Ringing in the spring with trigger time
Tuesday, April 17, 2018
How did you spend your Easter weekend? For most of us, the answer probably involves family, friends, church and an Easter egg hunt filled with excited and frantic children.
But before all the Sunday festivities began, the annual Spring Steel event at the Rio Salado Sportsman's Club in Mesa, Arizona, offered the chance to squeeze in some trigger time with some of the best shooters in the country and even featured an appearance by the competition-shooting Easter Bunny.
The Rio Salado Sportsman's Club hosts a weekly competition known as Tuesday Night Steel (TNS). This match typically draws more than 200 competitors and is one of the largest ongoing pistol matches in the country.
TNS utilizes a modified USPSA ruleset, and the steel keeps reset and scoring times to a minimum to accommodate the hundreds of shooters. The Spring Steel event is a supersized version of the TNS match, and it featured eight stages and a separate shoot-off event at the conclusion of the regular match.
I was squadded with 20 additional shooters, and I was pretty skeptical that the match would be completed in the allotted eight-hour time frame. The thought of resetting stages more than 150 times was not exactly exciting to me, but I had faith in match director Russ Osiol and his crew that this event would run as smoothly and efficiently as all of his other matches.
CZ Customs and Springfield Armory provided a deep gun-filled prize table.
I elected to compete with my newly acquired CZ Shadow 2 and was excited to put the new gun through a full major match to evaluate its performance and decide if it was a platform I would make my primary match pistol. Luckily, Mesa, Arizona, is also home to CZ Customs, who were the overall match sponsor. I had made some slight modifications to the gun based on their recommendations and, if the pistol performed as well as I hoped, I would be sending it to them for the full "race" package.
A quick shooter's briefing was held, and it was announced there were 21 guns from CZ Customs and Springfield Armory up for random prize raffle — that meant about a 1 in 9 chance each shooter would be walking away with a firearm. It was also announced that cash would be distributed to the winners in each division and class.
Cash prizes and guns were all included for the modest entry fee of $70. I don't know how Rio Salado does it, but they seem to do more with less money than any club I have ever seen.
With the briefing over, the match began on time, and I was glad to see one of my shooting buddies Milton Means on my squad. Milton had taken the Easter weekend to heart and had shown up in his version of an Easter Bunny shooter by wearing a vibrant polka dotted shirt complete with bunny ears and festive socks.
Milton Means showing off his Easter spirit.
My smile quickly faded when, as par for the course, I was randomly called out to be the third shooter up. I quickly put together a stage plan and stepped up to the line. The buzzer sounded, and I attempted to smoothly and quickly pull the first double action of the CZ on my first target.
I heard the familiar and soothing ring of steel and transitioned to the next target with the now shorter and faster single-stage pull. The CZ made hit after hit, and my shots were aligning in a predictable pattern on the steel giving me the feedback I needed to know.
With the first stage jitters out of the way, I was hungry for more. We finished the first stage in 40 minutes, and it looked like it was going to be more than possible to get the match done in eight hours after all.
The rest of the match presented a mix of fast-paced stages as well as huge bay sprawling arrays that had you running 50 yards as you navigated between four to five shooting positions and engaging plate racks, poppers or static steel.
One challenging stage, in particular, had you engage multiple plate racks with a no-shoot plate rack placed in front or behind the shootable steel. Each no-shoot plate incurred a five-second penalty. No-shoot steel is a fun way to integrate penalties apart from the traditional steel left standing and emphasized accuracy to keep shooters on their toes.
This no-shoot plate rack array required you to place your shots carefully.
Our squad continued to make great time and finished the match just a hair after the scheduled time. We were shuffled to the shooter's center and awaited the firearm raffle.
Rio Salado brings value and innovation to everything they do, and they're not content with the standard tickets in a bucket for their raffles. Russ Osiol called up junior and outstanding shooter Danyela D'angelo to throw a large fuzzy die to determine the number of times the shooter list would be shuffled.
Danyela rolled a one, and a list of shooters was put up on a large projection screen and shuffled before our eyes. To increase the drama, each shooter was revealed one by one until all 21 guns were sent home. After the guns were raffled, a modest amount of additional prizes such as shirts and gift cards were distributed among the rest of us unlucky in the gun lottery.
