Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Kitchen Table at Christmas

I just had the striking realization that it's Christmas Eve, and that means I have to clean off the kitchen table. People might need to actually - you know- "eat" off of it tomorrow.

Now, I don't know about you, but my kitchen table is the center of activity in my house, and as such, it is rather a microcosm of my life. Things that I need to either put away or find another temporary home for today and tomorrow include:

-My laptop - upon which I compose these posts, and surf the web, while still being able to watch a TV show going on in the living room.

-Noise cancelling earphones - for when I want to listen to something on the laptop without distraction, or when - like yesterday - I want to drink my coffee and check stuff online at 630 AM without disturbing the sleeping teenagers on the floor in my living room who had a sleepover the previous night and were awake until 2.

-Various bills, statements and the like.

-Coupons for the fabric store's next sale. Although, I've already got a backlog of projects to finish first - like the quilt for Soldiers' Angels, the microwave rice bag for a friend, and the shooting vest for my brother that I've been promising all fall.
-Christmas lights still in the box, along with glue gun and empty shotgun shells. These were moved to the table from the living room floor when the previously mentioned teenagers came to sleep over. I used all that a few weeks ago to make these, and was going to make another string.

-Folder that holds the papers for my gun memberships, so I can keep track of it all.

-Pamphlet from Antietam National Battlefield that I visited back on Memorial Day ( yeah, I don't clean off the table that often)

-Three DVD's on practical shooting - lent to me by a friend.

-The phone book that I used over the past few weeks trying to find SOMEone who would replace a couple pieces of siding that blew off my house in the last wind storm.

-Large purple binder that holds all my quartet music. Did I mention that I sing in a  women's acapella quartet? That's the "singing" part of my "Singing, Sewing, and Shooting" hobbies. It's a blast. We've done a few performances for Christmas, and are making plans for Singing Valentines.

-Various stacks of requests for holiday charitable donations. I enjoy doing this, but once you are on a mailing list, the requests seem to come every week. You'd think the postage would become cost prohibitive after awhile.

-8x10 photos of the Babes With Bullets Camps I've attended. Been meaning to frame or put them in an album and haven't gotten around to it.

- A scope mount that is likewise waiting for a "round tuit".

- Compact camera that I bought that has a better zoom than my phone - maybe to take to SHOT? I still haven't opened it.

-Bag of toothbrushes and sugarless gum leftover from Halloween. I suppose I should give it to the homeless shelter or something...

-Various omnipresent pens, notepads and reminder stickies. My brain goes fifty different ways sometimes, so I need visual cues to remind me to do things (like call someone about the durn siding).

-Biometric gun vault  for my bedroom. This is another installation project that is waiting for a "round tuit".

-Pretty much everything "but"  A Partridge in a Pear Tree.

So. There you have it - my "Wonderful Life" in microcosm on the kitchen table. I'd like to think that it just means that I have a fun and busy life - not that I'm a slob. But I embrace my mess as an expression of "me" - LOL

Maybe seeing my mess will make you a little less hard on yourself about your own hobbies and messes, and let you relax and enjoy the holidays. :-)

From my kitchen table to yours -- Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Recycled Chamber Flags

Now that more and more ranges are requiring chamber flags for firearms, I thought I would share my solution - and it cost me nothing (My favorite price!!!)

I've heard of all kinds of homemade options for chamber flags - zip ties, etc, but once I started thinking about it, my solution was staring right at me from the comfort of my recycle bin.

I happen to use a brand of liquid laundry detergent that happens to come in a bright yellow #2 jug. The jug also happens to have some handy right angles, that if cut to the proper width, work very nicely.

All you need is a clean, empty jug (and probably any bright color would work, it's just that I already had bright yellow), a sharp pair of shears or snips, and some imagination. I found it worked well to leave the flag end rather broad, and then taper/angle the chamber end. If it's too fat, you can just snip it down. And if you totally screw up the first couple (like I did), you've still got a whole jug's worth of plastic left to play with. You could probably make enough to supply your whole shooting team from one jug.

Martha Stewart I ain't, but sometimes I get hit between the eyes with a good idea.

There ya go! Go Crazy!!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mentors for Latebloomers

It occurred to me last week when I was discussing local buck season, that what I (and women like me) really need is a "Mentored Latebloomer" Hunting program. Many states have a "Mentored Youth" program, so why not a program to mentor the not-so-young?

I mean - think about it - we've got programs in place to encourage women to learn to shoot, and programs are growing to "keep" them shooting. To continue that encouragement and incentive, why shouldn't there be hunting programs for beginner women? Sure, there are always destination guided hunts available, but that can be cost-prohibitive for a lot of women. There are also BOW (Becoming an Outdoors Woman) programs, but does that include taking the women actually OUT on hunts to learn habitat, tracking, food sources, and all the other essentials "besides" pulling the trigger? Maybe there are some out there, but just not in my area. If there are, somebody please get me the info, because I would be all over it.

There have got to be other women out there besides me who do not have a significant other or family member to teach them who is close by. I have some remaining family who hunt deer, but only a couple - and they both live out-of-state. It is also kind of awkward as a single female to ask men at my gun club or in other social circles if they would "take" me hunting. I don't want the request to be misinterpreted or take on other connotations - ya know what I mean, ladies? Am I being too overcautious about this? It would be much easier if there were mentors on a list somewhere or something who've already signaled their openness to teach.

And I'm not just talking about deer hunting. There are all kinds of things I'd like to try before I die, and some things I'd just like to learn more about - Pheasant? Grouse? Turkey? Feral hogs?

I can't turn back the clock and be twelve again (besides the fact that you couldn't pay me enough to go through adolescence a second time - HA!), but I'd love to learn some of these things "now" - if I could find someone to teach me. Surely, I'm not the only one?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Opening Days 2013

WARNING!!! If you expect to see photos of trophy bucks here, you are in the WRONG BLOG!
Turn back now or risk your sanity!! LOL!

Okay, now that I've got THAT out of the way... :-)

I wouldn't exactly call myself a "deer hunter". But I have been out deer hunting for four seasons now. Emphasis on the word "hunting". Notice I did not say "shooting". The truth is, I've gotten one shot off in four seasons. If it weren't for sighting-in and practice, I'd still be on my original box of 30-30. LOL, how sad is that?

I didn't learn to hunt when I was young - I wasn't permitted to go to deer camp as a girl. I do understand now (but didn't then) that the family camp was crowded with men, and there would have been no privacy or "place" for a 12 year old girl, who would have put a definite crimp in the atmosphere. It's just how things were back then. And since dad didn't hunt the "house deer", I just didn't get to learn to hunt at all.

So I started when I was 46 - the same year that I bought my first handgun. There will be more to the story in another post, but for now let's just say that I'm a latebloomer at hunting too.

Consequent to my late start, I only know how to hunt deer how my family hunts deer, and even that is kind of fuzzy. I learned what I do know upon the family property, so the style is related to the topography of the camp - which is deep eastern creek valley and mountainside. My family doesn't hunt from tree stands or ground blinds. There are no scent lures or any other enticements either. It's just not what they do. My family does what my dad always called "pussyfooting". I guess the proper term is "stalk" hunting. At least in this family, this involves taking only a step or two at a time - baby steps, and with a heel-to-toe roll to keep the leaves and frosty ground as quiet as possible. Then you stand still, and look and listen for a few minutes. Then you take another couple slow quiet steps and look and listen again. It is a rather exhausting style - especially if you do that for a mile or so out the old log road - but it also keeps you from getting bored. There is a certain amount of "standing" too - but there is no climbing involved. What passes for a "stand" in this family is keeping a little three legged stool or a seat pad in your vest back, and finding a temporary perch somewhere - like behind the twin trees at the top of the fire lane, or near the path down to the spring, or simply within the branches of a fallen tree along the trailside - anything that breaks up your outline, where you can sit for awhile and watch. I'm not saying this is better or worse than anything else - this is just what I learned from my uncle, my dad's hunting buddy, and my brother over the past few years. I don't know anything else.

