In 1988, the Rio Salado Sportsman’s Club in Mesa, Arizona, hosted its inaugural Desert Classic event. 30 years later, it’s become one of the largest shooting events in the country and the current USPSA Area 2 Championship venue.

This year, the venue hosted over 400 shooters and some of the top talent in the country/world over the three-day, fifteen stage courses of fire while featuring some of the nicest shooting weather in the country. The 30th anniversary was a grand affair, and if you like plenty of fast-moving swinger and disappearing targets, you were in for a treat.

Year after year the match fills up in less than 5 minutes. I have been unable to get into this match for years and I again experienced this rush to register as I attempted to sign up about 1 minute too late. I patiently waited and after several months a slot opened up on the waitlist and I was in the match for the first time in the four years I’ve lived in Phoenix.

My next decision was what division to shoot. I constantly bounce around divisions and different shooting sports. I enjoy the constant variety in my shooting experience.

My production CZ Shadow 2 was in the shop at CZ Customs getting trigger work done and I had already signed up to shoot CDP at the Arizona State Championships in January with my 1911. This left me with my fully customized Sig Sauer MPX I have written about previously. I opted for the PCC division feeling I had all my bases covered and eagerly awaited the match.

The week of the match, my MPX started giving me problems during test firing. I have run this gun through thousands of rounds and never had a problem but Murphy likes to show up at the worst times. I quickly made some ammo and magazine changes and hoped for the best.

As luck would have it, CZ Customs called me and informed me my pistol was ready for pickup. Now I was really torn on what division to shoot. I decided I would make the final decision the day of the match. Before my first stage, I ran both guns through their paces on the test range and my MPX functioned with no problems.

I ultimately decided to take a chance and run the MPX. This is a decision I would later regret.

On my first stage, I met fellow law enforcement officer Randy Gains and firefighter Richard Wintermute. We quickly bonded with our similar careers and Randy and I instantly ganged up on the firefighter in fun banter.

My squad, from local first responders to shooters across the world.

The other half of our squad consisted of shooters from or originally from the Philippines who traveled to the event together. Roy Rondilla, owner of The Gunsta shooting wear, manufactured the jerseys in the Philippines that were provided to each competitor for the event. The diverse squad made for a fun match through the entire event.

The match was expertly designed to test your skills by offering fast, fun stages that were challenging but also got shooters quickly through the stage and reset was minimal. I love this format with the downside being that times are incredibly tight on each stage.

This was a match that was decided by seconds and any penalty or malfunction would cost you greatly. On my third stage of the event, I met Greg Purcell, a PCC Grand Master and fellow Techwear USA shooter. I noticed he was utilizing a soon-to-be-released Techwear USA USPSA-compliant shooting bag.

Prototype Techwear USA USPSA-legal PCC shrouds.

This bag has a minimalist design and allows quick and easy bagging and unbagging of your PCC while still making the grip of the weapon accessible. I commented that he had a newer prototype version of the bag and magazine well I had been provided and he explained the differences in each of the latest versions soon to be released.

I explained the feeding trouble I had experienced earlier in the week and he patiently went over his modifications to the MPX, including rounding of the edges on the magazines and barrel extension. I remarked that I hadn’t had a malfunction yet and that it seemed OK.

Techwear USA shooter and PCC Grand Master Greg Purchell shooting a classifier stage.

He wished me luck and left the stage. Of course with these words spoken Murphy just couldn’t resist. Halfway through the stage, I suffered a major malfunction that required complete stripping off the magazine and some beating of the rifle to clear it.

I luckily was able to complete the rest of the stage in double the par time with a near the bottom finish. I limped through my last stage of the day gingerly shooting slower than normal in the hopes the malfunction wouldn’t appear again.

I had a big decision to make that night. Take Greg’s advice and dremel my nearly $2,000 gun without test firing it first at a major match or hope and pray another catastrophic malfunction doesn’t occur. I decided that no matter what I couldn’t risk more malfunctions and I quickly did the easy rounding of the steel feed lips to the magazine.

I pulled the MPX barrel off and saw exactly what Greg had been talking about. For whatever reason, there is more metal on the left side of the MPX barrel extension and it is common to have a malfunction on this side, especially with the hollow point ammunition I use. I followed Greg’s advice and felt where the rounds were catching on the brass lip and began to slowly round the edges off until the rounds feed buttery smooth. I reassembled the gun and hoped for the best the next day.

The next day I explained to my squad the modifications I had made and they all looked at me with the “are you crazy?” to do this in the middle of the match look. I went to the line and when the buzzer went off I experienced no malfunctions of any kind.

I luckily made it through the rest of the match without a single malfunction besides my own mental mishaps. These mishaps were due to some of the unique challenges the match offered.

Competitor knocking off a “Cooper” tunnel stick.

One stage featured a “Cooper tunnel,” which was a hallway with sticks balanced on top of it. The shooter had to crouch as they ran through it and any knocking down one of the sticks resulted in a procedural penalty. It seemed easy but unfortunately, some of my squad managed to knock down a stick or two mostly with their hats or cameras hanging from them. It was a stage prop I had never seen before and it was fun to hear the ooh's and ahh’s as shooters knocked off the sticks.

Stage four quickly became the bane and talk of the match. The stage started with a central walled area with a tunnel through it and two windows below it. On the start signal, you needed to engage two steel poppers on each side that activated two of the fastest moving swingers I’ve ever seen in competition. The low windows were for four paper targets that required a full sumo squat or tactical lean to engage. All of my squad swore under our breaths as we saw the brown blur that the swinging targets represented during the walkthrough.

I opted to take extra seconds and send four rounds to each target, and it paid off with all hits on target. A plethora of Mikes was experienced on that stage and everyone was glad when it was finished.

The match featured lots of disappearing targets forcing you to decide between waiting or taking that extra target or two before it disappeared completely. Stage fifteen was another swear-inducing stage where two simultaneous disappearing targets were activated giving you fractions of a second between each one.

I experienced a new equipment failure this stage, where my dot decided to die in between making ready and shooting my first target. Fortunately, the dot went out before I shot my first target to activate the swingers. I quickly turned it back on and was able to make the quick shots and finish the stage before the last of my battery juice was extinguished.

I changed my battery and shook my head at the evil that is Murphy. I figured at this point there was nothing left on my gun to go out so I must be good.

With the match complete we gathered at the plush Rio Salado shooter’s facility to await the results. Randy, Richard and I navigated to practiscore to see where we finished amongst our first responder group. Randy and I stared in disbelief and horror as the fireman was able to beat both him and me.

I quickly proclaimed that this was a best two out of three and cursed Murphy for taking my pride from me so viscously. Of course, Richard is a great shooter and bested us due to his skill but little rivalries amongst your squad are what make shooting so enjoyable while the real pros are battling for the podium.

The real fighting was done amongst the best shooters in the sport, and when all the scores were tallied Max Leograndis was the overall match winner, utilizing a PCC, with Eddie Garcia the match winner amongst pistol shooters depending on how you view final rankings with PCC and pistol shooters. Other division winners included:

  • Nils Jonasson, Limited Division
  • Shane Coley, Carry Optics Division
  • Jacob Hetherington, Production Division
  • Kyle Fletcher, Single Stack Division

With another successful match and 30 years down in the history books, the Desert Classic still ranks amongst the best matches anywhere in the United States. Though equipment issues and my own mental errors kept me from the finish I wanted, I still found solace in the new friends locally and across the world, I had made.

Getting low to shoot the dreaded Stage four.

Your author engaging easy-to-walk-past low port targets.