Zen and practice at the indoor range

When I first started shooting I was nervous every single time I went to the range to practice when I booked a lane on the public side of the range I joined. I’d check out everyone around me to see what they were shooting, to see if any other women were shooting, and because I was honestly expecting some one to tell me I was doing something wrong.

I realized last week, that I was no longer worried about “passing” but I was focused on what to do to improve my shooting. I’m still very focused on safety, but I realized I never looked to see who was there much less what they were shooting.

Targets for multiple lanes

Targets for multiple lanes

I was focused on drills that included:

  • very slow draw, aim and deliberate trigger pull (to focus on each step of the process)
  • strong hand only
  • weak hand only
  • double taps
  • controlled pairs
  • slide lock reloads
  • tactical reloads

I ration myself to 100 rounds (or whatever is left over from the last match + a box of 50 rounds). I need to put together a more formal set of drills and start to measure my progress somehow, but for now it was a pleasant realization to feel I fit in.



Draw, then Move

A local blog wrote about drawing before you move at competitive matches:
2 BUG Matches, IDPA, and a Girl Goes Bang – TTP – Ep. 20 said: 

Tip of The Week:

Draw, then move. It’s almost never a good idea in a match to move to a position, then draw the pistol. Ben goes into detail about why this is the case.

They also gave a “Plug of the Week” top my blog. Since I’ve been blogging less time than I’ve been shooting, that really made my week. On the podcast they mentioned that I brought up issues encountered by new shooters. So here’s the new shooter version of shooting on the move.

Stage description:
Magazines were loaded 6,6,10.
Stage was a single shot to each of 6 targets:
1) while moving sideways, then stop and slidelock reload
2) while moving forward, then stop and slidelock reload
3) while moving backward
for a total of 3 shots to each target.
(From March 10, 2013 IDPA match at The Range in Oxford, NC – Stage 6)

Listen closely and you will hear the RSO say “Move” after my draw. I’m thinking so hard about getting the gun on target that I put moving as secondary. This is purely by accident but it’s nice to know I’m developing some good habits:

Note: This is my first video! One of the guys in my squad was taking a video of another shooter and I asked him about that. He said he’d take one of me if I had a camera. When we got to this stage he nudged me and told me that this would be a great stage for video because it was so open. I handed him the $50 camera I bought at a Trade It in Raleigh and told him I knew it took video but wasn’t sure how it worked. Not only did he figure out how to work the camera, he took a short video without extra footage — which is great because it’s beyond me to edit video at this point.

Why am I sharing that? Because Ben & Luke are right that the people you shoot with are really nice, really helpful folks.

I’m very slow and usually come in dead last, but I’m learning confidence with safety, what to expect at matches, and making friends. If I stick with it, I am hoping better scores will be in my future.

And here are more thoughts on shooting and moving that I saw this week on another local blog: Is shooting on the move a good idea?


S&W warranty work: call, don’t email

It’s been a month sent I sent email to S&W asking about the missing grip bushings and screws. See history here. So Monday I took time away from work to call them. And wait on hold because all their customer service reps were busy.

When I finally got a rep on the phone, he was upbeat, helpful and apologetic. I’ve worked in a support organization and I understand that he can only control what happens going forward. I gave him the original order number, he did a bit of research and told me they would put the bushings and two kind of screws in the mail. They were not back ordered. So expect them in a few weeks.

Weeks? It’s a good thing I’m only getting these in case I want to resell the gun and restore it to the original grips. I made the original call on this claim before Thanksgiving.

In any case, emailing S&W appears to be a complete waste of time. If you need to reach out to them for a warranty issue, pick up the phone.


How many rounds in a 10 round mag?

Five 1911 magazines – fully loaded

I shot a match in Oxford on March 9, 2013 (my 7th match ever).

I continue to have malfunctions with the 1911. At a previous match one of the guys suggested I might be limp-wristing but I really didn’t think I was. If so, it would be happening more frequently.  I think everyone felt my frustration as I had magazine malfunctions in two stages: rounds jam at the top and the magazine starts to fall out the bottom.