This year was a new experience with new topography. The cabin at the family camp is becoming nearly uninhabitable, and no one was going to be able to make it up there anyway this year. Because I am still a novice, and there is no cell service at the camp, it was probably not a good idea for me to go up there alone, so my brother invited me to come up and hunt with him and his son at the farm property he bought a couple years ago. The farm is only 20 minutes from his house. Wait, you mean I can hunt all day, and then come back and get a hot shower, AND flush the toilet?? What a concept!! ( yes, the cabin is THAT kind of cabin) I didn't know what to do with luxuries like that!

It was fun just learning the lay of new land this year. Where the farm is located is pretty flat territory, so not every field of view was going to provide a safe shot from ground level. I might HAVE to learn to use a tree stand at some point if I continue to go there, but for now there were enough dips and swales and hemlock creek hollows that I still felt comfortable taking a shot if I had the opportunity.

It's always hard getting up in the dark on opening day of buck season. But there's some anticipation too. The imagined possibilities are endless. Would this be the year for me? Although it's fun to think about, I tried to squelch that as much as possible and keep my shooting match mindset.  "Just Be Safe and Have Fun", I told myself. I was also realistic. Antler restrictions have gotten tougher. The days are gone when you could shoot a spikey or a "Y-buck" in this area (unless you are a junior shooter, disabled or active military). My nephew could shoot pretty much anything, being a junior, but these days, in this area, a legal buck starts at "3-Up" and brow tines don't count. Since I didn't know until the last minute that I'd be shooting in my brother's area, the doe tags were all sold out before I even got organized. What that meant for the bottom line was that I couldn't shoot at anything less than an 8-point. I thought that was going to be a tall order. But I was there to enjoy the couple days I had anyway.

My brother had printed me out an aerial map of the property, so I knew where I was going, and the map was sealed neatly in a ziplock bag and tucked into my coat in case I needed it. We parked the truck in the pre-dawn and split up to our various patrol areas on either end of the property.

The thing I really enjoy about hunting (once I get past the dragging myself out of bed thing, and the 40 layers of clothes thing) is that it forces me out of my usual sensory routine.

The first thing I noticed was the sharp frosty air that made my nose crinkle and turned my breath into white fog. I have an attached garage at home, so I am admittedly sheltered from the realities of being out in the cold for most days of the winter. Being out hunting made me more acutely aware of temperature fluctuations and how that might affect the movement or activity of the animals in that environment.

As I started down the lane, my eyes had to adjust to new fields of focus. I think computer distance makes my eyes "lazy" - it's kind of one field of focus all the time. But out in the fields and the woods, my eyes were forced to do some actual work. Depth perception gets a workout when I am focusing on one layer of trees, and then scanning the next layer in, and then the layer after that - with some dappled sunlight and overcast shadow thrown in for good measure - then, zooming back out to focus on the frost crystals that had formed on the Queen Anne's lace and fallow wheat heads at my feet. On top of that, add visual motion detection. When I was really quiet and still enough to pay attention to detail, then I was tuned in enough to notice the squirrel zipping up that tree out of the corner of my eye, and the songbirds hopping from branch to twig and back. These aren't usually things I notice from the comfort of my car on the Interstate! LOL

And the tracks! There were tracks everywhere in the week-old snow. Some of the tracks were obviously turkey, some were obviously deer, and some obviously rabbit, but then there were some other interesting 5-toed tracks that I had no idea about and I'm going to have to try looking up. Possum? Raccoon? Squirrel? So many interesting things to see, if only I used my eyes properly and prodded them out of their usual routine.

My ears got a similar workout. The first step was letting the hum of the distant interstate highway fade into the auditory background. When that happened, then I could tune into the sounds of the snow crunching under my boots (and mud making sucking noises after the sun came out and warmed things up a bit), the sounds of the creek water running, and twigs snapping as a squirrel hopped around on his squirrely errands. Then there were the blobs of snow dropping off the hemlock boughs with a plop as the temperature rose, and the rustle of the breeze stirring the leaves of the dried corn crop still standing in the field. It was really quite the outdoor symphony once I allowed myself to listen. No iPod earbuds could duplicate that.

Once I got settled onto my little stool amongst some hemlocks, then came the bird calls. I wish I had paid more attention when I was young, but my dad taught me to recognize several bird calls. There was the "Pee-weee" and "Chicka-bzzbzzbzz" of the Black-capped chickadees, the "Jay!" of the Bluejay, and several others that I recognized from my childhood, but I couldn't quite conjure the right names from my foggy memories. Besides the songbirds, I heard the "honk..honk-honk" of some Canada Geese flying by in V-formation, and a red-tailed hawk screaming several times overhead. Some of the smaller songbirds got closer - even 5 feet away - as they figured out that the big orange "thing" sitting there on the dollar store  3-legged stool didn't seem to be a threat. (Can songbirds see color? I know turkeys can - I'll have to look that one up). There was also a Red squirrel who was very put out by my presence. He (she?) sat about 12 feet up a nearby tree and gave me the absolute dickens - chirping and chattering at me for several minutes.

It wasn't just my ears and eyes that got a work-out. My muscles told me that I wasn't used to carrying the weight of gear and gun. My 30-30 lever gun and scope weigh about 9 pounds total, which isn't a lot - until you do it for hours at a stretch, for several days in a row. I also had on heavy insulated waterproof boots, and several layers of clothing, to include the orange vest, which also held a water bottle, a clif bar, a space blanket, a knife, a dragline and gutting gloves etc. in case I got lucky, and the previously mentioned dollar store 3-legged stool. I probably had 15 or 18 extra pounds of gear to drag around, which is not part of my normal routine. Maybe I need to work-out more and lose 15 or 18 extra pounds of "me", and then imagine how good I'd feel! LOL!  I wasn't climbing up and down the side of the mountain like at the camp either, but all that pussyfooting made my knees start reminding me that I wasn't 20 anymore.

I did see three deer in two days. But that's all I did - "see" them. Two were nothing but tails disappearing into the brush.  It might have even been the "same" tail, as it was in the same general location on the walk out and then back. I'm not obviously a champion stalker, and the first time, I had my eyes downcast, watching  my footing as I stepped over a log. I heard a snort, and looked up to see the tail, and that was the end of that. The third deer was a mere shadowy wraith disappearing between tree trunks when I had my eyes on the fallow wheat and apple trees instead. But I had two interesting days outdoors - got the briar scratches to prove it - and got the "good tired" feeling that being afield always gives me in the bargain.

I haven't been what you'd call a "successful" hunter so far ... but I guess that depends upon how you define success. I still didn't bring home a deer for the freezer, but I did get to spend some time truly "alone" - with myself, with my thoughts, and with the natural world. I got to mentally switch gears, retrain my eyes and ears, and pay attention to the very smallest of details that normally go unnoticed in the rush. I found a little temporary peace in the hubbub of my life, and that sure seems like success to me.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Backstage Report and Minionhood

In October I had the privilege of getting an entirely different view of a Babes With Bullets Camp...
But before I launch into that story, I have to give a little background first.

As I keep saying, I've only been at this shooting thing for a little over 4 years now. But my kids have noticed. So much so that they started asking if "they" could learn to shoot.  Now, "kids" is a bit of a misnomer, as they are all young adults, but I was happy that I was at least having an influence. Even though I've been at it a few years, I still didn't feel like I had the expertise to properly teach them myself.  Because of that insecurity, I had been kind of putting them off, with a "yes - when we can find time...", and "maybe I can find somebody competent to teach you ... sometime...". I finally realized that I was being a bit like my own father, and I needed to find a fix while they were still interested young people.

