Desert Brutality 2018

When I  heard that InRange TV was putting on a bigger, badder version of the 2 Gun Action Challenge Match, I was on board instantly.

This was the first match that I had to fly to, which it turned out I worried about a lot more than I needed to. The gun case turned up where it was supposed to, ammo that was shipped ahead to a friend nearby was there and correct, all good to go.


Day 1:

Found check in, found my squadmates, had the safety briefing and match overview. The only thing unusual was the penalty system: every penalty, miss, failure to engage, procedural, whatever, was 60 seconds, the logic being that in any form of military or law enforcement action, an errant bullet or an opponent not stopped is a huge issue, so put a big penalty on all of it.

First stage (officially Stage 2, as I was on Squad 2) was referred to as “Suicide Sprints.”


Start at the cone, rifle in low ready, pistol in holster. At start, run to one of the hula hoops, engage two steel targets with two hits each. Move to the next hoop, engage again, next hoop, do it again. After you shoot from the third hoop, put the rifle on the table and run around a berm to the next bay.


With the pistol, knock down one steel target from each of the three hoops, then table the pistol and run back to the rifle bay. Repeat this back-and-forth until all the pistol targets are knocked down (three cycles for 9 targets), then complete the rifle side one more time.

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For me, this was the perfect stage to get started on and get the nervousness out of my system. I shot it reasonably well, for me, completing it with no reload in the pistol and needing one round out of a reload on the rifle.

Stage 3 was a lot of fun. Start in the driver’s seat of a car, pistol in holster and rifle in the trunk.


At start engage steel targets through the window.

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When all targets are engaged, run across the bay to a firing position behind a fence, and engage targets through a hole in the fence.


When that is done, run back to the car, retrieve your rifle, and run to the next bay.

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At the next bay, start at the first hula hoop, engage two steel targets, table the rifle, and crawl under the table. Grab your rifle, go to the second hoop, engage targets again, table rifle, go over a 4′ high wall, shoot again, table the rifle, under the table, shoot again… then repeat the over-under shooting process going back to the first hoop. (I did not get a photo showing the first table, this shot shows the wall and second table.)


The range officer on this stage noted that many people were taking so long with the pistol portion that they had no time for the rifle portion. With the rifle being considerably more fun, I decided to limit myself to one mag from the car, one mag from the fence, then leave anything that you have not hit and move on. I took 4 minutes in penalties, but I completed the stage.

For me, Stage 4 was both a dumpster fire and a chance to learn to improvise and make things work. Targets at this stage were at longer range, far enough for me to notice that my rifle’s scope had been knocked out of zero in transport.

The stage starts with you lying on your back on a table, rifle, pistol, and all your mags staged about 20 feet away. At start, you collect your ammo, grab your pistol from a table, engage four knock-down targets, and drop your pistol in a bucket. Then load your rifle and engage two steel from behind a barrier.27459302_10214419232541897_765114354789278603_n.jpg

Then run downrange to a steel sled, engage the targets again from the sled, clear the rifle, and drag the sled back to the start point. Then run to a pile of rocks helpfully painted yellow:27459545_10214419233821929_8279483257995474094_n.jpg

Engage targets, run to the next pile of rocks, engage targets, run to the last pile, and from there engage the ever-dreaded MGM spinner.

About the time that I got to the first pile of rocks, I figured out where I was hitting and how far to hold off to make hits. I managed to complete the spinner holding off the target, something I would not have thought that I could do if you asked me before this. My time sucked for this stage, but I am still happy that I managed to get through it.

Stage 1, our last stage of the day, was a variation of the Kasarda drill with a 65-pound kettlebell. Start in the cab of a pickup truck, engage two steel targets, table the rifle, and climb into the bed of the truck. Cut the rope holding the kettlebell to the truck, and throw it out the back. 27654880_10214419233581923_2239153940079746362_n.jpg

Retrieve your rifle, run to where the kettlebell landed, go prone, and shoot the targets again. There is a row of cones leading you closer to the target:27540133_10214419234061935_5279817653875172582_n.jpg

Following the cones as much as possible, throw the kettlebell, run to it, go prone, shoot both targets, get up, throw it again. Throw the bell past the last cone, make 2 more hits from the last cone, and you’re done. (Last shots are made from the cone rather than the kettlebell because a really good last throw could take you to less than the minimum distance for steel targets, so the final shooting position is set for safety reasons.)

I rocked this stage. Still using a holdoff, but hits were consistent and my throws were good. (Quick tip that I learned: many of us will throw and watch to see where it lands. As the RO told us, no need to watch it, it will be there. As soon as it is away, turn your attention to getting your rifle and getting moving. A second watching each throw adds up.)

Day one complete, found a sight-in range to fix my rifle zero, back at it in the morning.

Day 2:

Started the day with Stage 6, the breaching cage.



Start in front of the first door, facing four close paper targets and one steel further away.27337098_10214419237542022_3920069843023832995_n.jpg

Neutralize one paper target (two hits anywhere or one shot to the center of the head), one hit on the steel, next paper target, another hit on the steel, until all the paper targets are engaged. Clear the rifle, kick in the first door.

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Step through the door, draw your pistol, and shoot 5 clay pigeons hanging from a string.


Table the pistol. Kick in the next door, shoot all the targets on the plate rack. Kick in the last door, run to a hoop marking the last firing position, and shoot all of the plates off of the Texas star.

This was a lot of fun. I had one clay pigeon that was hanging turned a little sideways and I couldn’t hit it, so I left it and moved on (better to lose one target than to burn up all my time and ammo that I could use on the easier targets that followed).

