Wake County Action Pistol Match – No Mikes!

After a long hiatus, I competed in a pistol competition last night. Before you wonder too much about the title of the post, an “M” or a  “mike” is a miss on one of the targets. My goals were:

  • be safe
  • don’t get DQ’d (disqualified for unsafe behavior)
  • focus on accuracy, not time

I considered this a roaring success! I finished near the bottom of the list but I had “no mikes”, did not hit a non-threat (good guy) and I was pleased with my “penalty” scores (lower is better).

The last time I competed was the 2013 Carolina Cup. That was 15 months ago. I stepped back for a list of reasons but I missed competing. As time passed, I felt inadequate about my skills and was hesitant to get restarted. Then the perfect opportunity popped up and I ditched the excuses and jumped onboard: The Wake County Action Pistol Match!

I read about this or heard about it on the TriangleTactical.net blog or podcast  (Thanks Luke & Ben!). That pointed to a facebook page: Wake County Action Pistol Match. I read the rules, asked a question about equipment and asked to join the email list. Then I saw there was on spot left and I grabbed it. This filled  up fast.

[Download: Match FAQ and Match Rules. Note: I created the FAQ from various sources on 9/12/2014. I take responsibility for any errors.] 

I ran into one of the match hosts, Scotty, on Saturday when I was teaching the NRA class. He gave me a high five and said he’d gotten me signed up. His enthusiasm for this match is contagious. It made me feel less anxious about the decision to attend. He is truly an ambassador for this event.

Don't Shoot the good guys!

Don’t Shoot the good guys!

Match Day
I checked through all the gear I used to shoot IDPA, loaded all 5 magazines, checked again to see that my 1911 (in 9mm) was unloaded and drove to the range.

The match briefing was promptly at 6:30pm.

I wasn’t the only female shooter. Our squad had three. One was the RSO running the bay. I’m hoping over time to see even more ladies participate. I met some shooters that were new to me, asked questions, and even answered a few. I found the other shooters to be accepting in all cases and welcoming in others. It was clear that many were very loyal to this match. The focus is on having a enjoyable match event rather than getting bogged down in a long set of rules. They are serious about safety, beyond that it’s about challenges, shooting whatever pistol you bring, and having fun.

We started on Bay 3 and had two short stages to shoot. One we shot seated, the other standing in one place with no movement required. That was a nice warm up for the other two stages. One of the guys pasting pointed out a target I’d shot where he was able to cover both shots with one paster. I don’t shoot like that nearly enough but it sure made me smile.

I had malfunctions on both stages. I got a “click” instead of a bang on my first stage. I glanced down and the mag was hanging partially out of the gun. TAP and click again. I hear, “Rack it”. So I did. Thank you! And back to bang! My second stage I got another click and I went immediately to TAP, RACK, BANG. This is why I shoot matches: I want to encounter these problems in a controlled environment to practice the corrective actions. Why did it go click? My best guess is that I was riding the slide. I had no further malfunctions on the last two stages.

I also realized I didn’t understand the specifics of the scoring. They are using USPSA targets and this provides an overview. We shot the metric targets. For this match, the power factor is ignored. Scores are from time and accuracy only. The match results display both – so it’s possible to work on your accuracy initially and only look at those results.

The third stage we shot required movement. Another reason for shooting matches: It’s fun and you can’t get this kind of experience shooting in a lane. We started close to the first set of targets, then backed up (keeping the gun pointed downrange at all times), moved around a barrier to get to the next set of targets. More movement to the right, shoot, and to the right again for a final set of targets.

The 4th and final stage we shot required starting at the back, shooting two targets to each side of a barricade, then moving forward and shooting 3 targets through a port. The “port” is a tiny open window in a wooden wall. I believe it was just under a foot square. This is where I experienced something entirely new.