At this match, one of the RSOs was shooting the exact some gun that I’m shooting: the S&W 1911 in 9mm. I have slimmer grips but that’s really the only difference. He stopped to talk with me after the match. He asked if I could be hitting the magazine release? With my small hands I think not but it was a good question to ask on the way to solving the problem.

Then he asked a question I didn’t expect: How many rounds are you loading in the magazines? Huh? They hold 10 rounds and division capacity is 10 rounds so the obvious answer appeared to be: 10 rounds. Not so…

He told me he loads 9 rounds in each magazine. These magazines are so tight that having 10 rounds creates too much pressure, causing the slide to drag and “voila!” the appearance of limp-wristing. Almost everytime I’ve had a malfunction it was on the 2nd shot so I think his logic may apply to my situation.

I’m shooting ESP. The consensus was that I could do this. I need to shoot the entire match this way and inform the RSO up front. One of the folks we consulted seemed to think this might be in a gray area as far as the rules, but since I’m nowhere close to competitive at this point, I don’t think this will cause anyone any anxiety.

And I want to see if it makes a difference. So the next match, I’m downloading to 9 rounds and we’ll see if that reduces the annoying malfunctions.



Practice Costs

Well used paper target (March 8, 2013)

I practice during the week at Personal Defense Handgun Safety Center (PDHSC). I bought a Gold Membership after a bit of nudging by a past shooting partner. We don’t shoot together any more but he was the #1 reason I’m shooting competitions today. He encouraged me to take several classes, we shot our first IDPA match together, we practiced together about once a week on the action range at PDHSC and he made me aware of the Gold Membership.

The Gold Membership is currently $275 for one year. That includes unlimited range time in one hour increments. Current range time is at $20 a visit. Without the Gold Memberhship, if I shoot once a week, the cost the for a year would be $1040. If I shoot twice a month, the cost would be $480. For me, the Gold Membership is a great deal.

If you shoot in a lane, the additional cost is $1 per paper target. I like targets with lots of options so I can move around, transitioning from spot to spot. If you shoot in the action range (call in advance, on the same day, to reserve this range) the cardboard targets are $2 each. Since you shoot solo on the action range there is an additional cost of $5.

Cardboard target with one “paster” under the head shot. Note steel plates in the background.

You can “paste” brown sticky squares over holes in the cardboard targets and use them many, many times. At a match, 6 squads of 10 shooters will shoot most targets twice each for over a 100 rounds per use.

The last cost for practice is ammunition. I stocked up after I bought my first 9mm gun. I like shooting, I want to improve and I never wanted the cost or scarcity of ammunition to prevent me from shooting. New shooting friends also predicted that the fall 2012 election results would affect pricing and availability. In the short time I’ve been shooting I’ve seen 9mm Luger rounds go from $12/box to “a deal” at $20 a box (a box is typically 50 rounds) for practice rounds.

Since I typically use 100 rounds at each match and at each practice session I buy in bulk. That’s hit and miss at the moment but I’m hoping the supply and demand will even out in a few months and it will become easier to find. I’m hoping more that the prices don’t continue to rise.



That picture

The original blog banner

The photo at the top of the blog was taken by a friend. It was taken last year when I was very new to shooting and very enthusiastic about my new interest. We ensured all the guns we used were unloaded. Three of us checked. There was no ammunition in the venue. And I wore an outfit to mimic a cosplay character, Revy. I was feeling empowered and sexy. That was the 1st gun I bought! (It’s a S&W 22A).

I look at the photos now and I feel a bit foolish. No eye protection, no ear protection, and no high neck shirt to prevent hot shells from dumping down my chest. Fantasy is a far cry from reality.

I also can see that I have one eye closed: not a good tactic for defensive shooting. And I have my finger on the trigger: a serious no-no based on the gun safety rules of most any organization. From IDPA: The 4th Law of Gun Safety – Keep Your Finger Off The Trigger Until Your Sights Are On The Target!