Stage 7 was tough. Start running up a steep hill to a sandbag firing position:


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Engage two distant steel targets, 2 hits, next target, 2 hits, next, two cycles through all three targets. If you move to another target before getting 2 hits on the one before it, you need to start over. Then run to the next firing position:27545537_10214419261182613_8355530853115179292_n.jpg

2 hits on 2 targets through the port, then run to shoot off of the barrier and the rooftop:27544557_10214419243902181_9212043189918066779_n.jpg


I couldn’t get settled down into a solid shooting position at the first position. I messed up and moved on after one hit and had to restart, and barely made it to the second firing position before timing out. Take notes of what to work on and move on to the next stage.

Stage 8- Mogadishu Quarter-Mile.

Start with one rifle mag of 30 rounds, following a row of cones and shooting close paper. Targets with an X are required, other targets earn bonus points but do not incur penalties if they are left. (There are more targets than you can engage with the rifle ammo you have, so if you want to skip non-X targets to save ammo, you can.) When rifle is empty, transition to pistol, shoot the rest of the paper, and finish on the pistol spinner.



My strategy was to take the easy hits on paper and do the best that I could with the spinner. While I twice had it to the point that one more hit would push it over, I missed that last needed shot, expended all my pistol ammo and timed out.

Stage 5, our last stage, was a rifle-only fire-and-movement stage, with relatively close targets at the start and ending with some longer-range.

Start in the hula hoop, move to the first tank trap, engage two targets.

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Run to another tank trap, shoot the same two targets again. Run to those targets, turn and shoot two more.


Run up a steep hill to another tank trap:


And engage two of the three distant steel targets:


Move to a sandbag position and engage the farthest target.


I was proud of myself on this stage. I wasn’t blazing through it by any means, but I kept it steady and made good hits. For lack of a better term, I completed this stage at my ability level, rather than fouling something up and knowing I could have done better.

Our last stage done, we helped the crew tear everything down, sorted out our gear, and waited around for the rest of the squads to finish. I thought it was cool that several competitors, having leftover loose ammo that they couldn’t fly home with, gave it to the competitors from California.

The prize table was given out at random, they call a name and the person called comes up to choose a prize. They went with this over assigning prizes by score for two reasons: having no prizes on the line gives less incentive for the sort of cut-throat competition that often takes the fun out of events or for doing something stupid to cut a second off of your time, and it increases the odds that the gear prizes will go to someone who will actually make use of them. (The winners usually already have good gear, while the guy in last place may legitimately need to upgrade his gun belt.)

Mine was not the first name called, but one of the first five or so, and I got an awesome plate carrier from ESSTAC.


This was an awesome time and gave me a lot to think about in terms of how I train. Plans are in the works to run it again in 2019, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with for their second year.

Note: Our squad’s photographer was a cool guy named Nero Manalo (n_zeke on Instagram). All the good pictures in this post are his, all the crappy ones are mine.


The Plan Won’t Work Unless You Do: A Response to “WHY DIETS FAIL AND “EAT LESS, MOVE MORE” IS BAD ADVICE”

There is an incomprehensible amount being written on the topic of diet, and every writer thinks that their way of doing things will work for everyone. Unfortunately, people are not all the same and there is no one solution that will work for everyone. You have to find one that works for you, and perhaps more importantly, one that you can use. The ultra low carb paleo South Patagonia Dr, Oz diet may absolutely give the best results possible… unless you don’t actually follow it. You need to make the system that you follow convenient enough that you will actually follow it when life gets complicated.

I came across this article, and had a visceral “not only no but **** no” response to some of its points. While there is a lot of good in the article, I thought I would critique a few things.


I mainly coach bodybuilders, and bodybuilders are not very well-liked. I understand why: in the media all you see is unnaturally muscular, tanned men and women lined up in what seems to be some sort of muscle worship fetish. Yet in spite of their poor reputation, this stigmatized subculture does know the cure to obesity.

If you look up photos of many bodybuilders in the off season, you will see the very definition of yo-yo dieting.  The bodybuilding subculture also has a reputation for serious health problems caused by the way they push their bodies and for an unusually high occurrence of eating disorders. (You could argue that there are ways to avoid these risks and you would be correct. But the number of bodybuilders dying young would indicate that there are a lot of people not using these safeguards.) There are in fact things to learn from bodybuilding that can help in other endeavors, but there is a serious amount of bad mixed in with the good.

Basically, bodybuilders achieve what everyone on a diet wants: to lose fat, not muscle. That’s why I essentially treat all my clients that want to lose fat like I would treat a bodybuilder. Bodybuilding is just the more successful version of ‘dieting’.

Bodybuilding is a more extreme subset of dieting with specific requirements, goals, and risks, and it is not suitable for all situations. Different diets are suitable to different goals. Someone going into figure competition should be training and eating differently than someone going into an ultramarathon or into Ranger School. Different methods for different goals.

…most diets fail in the evening. After a long, stressful day at work, you come home hungry and your brain is too foggy to think about what to cook. You open your fridge and a pack of ready-to-eat microwave wraps looks you right in the eye. Decision fatigue has set in and you don’t have the cognitive resources anymore to resist your hunger. Therefore, you opt for convenience foods instead of diet foods.

I absolutely agree that this is where most diets fall apart. I did an impromptu poll of my friends on FB of what is the most challenging part of diet, and the most common answer was convenience. When you have no time to cook, when you are at a business meeting and your food choices are limited, “diet” foods won’t survive staying in your lunchbox on a construction site, and on and on. Where I disagree is how to get past this. Most people won’t arrange for food restrictions at every business trip, meal prep for every day without fail, etc. Your diet plan needs to be convenient enough that you will actually use it in the real world.

Common advice is to take the stairs instead of the elevator. Or park your car further away from work or your house so you have to walk a bit. The benefit is self-evident, right? Actually, it’s not, and neither is the cost.

