There were whispers about the terrain of the Sawmill Training Complex at my first gun run in Ellerbe. I was already aware of the date and how it feels in the Carolinas in July. All rumors and previous experience proved a bit understated. The Gun Run in Laurens midsummer is an ordeal. If you meet anyone who finished it congratulate them on a true achievement.
The July 17th Gun Run was like many of them, a two gun centerfire biathlon covering five kilometers. Most of the route was on gravel road but there was also a fair bit of mowed grass and sandy trail to cover. Like other Gun Runs there were six stages. All stages were 90 seconds in duration for par time. If this all seems like unfamiliar territory you can read the AAR from my first gun run here for a better description of the sport.
That first Gun Run taught me a lot about true light fighter kit setup. Knowing that the heat and humidity were only going to be stronger factors this time around, I chose to leave the chest rig at home and take only a battle belt. It would be much more cool to wear and run with in high temperatures. Now the round counts are the exact same as last run, which were 40 rifle and 35 pistol. But during the safety briefing I attended at 0730 we were told that we should at least double this.
If you can recall, the first lesson I learned during my last Gun Run was Trust the provided round counts. I didn't want to completely contradict this lesson after learning it, but I took the advice given and am glad that I did. Last gun run I carried 100rds of rifle ammo in five 20 round magazines, and 91 rounds of pistol in seven 13rd magazines. I chose this time to take 90 rounds of rifle in three 30rd magazines and 78 rounds of pistol in six 13rd magazines. This was a reduction from the last match, in just 10 rounds for the rifle and 13rds for the pistol. These were carried thus:
- 1 30rd rifle magazine in a side pants pocket
- 2 30rd rifle magazines on the war belt
- 1 13rd pistol magazine in the handgun
- 4 13rd pistol magazine on the war belt
- 1 13rd pistol magazine in the hydration pack (emergency spare)
I finished with 19 rounds of rifle and 17 rounds of pistol remaining. That means that I was left with 21 and 22% of my rounds remaining at the end of the match. I'm not sure what to think about this really. For the previous match I was too high, for this one I was right. Looking at the number of hits required per stage though, I think I found the missing variable that caused the delta. Ultimately I have a good and suitable configuration, and so long as the match creators don't increase the hit or round counts, I think we are at a good number.
This was an optimal setup for the race, the round count, and the stages. I like chest rigs, and if I have other gear items like smoke, radios, rangefinders, etc I think I would don one again. But for this race you only need ammo, water, and first aid. The belt and a small hydration pack perform this easily. From my experience last time, I dropped the rangefinder, Leatherman, and roll of tape along with that chest rig. I replaced the old school USGI Hatch glove for the PIG Full Dexterity Tactical Delta gloves as well, although I must admit these were not used either due to the heat.
The Walker Razor XV headset still seems better than traditional over the hearing protection, which tends to be really hot and sweaty. The only issue I have encountered with it so far has to do with the necklace getting caught on items, specifically the rifle. At the range during training I have inadvertently pressed buttons on the necklace with the buttstock, and I had an issue pulling it off entirely when a wire was caught removing the rifle on a lane during this Gun Run. I'm not sure what the alternative is, as I'm not going to return to the over the ear setup. I suppose I just need to be more careful removing a rifle next time.
I let the heat trick me into carrying too much water again. It was as hot as it could get here in the southern mid-Atlantic, but I still didn't drink more than 1L of water. Next run I won't carry more than that, as I learned again you really won't drink and run, it serves as a mouthwash more than drink.
The first stage was just down the hill from the buildings at the start point. It was a gradual trip down after I got my signal to begin.
Stage 1 "Container Climb":
12" x 20" Torso at 130yds
Grab the sandbag and proceed to the top connex, lock and load your rifle and engage the silhouette with three hits from the door. Then make one hit per opening cut in the wall. Then make three more hits from the window. 90 second time limit.
