It’s Raining Steel!

As I sat eating a hot and delicious bowl of chili, a cold rain sluiced down on the metal roof of the pavilion at Palmyra Sportsman’s Association. I looked out at the unexpected rain, considered my not-so-great shooting during the morning, and wished I could just go home. But that was last year. This year, the rain was not unexpected. This year, the entire weekend of the PSA Shootout was supposed to be a washout. Still, here I sat with more chili, staring at a hard, predicted rain, kinda wishing I was done for the day.

No line at the novelty shoot in the distance through the rain. Our view from lunch.

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time you know it started out mostly about running and triathlon with some epic hunting and shooting sports mixed in. Today is, once again, about the latter. I promise (hope?) I’ll get back to some running and racing tales eventually but one liberating thing that has happened since COVID is allowing myself to do more variety of things I enjoy instead of feeling obligated to go do what others think I should. Last year, when I tagged along with my buddy Ed to the PSA falling steel event, I got a bit of a bug for it and certainly wanted to do it again only better this time.

I decided not only did I want to do better at the PSA Shooutout, but I wanted to be a better pistol shooter in general and develop better fundamentals. To that end, after last year I scheduled a few range sessions with Laura James, a local firearms instructor. Laura did a great job of correcting my self-trained poor habits and shooting form into something more stable, repeatable, and accurate. In fact, once the weather improves, I’m hoping to go see her again. If you are local to the Reading, PA area and want to learn to shoot safely and accurately, Laura is your gal! (Here is Laura’s e-mail if you don’t have Facebook.)

I didn’t just rely on a handful of lessons. I also spent lots of time and ammunition at the range shooting both centerfire pistols and .22 rimfire pistols. There is no better way to work on technique than the rimfire. The ammo is still cheap, there is no recoil, and the shooter can focus on the basics while sending a lot of rounds downrange. Rimfire makes for really fun and enjoyable practice.

Shooting .22 rimfire requires the exact same skillset as 9mm or any other centerfire cartridge without the big recoil, or big expense.

The 2022 PSA Shootout was my first “official” pistol event. Prior to that, I lacked the confidence to enter any pistol events. I’ve mentioned in the past that shooting pistols well is really, really hard. It is nothing like the movies. Even though my scores last year were not the best, they weren’t the worst in the field either and I did mostly hit what I was aiming at . . mostly. It gave me the confidence to try a couple other formats including both indoor and outdoor GSSF (Glock shoots) and a PA Steel League shoot. It turns out all of these events are quite fun and well within reach of normal people. Learn from me: Don’t be afraid to go spend an enjoyable day at the range trying something new and meeting new people.

Pennsylvania Steel League (Very similar to Steel Challenge). This isn’t a falling steel event. You shoot 5 stationary steel targets. You shoot 5x at each stage and the worst time at each is thrown out. Cumulative fastest time wins.

Safety is paramount at these events. Typically, the range is cold meaning no loaded firearms at all (concealed carriers, police, etc. included) and no firearms handling unless at the designated gun handling tables or at the shooter table under command of the range officer when it is a participants turn to shoot. There is a rather intimidating list of rules that might get a shooter disqualified for the match but the reality is most of these are just normal safe gun handling procedures. In two years, I personally haven’t seen anyone DQ’d nor have I seen any reason for a DQ.

Enough of the fluff. The question is . . did I do better than last year? The short answer is absolutely yes. Read on if you want more or return to your normally planned cat videos on Youtube.

Let me help . .

Last year, our little contingent consisted of myself, my friend Ed and his friend Matt. We had the same crew this year but were also joined by Ed Jr. Like last year we arrived well-fortified for the predicted rain, wind, and cold, signed in and attended the pre-shoot safety and instruction briefing. Packing umbrellas and rain gear in addition to our guns and ammunition, we joined the rest of squad 2 and headed off to stage 2 where we would start. There are 6 stages total with 25-30 falling steel targets on each. Some easier than others.

Full disclosure: My phone was buried in my pants pocket under my rain pants most of the day. I seldom went to the trouble of digging it out so am shamelessly “borrowing” video and photo from others where I can find it. This was stage 2.