These small benefits do not weigh up against the hidden cost: decision fatigue from fatiguing your brain every time see a staircase or you have to park your car. Constantly thinking about ways to increase your activity level requires effortful self-control. Combine this with a stressful day at work and you’ve got the recipe for a cheat meal. A single cheat meal can undo weeks or even a month of ‘moving more’.

You have totally misunderstood “eat less, move more.” It is short hand for “consume fewer calories and I don’t care what type of exercise you get, but get some exercise.” Small things like taking the stairs are not meant to be the sum and total of your physical activity. You should have a workout plan. Stairs and parking locations are just little extras you can put in if you want, and having 30 flights of stairs as part of your daily routine does help.

Here’s a photo from the Arnold Classic, a major fitness conference. It went viral in fitness circles under headlines as ‘bodybuilders not fit enough to take the stairs’. No, bodybuilders just know that taking those stairs is a needless effort. Conserving mental energy is far more important than expending physical energy. Bodybuilders instead invest their energy in structured exercise.

You can use that reasoning if you like. I have also met more than a few weightlifters who so focus on one aspect of fitness, forsaking all others, that they can’t take the stairs. Unless we find everyone in that picture and ask why they didn’t take the stairs, we will never know what portion of that crowd was waiting for the escalator for which reason. (Or the common reason of “Leg day was yesterday, no I’m not taking the stairs.”)

None of this in any way implies that exercise is bad for you on a diet. But the crucial feature of successful exercise is structure.

Structure is the key to lifestyle change. You need to plan in advance so that you avoid having to make dozens of daily decisions about diet and physical activity. Investing in a structured exercise program frees your mind from decision fatigue. As the saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Absolutely agreed. A structured workout plan is what most people are meaning when they say to move more. If you are only moving randomly it is hard to track if it is “more.”

I did no cardio whatsoever – just weight training – to get in condition for the photo shoot below. Almost none of my clients, including competitive physique athletes, do cardio.

We know that most bodybuilders don’t do cardio. That is why it is easy to think that you can’t handle the stairs. Cardio is indeed over-rated. For weight loss. For heart health and for any sport where you need to move for more than 5 minutes at a time, cardio helps a lot. It is also great for people new to working out, as it is easy to figure out and easy to make sure you keep at it. “Okay, start walking and don’t stop for 30 minutes” is a lot easier to keep track of than 5×10 of this, 3×10 of that, 20-2×2 of this list of exercises.

Cardio should not be all of your workout regimen, but it should be in there somewhere.

‘Eating less’ implies sticking to the same food choices but simply eating less of them. This requires constant self-control by constantly eating less than your appetite signals you to. As the diet progresses and you become hungrier, you must eat even less as your metabolism slows down, which is when the struggle becomes exponentially more difficult. It’s no surprise that this is how most diets fail.

The solution? Eat more, not less. In my photo above I was eating close to 9 pounds (~4 kg) of food every day. I just ate low-calorie foods. I mostly ate fruits, vegetables and lean animal protein sources. In fact, it’s rare that I don’t eat at least 4.5 pounds (2 kg) of food in a given day.

First off, eating less just implies taking in fewer calories, it says nothing about food choices.  Second, most of us eat for reasons other than hunger. The package is almost empty, finish it. There are chips and salsa on the table. I always have a soda in the morning, I need the caffeine. Most of us can cut enough calories for slow weight loss (which should be the goal, rapid weight loss is seldom sustainable) without being hungry.

Eating more low-calorie foods is the reason paleo diets are so successful at causing fat loss.

It is also why so many people find them hard to follow. There is a large mass of food that you must constantly keep available and fresh, and it simply takes longer to eat, which is a problem with work, family and workout time demands.

For example, the typical Mediterranean lunch: 2 large slices of whole-wheat bread with cheese, 1 glass of semi-skimmed milk and an apple. Compare that to these 3 huge Sashimi Omelet Wraps. Both meals contain ~620 calories, but I know which I prefer.

I can put together the sandwich in about a minute. What is your prep time on those wraps? See where this could cause someone to just say screw it and order pizza?

In the end, your diet plan has to work for you. If it has perfect macros, but causes you to hate everything you eat or if you don’t follow it because you can’t find the prep time, it is not going to work long-term. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just has to be workable for you. The reason so many diets fail is that people are pushed into diet plans that are too inconvenient to use in the real world.

I have tried several plans over the years, and thought I should share my history with diet plans and why I left them behind. These are just my results, yours may vary:

Slim-fast plan- It worked for weight maintenance, but didn’t provide the energy needed for my workouts.

Myfitnesspal- While it may have improved over the years since I tried it, I had a great deal of trouble finding foods and exercises in their database, and I thought some of the exercise calorie ratings were wonky.

Whole Life Challenge- This was the worst for me. The food restrictions made getting anything to eat really inconvenient and the point system encouraged binging. You start the day with 5 points and lose one for every serving of forbidden food you have. When you are down to zero points for today, why not hit Dairy Queen?

Maffetone low-carb- I tried this twice, and hated every minute I was on it. It failed to bring any of the health benefits that it promised. I lost a little weight, but the promises of feeling better and having more energy never materialized. This was designed as a test to see how well your body tolerates carbs, and it appears my body handles them just fine.

Current program- I am using a calorie tracking app called Lose It. I have not had trouble finding foods or exercises in it, and being able to scan bar codes and have it look up the foods is nice. I am losing weight slightly faster than I did under low carb, and the system of simply tracking calories lets me eat my favorite foods, usually an annoyance with the above plans. (I did come home one night and figure out that I could have 17 pizza rolls and still be okay. ) It also allows me to track where I am over or under calorie goals for the week, so if I go over one day I can still try to be under for the week.