I extended the pistol partway through the port and when I pulled the trigger, the recoil caused the top of the pistol to bang into the top of the window. It’s amazing how fast your brain can process something like this: “gun hitting anything, not good — no damage to the gun or the wood — this is actually dampening the recoil — I wonder if I hold the gun higher….” at which point I’d shot all 3 targets twice.

My total round count for the match: 60 rounds. Each stage required a reload for me. I was shooting a 10 round magazine. The standing stage required a mandatory reload after putting a single shot in each target.

Here’s another new thing for me: it’s ok to drop loaded magazines during a reload. In IDPA matches this behavior will incur a penalty. With these matches, do what works for you. So, knowing the stage, you can opt when to reload and not waste time shoving a partially loaded magazine in a pocket.

After we shot our last stage, the squad cleaned up the bay before leaving. I heard that some of the competitors would be heading to a local restaurant after the match, but I opted out. I had a commitment to a 6am yoga class on Tuesday morning. We were done shooting at 8:40. I was in my car headed home at 8:53 pm. That’s quick work!

Will I go back? Absolutely!




How to fix a “soft” safety

Some time ago I wrote a post on “a hard safety vs. a soft safety“. Now I find out that the safety on the 1911 wasn’t working properly. My 1911 has been in the shop for other reasons but when it came back, my gunsmith said he noticed the issue and he’d fixed it.

Ideally, the rear plunger rests in a small indent on the the thumb safety. It keeps the safety on until enough downward pressure moves it to the off position. My S&W 1911 either didn’t have an indent or it was in the wrong place. To fix the problem, the gun was partially disassembled: the slide was removed and the plunger spring was removed. The safety was put in the correct position to be “on” and a long drill bit was passed through the plunger tube and into the safety. Bingo! The indent is now perfectly placed.

My gunsmith told me to bring it back if I wanted to tighten it up. The drill bit was dulled so he’d have to take it back to his machine shop to sharpen the bit again to make the indent deeper. Clearly my safety is made of some very hard material. Once I get to shoot it, I’ll make that decision (and maybe get pictures of the process).

I’m just thrilled to hear a “click” now when I put the safety on or take it off. I honestly thought this was the way the gun was supposed to work.

Although the gun was in the shop for other reasons, it was worth the trip the the gunsmith to get a problem fixed I didn’t know I had. I’m pretty excited about that!

If’ you’d like some visuals, here are the parts typically inside the plunger tube (from here)plunger tub spring This is where they go in the plunger tube (from here)Plunger TubeAnd here is how the plunger tube lines up with the safety to make it go “click” (from here)

Plunger and safety





The first step toward winning is to show up

1st Place Novice ESP

1st Place Novice ESP

I won my division at the Carolina Cup. I was a bit embarrassed to pick up the winners plaque though as I was the only one in the division.

I did achieve my two goals:

  • Don’t come in dead last overall
  • Don’t get DQ’d

I’m a slow shooter. My accuracy is improving but the winners could have shot this match 3 times in the time it took me to shoot it once.

Over 16 stages I had 2 procedurals for

  • not reloading behind cover
  • shooting targets out of order (didn’t slice the pie)

I had 1 hit on a non-threat and 3 failures to neutralize. Total points down: 128. That averages to 8 per stage. I did finish my last stage with “zero down”  and that felt good!

I know there was at least one other Novice shooter in another division, but this match was for the more experienced shooters. I’m happy to have the experience and I hope to one day come back and shoot it in a higher division – then if I “place” I’ll know it was earned.


My 1st Carolina Cup: photo with Frank (The Match Director)

My 1st Carolina Cup: photo with Frank (The Match Director)

The Recoil Spring experiment

Recoils Springs, Bushing "Disk" by Lynx, and an empty flare tube to transport the springs.

Recoils Springs, Bushing “Disk” by Lynx, and an empty flare tube to transport the springs.

The day before I shot the Carolina Cup I was at PDHSC for several reasons, but one was to get a different recoil spring for my 1911. I had a conversation with one of my informal mentors at PDHSC and he’d recommended I go lighter. It might also help with the occasional double feeds I experience.