We found a perfect solution when my oldest daughter (middle child) decided that she'd like to go to Babes with Bullets Camp as her 21st birthday present.  It was a great compromise - I wouldn't have to teach her myself,  I could go too, and get some more intermediate level experience, and we could have some bonding time together. Now, because daughter #1 has inherited a bit of my control freak tendency (go figure!), she wanted to at least handle and fire a handgun BEFORE she got to camp.  So, in the end, I was forced to do a little teaching after all. We found a day we were both free, packed the range bag, and off we went. It worked out very well - I was proud of both of us for how we performed as student and teacher. She got enough of an introduction to feel more comfortable, but not enough for me to pass on any bad habits - ha!

Camp was in Michigan in June 2013. It made for a great mother-daughter family roadtrip, as she had been in her own apartment for several years, and we don't have daily contact anymore. I was glad that I decided to be a camper as well, since I had rather plateaued-out in my pistol skills at that point. I had developed some ruts and bad habits to be pried out of, and I wasn't sure if I was a hopeless case or not. This was probably a good thing for daughter#1, since it ensured that we would be in different squads, and I would thus not be able to be too much of a "mother" while we were there (She is 21 and living on her own, after all).  I did pull rank on her and made her sleep in the top bunk in the lodge though. She says I didn't snore too much, but I think she was just being polite. I suppose I could have always claimed that it was the stuffed rhinoceros in the lobby she was hearing...
                                                          ( Rhinoceros and friends)

It turned out to be a great experience for both of us. My daughter learned a new skill, and Lisa Munson and Sheila Brey were able to pry me out of my rut. We both absorbed a ton of new information, met new friends, and learned some valuable lessons. AND, I was still able to snap a few pictures here and there. It also helped that the other women on my daughter's squad became self-appointed informants (moms stick together - just remember that, kiddies!), who assured me that she was doing great and seemed to be really enjoying herself. This is a girl who played rugby in high school, so I knew she was a tough cookie and would do well. I was exceedingly proud of her.

                            (It was a little awkward to stand together with the gun belts on!)

Upon our return home, we gushed so much at dinner about our experience that both of my other children again expressed interest. My son, who is 25, is not obviously a candidate for Babes Camp, but I told him if he was genuinely interested that I could try to find him some qualified instruction. Then my almost 17 year old daughter piped up and asked how old you had to be to go to Babes Camp. Hmmm, that was a good question. Since she was a minor, I wasn't sure, but I promised her that I would find out.

In the interim, I attended the Rockcastle 3-Gun Championship and Babes With Bullets 3Gun Challenge that I wrote about previously, and a plan began to form. I was told by Babes that a mature 17 year old would be permitted to attend Camp with a parent, and in fact the October camp was scheduled for that very location at Rockcastle Shooting Center. Considering the great Shooting Center venue, and how educational I found Mammoth Cave National Park to be, I thought this would be the perfect setting for taking daughter #2 out of school for a couple days of "Family Educational Roadtrip" as a 17th birthday gift. I'm normally a very conscientious parent as far as letting my children skip school. But this child is an "A" student, and a marching band member since she was twelve. She is very responsible and knows what is expected of her. I was also afraid that if I didn't grab the opportunity "this" season, that next year being her senior year, the opportunity would be lost in the shuffle. I didn't feel guilty about having her miss a day and a half of school in order to tour a national park, and learn a skill that she would be able to use for the rest of her life.

So the plan was hatched for October 2013 Babes Camp at the Rockcastle Shooting Center.

Unfortunately, there was an unexpected fly in ointment of what was a perfect plan for daughter and I - the government shut-down of October 2013. Because of the shutdown the previous week, Mammoth Cave - along with all other National Park Service properties - was closed. Fortunately, private enterprise came to our educational rescue, and we were able to tour two privately operated caves in the area - Diamond Caverns and Hidden River Cave -  one a "tourist" cave, and the other a cave and museum that provided an excellent education on groundwater flows and dangers of surface contamination. We learned a good bit about the geology and ecology of caves, but daughter#2 was not enthralled with the cave crickets - they looked a little too much like big spiders -- shiver! We were able to have our educational experience after all,  but we had a back-up plan just in case. I figured if all else failed, and anybody asked, were going to say that our educational trip was for "Field Studies in Applied Ballistics". Who can argue with studying physics? LOL!
                                  (This is what greeted us the evening of our arrival)

For camp this time around, I had decided not to be a camper myself. Having just attended in June with daughter#1, I was still working on what I had learned then. But, since I still had to play chauffeur for daughter#2, I decided to offer my services as a go-fer and helper, and offered that I would just pay for my own lodging and meals. Deb Ferns immediately accepted my offer by email and said they always needed extra hands. Thus was born, a Babes camp "Minion" - LOL!

My Minion duties proved to be a valuable experience, as it enabled me to see an entirely different view from behind the firing line. When you are a camper, you are busy stuffing your brain with new experience up on the line - you aren't aware of what is happening "Backstage" to make it all run smoothly.

The main thing I saw is that there are no such things as Gun Camp Fairies - these ladies work their behinds off!

The work started well before I ever arrived on the scene -from organizing registrations and payments via computer, to arranging lodging and meals for the campers. Then apparently, there was packing up the trailer at the Miculeks with loaner guns, equipment and ammo, and the drive to the locale. Once there, someone had to arrange check-ins, and someone else had to start fitting the ladies with loaner equipment, and keeping track of who got what.

While all that was happening, I was occupied with making sure that daughter was where she needed to be, and got the equipment she needed. But as soon as she was set and in good hands, I was off to be a Minion.

My duties included: running errands to buy water and supplies, handing out camp-supplied ammo from sponsor Atlanta Arms and Ammo - while keeping track of who owed how much for how many boxes, refilling water bottles for instructors who couldn't leave the line, taping up hot spots on hands, and band-aiding boo-boos. I was also tool runner, ride-giver, assistant target stapler, and photo printer. Also when things got busy, I got drafted into helping supervise gun bagging and unbagging for the beginners at the safe table. Because I was able to help, that meant that someone else was freed up to provide extra teaching and eyes on the line, so I was very glad to do it. In fact, it was an honor to "give back" a little to a program that has given me such a boost.

Just as I had hoped, my daughter took to the whole experience like a duck to water - even better than some adults do, I was told. I can't help but think that this is due to her marching band and majorette experience. The girl marched for seven miles in high heeled go-go boots in the Tournament of Roses Parade. She is quite used to spending long hours on her feet in the hot sun, following commands and listening for further instructions. Gun camp was probably a piece of cake compared to that.  She fit right in with a group of women who were old enough to be her mother. She was even a year younger than Lena Miculek, who was an instructor at this camp. I was very proud of her, and I got to take a lot of pictures.

                                             ( Lena coaching, and first 9mm shots)

While all this was happening, in the interim minutes when I could perch on my camp stool and just "watch", I got to witness an amazing transformation take place. There were women here, including my daughter, who had never handled a firearm before in their lives. (Unlike her sister, we weren't able to get daughter#2 to the range for an intro before camp). In two and a half days, I watched these women go from tentative, timid beginners to safe, purposeful shooters. They went from first shot ever, to drawing from a holster and shooting while moving -- in less than 3 days. It was inspiring! The instructors were patient, kind, reassuring, encouraging, supportive ... I need some more adjectives here. It was also fun to watch the campers "gel" together as a group. Some had come with a buddy, or had been to a previous camp, but they were strangers to "eachother". By the end of the first day, there were fast-friends made, and mutual support happening. I seriously doubt that many other firearms courses have participants giving each other hugs, and exchanging email addresses by session's end. I've experienced it several times myself, but it was interesting to watch it happen as an outside observer this time.

Honestly, the camaraderie is the thing that keeps me coming back. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I don't have many female shooting friends that are local. I even joined A Girl & A Gun Women's Shooting League in hope of finding some more local women to shoot with, but there aren't any chapters near me yet. So, Babes events are where I get my "girls and guns" fix. It's where I'm not a weirdo. It's where I fit in.  Even my daughter noticed. She mentioned to me how much she enjoyed going out to dinner with the group of campers and instructors. She really got a kick out of listening to the stories everyone told, and the adventures the instructors talked about. Unlike most teens, she didn't mind being the youngest one at the table, and listening in. How many times does your kid tell you THAT??!