The Donkey Strength Doctrine: Initial Thoughts and Principles

When I first started training, I remember how hard it was to find training information for events that included both strength and distance running. I pored through all the information I could find (living next door to the library helped) and finally found a way to put them together… right about the time that OCR-specific training books and plans started to come out.

Now, I see that the problem has morphed over the years. There are hundreds of training plans for specific types of athletes, and it gets very difficult for a beginning or non-elite athlete to find what training style works for their goals and their current physical condition. This often leads to doing nothing, paralysis by analysis.

The unlikely catalyst for putting together some thoughts for athletes in this space (the space where I lived for some time) was jokes surrounding an online meme:


I commented that Donkeystregth sounded like a ruck training program, then realized it was a fitting metaphor for this sort of athlete. Lacking both the speed and endurance of the race horses and the strength and stamina of the work horses, we get through training and events more on sheer stubbornness than anything else. Working toward being able to keep up with both of them (maybe call that state mule strong?), just not quite there yet.

I may write more on this at a later time, but for now, here are the key principles that I have learned so far:

1: Start now.


Do what you can with what you have now. You can change up how you go about it as you learn more and get stronger (there are things I did five years ago that I would not do now, and there are plans I have waiting for when I am strong enough to keep up with them), but doing nothing isn’t going to get you anywhere.

2: No Yeah Buts.

Hey I should start working out. Yeah, but I’m not sure if this plan is right.

I should eat more vegetables. Yeah, but the fresh is too expensive and the frozen has added sodium.

Doing something is almost always better than doing nothing. Frozen veggies are better for you than McDonald’s. You don’t need to do things perfectly, just do a little better than you are doing right now. Later you can try to do a little better than that.

3: Pick a plan.

I like to pick a training plan lasting from three to fifteen weeks, complete it, then switch it up. This counters the two problems I often find: over-specialization and the shiny object syndrome.

Many goals require a certain amount of specificity in training, and that is all well and good. If you are training for a 100 miler, you need to devote a good deal of your training time to long runs. Just don’t get so focused on only one skill that all of your other abilities decrease. No one wants to be the guy that can run 200 miles but can’t carry his suitcase in from the car, or the guy who can pick up the car but can’t run around the block. Devote the training time to whatever event you have, then change up the next plan you use.

The shiny object syndrome was a problem for me for years. I like this plan, use it for a week. OOOH SHINY! That plan is better, I will switch to that one. OOOH MORE SHINY. Totally changing everything because this one is cooler! Other trainers have described this as chasing many rabbits and catching none. Pick one plan and stick with it for a month or three, then change things out.

4: Fit the plan to your abilities.

We have all tried a plan that looks easy on paper but absolutely flattens you when you go to do it. A lot of plans for events I want to do are written for people considerably fitter than I am. While a little of this is good, too much of it will lead to injury. If you find yourself on a plan that requires way more fitness than you have, you have three options, which fit different types of workouts.

First is to switch to an easier plan.Doing this too often leads to the shiny object syndrome, but doing it when you recognize you are out of your league is okay.

Second option is to break it into pieces. If you are beaten down at the halfway point of your workout, do half in the morning and half at night, or half today and half tomorrow. Next week try to do a little more, and build up to doing it all in one go.

Third, and most common, is to scale the weights, reps and paces. Plan calls for ten pullups and you can only do five? Okay, do five. You can’t keep the 8-minute-per-mile pace called for? Pick a pace that is challenging for you and go with it. Don’t make it easy on yourself, but make it doable.

5: PACE 

We all have things to do other than training, and life can get in the way. Having a PACE plan (Primary, Alternate, Contingency, Emergency) for your workouts can help keep you moving forward on days that would otherwise prevent getting any form of workout in.

Primary is what you originally planned to do.

Alternate is for small bumps in the road that may screw up your workout. If someone is hogging the squat rack, I can switch to a run or some dumbbell work (depending on what I did yesterday, etc.).  The alternate can be for the entire workout, or for a particular exercise that requires particular gear.

Contingency is for when logistics prevent you from getting to the gym or outside or wherever you usually workout. I like workout DVDs for this.

Emergency is when time and logistics have gone to crap and you just want to get something in. I keep a kettlebell behind my desk, will do 5-10 minutes of swings when I can’t get anything else in. Any available exercise can fill the bill. A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.

6: Don’t overthink diet.

There are eleventy billion diet plans on the market, and every last one of them is convinced that they are the only way to eat properly, and you will likely hate being on at least 80% of them.

Make sure you are getting enough nutrients and are somewhere close to the amount of food that keeps you at the same weight (slow gain or loss depending on your goals). Take care of those two things and you have 80% of it figured out. Don’t look for the perfect diet, just something good enough that you can follow without hating life.

7: Learn proper form, and keep learning.

Learning how to exercise correctly will often mean doing it wrong for awhile until you figure it out, but you should always be trying to get as close to correct as possible. Various trainers will have various little tricks to check if your form is correct. Pick those up where you can and use them. (I tend to use little tricks from Pavel’s books pretty frequently.) While you are working through a plan, see what info you can dig up on what plan you might do next, try to understand the logic behind them and see if it matches your goals.


Battle Buddies: Tiger Valley 2-Man Team Match

This is a swat-team based shooting competition, originally with 4-man teams and later simplified to 2-man teams. It was discontinued in 2014 due to lack of participants, but a few people pushed for it to be restarted and pushed to try to get enough shooters involved. In particular, I have to give a shout out to InRange TV for letting me know about this event and setting up a page for solo shooters to find a teammate.

