few months or a year to anyone looking to break a plateau. What will you try?