The icing on the cake experience for me was the Mini-match on the morning of the last day. This is where the instructors set up three mini "stages" as if the campers were shooting a USPSA match. I expected that I would just be watching my daughter. But then I was asked if I wanted to shoot too. I brushed it off, with a "No-No, I'm a Minion this time - this is her turn". But I was encouraged again several times, and I finally gave in and drove back up to the lodge to grab my gear. I'm so glad I did. It was a tremendous experience as a mom to be able to shoot with my youngest child on the same squad, and to be able to watch her demonstrate her new skills. I was even running the score sheets while she was shooting. How many moms get to do that? To say that I was merely proud of her would be an egregious understatement! And her mile-wide grin told me everything I needed to know about how much she enjoyed herself.

        ( Multi-time National and World "Everything", Kay Miculek with another Happy Camper)

Now, to teach my son...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

My Road to 3Gun, Part 6 (Final)

I had four stages of Day #1 under my belt, and even though I was exhausted that night, I ran a boresnake and some oil through my guns before collapsing into bed. One of the advantages of my long packing list was that I did remember to bring my cleaning kit and even an old towel and some rags. I also used some of the leftover newspaper from the "dry my shoes out" episode to protect the carpet in my room. My mother would have been proud of me. I thought this would be common sense, but apparently not, because I saw a sign at the Lodge asking people to please not use the hotel towels for gun cleaning. Seriously? People do that? In what universe would this be a good idea? I mean, if you were desperate, there was even a dollar store down the road where you could buy something cheap and use that. I guess some people must have been raised by wolves... Sigh.

At least there was no repeat of the sleeplessness from the previous night, thank goodness. I guess exhaustion is the best sleep-aid. I awoke a little sore and achy, but refreshed and ready for Day #2.

The first stage on Saturday for our squad was Stage #1, which was an all Shotgun stage. My thumb hadn't yet recovered from yesterday, but this is where I just told myself "Suck it up, Buttercup", and kept moving. In sizing up the stage, Lena thought it would be a good idea for me to take a few of the shots at a longer than usual distance, meaning I needed a tighter choke on my shotgun. I had changed the choke a grand total of once in the six months that I'd owned this gun. I knew how to do it in theory, and I knew I had what I needed, but it was still a welcome help when one of the photographers offered to supervise my efforts. We stood at the back of my car in the field, squinting at the tiny print on the chokes that came with my gun, holding them at arm's length (yeah, I should probably break down and get bifocals), and feeling for the number of notches. Finally between the two of us, we figured out which one I needed and got it installed. Whew! Thanks Yamil Sued, you're a lifesaver!

This being an all shotgun stage meant that I was going to need to reload A LOT.  There were something like 23 targets, and my gun held 6+1 shells. You do the math. Following Randi and Lena's advice that you can never have too much ammo, I loaded my belt with as many shell carriers as I could fit. Randi had a  whole box of them so I went wild. If I had a bandolier, I'd have probably used that too. Given my inexperience, and the number of reloads required, multiplied by my already sore thumb, I figured I'd better allow for several rounds dropped in the mud, too. Fine motor skills under stress aren't exactly my strong suit. I tell people that there are ten very good reasons that I never became a surgeon! LOL.

Thus prepared, I literally rattled when I walked up to the start line. Since the stage had a low port to shoot through, I also had on knee pads. I looked waaay cool in these camo babies from the hardware store, let me tell you. As it turns out,  I probably wouldn't have needed them, as the area around the port was storm-soaked mud, thinly disguised by a layer of straw. It would have been nice and soft to kneel in. Some people only crouched low at that port. But there were 6 or 8 targets back there, and given that I was still pretty new to 12 gauge, I was pretty sure that if I wasn't nice and stable, I'd end up sitting on my butt in the mud, and maybe DQ'd. Thus, I wore the sexy knee pads.

I was pretty proud of myself. I did time out with three targets left, and I "ouched", and "Ow dammit"-ed my way through all the shell reloads, but I hit my targets consistently and didn't screw up any of the 180- traps. I thought for a newb, that was pretty durn good. (Having Lena at my shoulder helped tremendously).

                            (Thanks to Lisa Marie Judy for this photo. It's the moment I timed-out)

Basically, since I shot well, but still timed out, that meant I ate up all my time with reloads. My thumb looked it too. It was bleeding, and the nail was starting to peel back, and turn black and blue. When we got back behind the line, Lena tried loading a couple shells into my gun at the pre-load table, and her reaction was pretty much, "OMG, I don't know how you're even doing that. You need some modifications."

This revelation was a bit of a relief to me in that at least I knew that it wasn't "just" me being a wimp or doing something wrong, and it also gave me some perverse pride that I had soldiered on through it. This was also what led me to get to know some of our male squadmates.  I had already bonded with the other women on the squad, commiserated, clapped, hugged, etc. But I'd only had short chats with the guys so far. Several of them were on team "C-Rums", and they started talking to me about shotgun modifications (especially for Benellis). Turns out that their namesake and teammate - Jeff Cockrum - does exactly the kind of custom work that was needed on my shotgun to make it more 3Gun (and thumb) friendly. He even gave me his card. I didn't know who he was at the time, but I did by the time the match was over, since he took second place amateur!

Our second stage of this second day (or 6th stage overall) was a pistol/rifle stage. I had a less than stellar performance here, even on pistol, and timed out without hitting yet another long distance rifle target. I learned though, that I definitely, definitely, DEFINITELY need to take a lot more practice time for shooting from odd positions, odd props, etc. Looks like I'm going to have to be a secret bad girl at my home range again - Shhhhhh.

Our 7th and last stage of the match was shotgun, and choice of pistol or rifle. Most of my squad chose to use rifle for speed and accuracy on the close-up cardboard. But not me. I had very little experience in maneuvering a rifle around stage barriers, corners, etc. I was mildly afraid that with my face in the scope, I'd get hung-up on a barrier, or turn wrong and DQ somehow. People tried to talk me out of it, but it was my last stage, and I wanted to feel comfortable, not worried. I didn't care about time, I just wanted to shoot it "clean" for my last stage ....... and I did. I hit all my shotgun targets pretty easily and quickly, grounded the gun in the barrel, and moved on with my pistol, pretending it was just another USPSA stage on a Sunday.

When I reholstered my pistol and turned around, there was Lena with a big grin and open arms saying, "You just finished your first 3Gun Match!" ... and she gave me a big hug! This girl is 18 years old and hugged me like I was one of her kids. It was awesome! I sobbed. Not teared-up ---- SOBBED! LOL! Then it was Randi's turn. All the pent-up adrenaline and anxiety just poured out, and I was shaking. It was awesome and cathartic. I couldn't believe that I did it!!! I was so thrilled, and proud, and relieved, and exhausted .... it was like a cliche movie review (I laughed! I cried! It was better than CATS!) I was so hopped-up that I don't even remember anybody else shooting the stage. I was a walking ball of endorphins.

At some point though, our last shooter finished, and we a had a couple minutes until the next squad was due up, so we took some group photos. Yay Squad 6!!! I'm so glad we did that, because it helps jog my memory about who all my squadmates were. There were fourteen of us, plus Randi and Lena. Many were already involved with the gun industry in one way or another, (though I didn't always know that at the time), and it was great to make their acquaintance. Now I can even pretentiously name-drop and mention that "I have friends in the industry, you know" *snort* BWAhahahahaha!