Stage 1: Sniper Tower


Both shooters start at the side of the tower, run around it and climb a ladder that appeared to be made of fire hose:


Then run up the stairs to shooting positions on the landings. Shooter 1 goes to position one (4th landing up from the bottom) and shoots the steel target marked with a #1. Five hits, unload and show clear, continue up. While Shooter 1 is firing, Shooter #2 runs past him to shooting position 2 on the next landing up. As soon as one shooter is done firing he starts running to the next shooting position, and the other starts shooting. They leap-frog past each other until they reach the top, where both shooters need to be in position before either can shoot. Five hits on each target, then reverse the process leap-frogging back down. Maximum time is 9 minutes.

My teammate was recovering from an injury, so I went up the ladder first and stayed to help him over the guardrail, then ran for the first shooting position. We made it up and down reasonably efficiently, and I happened to be the last shooter.

“That’s five hits. Unload. Show clear. Haul ass!” Ran like hell down the stairs, and found we had made it in a little under 8 minutes.

Stage 2: Armor and Infantry


Both shooters start on the second floor of a smaller tower. Between both of them they must neutralize three tank commanders, then each must neutralize five foot soldiers (2 hits on each target).


Then both shooters go down a ladder and engage closer steel targets with a pistol, shooting numbered targets from numbered shooting ports.

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When both shooters have completed this, you run to a helicopter…


Where one shooter engages a target with an M249 machine gun. If the target is not hit with the 5 rounds in the machine gun, the other shooter engages the target with his rifle, one hit required from one weapon or the other.


Then run back to the end point, marked by a hula hoop on the ground next to the tower.

We both cleared our rifle and pistol targets reasonably well, and my partner got the bonus of making a hit with the M249.

Stage 3: Obstacle Course.


Meant to simulate bounding fire and movement, this stage has one shooter engage a steel target while the other clears an obstacle. Then the second shooter shoots, the first clears two obstacles to put him in the next shooting position, again leap-frogging through the course.







The final position was a wobbly helicopter that each shooter needed to make two hits from.


Then both shooters have to run back to the start point. Time hack is five minutes.

I got flustered worrying about time and missed a lot more than I should have, and we timed out before we could get to the helicopter. I want a rematch with this stage.

Stage 4: Run and Gun


Start by making one rifle hit each on two steel targets from the wooden support, then run two bays down to reach the pistol targets. Both shooters can engage targets, but many teams elected to save time by having one shoot and the other sling his rifle so he could run faster.

Between the two of you, put two hits on each blue target and don’t hit any of the white targets. It is up to you to keep track of what you have and have not hit, 60 second penalty for each required hit that you don’t make.


Then run to the next bay and crawl under a series of 8 sticks, penalties if you knock any of them down, then engage paper targets with the rifle and run back to the start point.



I don’t remember what the time hack was for this stage, but it was tight. We just barely made it.

This was the end of Day One. Rest up, tend to gear, back at it in the morning.

Stage 5: Shooting Obstacles


This stage started out with four obstacles that you had to shoot through or from on top of, each shooter must shoot from two. You had to knock down four steel targets in windows from each position.


When both are complete, run to the next bay and engage paper targets through various ports in a series of barricades.


Run to the next bay, into a fenced-off area with a lot of no-shoot targets and a lot of targets with clay pigeons attached to them. Break all the clays with the pistol, then run back to the start point. Time hack was I think 5 minutes, and we made it in around 4:30.

Stage 6: Back to Back


Shooters move together down a bay. At each shooting position they turn back to back and engage paper targets, only A zone hits count. At the end were five pistol targets on each side, and only five rounds could be used. Get as many hits as possible and run back to the start point.

Stage 7: Quick and Alert


21 teams completed this stage all at the same time, lined up by team number in prone position. In a pit 200 yards away, the match staff would randomly pick a target with a team number on it, put it up where we could see it and walk with it for 6 seconds before pulling it back down. We were permitted five shots while it was up. So you have 6 seconds to spot target, identify if it is your target or not, and try to get 5 shots on a moving target. Two targets can be in play at once, and they may or may not appear at the same time. Those of us with magnified optics helped the rest by calling out numbers when the targets came up.

Also worth noting that you and your teammate will be firing at the same time, and if you happen to be on the right, the brass and hot gasses from your buddy’s rifle can really shake your aim. We were told that targets might appear more than once, or they might not. Each one was presented four times, but we didn’t know that until it was over.


We were watching targets for half an hour or so before we were told that it was done and to clear our rifles.

This was both a lot of fun and an intense learning experience. Can’t wait to do it again.

Learning notes

While I had a great time and learned a lot, I did not do nearly as well as I hoped. Recording a few notes to improve here.

First and foremost, you need to have your mind right. You will start missing targets that you are more than capable of hitting if you allow yourself to mentally start fussing over the amount of time left, or something about your gear that isn’t quite right today, etc.

The above is easier if you make sure all of your gear is what you intended it to be. When I arrived I realized that the ammo I had was different from what I had sighted in with, and I had no idea what or how much the difference in zero could be. It likely was not much, but I let it get in my head and didn’t shoot nearly as well as I know I can on the first day. I was able to bring the correct ammo the second day and shot much better, likely more due to being confident in my gear than due to any difference in zero.

Practice more in shifting gears. Running hard, climbing walls and shooting well are not nearly as hard as trying to randomly juggle doing all of them, and shifting from going hard and fast to being slow and steady is a skill that I have not mastered yet.

When you are there for learning and experience, plan what you want to get from a stage and then follow the plan. I really wanted to get to the helicopter at the end of the obstacle course, so I should have taken some penalties to save time to get there.

I need to stretch more and spend more time in prone. Having a muscle cramp up and start twitching does not aide accuracy.

Take time to hang out and chat with those around you. You will find a lot of good advice and just some all-around awesome people.

Post Script: I found the results after posting this. My team, Team 9, placed 35 out of 42 teams present. With the caliber of competitors that showed up, I am okay with that.

I did not hear stage names when we were there, but I thought I should include official names here.