The short run from the start line to this first stage was easy, but it was a bit difficult to see that we would start the race with a carrying event, which I suspect was the architects intended inspiration. I actually recognized this sandbag from the last run, and three narrow sets of stairs wasn't something to look forward to at your first shooting stage. But without reluctance I snatched up the bag and settling it on my non-firing shoulder (something I learned from the last Gun Run) headed up the stairs.
I found that trying to balance the bag and keep my rifle from banging into the handrails was difficult so I took my time, and walked the stairs at an angle. I was almost was crabbing along sideways to avoid hitting the handrails on each step. At the top of the last set of stairs I was instructed where to place the bag and given the range instructions. I was very confident in this stage after hearing what was to be done. At the beep of the timer I went to work and at the door it felt fast. The "openings" as they were called were groups of slits cut into the wall, similar to a V-TAC board. You had to just make one hit standing, another kneeling, and one prone.
I'm not certain what the issue here was for me. I have gotten extremely comfortable making hits out beyond 600yds lately, but this shooting had me frazzled. I think I was too confident here. I think I didn't take my time. I also was already in my headspace concerning the climb up with the sandbag. I began to dump rounds at a pace that was not prudent. The hits came but were slow, and certain shots just didn't register. By the time I cleared the slits and hit the window I could feel that the mag was getting light. I finished with less than a second under par. If so many people hadn't failed this, I would have scored really poorly. As it was, I was amongst the slowest of the 63% who passed this stage. Not an auspicious beginning by any means. After this I took off to the next stage and the longest leg of the race.
I was running. It wasn't fast by any means but compared to my previous race I was up to what might be considered a fat man's Airborne Shuffle. Due to the way the race was arranged, I was encountering folks on the last bit of their race. They did not look good. Men in much better shape than me were wearing that pink and pallor finish that people get at or near heat exhaustion. They were having trouble keeping their heads up. I began to worry but tried hard to keep my legs moving. If you follow my Twitter you will recall that I had created a map to track my effort and had used some preplotted GPS points for simple navigation. All along the creek and the lowlands to the southwest I anticipated finding the second stage but it just wouldn't come and wouldn't come.
Somewhere along this trail there was a log obstacle, which I found to be difficult due to their tendency to roll underfoot. I took too much time getting through this. It is not enough to just be able to run, I realized that I needed to start working balance, while rigged, into my exercise routines. There was also a stretch of wire to negotiate under, but low/high crawling was something familiar from my previous life. When I realized I was coming to Stage 2 I slowed a bit to get my heart-rate down, which was already way above my normal exercise of this nature.
Stage 2 "Contact Left":
4 12" x 20" Torsos at 80-120yds
Load your rifle, on the command of ‘Go’ start moving down the trail, when you hear the four man enemy team engage your patrol with blanks, seek the closest cover and return fire making 4 hits per target. You may move down the trail if needed to see all targets. 90 second time limit, time will start when enemy starts shooting.
The race instructions above don't indicate this, but before you could begin this lane you had to march into the creek and return. It was said you had to get at least waist deep. I didn't go that deep and opted to walk out and squat in water deep enough to achieve the standard and no one seem bothered by it. This lane was simple much like the first but as will soon develop into a pattern, I was not in this game mentally.
A simple react to contact left lane, I was aware of all the targets but wanting to give this a sportsman's try I wasn't looking toward the targets when the first shot was fired, nor did I glance when I made it to cover. I hit my first two targets quickly but not seeing my third I moved- I should say I bounded to the next cover. This was stupid. I was able to see the third target but had obscured my view of the last target. I actually had to bound back to see it and so I moved two times, when I should have stayed where I was and just moved around the tree. I had slightly more than one second between me and par time. Another 40 people failed this stage entirely, so I should be thankful I suppose, but I was disappointed.
I became aware at this point that I was not doing well, and rather than push myself into this run I was going to back away from the pace and just be prepared to pass each stage. I had DNF'd a stage in my first gun run and my new goal was to finish all of them, and just finish the race. Moving to Stage 3 I had a lot of uphill movement, and I was at high noon. There was little shade on the trail and I moved slowly and surely like an insect. It seemed like one hill after another, and then I saw the awning for Stage 3.