The gunsmith I work with runs a business out of the same building so I asked him what he recommended. I like getting more than one opinion as it helps me to learn and increase my knowledge. The Brownell’s book we checked stated that the standard for a 1911 in 9mm is 14 lbs for the recoil spring. I just found this article that recommends my 5′ barrel in 9mm should have a 10-12 lb spring.

We had no way to measure the spring in the gun so I assumed it was 14lbs. I still have it as a back up.  I bought a 12lb spring and proceeded to reserve a lane at the range and check out the gun with the new spring in it. I also had my new XDS with me and several of the guys I know that work at PDHSC wanted to give that a try so I was talking with several folks. The guy that recommended the light recoil spring shot the XDS then asked if I’d picked up a new spring. I proudly said I had: at 12 lbs.

He really thought I ought to go lighter. It would help noticeably with recoil control however it would be tougher on the gun. He explained that I’d need to lubricate the gun well and it would still have parts that would wear more quickly – but if I wanted the gun for competition it might be worth the trade-off for me. He loaned me a 7lb spring. I was amazed at the difference. I went through several drills and all appeared well.

He asked me to replace the spring later when the gunsmith was back but the price for all the advice was the cost of a pink bushing wrench. Now I’m not a fan of pink. I tend to avoid most “girly” looking gun equipment and this was no exception. But it worked well, it was less than $8 and it had a breast cancer fund raising ribbon on the product — so it wasn’t a hard sell. It is larger than my other bushing wrench and it’s very easy to find in a range bag.

I know this because the first stage I shot at the Carolina Cup the next day showed me that the spring wasn’t strong enough to put the gun back into battery after a slide lock reload. There were two reloads required on the first stage I shot. The first time the RSO had to point it out when the gun didn’t go “bang” and the second time I was ready for it. A thump on the back of the slide fixed the issue – with a loss of time on the stage each time.

I excused myself after the stage, went back to my car, used that handy pink bushing “disk” and put the 12 lb spring back in the gun. I had no further issues.

I think I still might pick up a 10 lb spring. At $8 apiece it’s not a big investment. And I’m starting to understand why most of my shooting friends spend the time to experiment with gun modifications.

No 1911 Malfunctions & 5/25 IDPA Match Review

The 1911 and Log Book

The 1911 and Log Book

I shot an unsanctioned IPDA match last at PDHSC. These matches are hosted by Shoot2Live. Last night for the first time since I bought the S&W 1911, I had zero malfunctions during a match. It has malfunctioned in all 5 of the previous matches. I like the weight, the trigger, and the smoothness I feel when running the gun, but I would never trust it as a carry gun for self defense.

Possibly I’m hitting the end of a break in period. I keep a log book with each gun and note when I shoot, how many rounds, a few words about what I did with the gun (practice, match, class) and when/how I clean the gun. From the book I see I’ve put about 2700 rounds through the gun and the last time I field stripped it was 300 rounds ago.

I’m curious to see if this was a one time thing or if it becomes the exception rather than a regular occurrence in the future.

Notes about the match:

  • I arrived at 4:30pm to sign in. The match went till 9:30pm. There are 3 squads and two bays so there is always down time between stages.
  • There was one stage that required shooting with strong hand then weak hand and one stage that required shooting 5 targets on the move. These are things I can practice.
  • One stage involved moving targets: a swinger and a drop turner. These I haven’t figured out how to practice. Since I’m not an RSO it’s not OK to go downrange to set these up when I rent practice time at the range. Possibly I need to book time with an instructor to get more exposure to these types of targets.
  • I’m usually head to bed about 9:30pm,  so I think I’ll opt to shoot more afternoon matches outdoors in the future.



Hard Safety vs. Soft Safety

This article published on Triangle Tactical back in March started me thinking about the thumb safeties on my guns: Why is it so hard to get a thumb safety right?