So, without further ado, I present you with Squad 6 (in no particular order): Dan Wheatley, Jeff Cockrum, Jacqueline Marie Janes, Jeff Burch, Randi Rogers, Julianna Crowder, Lena Miculek, Angala Foster, Kelli Sampsel, Athena Means, Lisa Marie Judy, Kathy Sherlock, Lacey Duffy, Gretchen Burch, Craig Nordgren, and Dave Wilson.

It was a great group, and we thanked everyone - especially our male squadmates and SO's - for their patience with the newbies . As I recall, at some point in the match, one of them said that with all the hot stinky summer matches they shoot, this was the first one where their squadmates smelled good. LOL What a great bunch of guys!

With our last stage done, there was nothing left but the celebrating! Unlike the previous day, I actually had time for a shower and clothes change before dinner and the prize table. It felt WONDERFUL! After that recharge, I headed back up to the Lodge area because I had up to that point had no time to check out the vendor tents. The first place I stopped was at the Hear-Pro tent to get molded for earplugs. I really like my electronic earmuffs, but the sweltering heat of this week made my head really hot under them. I also don't like the "foamies" because they don't fit well, and I hate the crinkle sound as they expand in my ear canal. So, I thought getting molded for custom plugs would give me a better option when it's hot.

My next stop was at the tent for ... I think it was The Shooter's Source. I was determined to at least "start" solving my shotgun issues that very day. The extremely patient fellow there listened to my story, and helped me along with a +2 extension for my existing magazine tube extension. This would bring me up to an 8+1 and be more in line with what other shooters were using. I also bought a few more shell caddies while I was at it.

After I entertained myself with retail therapy, I came across the BEER TRUCK! How had I missed this before? Now, I'm not a big-time drinker, but I do enjoy a beer or two on occasion, and this one tasted like success! I wandered around with my beer and my bag of goodies, and I mixed and mingled. I'm usually not very good at that kind of thing, but between the beer and my endorphin high, I felt like quite the social butterfly. I may have even talked a fellow into sending his wife to Babes Camp!

The shooter's dinner was a yummy open-air buffet, where I got to catch-up with some of the Babes gals and compare notes from the other squads. To a woman, we all agreed that it was a great experience. Touring the prize tables was interesting - the sponsors were very generous. I don't think I had seen so much cool stuff (and certificates for cool stuff) in one place before. If my name was pulled, I had no idea what I would choose. Apparently how this worked (and someone please correct me if I'm wrong) is that for amateurs, the competitors who came in first, second, third - and I'm not sure how far down - got to choose what they wanted from the prize table first. There were several guns there, so the choices could be quite valuable. After those were awarded, then the rest of the prizes (and there were a couple hundred) were awarded by random drawing. My name was pulled rather late in the game, and I still won a certificate for a Warne scope mount, worth a couple hundred dollars. (It came a few weeks ago, and it's the cat's pajamas! They didn't have pink, so I took red - it's so purty!)

The evening wore down, and we exchanged many hugs and said our goodbyes, since many people were leaving in the morning. I wandered over to the lodge windows where they had the final amateur scores posted (the pros wouldn't finish until Sunday). It was full-on dark by then, so visibility was a little tough. I used the light on my phone to try to read the print. (How many flashlights did I get in my swag bags - and did I think to bring even ONE?? - D'oh!) I finally found my score and, get this.... I WASN'T EVEN LAST! I did a little happy dance right there, and announced it to total strangers - "This was my first time, and I'm not even last!" -- At least nobody laughed at me :-)

It was the cherry on top of the hot fudge sundae of this whole experience. I had my two modest goals, which I succeeded in accomplishing (Don't DQ, and Have Fun), but I still more or less accepted the reality that I might come in dead last. I was okay with that. But it didn't happen. After all of the literal blood, sweat and tears, I wasn't even last. Who knew that such a small thing could satisfy me so much?! I went to bed an exhausted, but very happy camper.

Work was waiting for me on Monday, so Sunday morning I had to leave before the Pros were finished. I really would have liked to stay, but I'd been away for 6 days, and my "real life" was waiting. On the drive home I was still "high". There was so much information to process, so many memories to store, and so much new knowledge to stew over, that it kept my brain busy for eight straight hours.  I came up with the idea for this blog on that trip home, and also a plot for possibly getting a Babes Camp to come closer to where I live, so as to get more women I know involved. It was a mentally productive trip.

I was sooo proud of myself for meeting the challenge! I accomplished things that 4 years ago, I would never have even considered possible. I gained new skills and new confidence, pushed my personal boundaries even further back, and met crowds of new people. I've never really gotten the concept of "networking" before, since it wasn't something I had to rely on in my career. But this experience was a "networking" bonanza - so many wonderful, helpful, fun people, who encouraged me, helped me, and educated me! Who'd have thought that I could have such new worlds open up to me at age 50?

In a way, I apologize for taking 6 posts to summarize this 3Gun journey, but then again, I really don't regret documenting "everything". Every experience, and every step along the way was important to the final accomplishment. This could simply not be summarized into "I signed up, I showed up, and I went home", format. Doing that would in no way have done justice to the "process", which for me was just as much part of the adventure.

Here's to many more!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

My Road to 3Gun, Part 5

I really didn't sleep much that night. Between excitement/anticipation, and hot flashes (mid-life is so much fun), I managed a couple hours' rest but was awake at 4AM. So much for wanting to start the match bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Ahhh well - adapt and overcome, as they say. It was The Big Day - the one I had anticipated and prepared for for seven months. I checked and rechecked my gear, loaded the car, filled my water jug up with ice, and despite the knots in my stomach, got a drive-thru breakfast on my way to Rockcastle.

The excitement was palpable as hundreds of shooters gathered for the flag ceremony and start of the match. I met up with my Babes squadmates, and Lena and Randi gave us the plan for what stages we were shooting that day, and what time we should be there. Squad 6 would be shooting four stages that day, and three stages Saturday. It didn't sound like much, but it would prove to be a marathon-type day. I also kept reminding myself  through my jitters that I only had two goals for the whole match - 1) Don't DQ ( get disqualified for a safety violation), and 2) Have fun. I was resolved to accomplish both.

When we arrived at stage six (our first stage of the match) we met the guys who were sharing our squad. I'm not sure they knew what they were getting into, but they were very gracious and encouraging.
I'm glad Lena and Randi were there to give us advice on how they would shoot the stage, but I had such butterflies by the time we got through with the walk-through that I'm not sure I remembered much of anything. At least I wasn't first, so I got to watch several other shooters work their way through it before it was my turn. It was a pistol/rifle stage, and Randi made sure I had all the gear I needed on my belt when I was "in the hole" and then "on deck". I even had my new swag-bag AR mag pouch on. When it was my turn up, Lena made sure that the safety officer knew it was my first 3Gun stage ever, so they walked me through the loading and set-up step-by-step.

"Shooter ready?"... "Stand by"... "Beep" ... and I was no longer a 3Gun virgin.

I managed the pistol targets ok, and I hit my long-range rifle targets with one or two shots each, (few sweeter sounds in the world to a newbie than "HIT!", as they called out the reactive target response), and I didn't even time out. The Safety Officer told me that he couldn't believe that it was my first time ever. I was THRILLED! In fact, "thrilled" probably didn't even cover it. I was on an endorphin high!

