My First Match of 2018!

Notice the title doesn’t say “First IDPA Match of 2018”.  My first competitive match of the new year was something different for me:  a carbine match.

I first learned about this match on a local firearms forum about a year ago.  Well, that is to say, I learned about the 2017 edition.  I marked it on my calendar to keep an eye out for a 2018 version, saw it in time, and registered.  Spots were limited to only 20 participants, so I was diligent about doing this.

The match was not sanctioned by any governing body a la IDPA, USPSA, etc.  Rather, it is something put on annually by a relatively nearby gun club (about an hour’s drive from my home).  It was advertised as a “run and gun” match which would involve a lot of running on their 600 yard rifle range, moving from position to position and engaging targets from about 3 to 300 yards.  In essence, it sounded a lot like Paul Howe’s “Scrambler”, which I performed three times in this class (and had a blast doing!).  Targets would consist of some roughly torso-sized steel plates, gallon-sized milk/water jugs, 4 inch diameter clays, and regular sheets of copy paper.  All steel and paper targets had to be hit twice.  Participants were able to register in any of the following “divisions” or “classes”:  iron sights, non-magnified optics, or magnified optics.

Weather

The weather was a bit crummy but not too bad for late January.  Temperatures were probably in the lower 50s with a little bit of a breeze that came up late.  It rained on and off all day, making the range a bit of a quagmire.  Considering there could have just as easily been snow, ice, strong winds, etc., I was happy with the conditions.  Nevertheless, per the match organizers, several people forfeited their entry fees ($40, which had to be paid in advance) because they did not want to be engaging in these activities on such a dreary day.  Including me, only 8 people showed up to shoot the match.

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The drive to the match.

Equipment

I chose to compete in the “non-magnified optics” division.  Although I have one AR-15 equipped with a low-power variable optic (LPVO), most of my long guns are equipped with red dots, so I figured I would go with what I use the most.  I used my favorite AR-15, which consists of an Anderson lower  built up with a Palmetto State Armory lower parts kit, ALG-ACT trigger, Magpul CTR stock, and Magpul MOE pistol grip.  The upper is the one outlined in this article, built by Dave Montana of Hunter Rifleworks.  In addition to all of its parts/features outlined in the article linked above, it also has a Bravo Company  Mod 4 charging handle, Daniel Defense fixed front sight and Troy folding rear, and a Surefire X300u.  For a sling I used the Blue Force Gear VCAS, and I used an Aimpoint PRO red dot sight.  I utilized Gen 3 Magpul Pmags and fired Federal M193 55 grain 5.56mm ammunition.

To carry all of my gear, I chose my seldom-used “battle belt”, a Viking Tactics “Brokos” belt equipped with an assortment of HSGI Tacos, a dump pouch, blow-out kit plus a second tourniquet, and a few other items.  This belt is usually equipped with a fixed blade knife, multi-tool, and a pistol holster, but I removed those items, as they would not be needed for the match, and replaced them with an extra (4th) rifle magazine taco.

The advertisement for the match suggested bringing about 120 rounds, but I decided to err on the side of caution.  I started the match with my carbine fully loaded with a 30 round Pmag and had 4 more on my belt.  As extra insurance, I threw an extra 20 round Pmag in one of the cargo pockets of my pants.

Match Layout

Below is the match layout as it was emailed to me a few days before the match:

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The numbers indicate shooting positions.  Each of the horizontal black bars represents a target stand in front of a berm (we ended up not using position #2 due to the range conditions, and several other positions were changed/omitted, so this is really more of an outline).  Other than two of the shooting positions, which required shooting around barrels—left-handed around one and right-handed around the other—the shooter could choose his own shooting position.  Indeed, even when shooting around the barrels, the shooter could choose to shoot from prone, kneeling, squatting, or standing as long as he (there were no women at the match) shot right or left-handed, depending on which barrel he was shooting around.  Total score would be time plus any penalties incurred (20 seconds for each infraction, such as shooting targets out of order—all were to engaged near to far—or not hitting a target).  There were no penalties for misses other than the time it took to miss!

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The layout, as seen from the pavilion and shooting position #1.

Shooting the Match

I shot the match second-to-last, and the timer would start on my first shot.  From the first position, I would have to shoot two water jugs hanging from the target stand at 100 yards, then hit twice-each the torso-ish steel plates at 200 and 300 yards.   I settled into a nice prone position and got to work.  I hit my first jug with the first shot but it took a few more to hit jug #2.  I hit all the steel throughout the course on my first shots (one exception noted later).

I should note here that I informed the RSO who would be “traveling” with me that I planned to basically sprint from one position to the next (safety rules required the safety to be engaged before any movement would take place, with the participant calling out “SAFE!” before each movement.  Failure to engage the safety on these occasions would result in disqualification.).  I felt like I could probably move quicker than some of the older/less fit shooters and that my speed might make up for my lack of marksmanship ability.  I must say that I stuck to my word and hauled ass throughout the course.  Several of the other participants moved at what I would call a brisk walk, but a few others ran it as I did.

Kudos to the match directors for their setup of the match.  Each shooting position was marked with different colored spray paint on the grass, and that color would correspond to the targets that had to be engaged from that position.  So as I moved to position #2—identified by an orange line painted fifty yards forward of position #1—I dropped down and had to engage 3 orange clay pigeons on the first target stand (50 yards away) and a pair of orange water jugs hanging from the second target stand 150 yards away.  After engaging those targets, I advanced to a white X painted just a few yards (three?) in front of the first target stand and had to engage three white sheets of paper with two shots each.