Stage 3 "Downed Pilot":
5" Circle at 15yds, 2 12" x 20" at 180 and 300yds, 8" Bonus Torso at ~100yds
On the beep, from inside of the box the shooter will unlock the survival pouch using the provided key and will engage targets based upon the information inside the bag. Shooter may use any props inside of the box or that the shooter has brought with them. Each target requires two impacts each. Shooter must make both impacts to move on to the next target. Once the shooter has successfully cleared the course of fire there will be a bonus target shot from the standing position. 1 impact will reduce your run time by 1 min. A second impact will reduce your run time an additional 1 min. You have 3 attempts to make impacts. Shooter does not have to engage the bonus target if they do not wish. 90 second time limit.
To be honest I am not sure of the point of the key and banker bag. I understand the notion that fine motor skill tests like this are a good idea, but the slip of paper found in the bag offered nothing but a bit of narrative that matched the range instructions. I ran through the reading fast but discovering nothing new in the first few sentences went into a cursory review mode and pitched it finding nothing of value by the end. The first target was two hits with a pistol and I cleared this easily. The recent purchase of a RDS and the training I put into it had paid off and I believe I only missed once. Switching to my rifle I made the next two targets relatively easily from a tripod setup. This lane featured the furthest target of the whole race, but due to the size I just placed my POI at the top left shoulder (wind was slight, about 5 MPH) and rung steel. 51 shooters failed this stage, which was nearly a majority. But my time was still not great. I think it was the reading, I should've just dropped the paper and began to shoot the stage instruction, but was afraid there was something in there I needed to know.
I took my bonus shots. I believe I hit two of the three but can't find the record of them in the score card. It was a difficult shot from the standing unsupported, but doable.
I walked out of this stage. There was little run left in me now and the sun was starting to feel much hotter than when I had took off. A check of my pulse-rate confirmed that I was near 200bpm. It was over three times my resting and I could feel the pressure in my ears and eyes. I forced myself to drink water and keep my head up. The idea that I might have a knife when I finished and the pride of passing all stages was now the goal. And I just slogged forward.
Stage 4 "Pistol Approach":
12" x 18" Torso starting at 42yds
On the beep shooter will draw pistol and make 5 hits on the target. Then the shooter will move to the next position and make 5 hits on the target. Then the shooter will move to the final position and make 5 hits on the target. Pistol does not have to be holstered when moving and you can shoot from any position. 90 second time limit.
My best lane. This huge man sized torso was easy to find and hit with my new RDS, even from a distance. Learning from my last Gun Run I did not reholster on the move and kept the gun out and up as I bounded from one shooting position to the next. With a magazine capacity smaller than the course of fire I had to perform one reload midway through, but with the new war belt this was easy.
I don't have much to learn from this lane, but will say that anyone doubting the efficacy or speed of an RDS on a pistol should try one. I was reluctant but now think they make anyone better. 39 shooters failed this stage.
Stage 5 "Bus Attack":
12" x 20" Torsos at 100yds and 80yds, 10" and 8" Circles for Mozambique Drills at 15yds and 20yds
Terrorists are attacking the bus, on the beep, from behind the vehicle, load your rifle and engage the torsos with 3 hits each, ground your rifle. Transition to pistol and shoot two to the chest and one to the head on the circles. You may close to within 7 yards to get your pistol hits. 90 second time limit.
I don't remember much from Stage 4 to Stage 5. I was hot and it was completely unshaded. Two men passed me and I felt that sting but just concentrated on moving. There were a few downhill stretches and I tried to pick up my pace but it was nothing to brag about. I had seen Stage 5 on the way to Stage 2 and knew a bit of what to expect. When I arrived I was really hot, and actually asked for a moment to collect myself before listening to the range instruction.
Loading the rifle went easily. Shooting with the rifle went easily, but the vehicle was not a great rest for the targets. If you were sitting in the driver's seat the targets were near 1 o’clock so the angle wasn't great. Once the rifle targets were cleared I grounded the weapon and in the process ripped off my Walker headset. For a minute I considered getting it and putting the ear plugs back in but just let it go. Hearing damage is just cost of business.