After an hour or so break came our second stage of the day. It was a pistol/shotgun stage, so it was the first time I got to use the newest of my skills. Unfortunately, my shotgun magazine tube extension was shorter than everyone else's - I had a 6+1 rather than everyone else's 8+1. (It was another consequence of the buying frenzy that went on this spring and summer - the longer tubes were all sold out and on backorder, so I took what I could find at the time) That meant that after walking through the stage with the other Babes gals and helping them with a stage plan, Lena had to backtrack and help me with a different plan for my shorter magazine. It meant I had to plan for more reloads than everybody else, but I was still getting to know my gun, so that was okay with me. I knew I wasn't there to break any records. Unfortunately for me, this was the stage where I found out what the term "thumb-busting" means.
Randi and Lena supervised the "pre-loading" phase of shotgun preparation. That was when I realized that I hadn't done a lot of practice loading multiple rounds into my shotgun. When it was my turn to shoot, I finished the pistol targets without a hitch, since that was my strongest skill-set, talked myself through "grounding" the pistol in the bucket, and then picking up my shotgun out of the barrel. (I'm on the short-ish side, so this took a bit of careful maneuvering), I verbally reminded myself to take the safety off, and proceeded to go for the shotgun targets. The SO must've thought I was a crazy person, as I talked myself through every one of these steps. (But Lena was also at my shoulder to remind me if I forgot something, thank goodness). I didn't have any trouble with the shotgun targets themselves - it was the reloading in between that started getting painful. But I shot the stage "clean", and didn't time out, so I was quite happy. My thumb wasn't so happy though - I had peeled back some skin and was bleeding a little. Still, it was just a boo-boo in the scheme of things, and I was very happy with my performance.

Our third stage of the day was back out in the fields again. Some previous squads had gotten backed-up here, so there was a good bit of "down time" spent waiting. Like several of the previous days, the weather was disgustingly hot and humid, so I made sure I was hydrating and eating some beef jerky for the salt and protein. The water-pregnant air soon couldn't stand it anymore, and a huge afternoon thunder storm blew up  as we were getting ready to start our squad's turn. Having already had the experience of soaked socks and squishy shoes that week, I opted to wait out the storm in my car - besides the fact that I have a philosophical objection to being under a canopy with metal poles during an electrical storm. I'm just silly like that.

But, several of the hardier souls in the squad decided to stay under the canopy with the SO's. This was a humdinger of a storm, and at one point the canopy decided to fill up with air and try to take off. I took a photo of it filling up like a parachute, but missed a shot of the intrepid ones grabbing for poles as the canopy attempted to fly. It was quite the mid-match adventure and entertainment. But, it was a fairly long-lasting storm, and as time dragged on, I could feel my energy and enthusiasm draining away as my two whole hours of sleep that night started to have an effect. I even managed a ten-minute nap in the car while I waited, but I was reaching a nadir for the day and the tired and grumpy mood was setting in.

I tend to call these my "Post-call" moods, because they remind me of how I felt during my residency training, after I was on duty for 30-straight hours in the PICU, with no sleep, and nothing but 12-hour old coffee and crackers between me and a bad decision. You would think that because of that experience that I'd be "good" at functioning at that level. But the answer is "no". I survived that period of my life by sheer force of will only. I was a forty-something year old with classmates who were twenty-something. I did it because I had no choice, but I never got "good" at it. But, I did get good at at least recognizing the mood when it came on, and trying to do something to help alleviate it with food or rest or a mental gear change. So, I ate more beef jerky, had some crackers, pounded more water and gatorade, and tried to psych myself back up. It did give me a renewed respect for these folks who hold down "real" jobs, while routinely traveling the country, shooting these matches while jet-lagged and exhausted. I was only doing this for "fun", not for a second job. I don't know how they find the stamina. Finally the rain stopped though, and the match resumed.

This stage was an all-out 3Gun stage. I needed ALL my gear for this one, and I even had to borrow a few extra shotgun shell caddies from the Babes loaner supply. As Randi and Lena both told me "There is no such thing as too much ammo". I had three or four shell caddies holding four shotgun shells each (plus what was pre-loaded in the shotgun), three 17-round pistol magazines, an extra 30-round rifle magazine, plus the one in my pocket to pre-load the rifle with, and my holstered pistol. It was a helluva lotta lead, and my belt was freakin' HEAVY!  Why, if I worked out regularly with this much extra weight, I'd soon look like ... well, no I wouldn't, but it's a nice thought. Thus outfitted, I waddled my way downrange to get my rifle and shotgun into position with the SO, and waddled my way back uprange to the start position. This alone left me a little winded - geez, I need to get back into an exercise routine. Either that, or just do THIS every day!

At the start signal, I drew my pistol and engaged the cardboard targets on either side of the 30-odd yard path to the golf cart, rattling and jiggling my gear the whole way. Yes, I said "golf cart". Did I forget to mention that? Yeah, there was a golf cart. The "grounding" bucket for the pistol was in the back of the golf cart, the rifle was pre-staged on the seat of the golf cart, and the shotgun was pre-staged in a barrel at the front of the golf cart. There were several steel shotgun targets arrayed "past" the golf cart, several cardboard rifle targets in similar positions, and two long-range rifle targets arranged along mowed paths in the field. I did well on the shotgun targets, but even with my taped-up thumb, the reloads were painful and slow. The tape started peeling off too, and I was afraid it might get stuck in the gun. But I muddled through. I grounded the shotgun back in the barrel - all the while talking myself through it - "back-up, don't turn around"... "safety on" ... I can even hear myself in the video. (Yes, there is video, but no, you can't see it - even I have my pride LOL.)

I grabbed my rifle and engaged the cardboard targets off-hand and then tried to use the upright post of the golf cart to get steady for the long-range shots. This really wasn't something I had practiced a lot, and it showed. It took what seemed like forever to crank my scope up to a higher power, as my hands were sweaty and the ring was stiff. I finally had to switch hands and do it with my right hand, and that ate up a whole chunk of time. (note to self - get one of those wing-tab thingys that you saw other shooters with) Then to top it off, I couldn't see the target. I could see the"flasher" above where it was supposed to be, but I couldn't find the round steel target underneath. Finally, after more long seconds ticked by, I took a shot at where I thought I saw it, and missed. The timer went off, and I had timed out without even engaging the last rifle target. ARGH!!  My exhaustion was showing again, and I blinked back tears of frustration (There is NO crying in 3Gun!). They did at least go repaint that target to make it more visible, but people ahead of me had shot it fine, so I know it wasn't that. It was just my inexperience at play. But I had done so well on the previous two stages that I had allowed myself bigger expectations than my inexperience was able to accomplish this time. Never mind that it was only my third stage ever, first full 3Gun stage ever, and first time with a flimsy golf cart pole as a prop LOL! Back to reality and the "Just don't DQ, and have a good time" philosophy for me!

At least that stage was over and we could finally move on. Between the back-up and the storm, we had lost a couple of hours there. But when we arrived at our last stage of the day, the same forces had been at work, and there was a back-up of at least an hour and a half there as well. But it was good news in one way - Randi was able to give me the best advice EVAR - "We have time, so go get some dinner - you'll feel better." Yes, Ma'am! And off I dragged my sorry butt to find some real food.

In the end, some hot food, and a break in an air-conditioned fast food joint was exactly what I needed to recharge. I returned to the stage feeling (almost) like a new woman. This last stage of our day was set-up where Rockcastle holds cowboy action shoots, so there was a boardwalk and building facades with windows to shoot through, out into the dip and hills beyond. Problem was, the previous storm had left the stage a mud bog, so the boardwalk was getting slippery. It was also starting to get a little late in the day, and the previous storm had caused an early evening mist to start to rise from the low points. It was a pistol/rifle stage, so there were long-range targets to be shot through that mist. As I recall, there were three of them. There were also shorter range cardboard rifle targets, and cardboard pistol targets.

I opted to start with pistol rather than rifle, since I was more comfortable with pistol. I was afraid if I started out with rifle, and got rattled on the long range targets, that I'd never finish. Some people might call this "caving in to my fears", but I prefer to call it "playing to my strengths" (I told you before, I can rationalize ANYthing! Ha!) So, away I went with what passed for a stage plan.

I did okay on pistol, grounded it, and proceeded to rifle. I hit the first two long-distance targets (Yay!), but the third one had virtually disappeared into the mist. But, learning my lesson from the previous stage, I engaged what I could see, gave it up as a lost target and moved on. (She CAN be taught!) There were several "windows" and several different cardboard targets that were visible from various locations. I have this same problem with pistol matches - if I change positions, and see things from a different angle, then I sometimes forget which targets I've already shot and which are "new" targets. This is what happened to me at this point. I engaged every target I saw, but I might have engaged the same target twice, or forgotten one along the way. But, I was afraid it would take too much time to go back and figure it out. This strategy-thing is hard. At least I didn't time out this time. Yay!

