Lessons from the 2017 USPSA Iron Sights Nationals
Tuesday, October 03, 2017
A cop, a cowboy, a model, a father and son, and a world champion shooter. This isn't the setup to a joke, just an example of the 580 shooters from across the nation who traveled to the Tactical Performance Center in St. George, Utah, to compete in the 2017 USPSA Iron Sights Nationals presented by CZ-USA from Sept. 27 to Oct. 1.
USPSA President Mike Foley explained to me that one of the things he loves most about USPSA is the diversity of shooters who compete and share their love of the shooting sports. That love for diversity extended into the challenging courses and presented a little something for every type of shooter.
This wasn't your local clubhouse match. To be crowned a USPSA National Champion, all of your shooting skills are put to the test.
With the creation of the Carry Optics and PCC divisions, USPSA restructured their National Championships. The Optics National Championships consists of the Open Division, Carry-Optics and PCC. The Classic National Championships hosts the Single Stack and Revolver Division, and the Iron Sights National Championships features the Production, Limited and Limited-10 Divisions.
I elected to compete in the Production Division with my Glock 34 that got me started years ago in competition shooting. I wholeheartedly had been concentrating on the PCC Division and hadn't competed in Production in almost a year. I was nervous to re-enter the division, let alone at a National Championship event and hoped everything would fall back into place after my first shots.
My agency's shooting team received its funding late in the year, and my entire team was waitlisted for the event. Slots for the event slowly trickled in, and each of us was able to secure a spot at the expense of not being able to squad together as a team.
Our Shooting team joined by USPSA President Mike Foley and Mark Miller.
This splitting of the team was a blessing in disguise as it allowed our team to squad with a wide range of shooters from pros to unclassified beginners. My teammate Sergio Albarran was new to USPSA and summed it up best: "We always shoot together as a squad, and I had no idea where I truly was in the shooting world until I saw the pros shoot."
So many of us shoot with the same shooters every weekend, and unless you're fortunate enough to have a Grand Master at your home range, you may never have witnessed the seemingly impossible times these shooters can produce. Our squad had several top-level competitors, including Tori Nonaka and fellow former law enforcement officer JJ Racaza.
My teammates and I listened closely as JJ and Tori developed down-to-the-step stage plans and watched as they replayed each of their future actions in their mind before the buzzer went off. It was clear that mental preparation and rehearsal was as integral to their success as their actual shooting. With each stage, JJ shared tips and wisdom, and my teammate Todd Osborne laughed as he told me that if he had a question about a stage he didn't have to wonder or debate, he would just ask JJ what to do.
Tori Nonaka (left) and JJ Racaza (right) make mental preparation and rehearsal as integral to their success as their actual shooting.
This high-level knowledge extended outside our squad as I was fortunate to run into an old friend from my time in El Paso, Texas, who also happens to be a four-division Grand Master and law enforcement officer: Mark Miller. Mark has trained thousands of officers from basic to advanced, and at the conclusion of each day our team would share our experiences and frustrations. Mark would then provide expert knowledge unique to each of us and our shooting ability.
USPSA continues to reunite me with friends from around the country, and I never know which old friend I'll run into at each match. These interactions and knowledge gained from top-level shooters made the thousands of miles our team traveled to the event worth every minute and penny.
The stages themselves offered several reoccurring themes — tight head shots with no-shoots, hardcover segmented targets, and one of the more challenging requirements: ground-level shooting ports. I particularly enjoyed watching each shooter's take on the low port shots. Some shooters displayed their contortionist skills, while others (including myself) went to the safe-and-sound prone position. Other shooters recognized their up-and-down limitations and chose to complete the rest of the course before coming back and finishing in the prone position.
Low ports required agility and creativity to navigate. Here are four different shooter takes on the same port.
One stage featured the dreaded one-hand Virginia count with hardcover A-zone only visible targets. Stages like these separated the shooting elite from the rest of us and served as a reminder that if your range days are only consisting of comfortable, vanilla shooting, you are in for a day of reckoning at a national championship level event (I was). Even the traditionally boring chronograph and inspection stage attempted to bring some flair and fun.
