What to expect at your first Pistol Match...
You are a club member and have decided you want to try a "Pistol Match". Hmmmm..... what will it look and sound like, what are the rules, what can I expect to see and hear?
When you arrive at the range on match day, you will see shooters "gearing up", setting up shooting stages, signing up and getting a score sheet, and getting mentally ready for the match.
Our range operates on match day under the "Cold Range" rule, which means no loaded guns, no magazines (loaded or unloaded) in semi-auto pistols, and hammers down on an empty chamber. For revolvers, the cylinder is empty and the hammer is down. There are 2 places that are legal to put on your firearm: In your vehicle, or in the designated "Safe Area". At your vehicle, you are allowed to load magazines (or moon clips and speedloaders for the revolver shooters), put your belt and related gear on, and generally prepare yourself for the match. Once you put your firearm in the holster, it stays there. If someone wants to see your gun, or if you want to look at some one else's gun, you MUST go to the Safe Area. Only there are you allowed to handle UNLOADED firearms. Absolutely no live ammo can be handled in the safe area.
Shooting equipment can go from basic to extravagant. Eye and ear protection are MANDATORY for all shooters and guests on the range on match day. Any safe firearm of 9mm or larger caliber in semi auto or 38/357 Mag or larger in revolvers will get you started. Lots of people shoot their straight out of the box Ruger, Glock, Springfield Armory, etc pistol and do just fine. As you get more into the "game", you might look at modifications and accessories that will enhance your shooting abilities, but to start off, box stock is just fine. Also, you will need a safe holster that will retain your firearm and cover the trigger. You also need a way to carry extra ammo. Please don't go out and buy some kind of expensive setup without seeing what the other shooters are using, and feel free to ask questions about their equipment. Shooters are always willing to help a new shooter get the right equipment, and also to steer you away from making some expensive mistakes. Most shooters can do just fine starting off with something along the line of the "Uncle Mike's" line of nylon or kydex holsters and mag pouches. Some shooters also just stick a couple or 3 extra mags in their pants pockets and go at it. The whole idea is to have a good time and be safe. The more you shoot, the more you will see the different kinds of equipment in use and see what you like (and what works) and what you don't like. Shooting equipment is like cars, boats, women or anything else, what I like, you might not like.
When you show up , there may be several club members already on the range setting up different shooting "stages". A "shooting stage" is an array of targets the is set up so that each competitor shoots the exact array of targets, but each shooter has the option to decide how it is to be shot based upon his experience and opinion. We have 6 shooting bays, and usually try to have 6 stages set up to shoot. Usually, we shoot less than 150 rounds, so that much ammo should be enough for a match.
Right about 10:00, we will call all shooters to the pavilion, discuss any minor business that needs discussing, make sure there are no questions, and then do a "Walk Through". The walk through will take you to each stage, and there it will be explained how the stage will be shot and scored, starting positions, and any thing else that is relevant to that stage. This will be the time to ask and questions about that stage. This will continue to each stage until all have been covered. At this time, if we have more than about 12 - 14 shooters, we will divide into 2 squads, each squad consisting of a range officer (RO), stats person, and the shooters. Usually, if a shooter doesn't volunteer to start off, the RO will select a person to start.
Now, here is where the fun starts.
When the shooter comes to the firing line, the RO will ask him: "Do you understand the course of fire". If the shooter has any questions, or needs any clarification, now is the time to speak up. Don't be shy, make sure you know what the stage setup is.
If the shooter says "Yes", indicating he understands the course of fire, or nods his head, the RO will say: "You may load and make ready". Only at this time, and under direct supervision of the RO, are you allowed to remove your unloaded firearm from the holster, point it safely downrange, take any imaginary sight pictures, practice your draw, and load your firearm. At that time, you will reholster your firearm, (or place it where the stage procedure calls for it to be placed) and assume the firing position. The firing position can be "Arms naturally at sides", "Hand on head with fingers interlaced", "Surrender Position (wrists above respective shoulders)", or any other starting position stated in the course description. All shooters will start from the same position.