By the time our squad got finished with that stage it was 7:15 pm.  We were the last squad finished. I never would have dreamed that it would take ALL DAY to shoot four stages. But, I only had club level pistol matches to go by, where we get 5 stages done in a morning. This was an eye-opener. At least the bulk of it was under our belts, and we only had three stages to shoot tomorrow.

I had a nice chat with one of the SO's from that stage over dinner, and I brought up the "last squad finished" thing. I was kind of discouraged by it and thought maybe it was a reflection on the fact that many of us were new. I apologized for keeping them there so late - but he would have none of it. "Oh no," he reassured me, "You ladies weren't even the slowest squad we had all day, and you were some of the most 'professional' we had."

Wow! Really?!  That made me feel A LOT better. It gave me a huge boost, and made me ready to take on Day #2. Thank you Sir!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

My Road to 3Gun, Part 4

Thursday morning dawned bright and early for me. Even earlier than usual actually, because we were now on Central Time, and my body hadn't adjusted to the (albeit small) time change yet. Honestly, even the switch to Daylight Saving Time takes me about a week to get adjusted, so my sleep was a bit off the entire time I was in Kentucky.

But the advantage to being awake early was that I had time to sneak in another cave tour before the Official Match Registration started. This time I took the "New Entrance" tour, rather than the "Historic Entrance" tour that I had taken the previous day. Imagine my surprise when the same tour guide arrived (the one I had pestered with questions for 20 minutes the previous day). Poor thing. I resolved to not be such a pedantic pain this time. I did manage to restrain myself to a handful of questions, and had an even more interesting time than the first day. Whodathunk I could combine an educational experience with a shooting match? (And this will lead me into the start of another story later.) I even met a cute critter along the way.

I arrived back up at Rockcastle at the appointed hour, and proceeded to check-in with Match Registration. As soon as I checked in, people started handing me stuff. Ummm... is this for me? Really?... oh, it's "prizes" just for showing up? Wow. So, you're saying that even if I come in LAST, I get stuff just for being here? Well, alrighty then! I win! Thanks!

Calling this haul of swag "stuff" didn't quite do it justice. There was an overnight bag full of coffee mug, pocket knife, stickers, an NRA jacket, a flashlight and all kinds of useful gear. Then, there was the folding stool that had a cooler/insulated bag underneath. I win! And that was just the "official" match swag. Later on that evening, at the "Ladies Wine Social", our Babes group received yet another bagful of wonderful gear from various donors and manufacturers. I wish I could remember them all to link them all here, but there was a Surefire flashlight, an Uncle Mike's holster, a pink pistol rug, a cap from GunGoddess, hearing protection and eye protection, a pink AR magazine pouch from Comp-Tac, the list went on and on. It was seriously overwhelming.

Again, this may be just part of the routine for veterans of the shooting circuit, but for me it was kind of "Wow". You also have to realize that in the medical world, the days of "drug rep swag" are long gone. In the years before I joined the profession it was commonplace for docs to accept trips and expensive gifts from pharmaceutical companies. By the time I got to med school and residency, however; it was getting hard for drug reps to even pay for a lunch for starving residents without jumping through hoops with the ethics committee. Nowadays the only swag one can hope to see from reps is a couple pens or a scribble pad. And even that sometimes is looked askance at. I know of one practice from a few years ago where the rep from Drug Company X brought a cake to the office. The office staff, thinking quickly, scraped the company logo off the top of the cake and ate it before the presiding doc could see it and refuse the gift! So, you can see why I was overwhelmed with all the "gifts" from the industry. It is not something I'm used to, and in fact, I felt a little guilty about it - like somebody's ethics committee was going to come find me! Ha! That's one of the reasons that here, in this blog, in public, I'm just "Dr. LateBloomer". It's our secret - mmmkay? :-) LOL!

So there I was, officially registered and checked-in as an amateur shooter in the AR15.COM Rockcastle Pro-Am 3Gun Championship ...and not a clue in the world how this was going to work. I was immensely glad that the women from Babes With Bullets and the Pro women were going to be there to guide me through it all. Without that assurance, I'm sure that this would have been much too intimidating to attempt on my own. Even with all of my previous experience in showing up at new things alone and figuring it out as I went - even with all that already under my belt - I'm sure that I would not have attempted this on my own. I was not ashamed to admit that I wanted a little hand-holding this time.

I was getting excited about the prospect though. There was an almost carnival atmosphere at Park Mammoth Resort that weekend - from the moment one set foot on the property. The driveway up the hill from the main road was lined with huge sponsor banners. Cars and pickups were everywhere and spilling out of the parking lot. The hilltop area surrounding the Lodge was filled with vendor tents, and signs, and trailers. There was even a beer truck. On top of that was the sound of distant gunfire, as competitors sighted in their rifles farther down the road. It was a lot to take in for a big match newb, and it carried an expectant air about it -- or maybe that was just me.

I encountered my first "hiccup" later in the day, and needed my first "hand-holding" of the event. That afternoon I arrived at the sight-in range at the appointed time, hit my rifle targets without much need for adjustment, and I was feeling pretty good. Then someone said "wait a minute, her ammo attracts the magnet". What? What does that mean? I bought what I could find available this year ... what does that mean? What does a magnet have to do with anything? If Kay and Jerry Miculek weren't both standing there with me, I'd have panicked. I was told that because my rifle ammo attracted the magnet, that meant it had a steel core, and wasn't allowed because it tears up the steel targets. But nobody told me anything about that in all of the pre-preparation emails from Babes - I bought what I could find - it's been terrible this year finding ammo. I looked at Kay, and didn't know what to do. It was apparently a detail that had slipped through the cracks. I felt  a little better that at least I hadn't actually screwed up, but I was worried about what to do. There was an ammo vendor at the event, so I was hoping that they would let me buy some suitable ammo, since it was nearly impossible to find elsewhere. It was a potentially solvable problem, but my inner control freak was all in a dither.

I was apparently not the only Babes participant with that problem - turns out that there were several of us. But by the time we arrived that evening for the "Ladies Wine Social", we were informed that it was all taken care of. Freedom Munitions and Michael Bane had arranged to donate suitable .223 ammo for us to use. Wow! I was so grateful! What a nice gesture! And my inner control freak was so relieved! Finally, I was able to relax and enjoy my wine that was graciously provided by Samson Manufacturing.

The Wine Social was where we received the news that we were part of a record-setting first. This was the largest number of women ever to participate in a 3Gun event -- nearly 60 of us, out of about 500 pro and amateur shooters -- when there are usually 20 or less. This was due to the efforts of the Noble Family at Rockcastle and to Babes With Bullets. They have worked very hard to encourage women in the shooting sports, and the record attendance was evidence of their success!

This event is also where we received our wonderful pink goody bags, and received our squad coaching assignments. I was in Squad 6, which meant that Randi Rogers and Lena Miculek would be our coaches and squad moms. I was very excited! I was also excited to meet my other squadmates at the social. Lots of interesting women, some of whom had connections to the gun industry already. Several had shot at least a couple of 3Gun matches before. I'm not positive, but I might have been the only one on our squad who had never, ever shot a 3Gun match in her life, and I'm pretty sure that I was the oldest woman on the squad. This was going to be an education.

Finally, after a lot of laughs and some business housekeeping, the social broke up and we all drifted off to our hotels, because the next morning was going to be very early, very busy, and very exciting!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Road to 3Gun, Part 3

The remaining three weeks until the Big Match flew by in a haze of back-to-school physicals, band practice, and other "real world" activities that did not involve shooting. My job tends to have a big peak in August when everyone realizes that they need a kindergarten physical, sports physical, or school immunizations. The days are long and don't leave much time for anything else but work, sleep, and school obligations. So it was, that I didn't manage any further practice until it was time to load up the car. It's a good thing that I'm not a sponsored or professional shooter. I've already got a demanding career, and I'm happy to be able to manage the practice time that I can, but sometimes that's not very much.

