Ah, the smell of testosterone in the morning. The air was fairly crackling with it the first morning of the MGM Three-Gun competition in Parma, Idaho. Butch guys loaded down with weaponry were everywhere, talking incomprehensible shooting talk, grinning and shaking hands, earnestly reciting the Pledge of Allegiance (“amen,” someone said at the conclusion) and in general, being Manly Men. The fact that most of these Manly Men tote their firepower in little red wagons (such as John, here) or more popularly, in converted baby jogging strollers, is a dichotomy that I find particularly endearing. (There are Extremely Manly Men who compete in a class called “Super Troopers,” and they have to hump all their stuff on their backs, without benefit of stroller or little red wagon – but I think they’re a little loopy.)
I always feel a bit odd at these events, but I attend because I am (a) A Good Wife On Occasion, and (b) they’re always interesting, if only to watch the goings-on. If the goings-on get dull or tedious, they always take place out in some field somewhere, so there’s usually wildlife to watch. With my chair, a book or two, a pair of binoculars and my trusty Audubon guidebooks, I can be happy just about everywhere. The only downside is that I have to wear eye and ear protection whenever I’m on the range, which are ever so stylin’ but uncomfortable after a while. And no, I am not wearing the ear protection properly in this photo; there was no shooting going on at the time so I have the earmuffs parked at the back of my head, which makes me look a bit like a mutated Minnie Mouse.
Lest you think that there could be nothing more boring than watching a bunch of guys plinking at targets, let me assure you that the MGM Iron Man was a lot more than that. In the first place, the style of shooting is what’s called “practical shooting,” and I can’t give a better definition than the one supplied by the U.S. Practical Shooting Association’s website, which states: Practical Shooting attempts to measure the ability to shoot rapidly and accurately with a full power handgun, rifle, and/or shotgun. Those three elements – speed, accuracy, and power – form the three sides of the practical shooting triangle. By design, each match will measure a shooter’s ability in all three areas. To do this, shooters take on obstacle-laden shooting courses (called stages) requiring anywhere from six to 30+ shots to complete. The scoring system measures points scored per second, then weights the score to compensate for the number of shots fired. If they miss a target, or shoot inaccurately, points are deducted, lowering that all-important points-per-second score. If shooting has an “extreme” sport, USPSA-sanctioned practical shooting is it.
I’ve sat in on a lot of these matches over the years, but the MGM Iron Man is a whole ‘nother ball game. Here’s the description from their website: The match includes 10 stages, an 1100 round count (if the shooter doesn’t miss), and EVERY stage requires the use of all 3 guns…Over 3 days, the participants will shoot from the back of a moving vehicle, while driving a golf cart, from the top of a 20 ft tower, and while carrying a dummy. Every stage has a 10 minute time limit and the average time spent shooting on EACH stage is about 7 minutes.
What this translates to is three days, each roughly 12 hours long, of hauling a lot of heavy guns, ammo and other shooting equipment over a couple miles of dusty Idaho back country. If you’re not actively shooting a stage, you’re helping reset the stage for the next shooter, assisting with scoring, or helping the Range Officer in charge of the stage. Everyone helps, and I do mean EVERYONE. At the end of the day, you go back to your hotel room and clean your guns and get ready for the next day, so on average these guys get about four to five hours of sleep. And yes, folks, they do it for FUN.
The match ran from Thursday to Saturday. Thursday morning was the orientation, which meant we were at the range before sunup. It was cold, and it stayed cold until mid-afternoon, so I was actually grateful for the earmuffs. John shot four stages the first day. The first stage was relatively uncomplicated (compared to the majority of the Iron Man stages). I’ve posted the video here so you can see what it looks like. This is just the first part of the stage; later on he runs to the back part of the stage and shoots at a lot of metal targets, so quickly that it sounds like bells chiming – but this part is just to give you a flavor. The tall guy in the fluorescent yellow shirt is Andy, the Range Officer (or R.O.) for the stage.
The second stage was a mystery stage, which meant that I couldn’t see anything of what was going on (although I was told a wheelbarrow was involved). A golf cart was featured on the third stage, and the final stage of the day was on the most far-flung of the stages and, according to John, “all uphill.” A lot of the day was spent sitting around waiting. The downside of the day was lunch; John’s squad was one of the last to break for lunch, and due to some miscommunication the lunch folks hadn’t prepared enough food, so we had to make do with burgers and chips, missing out on the cole slaw, potato salad and BBQ. There was surprisingly little grumbling (well, I grumbled a bit). Then it was back out onto the range. During the downtime I did a little binocular work: saw a lot of Western Kingbirds, scared up some California Quail, and watched a pair of peeved-looking Red-Tailed Hawks standing guard over their nest. There were also a number of Townsend’s Ground Squirrels at the range, which live in prairie dog-like villages. They disappear into their holes if you approach, but whistle to each other, managing to sound like they’re right under your feet.
Because of a delay on Stage 9, John’s squad was backed up for the balance of the day. They finished shooting Stage 11 at about 8:15 PM, so after getting dinner, returning to the hotel room, cleaning the guns and tumbling into bed, both of us were pretty tired. But once things warmed up, you couldn’t have asked for prettier weather, better fellowship and a more beautiful sight than the Idaho high desert.