Finally, that grip: both thumbs are misplaced. They should, ideally, parallel the slide and be as high as possible without touching the slide.

I still like the photo. At the time it captured my enthusiasm. Now it helps me see how far I’ve come. I’m going to keep it there for now because I like that reminder.


The 1911 Saga: Cost

I took a defensive shooting / beginner competition class last October. The instructor insisted my gun did not fit my hands well. I really liked that gun (Springfield XD9) but I agreed. The same reasons are spelled out in these blog posts:

  • From the Cornered Cat: “Big” excerpt: “When a handgun is too large for you, it does not mean you cannot shoot the gun at all. Obviously, you can! And you can enjoy it, too. But a self-defense gun should fit your hand as perfectly as possible.”
  • From When the Balloon Goes up: “How to know if a pistol is too big (or too small)
I don’t like to spend money. I set financial goals for myself and a buffer that will let me ride out multiple months of unemployment is a requirement in my life. I rode the dot.com boom and bust in San Francisco for 10 years. That buffer helps me sleep at night.
The instructor recommended I purchase a 1911. If I couldn’t afford that, I should look at a S&W M&P 9. I’m very invested in learning to shoot well, so after agonizing over the decision, I opted to look at the 1911 options. Then I had to shop for one. For competition I wanted a 5″‘ barrel (more accurate) in 9mm (more affordable to shoot). I looked a local shops, online, asked friends about options and, about a month later I  snatched up the S&W 1911 in 9mm that appeared in the shop where I normally shoot. I paid cash to save about $40 in credit card fees.

Brand new 1911

Here’s the total so far to switch to the new gun:
  • $1290 –  for the gun and 2 magazines
  •     $90 –  1 Holster in green by Daranich Tactical (offset and dropped)
  •     $70 –  2 mag carriers in green by Daranich Tactical (offset)
  •   $129 –  3 additional Wilson Combat magazines (for a total of 5)
  •     $80 – 4 hour class on complete take down for a 1911
  •    $90 –  specialized cleaning tools and supplies from the take down class
  •   $156 – new grips, installed + two tools for take down + A Wilson Combat Take down Manual
Total: $1905

All the new gear.

I also spent $80 on a dropped offset holster for my Springfield XD9 to use until I got the 1911 purchases sorted out and $75 on a Woolrich Concealment vest. That brought my total expenditures, ignoring ammunition, to $2060 for October/November of 2012.

It took about 6 weeks to get the slim and get them installed. I basically had to start over learning to draw and to work the gun (because of the safety). I shot matches in late July, mid-September, and late October with my XD9. Due to these purchase and the new learning curve I didn’t shoot another match until January.

I haven’t taken any further classes and won’t until I can replace the cash I spent to switch guns. I still practice or shoot about once a week but no private or group lessons for now.
Was it a good decision? I’m not sure.

The down side: This gun is very finicky. The safety requires thinking about even more new things. It malfunctions easier. I have wasted lots of time at matches figuring out what’s wrong with my gun.

The upside: It’s thinner. More importantly, it’s heavier. I’m now able to shoot without re-positioning my hands on the gun between shots. When I’m ready to start shooting faster, the reduced recoil will help. The trigger is much lighter. I’m starting to take that for granted but it has surprised the friends that have shot this gun.

For now: I’m determined to learn as much as I can. I’m going to shoot with this gun for the rest of this year and then decide if I should be looking for something else.

First Caswell Ranch Match: 2/24/13

My GPS found Caswell Ranch with no issues. The website says “Look for big red dutch barn” and that was easy to spot from the road.

I was early enough to snap a few pictures, get good parking, register and find the bathrooms.

Beverly signed me in, made me feel welcome, and let me know about future training classes. Dean Brevit wasn’t there. I think he was at the 2013 IDPA Indoor National Championships. However, many of the men I met at the match mentioned Dean and all had very good things to say about training with him. I plan to attend the FUNDAMENTAL COMPETITION PART 1 & 2 classes once they are posted on the calendar.