My packing list was an 8.5 x 11 inch page long - in two columns. I was going to be gone for 6 days, and needed gear for all three guns plus ammo. Plus it needed to be secured for travel across state lines. I'm sure this is old hat for the pros, but it was new for me, so I worried about every detail. I was going to be driving alone, so I was able to put the back seat down to make more room for gear. Unlike some docs, at least I drive a sensible car. A Subaru station wagon is more suited to my personality, and it holds a lot more gear than a BMW convertible. (And I was glad for the AWD after soaking thunderstorms and parking in fields for the event).

Since this was my first really BIG match - let alone my first 3Gun event, I obsessed about everything... was it going to be cold and rainy?... Or hot and sweltering?... How many spare pairs of shoes should I take?...Was it going to be muddy or dry?... Do people change and wear decent clothes for dinner, or do they just go eat in sweaty range gear? Turns out that the answer to all of those questions was "Yes". It was a multi-day event, and I was going early, so I needed A LOT of clothes and gear.

Finally, after months of preparation, I was on the road. Such a pleasant drive. So nice to be alone and away from the usual routine. It said something about my stress level at work that month, that I was blissfully happy to be "on vacation"  - cozily ensconced in a Super8 motel in Kentucky. Not the dream destination of most docs, or most women I know - Ha! - But it was heaven for me.

I arrived a full day and a half early, because I wanted to have plenty of time to get the lay of the land, learn where I needed to go, (since I was alone) and I also wanted to leave myself time to visit Mammoth Cave National Park while I was there. I had never been to that part of the country, and I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity.

The other main reason that I wanted to arrive early is that I wanted to watch how the Pros do 3Gun. A month or two earlier, I had gotten a mass email from Babes With Bullets, saying that several of the women Pros were going to be available to "coach" us newbies through our first 3Gun match. In order to be able to do that, they had made special arrangements to shoot their portion of the Pro Match (it was a Pro/Am) a day early. That meant that they would then be free during the rest of the match to help the "Babes" participants, and it also meant that if I arrived early enough, I would be permitted to tag along and watch them do their thing. Really??!! Yes please - sign me up!

What a generous gesture for those Pro women to make! They rearranged their schedules, and agreed to shoot all out of their usual routine, just so they could then volunteer their time to help amateur women shooters. I'd make a very large wager that this doesn't happen often (if at all) in any other national level sports competitions.

On the evening I arrived, I had gathered up as many tourist and Nat'l Park pamphlets as I could, so I could get my stay all planned out. The Mammoth Cave Visitor's Center opened at 8:30, and the first tours started at 8:45. Since the Pros weren't going to start shooting until 11 or so, I had plenty of time that first morning to poke around the Visitor's Center and get at least one of several types of available tours in, without missing anything happening up at Rockcastle, which was only a 10-15 minute drive from the Park Visitor's Center.

On my first cave tour, in addition to the geology and history of the cave, I learned about a fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome that was threatening American bat populations. I was intrigued, and stood there cornering the poor park ranger with questions for probably 20 minutes after the tour was over.  (Unfortunately for her, I spent 15 years in hospital microbiology labs before starting medical school, and am an insufferable geek when it comes to germs and infectious disease. Just for future reference, if anyone in the room is going to get excited about a Giardia outbreak, it would be me. Yeah, sorry.) But, fortunately for my poor guide, I had a time schedule to keep, so I finally let her go and moved on. What a cool morning - geology, history, AND microbiology all in one tour! After taking my leave of the poor ranger, I tossed my jacket back in the car, and headed on over to Rockcastle. (It turned out that the only times that jacket got used through the entire event was during my two cave tours. The rest of the week was simply ..... HOT.)

I got there just in time to catch the Pro ladies getting ready to leave for their first stage of the Pro match. Since this event was a Pro/Am, there were different stages set up for the pros, which were more difficult than the ones set up for the amateurs. (Personally, I thought the amateur stages weren't exactly easy-peasy either, but more about that later). It's a good thing I caught the group before they left, or I'd have never found them. I followed the car/truck caravan down the hill, out one road, and down another, waaaay out into the back of beyond. This was a seriously HUGE property!

The caravan finally stopped along a dirt road with fields on either side, bounded by hills, with a couple tables and a port-a-john as the only immediately visible signs that something was supposed to be happening there. Eventually I noticed the Stage sign and saw the set-up. Apparently this is where they set up the really long distance rifle stages, so it HAS to be out in the back of beyond. But, since this was my first time, I was clueless, and just tagging along to watch. Turns out that I was the only "spectator" per se that first morning. It's good that I knew I had been invited, or I'd have felt really weird. To reinforce that "weird" feeling was the fact that there were several photographers and a film crew with Michael Bane there as well. This is how much of a "newb" I am -- I stood there for probably 5-10 minutes looking at him and his crew, thinking "Boy, that guy looks familiar ... where have I seen him before?" Ha! Just give me a "Gibbs"-style smack upside the head next time! D'oh!

I tried at first to be just a fly-on-the-wall. I didn't want to bother anybody or be in the way, since I was only watching. I don't think I even introduced myself. Deb Ferns, Kay and Lena Miculek, and Lisa Munson knew me from previous Babes Camps, but there was also Dianna Liedorff, Athena Lee, Randi Rogers, and several other ladies who I had never met. Sooo, I was mostly just the one hovering around looking out of place. But I was all ears and eyes - I was there to learn.

After awhile, I loosened up a little, smiled and asked a few questions. But I tried not to bother anybody. They were "working", and I was not. Even so, I picked up a few things about rifle placement, etc, and this is where I learned that there is an "end" time to these stages. That was new to me. In the pistol matches I had shot, you can take however much time is required for you to finish the stage. In this event, however, you "time out" at 100 seconds. Which means, that you don't have all day to make those long distance shots. I learned that because of this, if you are having trouble with a particular target, it can be a wise strategic decision to take the penalty for a miss and move on, rather that timing out and leaving other targets still unengaged. It was a strategy that I ended up using during my own match. Thus, that knowledge alone was worth the trip.

After two long distance stages out in the boonies, they broke for lunch and then proceeded to more familiar territory for the afternoon session - the bays just up the road from the lodge. By this time I had had a chance at lunch to chat with the ladies and introduce myself to the ones I hadn't met. This made the afternoon a little more relaxed for me. I was also joined at that point by Robin - another Babes alum - so I wasn't the only spectator anymore! That made it even more fun, as we watched the events and caught up on life since we had met at 3Gun camp the previous year.

Have I mentioned that it was hot? Yeah - like 95 degrees and 80% humidity kind of hot - the kind of hot that means thunderstorms. And so it was, that by the start of the last stage of the day, the black clouds had gathered, and the drops began to fall... and fall... and FALL. Athena took refuge in the back of an SUV, Dianna and several others hung out in the gear shed, and Deb brought out her pink umbrella/parasol. But still, the show went on. By the time everyone was finished shooting, they were all soaked to the skin, and the bay looked like a flood zone. I had dragged out a stained old golf umbrella from the back of my car, so Robin and I were fairly dry from the thighs up. But from the knees down was a different story. It rained HARD, and at one point it was kind of blowing sideways. That day I learned an important lesson: You might be wearing Gore-tex waterproof shoes, but you reach a point where that just doesn't matter, when it is raining so hard that the water runs down your legs and soaks into your socks!

I ended my first day at Rockcastle by stopping at a convenience store on the way back to my hotel, so that I could buy a newspaper to stuff my shoes with to dry them out overnight. At least I felt vindicated for packing three pairs of footwear!