Shooting my IDPA Classifier

Old or young, we learn one round at a time. []

October 23, 2012: On the way up to Oxford I called a friend and told him I was headed up to shoot my Classifier. He asked me what that meant and I said, “Call me tomorrow and I’ll let you know”.

Part of this journey is learning to deal with the unexpected because bad guys aren’t going to give you a heads up and allow you to plan for their malicious or deadly behavior. I did know a Classifier is a specific course of fire. You can hunt down the details and train specifically for that course of fire, but I think that also defeats the purpose. If you place higher than your true skill level by training specifically for the Classifier, the folks you complete against are going to give you a beating until you can shoot that well on unknown stages.

I did know this: bring the gear you use to compete (gun, holster, two magazine pouches, 4 magazines), 2 boxes (50 rounds each) of ammo, and the gear you use every time you shoot: eye and ear protection, a high necked shirt and stable shoes that cover your feet.

I called Frank in advance and asked if a friend could watch. She lives 10 minutes from the range and is a photographer. He said she was welcome and photos were fine. I asked if she could rent eye and ears protection as I didn’t have spares. He said he had some he could loan her. No charge. How could I possibly be nervous shooting with this man?

My friend and I hooked up in the parking area and hunted Frank down in the only functional building on the property. I found Frank friendly, welcoming, and a clear communicator.

The Classifier

Here are the highlights of the classifier. If you want specifics, I’m sure you can hunt that down via Google.

      • 90 rounds “limited”. For each course of fire, shoot the number of rounds requested only. No makeup shots.
      • There were 3 targets in various heights about 2 or 3 yards apart. All courses of fire were into these targets on a single range.
      • No cover garment is required, so I ditched my concealment vest.
      • He asked me what my mag capacity was and then asked me to load 15 rounds in all 4 magazines. It speeds up the process as less time is required to reload. Normal IDPA maximum capacity is 10 rounds.
      • Shooting scenarios included
          • “2 shots to the body” for almost all scenarios
          • Limited set of head shots
          • Strong hand only
          • Weak hand only
          • From as far as 20 yards
          • Shooting while moving forward
          • Shooting while moving backward
          • From behind tall cover (both left and right sides)
          • Kneeling behind low cover
          • Slide lock reloads
          • Tactical reloads with retention
      • The cost: $2 to cover targets. As Frank put it, “I’ll be collecting $15 every time you show up to compete” and he’s happy with that.
      • The time: about an hour.

Shooting strong hand only. Non shooting hand tucked tight! Ejected brass is flying above the gun. []

Shooting Outside

The weather was great, even though this was late October. The day was clear and in the high 70s. I wore a t-shirt and was comfortable. I do need to think about layers for cold days and how that is going to work with concealment, but that was not an issue today.

This was the first time I’ve shot outside. It was a bright sunny day and I had not thought of getting impact resistant lenses with a sunglass tint. Do they even make something like that? I asked Frank what he recommended and he shared something like this, “The more light you let in, the better your ability to aim”. He doesn’t use sunglasses, he uses his hat. I’d clipped a hat to my range bag a few months back though I’ve never really used it. Today was the day. That worked well.

Every time I’ve shot “on the move” in classes, I had a nice smooth floor with nothing more than ejected brass under my feet. At the Classifier I was walking on gravel and it shifted underfoot. It’s not stable and I do remember thinking, “didn’t think about the ground surface” followed by “I need to come up here to shoot more often.”

A final observation: it’s really fun to see the dirt go “poof” as you bang away at the targets!

After the Shooting Stopped

One on one: instructions from Frank [Photo:]

I ranked as a Novice. No big surprise. I obviously slapped the trigger a bunch because many of my shots were low. I slacked off my dry fire practice after the last class I took and I paid for that. I’m motivated to get back to that ASAP.

I joined the IDPA via their website last weekend. They sent me a receipt but no membership number. Frank told me that might take 2 weeks and it would come via US Mail. Once I had the number, drop him email and “he’d take it from there” as far as getting my ranking to them.

The Range

Frank asked if we’d like a tour of the shoot house and my friend was included so we checked it out and she grabbed some photos. The bathroom was especially scary!

I asked what the cost was to shoot up here for practice and Frank said membership was $100 a year. That’s very reasonable, just wish it wasn’t a 2 hour round trip to get there. Of course this may just be the motivation I need to visit my friend more often.

I stuck around to chat with Frank and another fellow that had watched me shoot. Both talked to me about the merits of reloading – which many people have done. But Frank followed up with an offer to walk me through the process. I’d be stupid not to take him up on that.

The Belly Laugh

I got about a mile down the road before it started… a giggle that grew and expanded into a serious belly laugh. It ripples out of me and I love the giddy feeling. Almost every time I shoot this happens. I don’t know if it’s the after effect of adrenaline or where it comes from. But it’s the reason I keep working at this: feeling joy and passion make life so much better.

Plans to shoot an IDPA Classifier

I’ve shot 3 IDPA matches and each time I’ve been in the “unclassified” group. At the last competition I was dead last. Though I completed all 6 stages and there were folks who left early. So to keep my head in the game I take a bit of pride that
– I showed up and I’m working on my skills.
– I’m not a quitter. I finished the course of fire.