1911 with soft safety (top and H&K USP with hard safety (bottom).

1911 with soft safety (top and H&K USP with hard safety (bottom).

I own two pistols with thumb safeties: a S&W 1911 and an H&K USP Compact. They operate very differently and that difference didn’t really jump out at him until I read Ben’s post.

The “Soft Safety” – The first thing I had to learn when shooting the 1911 was to wrap my thumb over the top of the safety when I draw the gun. If I don’t, and the thumb rises up just a slight bit, the safety nudges up and the gun will no longer shoot. The safety on the gun is fluid. You touch it even slightly, it moves. If it raises the least bit, it engages. At first I thought I had a malfunction but soon realized that I was the one with the malfunction, not the gun. When I began to wrap my thumb over the safety, that problem ceased.

Every one I’ve loaned the gun to has done the same thing until I pointed out you need to grip it differently to ensure the safety stays down. So it may not be common knowledge outside 1911 owners.

The “Hard Safety” – My H&K USP compact has what I call a hard safety. You have to push it down hard and when you do, you hear it click into place. It has two positions: on and off. There is no fluidity and no in-between. It is fairly easy to disengage when drawing from a holster as my thumb has more strength pushing down. It’s difficult for me to re-engage one handed before re-holstering. Until I started shooting the 1911 I assumed all safeties worked this way. I also tended to disengage the safety, shoot at the range, then re-engage the safety when I was done shooting for the day – because it was difficult to switch.

One other difference: Once the hammer is down on the 1911, you can’t put the “soft” safety on. Technically there is no need as the gun can’t be fired until the hammer is cocked, but I found this odd when I first started shooting the 1911. I always wanted to put the safety back on after I was done shooting to establish the habit firmly – no matter whether the hammer was up or down. With the H&K, you can always put the “hard” safety on. Whether the hammer is cocked or de-cocked, you can press the safety switch up. So this design will allow you to consistently apply the safety.

I am not passing judgement at this time on which I like best. I have many more hours with the 1911 and I’m clearly biased toward that design at this time. I just wanted to point out the differences for anyone considering a gun purchase. And I’ll admit that shooting the 1911 has made me much more aware of how safeties work and to disengage / reengage each time I draw / reholster.






The Pencil Test

I cleaned my 1911 and my XD9 after the last IPDA match at PDHSC. I finally got a video clip of “The Pencil Test”. The gunsmith who took me under his wing showed me this after he walked me through a complete take down. Maybe I’m just a kid at heart but it makes me giggle every time I do it! This is a simple test that will assure you put your 1911 back together correctly after you clean it.

Before you load any ammo in the gun, slide the pencil in the barrel, eraser side down. Point the gun in a safe direction and pull the trigger. If the pencil doesn’t fly, neither will your ammunition.

IPDA at PDHSC – April 27th

I haven’t shot an IDPA match at PDHSC since last October. Partly it’s because I’m just not a late night person and the last match I showot went past 10pm. Partly it’s because I have been shooting outdoor matches at The Range or Caswell Ranch. I heard on the Triangle Tactical podcast that the matches at PDHSC were ending much earlier and I wanted to see a shooting buddy I had not seen in much too long, so I headed over to PDHSC and arrived around 4:30pm to sign in for the match.

They will take charge cards so I paid my $15 on plastic and signed up for a squad with my buddy (who is always early). If you are new to shooting matches, they will assign you to a squad. If you want to shoot with a friend, just tell them and it’s usually not a problem.

Then I went back out to the car and “dressed” for the match. I tucked in my shirt tail, put on my belt with two mag pouches and and holster. I’m shooting the 1911. I added my concealment vest. I double checked to make sure the gun was unloaded and the hammer was down. This is how they prefer you arrive for the match. Use the parking lot just the way you would at an outdoor match. Or prep at home before you drive to the range. Space is at a premium in the building and folks unloading guns, or moving guns from range bags to holsters in tight quarters is frowned upon.

