As some of you may know, I had the privilege of attending the southeast regional qualifying events for the new American Marksman competition and television show. It was held this past weekend at the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s Marksmanship Park in Talladega, AL. Shooters from Florida, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee showed up to determine the best amature marksman in the 5 state area.
I can humbly state that it was not me. I finished well in 2 events, but turned in poorer than expected results in the 3 remaining events. Every time I attend a new event I learn tons of new things, and this event was no different. Some of the things I learned were as follows: my body does not perform the same way it did 20 years ago, accuracy very often trumps speed, I need to practice outdoors more, and you can’t expect to do well if you don’t practice. Most importantly, I reaffirmed that the shooting community and the shooting culture are made up of some of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.
Our squad met on Saturday morning as 10 strangers who were all competing for the same goal. By the last stage on Sunday afternoon, we had more friends than we showed up with. We ended up cheering each other’s victories, and sharing the pain of a poor performance. We gave each other tips and encouragement as we tried to plan the best way to shoot a stage. While the anti-gunners tell us that we’re social outcasts and dangerous loners, I saw families and strangers gathered under shade tents smiling and joking. I saw experienced shooters helping inexperienced shooters work on skills to help them be more competitive. I also saw a lot of people volunteer their time on a hot July weekend in Alabama to help make this event fun and safe for the participants.
The shining star at this event, by far, was the facility. The CMPs new Marksmanship Park is amazing in its design, and technology. The 500-acre facility, located two miles from the world-famous Talladega Superspeedway, features a 600 yard rifle range with targets at 200, 300 and 600 yards, a 100 yard multi-purpose range and a 50 yard pistol range. It also includes 15 action pistol bays and a trap field, 5-stand field and a 15-station sporting clays field, all with automated trap machines. State of the art scoring systems mean no walking downrange to score or reset targets, or having to work in the butts at the 600 yard range. Golf carts are available for rent to travel between ranges, and a beautifully designed and appointed clubhouse with training rooms and a pro shop looks out over the 600 yard rifle range.
The American Marksman Regional Qualifying consisted of 5 separate events, the .22 Rimfire Pistol, the .22 Rimfire Rifle, the .223 Gong, the Crimson Trace Dark House, and the 9mm Peek-A-Boo. Shooters best times were taken from each event to provide a total score and determine the overall winner for each of the four divisions. I competed in the Men’s Open Division. There were other divisions for Military/Law Enforcement, Women shooters, and Junior shooters.
We started Day 1 at the .22 Rimfire Pistol range. The course of fire was simple. String 1 was shoot 2 rounds into each of 5 bullseyes at 10 yards using a 2 handed hold. String 2 was firing 1 round into each of the 5 bullseyes at 10 yards using only your strong hand. String 3 was a repeat of String 1. Then we shot all three strings a second time on a fresh target. The pistol used was a Tactical Solutions Pac-Lite Pistol using Eley Force ammo. We were the first squad to shoot these pistols and aside from the first shooter having a malfunction after 2 rounds, the guns performed well. They are, however, very lightweight and can be very off-putting for someone used to shooting heavier target pistols.
After the handgun range, we moved to the .223 Gong event. Using a Ruger American Rifle chambered in .223 Remington, shooters had to strike an 8″ diameter steel gong at 100 yards. Shooters had a total of 10 rounds to shoot the gong once from each of 3 positions, off-hand, seated, and prone. Shooters were further challenged by having a 20 second time limit for each position. This stage was challenging, but was made easier by the use of a Burris FF E-1 2-7X scope. The ammunition was provided by Aguila and was standard 55gr FMJ. None of the shooters in our squad had any issues hitting the gong or using the rifle provided.
The last event on day 1 was the Crimson Trace Dark House. This was a stage rooted in action pistol competition, especially USPSA. Competitors fired the CZ P-09 9mm pistol. Targets were arrayed 5 yards in front of a barricade. String 1 consisted of 3 targets directly in front of the barricade, and 2 targets located on either side of the barricade, down a “darkened” hallway/tunnel. The shooter started at the low ready behind the barricade, and at the buzzer, fired 2 rounds on each of the center targets, and 2 rounds on either the left or the right targets through a hole in the center of the barricade. For String 2, the shooter started at the low ready behind the barricade. At the buzzer, the shooter fired 2 rounds on each of the targets on the side that had not been shot at previously. The shooter had to shoot the gun from the side of the barricade, while looking through the center port in the barricade. In other words, the shooters had to use the Crimson Trace laser mounted on the gun to get a sight picture and could not use the sights on the gun. Needless to say, this slowed a lot of the shooters down quite a bit.
Day 2 began on the 9mm Peek-A-Boo stage at 11:30am. This was a simple stage. The competitors used a Kel-Tec Sub-2000 rifle chambered in 9mm to shoot 5 8″ steel plates. We started String 1 behind a barricade 15 yards from the targets. At the buzzer, we had to shoot 1 round into each steel plate. We were not given extra ammo to make up our misses. String 2 was identical, except that we had to shoot from our weak shoulder. String 3 was a repeat of String 1. Shooting a rifle from your weak side shoulder around a barricade is not as easy as it sounds. Especially if you’ve never practiced it. Many competitors failed to ring the plates 15 times that weekend.
We finished Day 2, and the competition, on the .22 Rimfire Rifle range. The rifle event was essentially the same as the pistol event and the rifle event during the local qualifying, with 1 small exception. During the 5 round string, shooters had to again use their weak side shoulder to fire the rifle. The rifle used was the Tactical Solutions X-Ring 10/22. This is the range where most shooters had the hardest time. It was not a particularly difficult course of fire, but the rifle turned out to be very unreliable. This in turn lead to shooters incurring misses due to ammo loss after clearing malfunctions. It is unclear whether a different ammo would have performed better in the rifle, or if the rifle’s precision tolerances were simply the cause. What is clear is that many competitors came off that range with a look of despair on their faces.
My final thoughts on the American Marksman competition are simple to state. A lot of people in the shooting community thought it was unfair to exclude high ranking shooters from the different organized shooting disciplines. I say it was refreshing to come out and compete against people who may not shoot on a regular basis. I also think that more people are likely to participate since they are not going up against the Rob Leathams of the world, and more people participating means more people enjoying the shooting sports, and that’s never a bad thing. That being said, to do well at this competition, you have to practice. A lot! I, for one, will be practicing hard for next year. Below is a video of me shooting all the stages, and you can follow the link to see the overall standings for the Men’s Open Division of the Southeast Regionals.