In the training class I recently attended, I learned that you have to shoot a “classifier” to be put in a class of shooters. In theory those are the people you are competing against. I tend to look at all the scores to see what’s possible but it might be nice to compete against others that are in a comparable place. So last week I decided to figure out how to get classified.

The only place to shoot a classifier is about an hour away at a range I’ve never been to in Oxford, NC. It’s called “The Range” and it turns out they hosted Nationals this year. Never saw that coming… My sister lives in Oxford so I’m familiar with the town. It’s a small town (less than 10,000 people at the last census) with a lot of history, but it’s not the place I would picture a national event. That was before I started shooting, eh?

I called Frank, the owner and asked about shooting a classifier. Turns out business is good for Frank and he doesn’t run classifiers on the weekend at this time. He told me to come up during the week. I picked a day then realized that this is an outdoor range. I called back and asked him if it mattered if it was raining. Frank said “If you want to shoot in the rain, I’ll run the timer.” Nice guy. I’m not that hard core.

Today is clear and I’ll be headed to Oxford about 3pm. A new range, new people to meet, and as a bonus, dinner with my sister after the Classifier. 

Learn from my mistakes: I painted my gun shut. Really…

I took a 16 hour defensive handgun class locally: 4 days, over 2 weeks, 4+ hours each class. Snap caps were required for malfunction drills. Snap caps are essentially dummy rounds to allow dry fire without damaging the firing pin or to mix with live rounds to force malfunction drills. In this case we were required to have 5 snap caps, 3 mags and live rounds. We swapped these with another student and loaded a mixture of live/dummy rounds. Then when we shot we weren’t sure if/when a malfunction would occur. Not every mag was fully loaded and not every mag had to contain a snap cap.

After all 8 students had exhausted all magazines there was a mix of snap caps and brass all over the range floor. I wasn’t quick enough at spotting snap caps on the floor. The result: I was down 3 snap caps at the end of the night. At $3 apiece I wasn’t too happy about that.

I bought another 5 snap caps from the instructors and asked for suggestions to avoid this in the future. One of the instructors suggested I mark my snap caps. She mentioned the words “fingernail polish”.

I’m not a fingernail polish kind of girl. I have painted my nails a few times in the past but I can chip them in an hour flat and don’t see the point. I’m setting the stage for what comes next…

I bought bright green paint. I painted a band around the long part of the snap cap. My thought process was this: I could spot my rounds before I ever picked them up. I let them dry for 45 minutes. The bottle advised 10 minutes for nails so this seemed sufficient.

I loaded a mag and intended on practicing tactical reloads and slidelock reloads. That never happened. The slide would not budge. I loaded one round and that “painted it shut”.

This was on a Thursday night. I had my last class Saturday evening. I was trying to figure out who I could get to look at the gun on Friday and if it was still stuck, what I could use in class instead. It was not a happy evening.

I lucked out and the gun smith at the range I frequent was in on Friday. He works part-time so I was feeling lucky. I had to take time off work and endure a bit if humiliation, but he forced the slide open and cleaned the barrel for me. He showed me two handed technique he used: rocking the barrel until it popped open.

Of course, my instructor happened to stop by the shop while I was getting this issue addressed. Of course.

But I learned a good lesson. I have a great story to tell. And I made a new friend. The gun smith is never going to forget me.

What did I do with the new snap caps: I painted the ends where the firing pin hits. I used a very thin coat of paint and let them dry over night. I came home form the last class with all of my snap caps!

MY red snap caps with green bases!








Breaking in the 1911 Magazines

I bought a Smith  & Wesson Pro Tactical 1911 in 9mm two weeks ago and I haven’t shot it yet. I bought the 1911 because the instructor of one of the classes I took recently insisted that I needed a gun that could be adapted to small hands. With a single stack and modular grips, the 1911 is the best candidate. I’m still waiting on the slim grips I ordered to come in. Until they do, the gun will remain a virgin.

I ordered all the accessories I’ll need to compete in IPDA with the new gun: A Kydex holster dropped and offset, two Kydex mag holsters also dropped and offset, and 3 extra Wilson Combat magazines. Two came with the gun, so this gives me a total of five magazines: 3 for competition, 1 for a Barney mag, and one extra because, well, I was told it’s always good to have a spare.

The new news today: you need to break in the magazines. I ordered them from the instructor that advised the 1911 purchase. When I picked them up today, I found out that the new Wilson Combat mags are too tight initially and may cause the gun to malfunction. The way to address that issue is to load them to full capacity and let them sit like that for at least 3 weeks. As of tonight they are loaded and “breaking in”.

Another tip I got was to number the magazines. If the gun starts to malfunction this will allow you to check to see if it’s always the same mag. If so, it might be the mag, not the gun with issues. One of my instructors uses marker pens, another uses fingernail polish. I have had a bad experience with fingernail polish and guns, and I didn’t own a marker pen, so I opted to use my label maker. I labeled the back spine as I don’t touch that surface when I load. I’ll report back if that turns out to be a bad decision.