Sniper Tower= Old Red

Armor and Infantry= Hot Extraction

Obstacle Course=Ball Buster

Run and Gun=Tunnel

Shooting Obstacles= South

Back to Back= 130

Quick and Alert= Movers.

For The Motherland!: Red Oktober Kalashnikov Championship 2017



I heard about this match through online videos of last year’s competitors, and instantly knew I wanted to try it. Everything is shot with AK variants or other Combloc weapons, many people come in period costume, the shooting stages are more physical than most shooting competitions, and the emphasis is on having fun over being hyper-competitive.

With this being my first big match, I decided to volunteer. I wanted to see the nuts and bolts of how a match is run, and it was easier to deal with the thought of screwing up when there are 12 people there to see it than when 200 other shooters are on site. Volunteers, in this case, shoot the Thursday and Friday before match weekend so that they can uncover any potential problems with the stages.

Notes: Photos were taken while we were resetting between shooters, so some of my fellow shooters are shown downrange. Everyone is pulled back behind the firing line for safety whenever someone is shooting. Some stages were shot out of order, so my numbers may not match the official stage numbers.

First stage:

Start out in a mass grave. Run to the sloped platform where your rifle is staged, and engage five steel targets from the platform.


Run to another shooting position (marked by a square on the ground) engage the steel again, run to a third position, break all the clay pigeons, engage the steel again…


Then run up a hill to a wooden structure and engage two long-range steel from there.


This one was a blast to do, and I did reasonably well at it. For me, it was a perfect stage to start on.

Before the next stage, I heard the Range Officer giving another shooter advice that I should have realized sooner: Many of us were taking the time to take slow and careful aim on big, close targets that didn’t require it. If you have enough margin for error in what you need to hit, you can get a quick and dirty sight picture, shoot faster,  hit well enough, and complete the stage faster.

Second stage:

Start in a foxhole, shoot 5 steel targets, climb out of the foxhole into a trench (I got cool points for doing a combat roll) engage targets inside the trench, engage paper targets and steel again from a concrete block gunner’s port, run to the end of the trench, climb into another foxhole, shoot the steel again, and then shoot the dreaded spinner target until you flip it.



I failed to rotate the spinner before the time limit, but still had a lot of fun on this stage. I also found that it takes a good bit of mental focus to shift gears between shooting quickly at big targets and shooting more carefully at small targets. (The clay pigeons in the middle of no-shoot targets were particularly evil.)

Stage 3, that I somehow failed to get pictures of:

California Build Party: Four magazines of ten rounds each are staged on barrels throughout the stage. Start seated at a press, and pump the handle to compress a 7.62 case to the height of a 9mm case. When that is done, retrieve your rifle and first magazine, then work your way through a series of corridors, engaging targets as you come to them and reloading as you come to your magazines. I got a bit of a curve ball on this one: as I was staging my mags, the shooter before me was picking up his mags which look very similar. He grabbed my mag of ten, leaving his mag with four rounds left. I was still able to make it work, but it did make me realize I need to mark my mags.

Stage 4, Cooper Tunnel.


Start on the blue line, rifle and first mag on the table. Engage what targets you can, then crawl under the table and shoot targets as they become visible. the last targets must be shot under a wall. I went back and took a picture with the water bottle for scale.


I did okay with shooting from under the table (although my muzzle blast echoing through steel drums around me was an interesting experience) but when I got to the wall I couldn’t get low enough to see under it. The RO called out instructions, rolling all the way onto my side, sights aligned sideways, got me low enough to shoot. the gasses escaping the breach of my rifle kicked up enough dust to entirely hide the target with each shot, and it was suggested after that shooting left shoulder/ left eye would point the breach up, lessening this problem.

Stage 5 brought in some OCR and a cool Rube Goldberg device.


Climb a tunnel onto a platform, where a pistol is staged. You shoot a steel target that, when it falls, releases a bowling ball rolling down a track. When it reaches the end, it activates some swinging no-shoots and exposes one target that will show only once, so you have to run, retrieve your rifle, and be in shooting position when that target shows itself. Then you proceed through the barricades as needed to engage the rest of the targets.

My learning moment: If it is necessary to knock over a target to make everything else happen, make sure you do that. We had to leave the pistol empty, I went first and made the mistake of trying to knock it over on my last shot, and failed. The rest of the squad learned from my mistake, knocked it over first, then fired off the remaining shots as quickly as possible.

Stage 6: Colonel Kaput


Crawl through a tunnel carrying a single 8mm round, take the Mauser off of Col. Kaput, and shoot the steel target that activates the moving targets. (On this stage, if you miss the target, you then run up and punch it.) Then run to the other side of the stage, pick up your rifle, and proceed through the barriers to engage all the targets.

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That was the end of day one. Back to the hotel, rest up, clean up the gear, back at it in the morning.


Stage 7: Shoot house.

Breach the door of the house with a hammer, throw in a flash bang, grab your rifle and shoot the targets as visible through the doors and windows. There was a steel activator that had to be pushed/kicked, as it was too close to shoot safely. I had video taken of this one, so of course this was the stage that I lost track of what target I was on and looked somewhat Keystone-Cop-like.

Video Here.

Stage 8- Bayonets and sniper towers.


We started this stage by stabbing a straw bale with a bayonet. Battle cries were encouraged.

“Shooter ready. Stand by. BEEP.”


Stab the bale, leave that rifle there, grab your rifle, engage a lot of paper targets…


Then run up a trail with various targets along it…


To a sniper tower, from which you engage two long-range steel targets.


Stage 9: Voodoo Valley

This stage started with a rifle provided by Rifle Dynamics, a maker of high-end AKs and sponsor of the match. My AK is very much on the budget end of the spectrum, so it was cool to compare it to top of the line.