Match Director Russ Osiol reading the winning names off the list in dramatic big screen fashion.
I walked away with an IDPA vest — size XXL. I am a tall, slender man and when I put it on, I looked more ridiculous than Milton in his bunny ears. Even though I will have to donate that vest at my next IDPA event to someone who will fill it better than I do, I did not walk away empty-handed. Based upon my match performance, I managed to score an envelope with $50 cash that will be put right back into the CZ Shadow 2 that got me there.
With the guns and cash handed out, the shoot-off event began immediately afterward. I, unfortunately, was unaware of the shoot-off event and the brackets were sold out, so I headed to the bay as a spectator eager to watch some of the best shooters in the country/world.
The shoot-off was a plate rack consisting of six plates for each shooter and a small duel popper to finish. Shoot-off rules require you clear your rack then knock down your final popper, and knocking down your opponent's popper would result in a DQ.
A fun twist to the event was that each time you advanced in the bracket you were rewarded with a $5 bill. It's not life-changing money but fun to watch competitors changing bills between each other each round.
In the limited division, IPSC World Champion and USPSA Limited-10 National Champion Elias Frangoulis utilized pure speed to make it to the finals against local shooter and "Team Curmudgeon" member Mark Gardner's smooth-is-fast style. I recently won a certificate to attend Elias' shooting course, and he is a genuinely nice guy and a phenomenal shooter. Mark is a personal friend of my wife and mine and equally as nice and an outstanding shooter as well.
It was fun to watch the young lion and veteran lion square off against each other. Mark put up a solid fight, but in the end Elias emerged as Limited Champion.
Elias Frangoulis and Mark Gardner competing for the limited shoot-off title.
In the Open bracket, several top-ranked shooters such as Nils Jonasson, Nick Saiti and Eddie Garcia were vying for the title. Elias even decided to enter the open fray utilizing his Springfield production gun. The open bracket played out completely different from the limited bracket as the speed was increased exponentially.
Many of the matches came down to both poppers falling at the same time and the winner decided by a split second. This is the way the open division is, split seconds decide victory or defeat.
Elias learned this lesson firsthand in the Open division as he progressed several rounds with his production gun. During the quarterfinal relay, he quickly worked through his plate rack and hit his popper ahead of his opponent. Unfortunately, the power of the major load versus his minor load knocked down the popper with greater force and managed to actually swing down the popper faster than Elias' already-falling popper. It was a reminder that there was a significant difference between minor and major.
The final shoot-off came down to Nick Saiti versus Nils Jonasson. Nick and Nils are two of the best shooters in the United States, and both are again just great people. Nick is a fellow shooting author and has personally taken his own time to aid me in improving my shooting skills. I actually credit my performance at this match to just the short 15 minutes Nick worked with me after a local 3 Gun match, and I look forward to taking his full course when my schedule will allow it.
The sport cannot ask for two better ambassadors than Nick and Nils, and no matter who won the shoot-off, we all won just by watching them and having a glimpse into the world of the truly elite. Nick and Nils' runs each came down to a split second on the final plates. Nick won the first round, and Nils battled back the second round to tie it up at 1-1.
The last round would decide the winner, and I actually had to go back and break the video down in editing software to review what actually happened. When you watch the video frame by frame, it is fascinating to see the results.
Nick Saiti and Nils Jonasson finishing their run in a split-second finish.
Nick and Nils each grabbed their pistols at the exact same moment and had a full presentation in less than 1 second. Nick's smaller frame allowed him to get full extension slightly sooner and break the first shot. They shot neck and neck, downing plates simultaneously.
Racing through the plate rack, they both shot at their final poppers again simultaneously with both poppers following at the exact same time. The end result was Nick shot the stage in 3.01 seconds and Nils shot the stage in 3.00, meaning it was one-hundredth of a second that decided first and second place. It's crazy to think that a simple breath or twitch can decide your match fate.
The 2018 Spring Steel event will go down as one of my favorite shooting events I have ever attended. The low cost of entry, fast fun stages, prize table and shoot-off were all five out of five stars for me.
My pistol performed flawlessly, and days like this just reinvigorate me to continue to take every opportunity to compete. I can now say that I will be fitting the Spring Steel match into my annual Easter plans, and next year just can't get here fast enough.
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