And, one of the guys recognized me from this blog! That still seems odd. Most of the guys shooting know so much more than I do.

Stage 2: black parts of target are considered cover

Stage 2

My squad started on Stage 2. The scenario: see the 6 targets above. The black areas are considered cover and any shots into the black will not be scored. Best I remember, here’s what we shot:

  • Shoot 1 in each target from 10 yards, administrative reload
  • Shoot 1 in each target, from 7 years, strong hand only, administrative reload
  • Shoot 1 in each target, from 5 yards, week hand only starting from low ready (safety already off).
  • The time to reload and move forward was not part of the scoring.

I was up early and managed to jam my gun after the first shot. I cleared one round, tried again, cleared another, and the Range Safety Officer (RSO) pointed out the magazine was loose. I never got upset but I was puzzled. He stopped the clock and told me we were going to start over. That’s not normal match protocol, but clearly this wasn’t going to give me an unfair advantage as I wasn’t going to win anything… but it did allow me to clear my head and focus on the stage. It was kind and appreciated. These matches aren’t sanctioned or this wouldn’t have been an option. Once I started over I ended the stage with no downs: all the shots were in the down zero area. I’m slow. But clearly my accuracy is improving. I ended the stage with a smile.


I do need to understand why my gun is jamming and dropping the magazine at matches. It doesn’t happen to me at the range when I practice, just at matches. In the last class I took, I learn to check these things after loading: tug the magazine, press check (verify a round is loaded by easing the slide back just enough to see it) and verify visually and by touch the gun is in battery (the slide is fully forward).

I have been skipping the “tug”. Adding a safety to the gun made the press check more complicated and all my attention has gone to that step. Turns out, at a competition when you are using a barney mag (with a single round to top off) there really is no need for the press check. The RSO at my last match in Oxford told me that but I didn’t understand why. The RSO at this match put it in simple terms: if there was one round in the magazine and you remove the magazine, where else could that round possibly be? Without the press check I can put the safety back on as soon as I load and leave it there.

So going forward, at a match, I need to focus on the magazine and battery checks. Hopefully that will address the issue I’ve been having. If not, there is more to learn. One of the RSOs thought I might be limp-wristing the gun but I don’t see how that could cause the magazine to come loose.

The Rest of the Stages

I look like a dork, but I have all my safety gear on and here’s the proof that it was t-shirt weather in February!

I didn’t take pictures of all the stages and I had no further malfunctions. For February, it was a beautiful sunny day. After getting very cold at the last Oxford match I brought several layers. I ended up wearing a t-shirt and a concealment vest. The sunshine was a real bonus.

My accuracy is definitely getting better. Here’s the number of downs for each stage:

Stage 1: 0 down, 2nd to last
Stage 2: 0 down, 2nd to last
Stage 3: 0 down, 2nd to last
Stage 4: 1 down, 4th to last
Stage 5: 10 down, 2nd to last (missed a shot)
Stage 6:  1 down, 5th to last
Over All: Dead last.

The guys on my squad were encouraging. “Work on your accuracy first, the speed will come”. The RSO reminded me to aim for the berm, not the ground, when pulling the trigger after unloading (thank you). We had stages with movement and one of the shooters took two of us aside to demonstrate the best way to move smoothly: walk heel-to-toe (which I knew) and at a slight crouch (which I wasn’t doing). Again, thank you. I used to compete in dancing and I know how to walk heel-to-toe (can you say waltz?) either forward or backwards, but the crouch makes all the difference.

Stages included these props and skills: We started one stage with our hand on the battery of a truck with the hood propped up. We shot bad guys using the truck as cover. One stage was set up like a bowling alley and we started by dropping a ball. Some stages required head shots. At least one stage required slicing the pie, another shooting in tactical sequence. One required kneeling behind cover. One required shooting all targets while seated at a picnic table. One required moving from a doorway, to a window, to another window.