The course of fire was to start with six rounds in the stage rifle, and hit three steel targets from a wooden “tank trap.”



From there, leave the stage rifle, grab your rifle, run down a trail engaging paper targets, get to the end and re-engage one of the steel.


That was officially the end of the match, but there was one more unofficial stage. The match organizers put together a dinner Saturday night, a chance to hang out and get to know your fellow shooters. They put in a night team relay match. I was there alone, but the Range Master paired me up with Matt, a shooter from California, under the title of Team Thrown Together.


Both teammates start in a square, rifle and pistol staged in slant boxes. First shooter runs to his rifle, clears a rack of steel plates, puts down rifle, runs back and tags teammate. Second shooter does the same, then tags first shooter, who runs to his pistol, cleans a plate rack, turns 90 degrees to engage a single popper target, pistol down, tag. Second shooter completes pistol, and time recorded is when the last shooter makes it back to the start point.

We both knew we were not the varsity at this event, but we shot relatively well, and it was a lot of fun. Only big mistake I made was forgetting that last pistol target, putting the pistol down and starting to go to tag, only to have to run back and get that last shot in.

This is an awesome event, and particularly good as a first-time rifle match. The match design is a balance that is both difficult to do really well (a challenge for skilled shooters) and reasonably easy to just get through for new shooters (time limits are generous and targets require no more than 10 MOA accuracy). They are also more forgiving of newbie mistakes than many other matches. (That is not to say that their safety protocol is lax, just that they are more gentle in enforcing it. A mistake that will get you a stern talking-to or a stage disqualification here will often get you sent home from other matches. So if you get any sort of safety reprimand, learn from it and understand that it will be enforced more harshly when you go to other ranges.)

I am looking forward to doing more matches like this.


Starting Competitive Shooting

I have shot three competitions over the past few weeks, and wanted to post some notes of what these competitions are and some recommendations for anyone else wanting to try them out.



I saw that the local range in Sioux Falls has USPSA pistol matches, contacted the organizers for newbie questions, and showed up for the match. They explained the safety protocol and basic rules, and told me that the expectation for starting was to go slow, make your hits, and handle the gun safely. We would get to making it faster later.

This type of match has you shooting from odd positions, around barricades, through windows, etc., shooting a mix of paper targets (requiring 2 hits) and steel targets (that must be knocked over). The targets are also often behind obstructions, requiring you to move to get a clear shot of them.

My first stage was something of a dumpster fire. I was nervous and missing shots that I should have made, then a trigger pin popped out of my gun and the range officer stopped me. We got it back together and tried again. Nerves were less, hits were better, and the pin popped back out after about 15 rounds. At that point we declared the gun down for the day and scored the stage based on what I had gotten to.

One of the other shooters on my squad (the group that you shoot each stage with) happened to have an extra pistol in the same caliber as mine, so he let me borrow it for the rest of the match. I had a little trouble getting used to it, but overall was able to hit with it reasonably well and the match was a lot of fun.

The second match was a qualifier, meaning that stages were set up according to a standardized design rather than to the ideas of the people setting up the stage. I found these stages a little less interesting than the first match, but still fun and a good test of shooting ability. My pistol held together for this one.

Smoking Hot Date Night at the Range

Rev Tac Firearm Instruction puts on a date night event every so often, a laid-back event where you shoot pistols and rifles and have dinner, range time with your significant other and a chance to try out different types of guns. It ends with a friendly team competition of all the couples there. We shot three pistols from three different distances. Steph got us off to a solid start with the 9mm:


And I secured the win with a .500 magnum revolver referred to as “Big Sexy.”


(Perhaps not as serious a competition as USPSA, but the ones I win have to make it into the blog.)

Notes for newbies:

Bring factory ammo, brass cased from a known brand. (Bulk Winchester or Remington/ UMC that you can find at Walmart is fine.) Many of your fellow shooters can loan you a spare pistol if you need it, but many of them don’t want unknown handloads or low-quality steel-cased ammo in their guns.

There will be shooters there who make the match look like a John Wick movie, already being on the other end of the stage before the steel has had time to fall. Don’t make the mistake of trying to duplicate that on your first match. He’s Keanu Reeves, you’re not, and that’s okay.  Go at your speed, make your hits, and don’t get sent home for doing something stupid.

Wear clothes that you can get dirty and bring work gloves. There will be wet paint on some targets, and at many matches everyone is expected to help set up/ tear down and to help reset targets between shooters.

Listen to your fellow shooters. They can point out little tips and tricks that can help you out.

Before and after everything else, learn from what you are doing and have fun.

Welcome Back to the Suck: The Suck 2017

I had completed the Midwest Suck in 2014, and it pushed me to my limit to such an extent that I knew I wanted to do it again. I attempted and failed in 2015, then volunteered to get a closer look at the event in 2016. Adjust training based on my observations there, then come back to try again this year.


We assembled at the start point with required gear for the national anthem and a pep talk from Joe and Nicole. The first movement was ordered: Take your buckets down to the pond, you will receive further instructions when you get there.



At the pond, drop the buckets, run back to the start point. Once there, 25 squat-curl-press with a 50# sandbag…


25 hand-release pushups…


And tossing an Atlas ball over your shoulder.


Next we moved through a patch of trees to a pond that we had to swim across, out of the water, through more trees, up a steep incline (so slick with mud that I joked I was winning the Swamp Thing costume contest), then back to the strength challenges. Three logs that needed to be flipped various numbers of times…


Complete a rope climb…


10 burpees while breathing pepper spray (applied to the room, not to the racers)…21369526_1313639688765146_662282516020799579_n.jpg

Then over or under a fence to swim across another pond to where we had left our buckets earlier. Fill them with water, carry them halfway back to the start point, shoot a shotgun…


And cover the rest of the distance back to the start by burpee frog leaps.