Palmyra has changed things up a bit. It is a modern club with a large membership and a solid budget that is always improving. In the past, the PSA Shootout was rather spread out and involved a fairly significant hill-climb and/or descent to reach all 6 stages. That has all been revamped and all 6 stages are now on the same level with solid concrete or timbered walls and berms between each. This also freed up a couple previously used ranges for added parking. I mention it because that hill climb may have kept people away before but is no longer something to worry about.

Like last year, I chose to start my day with “Stock Auto”. As I’ve explained before, basically you use a gun as-built by the manufacturer with the stock trigger, notch and post sights, and essentially no real additions or changes to the gun aside from maybe some grip tape or similar.

The new range setup. Much more compact than previous.

Despite all the practice and work, I still kind of suck with open sights. Unlike Edward Jr. with his teenaged vision and hand/eye reflexes, my 57 year old eyes require progressive lenses and open sights for me are, at best, a blurry mix. Combine that with the inevitable nerves I start out with at every shoot and the result is somewhat predictable. Just my luck that stage 2, where our squad started, was probably one of the more difficult of the day. (A glance at the scores and times bears that belief out.) Bottom line here is the first stage was the only stage I left steel standing running out of time before I could get my stuff together, and aim properly to knock the last one down. Mentally, I kind of threw my hands up here, but as I watched the remainder of the squad shoot, I realized there was no reason I can’t easily hit all of those targets if I properly aimed and pressed the trigger. I’d been hitting targets that small at the range for over a year and just last week repeatedly pinged a 4″ plate of my own at 60 feet. “Say, Pete” I said to myself. And I know it was me talking because I recognized my voice. “How about we focus a little harder and apply the principles you’ve learned the rest of the day?” That’s the family friendly version of what I told myself. It may have had more to do with removing something from a bodily orifice. On to stage 3.

The sight picture on the right is what you are supposed to have while shooting open notch and post type sights. A hard focus on the front sight watching for movement as you press the trigger. My sight picture never looks as clear as either of these pictures.

If stage 2 was the hardest, stage 3 was probably the second easiest. It involved two sets of elevated “poppers” which are like a tall, rounded off crucifix, and several big o’l almost-impossible to miss “snow cones”. There is probably a better name than that but to me they look like big snow cones. It is worth stating right now that Junior cleaned all of our clocks. He is a talented shooter to start with and has youthful reflexes and coordination. All big pluses. In fact, there is an event called “Rimfire Challenge” that involves speed-shooting of standing steel plates. Fastest times win. The championship is won every year by someone in their teens. Once a competitor hits 20 they are kind of over-the-hill. I did have to chuckle at Junior’s expense on stage 3. Both morning and afternoon, he cleaned the poppers straight through without a miss and then, perhaps a bit overconfident, lost some seconds by missing a couple of the seemingly unmissable snow cones. He was still faster than me by 10-12 seconds on the stage but I didn’t miss any snow cones! “So there!”

Stage 3: Second easiest of the day.

The important thing is I did calm down, pull my head out . . er . . . I mean focus a little harder and made good shots on all of these targets. Happily stage 2 in stock auto would be the only stage I really FUBAR’d all day.

Along about stage 3 or 4 is when the rain showed up. It started as a drip and drizzle and threatened to get worse throughout the morning. Fortunately, stages 3 through 6 have a nice variety of shelter available. PSA had large awnings and easy-ups set up for most stages although cramming the whole squad and their equipment beneath them would have been a challenge. There is also a storage building behind stages 3-5 where you could put your equipment to stay dry and also hang out when loading magazines, etc. Stage 6 is nearly completely covered with a big, metal-roofed pavilion so that was a real luxury. The fact is the rain really didn’t become much of a factor overall until we were almost done the morning session. I’d have probably placed a bit better if it did rain more since I had packed my rain bullets. (Okay, there really aren’t special rain bullets.) About the time we wrapped up our last stage for the morning the skies really let loose with a hard, steady rain that would last the next couple hours.

Junior showing the way on stage 5.