The range instruction said you could bound up to the Mozambique targets, but by this point I'm not working with a lot of gas, so from this long distance just draw and get to work. Surprisingly I make these hits relatively easily. But even without the running I was slow, like really slow. Besides failed stages I think this is the lowest ranked stage I have completed ever. This is partly because only 14 failed, and those that didn't fail managed much faster. I'm happy with my pistol work on this stage, but I just didn't make the easy rifle shots this whole day, and here I paid for it.
Stage 6 "Vehicle Contact"
Paper Silhouette, 2 8" Circles, 10" Square
Start in vehicle with rifle in back seat. On the beep shooter will draw pistol and engage the close paper with 4 hits. Then shoot two circle steel with 2 hits each, holster pistol, exit the vehicle with the dummy, grab rifle, and sprint to the next vehicle where you will engage the pistol targets again with two hits each, holster, and finally sprint to the last vehicle and engage the square gong with 4 rifle hits. 90 second time limit.
Coming from Stage 5 to 6 brought you up the largest continuous incline of the course, and near the finish line where most people were congregated. I was completely smoked by this point. A man stopped to check on me riding an ATV. A friend refused to take my picture. I must have looked pretty pathetic. I felt that way but was still determined to finish. I wanted to pass all the lanes and I wanted to turn that damn brick in to get my knife.
Stage 6 was in range pit north of the main buildings and Start/Finish line. There was probably an eight or ten foot berm to climb and descend into the pit. i was already so exhausted that I stopped twice on the climb, and rested when I came down. My legs were like a baby deer, and I would begin to pant with any effort.
Despite all this I was a little thrilled on the range instruction. I don't live much of a dangerous life anymore and the closest I might come these days are in my vehicle. I actually work on this scenario quite a bit. On the beep I draw my pistol and dump the four rounds in the cardboard. I should say I do this in one setting but I didn't, I had to reload to get that last hit. The others come easily too. Holster, open the car door, get out, close card door and move to pick up the rifle and dummy. I had imagined that the dummy in the passenger seat was heavy but it wasn't. At the next vehicle I put it down though, which in hindsight was a mistake. This pistol hits came easily though and after a reholster I returned the dummy to the shoulder and moved, albeit slowly, to the last vehicle.
That slow movement and the pickup and drop of the dummy was stupid though, and here is where I realized it. Loading the rifle and engaging the last target I heard what I was not expecting. The timer running out. 90 seconds is over fast in a scenario like this, and due to the day's events I just didn't have much to give physically. It was really disappointing to end like this. I had known that many people were failing stages but was sure I wasn't going to have it happen to me this time, and I should say again as I failed a stage in my first Gun Run. 66 shooters failed this stage, me amongst them. That's nearly a supermajority. Finishing this way I came into the Start/Finish line with a slight jog. I knew it was over and I looked forwarded to shade and rest.
I haven't done anything this difficult since the military. And parts of it reminded me of the some of the harder times in the military. Granted I don't think a younger me would have thought so, but nonetheless it was difficult. Like last time I finished slightly to the right of average, but unlike last time I didn't feel as good about my performance. I won't blame the heat, the pace, the stages, or anything else. I was just not a physically or mentally prepared for this race as I should have been. It was a hard lesson but I deserved to learn it. In the short time since the race I've increased the frequency and intensity of my conditioning. I also plan to incorporate more stress into my range time either via short runs or some other physical effort. I'm also going to check my confidence, as I think it got the better of me, especially at Stage 1 and 5.
That said the community around the Gun Run is the best community. I turned in my brick and secured a beautiful and valuable blade. I was able to talk shop with people who have similar interests, and made a friend to work closer with on training and preparing for the next competition, which is just a few weeks down near Savannah, Georgia. It will not be cooler for that race, and I should expect it to be difficult. I will be more ready after this poor performance. I still have a lot to learn.