This circuit would be repeated two more times. I had some equipment failures on the first round (zipper on my hydration pack broke and my headlamp stopped working) so Nicole gave me five minutes to refit and get back to work. As usual I was the slowest racer there, but managed to complete all of the required tasks.

After the third round, I was given 20 minutes to refit and return with the rucksack, one bucket, both sandbags, life vest, and food/water for 6-8 hours.

Staggered up to the checkpoint with roughly 120 pounds of gear to check in with Nicole and get instructions for my next movement.

“How are you feeling?”

“At this particular moment, I hate you.”

*Laughter* “Love it. Take this road down to the creek, you will get more instructions there.”

Let me just say, any time you are carrying more than 100 pounds for distance, it is really easy to start questioning life decisions that lead you here. Carry it as far as I can, drop it, recover, realize that there is no way to do this that doesn’t suck, pick it up, repeat. Finally made it to the creek and got the welcome instructions to drop the heavy stuff, as we only needed the bucket and life vest for the next movement.

Pausing here to note a screwup on my part. When I had refitted for this movement, I put all the food and water in the ruck and left the hydration pack behind, meaning I could not separate my supplies from the ruck if I needed to. The hydration pack itself is about a pound, just go ahead and throw the whole thing into the ruck.

The next three movements were variations on a theme. Take your bucket, follow the creek bed, through or over multiple fallen trees, until you find a chem light, touch the chem light, follow the creek back to where you started (at the intersection of the three creeks that we were sent down), fill the bucket with water, complete some sort of exercise with the bucket without spilling it (overhead press, squats, and bench press were the respective exercises for each round), then move on to the next creek. Several people complained about the bucket being clumsy to carry, but I found it made a decent improvised walking stick when climbing over logs.

The next movement was probably the most taxing for me: leave one sandbag here, take the ruck with the other sandbag and the bucket, and go to that chem light that you can just see in the distance. When you get there, you will see another, keep following them until you are met with further instructions.

Everything was up and down steep hills and valleys, and in the dark I couldn’t find any better way through it. This segment is officially called the Snake, but while doing it I referred to it as the Soviet Spider. Spiders kept falling out of the trees onto my neck, and I started chuckling, “In Soviet Russia, spider step on you.”

Another group of racers passed me at this point, and we all hit the next checkpoint at about the same time. 50 pushups, 50 situps, the news that we were close to being pulled for time hacks, and moved out down another creek bed.

Since I did not have my hydration pack with me, I dropped the sandbag out of the ruck and used the ruck to carry my food and water. This movement crossed a number of fences and fallen trees that would have been much easier to get through without the added bulk of the ruck.

At one point I tripped and my lead foot came down hard enough to drive a piece of wood through the sole of my shoe, just a scratch on my foot, but it lodged in my shoe so that I couldn’t walk in it. I sat down and spent 10-15 minutes wiggling it until I could get it out. (I keep a Leatherman in my pack for GORUCK, why didn’t I think to bring it here?)

Racers coming the other direction made it easier to follow the trail back to the HQ. More log flips, then climbing 3 ropes, a chain and a suspended ladder. I completed the first rope without problems, but couldn’t even get started on the second. The ladder was tough to get onto, but once there it was relatively easy to climb as long as you kept it close to your body. Penalty was 25 concrete block burpees for each climb not completed, 75 total. At this point I was weak enough that I was doing them one or two at a time, but got them done.

Next task was collecting 10 bales of hay from the fields around us. We were supposed to give the volunteer a number for him to direct us to what bales to pick up, but the volunteer there had just gotten there and was not up to speed yet, so he did not know what bales to give us.

“Umm, that is one of the bigger ones. Can I take that one?”

“Yeah, that works. Go.”

I had gotten one bale and was heading out for the second when I got orders to grab food and water and go talk to Nicole. I thought that I had gotten far enough behind that I was being pulled, but was pleasantly surprised to be given instructions for my final movement: Follow the path that you took to get here backward, pick up all of the gear that you left at checkpoints, and get it all back to the start point. Hurry, you’re on a time hack.

First segment of this movement was great, moving fast and excited to still be in the game. Picking up the first 50 pounds and carrying it through water that ranged from ankle to chest deep made it much less exciting and more of a trudge. (Along the way I learned that putting the sandbag inside the bucket and strapping them both into the ruck is a BAD IDEA. The positioning makes it feel twice as heavy. The first dry place I found to put the pack down, I stopped to refit and strap the sandbag solidly into the ruck.) The last two miles, carrying both sandbags, were absolutely horrible.

I finally made it to HQ and was greeted with a joyous shout of “THOMAS! You made it! You are done, drop your gear at your camp site.”

I carried everything to my campsite, fell on my side, unbuckled the pack, squirmed out from under the pile, and hobbled back to join the last few finishers in receiving our challenge coins.


I am happy to have completed this, and happy to learn that I can do more than I thought I could. That being said, I seriously want to do better. Some notes on what did and didn’t work this year.

I seriously need to improve speed over ground, both loaded and unloaded, and speed in the water. My current pace is eating time that I need for other challenges.

While my practice on rope climbs made a huge improvement, I need to work on climbing more than one in a row.

I need to test some gear more severely than I have thus far. A headlamp that works fine being occasionally dunked can fail when it is held under water for five minutes.

Having primary and secondary setups of everything helped a lot. I was able to quickly grab the backup for what broke and get moving again.

Having straps in the MOLLE webbing of the pack to position the sandbag worked extremely well.

The search continues for a headlamp that provides adequate light without going dim at 3 AM or drowning along the way. Also need to switch to a life vest that can be worn with the ruck more easily.

Hoping I can make some improvements on these before 2018.