Lunch included sweet Italian sausage with peppers on a bun, and a delicious bowl of chili. I added in a cup of coffee for good measure. The hot food tasted good on a dreary, cold, wet day. While munching on my sandwich I decided my next gun is going to come from Philadelphia or Chicago. According to the news, guns in those places shoot things all by themselves. Mine, apparently broken, require me to take careful aim and apply a proper trigger press to hit anything. Stupid guns.

My Glock 34 with Crimson Trace Rad sight that I used for Open Auto. The new trigger and shoe was not installed in this picture. The CT Rad is mounted with the factory Glock adapter plate. Close inspection shows a gap in front of and to the rear of the sight. This means only the tiny screws secure the sight.

Like last year, our whole group had signed up for two sessions for the day. Ed and Ed Jr. shot open auto in the morning and stock in the afternoon (with exactly the same guns), Matt shot two varieties of revolver (stock and open), and I shot stock auto in the morning and open auto in the afternoon. By “open auto” or “open revolver” it means modifications are allowed. Take your stock gun and do whatever you want within the bounds of safety to make it faster and more accurate. The mods one can make to their firearms are nearly endless including but not limited to: grips, triggers, sights, springs, whatever. The most common difference, of course, is sights. Like Ed and Ed Jr., there is no reason you can’t shoot a stock auto as open auto aside form competing against purpose-built competition guns. But as Junior especially showed, sometimes shooting fundamentals displaces unlimited funding for fancy race guns. I think some of these guys out think themselves. I watched a lot of instances the last couple years where guys who clearly knew how to shoot well, had poor times due to firearm malfunctions sometimes caused by one too many customizations, poor reloads, or some crazy reload that was supposed to speed up their game but didn’t. While I’m certain some mods can help a good shooter shoot better, I think good shooting trumps fancier guns and equipment.

A fancy and expensive race gun. It’s not mine.

For my purposes, I had a major change from last year for my “open auto” gun. I’ve discussed it in a prior blog entry so won’t dive into details here, but last year I shot my Glock 48 which is a single-stack, slimline Glock designed for concealed carry. This year I shot a Glock 34 which is primarily designed for competition. I added a Crimson Trace Rad red dot sight and the only other modification was a new Glock performance trigger and Johnny Glock Vex trigger shoe. The combination of the trigger and shoe make a really, really crisp trigger with very little travel. This is likely as crazy as I’ll ever get with customizing a gun.

One note here on my Glock 34 setup. My gun is a Generation 5 MOS Glock 34. Generation 5 simply means it has Glocks latest and greatest features built into it. The MOS stands for Modular Optic System. This means the gun is ready to have an optical sight of the shooters choice mounted on it. Red dot style sights have caught fire in the pistol world and are extremely popular especially with 57 year old shooters who need progressive lenses (among others). To mount an optic, one removes a filler plate that fills the gap where the sight goes, applies the appropriate metal plate supplied by Glock, and then attaches their sight to the plate. I had done this some time ago when I first got the gun. Since then I have learned the Glock supplied plates aren’t necessarily all that great. I haven’t had any issues yet, but apparently their design and rather flimsy nature inevitably leads to the optic flying off and firmly whacking the user in the forehead. This can not only cause bleeding and confusion but, more importantly, lost seconds when knocking down steel targets. With this in mind I’d ordered a replacement plate from C&H Precision that is more robust and more securely holds the sight, but it hadn’t arrived until 2 days prior to the PSA shoot. I wasn’t willing to make the swap and hope for accuracy. I have to admit, I did worry a bit all day about being rushed to the hospital with a Crimson Trace Rad wedged in my head.

The day after the PSA Shootout, I replaced the Glock MOS adapter with the C&H Precision plate. You can see at least in the front the plate has a bridge that holds the sight securely. The rear of the sight is held the same way. C&H also utilizes “T” Posts that you insert into the plate to give the attachment screws greater purchase than just the thin plate.

We had a bit of a lull after finishing the morning session, having lunch, and waiting for the 2:00pm start for the afternoon. I think PSA was hoping people would participate in their side matches. They had another field setup with various steel targets for both centerfire and rimfire. It sounded like there were a couple takers, but with the pouring rain enthusiasm wasn’t high. We mostly sat around in vehicles or otherwise under cover staying dry and waiting for the 1:45 safety briefing.

A typical folding wagon setup.