Once in the shooting position, the RO will ask: "Are you ready?" If you are not ready, shake your head or say "NO". If you are ready to commence firing, nod, say "Yes" or just wait. If you acknowledge that you are ready, the RO will say: "Stand by", and 1-3 seconds later, you will hear the timer beep. This is the time when your mind goes blank, you try to remember what you are supposed to do, and generally try to shoot bullets in a safe direction. No, it is actually the time that you draw, engage the targets and finish the stage in the procedure described in the walkthrough.
When you think you have satisfactorily completed the shooting stage, remove your finger from the trigger, point your firearm down range and wait for the RO's next command: "If you are finished, unload and show clear". At this time, you will remove your magazine from a semi-auto (or empty the cylinder on a revolver), and show the RO a clear firearm. Once the RO is satisfied that the firearm is clear, he will give the command: "If clear, slide down", at this time you drop the slide on a semi auto or close the cylinder on a revolver; the RO will then say: "Hammer down (this is when you "PULL" the trigger on an empty chamber)", "Holster (this is when you holster your firearm)". Then you will hear the command "The range is safe". At this time he will give the stats person the official time, and they will proceed down range to score your targets. Also, this is the time when the people behind the line can help pick up brass and tape targets. The shooter is allowed to go down range with the RO and stats person, but is not allowed to touch the targets. If the shooter has any questions as to why a particular target was scored a certain way, he is allowed to question the RO before the target is taped.
Congratulations, you have just completed your first pistol stage. That wasn't that hard, now, was it. What is this fast heartbeat, sweaty palms, and weird feeling in your stomach?? It is just competition. It'll get better after a few matches.
Now, there are a few more things to keep in mind when you are on the line and shooting. Any time you are reloading, moving between shooting positions, or clearing a malfunction, your trigger finger MUST be out of the trigger guard. If your finger is near the trigger, you will be warned to watch the finger. Sometimes the RO will shout "Finger". That is what he means. Finger on the trigger during reloading or movement is a match disqualification (DQ).
If you hear the RO shout "STOP" for any reason, immediately stop shooting, point your firearm safely down range, take your finger off the trigger and wait for further commands from the RO. Maybe he saw a target that fell (range failure, you get a reshoot). Maybe something about your gun didn't sound right, squib load, etc, or he saw something happen to your gun that you didn't see (the RO is watching you and your gun, not the targets you are shooting at). In any instance, stop and await further instruction from the RO.
Another rule strictly enforced at ALL matches is the "180* Rule". This rule stated that you can not let the muzzle of the firearm point more than 90* (degrees) from directly downrange. Breaking the 180* rule will result in an immediate match DQ.
If at any time you drop your gun, you must have an RO assist you in retrieval. If you drop a loaded gun during a course of fire, or while loading or unloading, stop and wait for the command to pick it up from the RO. Dropping a loaded gun will also result in a match DQ.
At this point, after you have shot, the other shooters will shoot in the order they are assigned. You are expected to help patch targets, pick up brass and help in any other way. This keeps the match running smoothly and on time, and gets the next shooter on line in a timely manner. Usually after all of the shooters complete a stage, they return to the loading bench or their vehicles and reload magazines, get a drink or whatever else they might need to do to prepare for the next stage.
After the match
Usually the match is over before 2:00 PM. Be sure to bring sunscreen during the summer, foul weather protection if it looks like rain (yes, we do shoot in the rain), and maybe a snack and something to drink, especially if it is hot.
After the match, we will tear down the stages and police the range. Usually with a little help, this doesn't take but 10 minutes or so. We all know that at times some shooters have obligations after the match and for one reason or another all shooters can't stay all the time to help, but the help is nice when you can stay. The range has to be picked up whether one person does it or 10 help.
Hopefully this has given the new shooter the insight to what will be seen and heard at a pistol match. To really experience the sights and sounds, come on out and get a first hand look at our "game". Just remember, if you like shooting, you'll probably be hooked.
If you need any more info, feel free to contact any club member or officer. We'll be more than happy to help.