Unlike Oxford, there is no place to put your gear except on the ground in the bays where stages are set up. I need to bring a ground barrier for wet days.

I had a few non-shooting conversations. Oddly enough, one was about climbing Mount McKinley. One guy in our squad was wearing a t-shirt from Alaska and that started up a conversation about the state and a comment from another shooter about wanting to climb the mountain. I’d made an attempt when I was younger so I actually had something to contribute. It was nice to be able to talk about something other than what I was doing wrong.

At the end of the day, just like all the matches I shoot, I was a happy camper. I’m starting to recognize faces, even if I’m lousy with names and I hope to shoot matches at Caswell Ranch on a regular basis.



Milestones & Match prep


  • I took my NRA First steps Pistol just over a year ago: 2/12/12.
  • I shot my 6th IDPA match 2/24/13 at my 3rd IDPA venue: Caswell Ranch in Prospect Hill, NC.

Match Prep

Match bag – just the essentials.

The first 3 matches I shot were indoor matches. You bring your range bag, park it in a staging room, and leave it there. Weight really isn’t an issue. The last 3 matches I shot at outdoor ranges. You haul your bag with you from stage to stage and weight can become an issue. After my first outdoor match. I decided my shoulder needed a break and I wasn’t really using most of the items in my range bag. I decided to take a smaller bag, and haul only what I needed to the outdoor stages. I’m still fine tuning that, so here’s what I started with:

  • $3 Red & Black Flannel bag from Goodwill (because no one will mistake this for their bag and I liked the pockets),
  • 200 rounds ammo (the match states 100 rounds, but I like to bring extra),
  • plastic container to dump ammo into (easier to load from),
  • 5 magazines & the UpLULA,
  • water, reading glasses, notebook for note/reminders,
  • I added beef jerky before leaving the house.
  • I added eye/ear protection when I got to the range.

I still brought my regular range bag in the car as a back up, but this worked nicely getting from stage to stage. After shooting on Feb 24th I think I should add a small first aid kit. I like this approach and I’m going to stick to this plan for now.

Load ’em up!

I realized I should load the magazines before I left my house. That would be one less thing to do when I arrived at the range. I loaded 4 magazines to 10 round capacity and the 5th magazine (#1) with a single round. That magazine seems to have lower tolerances so I’ve opted to always use it as a the barney mag.

Since this would be my first trip up, I printed directions to the range. I checked the weather the day before and it looked like it would actually be warm: close to 60 degrees and sunny. The previous week had been cold, overcast, rainy and had snowed. I was trying to get over the flu and wasn’t up for a wet, cold day. I was nervous about going. Once again: a new place and I didn’t really know anyone. But I’d picked this weekend to go, the weather wasn’t going to give me an excuse to bail, so the next thing to decide was what to wear.

I got cold at the last outdoor match. One of the guys in my squad reminded me of wisdom I’d ignored: bring one more layer than you think you will need. I started with a t-shirt, added a long sleeved thermal shirt, a fleece jacket (a concealment garment & warmth), and I tossed in a Gortex jacket. I was determined I would not be cold at this match. I selected hiking boots and wool socks. I keep a hat, gloves and a scarf in the car. It was so warm I actually wore just the t-shirt and the Woolrich concealment vest I keep in my regular range bag. But I was prepared!

Securing the grip screws

Next, I needed to spend some time with my gun. I’d lost a grip screw at a previous outdoor match. I’d had that replaced and ordered the correct strength Loctite from Amazon, so it was time to secure the screws. I really didn’t think my gun smith was going to give me yet another screw after telling me how to deal with this problem. I punched the end of the thread locker with a “T” pin, grabbed the hex wrench and secured all 4 screws.

Google maps said it would take an hour to drive to the range but I wanted to give myself extra time to grab lunch and get lost, so I started out at 11am for a 1pm match. For future reference, 90 minutes would have been plenty of time. Also the last place to really grab fast food on the way to Caswell Ranch is on the far side of downtown Hillsborough.

Next post: the Match!

Packed and ready to go!