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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

My Road to 3Gun Part 1

I hit a big milestone in my whole 4 year gun "career" this year - I shot in my first ever 3 Gun match. But, like all things in my life, it was a stepwise progression to get there.

My baby steps started in August of 2012, when Babes With Bullets held their first ever Intro to 3Gun Camp at the wonderful Brownells Big Springs Range in Iowa. (Yes, I drove ALLLLL the goshdurn way to Iowa and back - by myself. At this point in my life I've learned that if I really want to do something, I might as well just go ahead and do it alone.) By this point I was pretty comfortable with pistol, and owned my own AR-15 style rifle (but wasn't fully comfortable yet), but I had not handled a shotgun since my Dad's FIAS 20 ga when I was twelve. Fortunately, as always, Babes had loaner equipment courtesy of their generous sponsors, and that included Mossberg 930JM shotguns.

During this Iowa Camp (though we were by no means "camping" at the Brownells Linden House), Kay, Jerry and Lena Miculek, along with Maggie Reese, and Deb and Gary Ferns introduced me and my fellow campers to the challenge of 3Gun. I had so much fun, and it was so empowering to discover that I could handle 3 entirely different types of firearms! I had only been shooting at all for 3 years at this point. Which meant that I had gained proficiency in one type of gun per year. I thought that was pretty durn good for middle-aged late-bloomer like me.

Fast forward to January 2013, and an email sent to all the camp grads about a 3Gun Match in Kentucky. Turns out that I and other camp grads were being offered one of 40 slots set aside through Babes With Bullets and the Noble family at Rockcastle. In the email, Kay said it would be a "good first experience", so naive me said "Okay, sign me up!" - LOL. Little did I know...
When I eventually read the press release about the AR15.com Rockcastle Pro-Am 3 Gun Championship  and found out what a huge match this was, I had a mini panic attack. Oh Good Grief, what have I gotten myself into??!! Seriously. I fought back panic-tears, and took a deep breath and decided that I'd just have to be like a Jamaican bobsledder at the Olympics - happy to be there and take it all in, and have no performance expectations beyond not being an idiot.

Babes would provide loaner equipment to the ladies who didn't have enough gear of their own, but my inner control freak took over again.  I decided that since I was already signed up, and my goose was already cooked,  I needed to do what I could to get back in "control", and that involved buying my own shotgun so that I could get comfortable BEFORE that match. Unfortunately for me, it was winter/spring 2013, and the political climate had firearms of every kind flying off the shelves, and on backorder 'til kingdom come. My problems were compounded by short arms (which I found out is called short LOP or Length of Pull in a shotgun), which made it difficult to even get most shotguns to my shoulder, and made all the ones I tried very front-heavy. I had managed the loaners at camp "okay", but it wasn't comfortable or natural-feeling by any means. I looked online at short LOP guns available, and stock modifications, and junior versions, and all kinds of limited options, but didn't find anything that satisfied me.

As before though, Serendipity was on my side. During this time period, I was driving to another state to pick up my mother and take her on a cruise. Partway there, I needed a stretch and decided to stop at a large big box outfitter just for giggles. I wandered through the ladies wear, and up into the gun department, where I decided to look at shotguns. There was a small selection of the usual players, which as before were all too big for me.... but what's that one over there?... that's one I've never tried before. Oh crap, it's a Benelli and I wasn't planning on spending that much money. But when I lifted that gun to my shoulder, it was like the angels started singing! It Fit! I didn't feel like I was falling forward onto my face! I could get my cheek down where it was supposed to be! And it was the LAST ONE IN STOCK. Oh Good Grief  - Now what do I do? ... I'm out of state and leaving on a cruise for a week.... but this is THE gun!.... but my mother doesn't have a gun safe.... and I can't leave it locked in the car... and I can't take it with me... NOW what do I do?

After I explained my dilemma to the very kind fellow behind the counter, he checked with his manager, and they decided that if I paid for it now, that they could hold it for me (as if I had ordered it) until I got back from vacation. YAY!!!!!! It was mine!!!
I'll bet that there aren't too many women that go away on a cruise and come home with a shotgun as a souvenir!

The trip went well,  I picked up the shotgun and got home uneventfully. But there was work to be done - a LOT of work.
There was me, scouring the internet for equipment, advice, and generally trying to reassure myself that I could do this. I ordered a new Velcro gun belt, because I knew if I was loaded down with all that equipment on my IDPA belt, that getting to the port-a-john at a match was going to be interesting. For women, the port-a-john is always an interesting trip - no need to make it even more so.

The new belt type I ordered had two parts - the inner belt, which goes through the pants loops as usual, closes with Velcro instead of a buckle, and is covered with Velcro "loop" fabric on the outside; and the outer belt, upon which all the gear hangs, which is covered on the inside with Velcro "hook" fabric. The outer belt with all the gear attached simply "sticks" to the inner belt with the Velcro. That way, if nature calls, (as long as any firearms have already been secured), you just peel off the gear belt and go! Genius!

I burned up my credit card ( or to put a more positive spin on it - I "accumulated more air miles") with orders for belt, more magazine pouches, shell caddies, a magazine extension for my new shotgun, a pink bolt handle, a lower profile recoil pad etc. I also had to find ammo - which in the previously mentioned climate of early 2013, was a bit of a challenge. (And that's a bit of an understatement.) Given that Babes had loaner equipment, I probably didn't "need" to purchase any of this new gear, but being a control freak, I felt the need to have my own, so that I could practice with it and try to get comfortable ahead of time.

Since shotgun was what I had the least experience with, that's what I tried to concentrate on first. This is where I found out that sometimes it is better to ask forgiveness than permission. Being the courteous gal that I am, I emailed the president of my local gun club about using orange clays on stands for some beginning practice. He nixed that idea, saying that the little pieces made it hard to mow, and that he preferred all clays be shot in the air. Since I usually shoot alone when I practice, that was going to be pretty much impossible. I'm not coordinated enough as a beginning shotgunner to be able to both throw AND shoot. I'm mentioning this only to draw attention to the fact that there have been a thousand little obstacles like this along my entire journey - a thousand little "NOW what do I do's?" that had to be overcome or worked around. It made me recall Roseanne Roseannadanna's mantra "It's always SOMEthing!"

So, my first time out with my new 12 ga semi-auto shotgun, I contented myself with blasting the living bejeebers out of a stationary cardboard target. At least it got me used to the recoil, firing multiple rounds in a row, and learning to reload. Baby steps, Baby steps... It was a long way from my dad's 20 gauge all those years ago.

Indeed, I saved one of my first empty shells from that day, and because my dad was such a shotgun guy, on my next visit home, I buried that spent shell at Dad's grave. Probably a terribly pagan thing to do for a very Catholic guy, but I did it anyway. It brought back a lot of memories and gave me a little closure.

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