During the match, the only shooters permitted to have “live” guns at all times are the Range Safety Offices (RSOs).

I’d pre-loaded all my magazines at home. That is one less things to have to tackle just before the match. I also brought my small match bag instead of my full range bag.

David Bramble runs the match at PDHCS. He always starts off by reviewing the IDPA Four Rules of Gun Safety. He picks competitors to share the rules and that keeps everyone on their toes. He will review other rules that are unique the PDHSC or emphasize rules that have caused competitors to be DQ’d (disqualified) in the past. It’s all about creating an awareness of safety and I agree that can’t be over done.

We had 8 folks on our squad. The last time I shot it was 12. That may be why the matches are ending at a more reasonable hour. We were out by 8:30pm.

How did I shoot? My accuracy is improving but I’m very slow. I was 3rd to last. Sigh. I was very please with the first 5 stages. I shot the first stage clean. I was down 1 on most other stages except for a hit on a non-threat up until the 6th stage. However, I was grossly inaccurate on the last stage. There was a distance target that was in the shadows… and I had a failure to neutralize. Not a happy end to the match.

But I did go. I did shoot. And I’m continuing to learn.

More importantly, I gave a friend a hug who really needed one.





Got the bushings and screws from S&W!

In the final post about the 1911 Grip Saga, I received the replacement bushings and two kinds for screws to fit the original 1911 grips on April 2nd.

Original 1911 Grips and hardware - including a hex wrench.

Original 1911 Grips and hardware – including a hex wrench.

The grip screws came with the hex heads, but the fellow I spoke with on the phone sent me a set of screws which could be removed with a regular slotted screwdriver. I tossed it all in an envelope with the hex wrench my gunsmith gave me for the original screws. Now if I want to sell this gun, I have everything needed to restore the original grips, if desired.

Total time from the first call until the warranty claim was fully addressed: about 3 1/2 months. I know they are slammed due to the current political climate, but I’m glad I wasn’t in a hurry.

Previous posts: Part 1: The Defective Grip Saga,  Part 2: Call, don’t email S&W

Frustrated… so I signed up for a class

I’ve been shooting for just over a year. I’ve learned quite a bit: about guns (that cranky 1911), competition, and shooting. But I’m not getting any better, really. I still come in dead last or in the bottom 5 at every match. A friend and I were trading email about our journey and he wrote: “I classified as an IDPA Marksman a few months back and am going to try for Sharpshooter”. We shot our first match together. I’m still a bottom ranked Novice. I am not happy about this.

One of the contributing factors was getting pushed into buying a 1911. I waited for the slim grips to arrive and I essentially started from scratch. I wasn’t used to a gun with a thumb safety and I had spent too much to sign up for more private lessons last fall. Several competitors at matches where I’ve shot have volunteered their opinion, “Whoever told you to buy that 1911 did you no favors.”. One of the local shooters I watch gave up on his 1911 (for now).  It’s a great gun. It’s just more gun than I know what to do with and it requires additional knowledge and experience to use well. Dealing with “hardware” issues has distracted me from developing my shooting skills.

Add to that I took off work at lunch on Good Friday (forgetting that it was a holiday) and intended to practice at the range — only to find a 45 – 60 minute wait for a lane. So back to work I went with no practice. The weekends are worse.

What have I been doing? Shooting a match or live fire practice at the range once a week.

What am I not doing? Dry fire practice and getting instruction. At this point I don’t even trust I’m practicing the right things.

Time for a change…

We all have constraints on time and money, but I found a class that I can afford, with an instructor that comes highly recommended by a match director and many past students. I’ll be packing a lunch Saturday and heading north for a full day of basic competition instruction. Once I have that refresher, I need to make time to do much more dry fire practice and see how that works.

I feel like I’m a slow starter, but I know I’m not a quitter. Signing up for this class makes me feel more positive, should improve my skills, and gives me the opportunity to meet other shooters.