One-handed shooting is a challenging but necessary skill.
At the conclusion of each day, the highest power factor shooter and "closest to the line" shooter were announced to each competitor. It was intriguing to hear the highest and lowest power factor numbers and brought a little extra something to an otherwise monotonous stage.
The match provided up-to-the-minute updates and technology to every participant. The Tactical Performance Center is home to Ken Nelson and his team, who developed the now-industry-standard Practiscore app. At the conclusion of each stage, competitors reviewed their scores and signed a digital signature. The results were then instantly uploaded to Practiscore with an accompanying email with stats and performance. Gone are the days of refreshing your screen incessantly awaiting your score.
The new Practiscore app includes a "What If?" (for a nominal fee) that allows you to pretend that a penalty didn't happen and where you would have fallen in the rankings without it. No longer is advanced math required to live in your fantasy world of perfect shooting. Click a few buttons and you can now show your shooting buddies how a stage "should" have played out. Every match around the country should take note of this new instant gratification technology.
One aspect of high-level shooting events I enjoy is the vendor booths and shooting demo areas. Several vendors including CZ-USA and Walther offered side steel-challenge events with the top times winning a pistol.
I approached the CZ-USA demo stage, which featured their Shadow 2 as the demo pistol. JJ Racaza arrived at the same time as I did and proceeded to obtain the highest stage score yet recorded. I laughingly complained that I had to follow up JJ's lightning-fast time.
JJ Racaza speedily completed the CZ-USA side match.
I had never fired a CZ pistol but managed to obtain a reasonable time, and I instantly fell in love with it. The Shadow 2 is a recoil-absorbing 46 ounces. Combined with the natural grip angle, low-bore axis, smooth double action and light single action, I was hooked.
The CZ Shadow 2 and I were an instant perfect match.
Walther was demoing their Q5 Match kit in their side match. I again had never fired a Walther pistol and found the grip angle and trigger outstanding. One thing I like about Walther is their Contingency Program pledging up to $400,000 in payouts.
Walther offers the cash incentives for winning at several of the largest USPSA and IDPA events around the country. Just present evidence of your win and you get a check, it's that simple. I appreciate Walther taking the steps to incentivize their product's use, and it's a nice way to feel "sponsored" without all the formal agreements and contracts.
Test-firing the impressive Walther Q5 Match.
I stopped by the GrayGuns booth to feel their Sig Sauer P320 PELT trigger and action enhancement package. My agency will soon be deploying the P320 pistol for duty use, and GrayGuns takes the platform to a new level of refinement with their trigger and trigger work. Between the CZ, Walther and GrayGun P320, I will have some serious off-season pistol considerations in the future.
The final vendor I visited didn't sell pistols or ammunition but offered an equally important product. SoundGear by House of Hearing offers custom in-ear hearing protection and hearing aids. Chris Bain with House of Hearing is a shooter and knows the specific needs of the shooting community.
For a 3-Gun and Precision Rifle Series shooter, obtaining a proper cheek weld with traditional earmuffs can be challenging with the unstable positions often required. If your ears have ever ached from days on end of being compressed by ear-muffs, do yourself a favor and make the switch to an in-ear product. At the very least get fitted at a match, and Chris will maintain your ear molds on file while you save up your pennies for his outstanding product.
Being fitted for in-ear molds by SoundGear/House of Hearing.
After six days of high-level shooting, the 2017 Iron Sights Nationals was complete. Shane Coley emerged as the Limited Division and Over-All Champion. Fresh off his IPSC World Title, Ben Stoeger captured the Production Division title, and fellow ISPC World Title Holder Elias Frangoulis won the Limited-10 Division. Special shoutout goes to Mark Miller for the High Law Enforcement award.
USPSA has numerous additional division, classification and special category winners. For a complete listing, visit Practiscore.com.
I had never competed in a USPSA National Championship shooting event, and after three days of challenging yet exhilarating shooting, I find myself again humbled yet reinvigorated. Iron sharpens iron, and watching competitors at the pinnacle of shooting allowed me to measure my own skills as well as imagine what was possible when you fully commit to obtaining the highest level of skill required to be a national champion.
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