The match proceeded along these same lines.   Steel targets were all engaged from at least 100 yards, water jugs from 200 and in, clay birds from between 50 and 100 (three at each position), and the paper from a maximum of about 7 yards.   I fired most often from the prone position (at any target set at 50 yards or beyond), with the exceptions of a few spots where undulations of the ground/tall grass occluded the targets.  On those occasions, I assumed a supported kneeling position.  Also, when shooting around the barrels, I chose to shoot from a kneeling position.

I finished the course with a time of 14 minutes and 48 seconds, which included one 20 second penalty for hitting one of the steel targets with only one round.  I was a little annoyed by this penalty.  Throughout the match I had some difficulty hearing hits on the steel plates, but the RSO was calling out hits for me (as he did for everyone).  I am positive I heard him say “hit” twice when I was engaging that particular piece of steel, yet the scorers could only identify one hit mark on the steel (each piece of steel was repainted after each shooter did his run).  Had the RSO not said hit, I would have engaged it again, as I really did not have issues making hits on the steel targets.  Oh well.  Ultimately, I am solely responsible for my hits and misses.  I fired exactly 150 rounds in the match.  I missed far too many times (the guy with the fastest time fired about 90 rounds).

Takeaways

I am happy to say that I won the non-magnified optics division.  Of course, I was the only one competing in this division!  All of the other participants chose to compete in the magnified optics division, using LPVOs of various manufacturers (Vortex seemed to be the most popular).  In addition, I should note that I was the only shooter who showed up with a carbine set up more for defensive purposes than for gaming.  For example, in addition to using a red dot, mine also had back-up iron sights, an A2 flash hider, and a tactical light.  Among the other carbines I saw triple-baffle muzzle brakes, carbon fiber stocks and handguards, the aforementioned optic choices, light (and very expensive) triggers, and most were set up sans back-up iron sights.  I finished 5th overall out of the 7 participants (the 8th competitor dropped out before shooting because the match was taking so long), which I was pleased with considering this was my first such match and considering my equipment choices versus those of my fellow competitors.  The winner had a total time of 9 minutes and some seconds, so significantly quicker than me.

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A little muddy.

Good Things:  In the good things category, I was pretty happy with the zero on my carbine.  When I did my part, the bullets went where I wanted them to go.  It’s comforting to know I can hit torsos at 300 yards without much effort, and clay birds at 100 yards with just a bit more focus.  I was also happy with my speed over the muddy course, my ability to quickly assume and get out of firing positions, and my cardiovascular conditioning.  My gear also performed well.  I did not leave behind a garage sale of gear, magazines, etc. (note:  all magazines had to be retained during the match.  They could hit the deck but you could not leave them at one position as you moved to the next….20 second penalty if you left one behind).  I was also able to move easily with my battle belt.  My carbine performed flawlessly, suffering no malfunctions of any kind.  To date, the only issues it has ever had have been with aluminum magazines from Palmetto State Armory and during a drill at a class a few years ago where I was using someone else’s magazines (we shared for the drill) of unknown quality.

Things for me to Improve:  I needed to take my time for more of my shots.  Too often I probably outran my cardio, and my breathing when in a firing position suffered.  I needed to get that breathing under control in order to make hits.  My breath also fogged up my eye protection a few times, so I had to wait that out (usually just a couple of seconds).  My magazine changes were noticeably slow, in my opinion.  I made three of them from the prone position, something I need to work on more, dry, while wearing my battle belt.  I also think my dump pouch has to move closer to my left side (right now it is too close to the center of my back, and a little too hard to access.).  Finally, I need to trust in my holdovers.  I use a 100 yard zero, which means that, if my zero is good, I should never have to hold under a target.  A few times I forgot this (just not enough time behind my carbines, really), and this resulted in errant shots until I had that “oh yeah” moment.

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Carbine and gear, post-match.

Things That Would Have Made the Match Better:  As much as I liked the organization and color-coding of the firing positions and targets, there were a few things that would have made the match a bit better.  For one thing, I thought it took way too long to reset the range after each participant finished his run.  It took upwards of 15 minutes to score the targets and reset them, and for the life of me I could not figure out what was taking so long each time.  I also would have preferred some better variety to the targets/firing positions, which I thought skewed a little too heavily toward precision shots at longer ranges.  Perhaps having something like a VTAC barricade through which the shooters might have to engage from a distance of 25 yards or so would have added to the challenge a bit.  Also, I expected some smaller targets for the up-close shots, maybe targets that would force the shooter to remember “height over bore” issues.  Finally, it took two days for the organizers to post the results of the match.  Considering all the scoring was done on site and there were only 7 shooters, I thought this was a bit much.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I really enjoyed the match, as it was a chance to do something I rarely get to do.  My long guns rarely get fired, and when they do it is either at a VERY restrictive public range or in a class (and readers of this blog know that the classes I take tend to be handgun-centric).  The chance to use it on a variety of targets, from a variety of positions, moving from position to position, all under the pressure of the clock, was fun.  It was also a great chance to test out my battle belt and other gear, especially in inclement weather.  I would definitely shoot this match or a similar match again, perhaps using my variable optic to see how it compares in such conditions.

As always, thanks for reading.  If you have any questions or comments, please post them below or on our Facebook page, as we always welcome civil discourse.

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