One addition to my shooting repertoire I am seriously considering is a folding wagon. These are extremely popular and seemingly useful accouterments for this sort of event. A lot of shooters used them or some variation of jogging stroller to more easily roll around gun cases, ammo, extra clothing, chairs and coolers. More creative shooters have figured out ways to attach umbrellas for protection from rain or sun. With four of us shooting, I had considered trying to pick one up last week but given that a decent folding wagon starts at around $100 I figured I’d watch and see what works and what doesn’t. I spent a lot of time with wagon-envy yesterday checking out different setups. I figure when not in use for a shooting event, a folding wagon would come in pretty handy in the RV for camping, fishing, or the beach. In our case, we each had a pack with the bulk of our stuff in it and carried anything extra in whatever free hands we had.

The afternoon found us on squad 4 an stage 4 with Ed leading off our squad. The order was Ed, Junior, another shooter named Chris, and then me. Matt followed down the order a bit. When my turn rolled around, I took over the bench from Chris and laid my magazines out on the table for fast access. The squad reset the targets Chris had knocked down and returned behind the line. Our range officer said “Load and make ready”. I uncased my Glock 34, turned the Crimson Trace on, pointed at a plate to check the brightness of the dot, and loaded a magazine. I reviewed my left-to-right strategy for the targets, took a practice aim on the first one, took a deep breath, and placed the muzzle on the table. “Shooter ready?” A nod of my head, produced a loud BEEP! I raised the gun, placed the magic red dot in the middle of the white steel plate, and made a solid press on the smooth-breaking performance trigger. BANG! CLANG! Down went the steel. As I shot, my confidence soared. When I placed the dot where I wanted it, and executed a good shot, I knew I’d hit. When I got sloppy I didn’t. Simple as that. Unlike last year, when I wasn’t hitting, I knew how to stop myself, go back to basics, get on target and make solid shots. Unlike last year, I knew exactly when I screwed up and had a predictable miss.

Obviously not a white falling steel target, but the best pic I could find of the view through a red dot sight. Green dots are also an option.

We won’t dive in to stage by stage details other than to say I knew each time I stepped to the line with my open auto setup that I would knock down everything. If I got sloppy, I made myself reset and shoot properly and I’d hit the target. Open auto was a lot of fun! So much so that I may skip stock auto in the future and maybe try open revolver or Pistol Caliber Carbine (PCC). I haven’t shot a PCC but watching the PCC guys shoot just looks like fun. For all the pistol classes, the shooter is limited to 10 rounds per magazine (except the revolvers which are self-limiting at 6 to 8 rounds). The PCCs, however, are purely about speed. You can shoot as large a magazine as you want and basically rip through the targets as fast as you can go. It is amazing to watch a good PCC shooter at work. They are shooting target 4 or 5 while target 1 is still falling. The best times posted were less than 10 seconds for almost 30 targets. Could be fun!

Pistol caliber carbine.

We did get lucky with rain after lunch. Along about stage 5 or so (our second stage), the rain let up. In fact, it came to a stop until we were nearly done and then it was only a light drizzle. It didn’t return in earnest until we were heading back to the truck to pack up and leave.

I had one little faux pas on stage 2. Whomever leads off a stage, shoots last on the following stage so nobody is forced to always be the first shooter on a new stage. I led off on stage 1 and should have been the last shooter on stage 2. That was my longest wait of the day to shoot. In my mind, I had been shooting behind and Ed and Ed Jr. all morning. As Ed Jr. finished up, I walked up, set my things up, and proceeded to shoot expecting the squad to head down to paint the targets and prepare to move on to our last stage. To my surprise, another shooter stepped up to the line. OOPS! I had just bumped myself in front of Chris and shot out of order. Fortunately, both Chris and the range officers had caught the error and simply swapped our scoresheets. After realizing my mistake I apologized to both. Chris was really fine with it and we moved on.

This was a really fun stage with a big concentration of targets in the middle.

After a day of cold, rainy, wet shooting we were happy for a warm, dry vehicle for the ride home. Don’t tell Matt and Junior but Ed and I enjoyed the heated front seats the whole way home. At times, the road ahead was almost invisible in the dreary, misty rain and we commented several times that we were glad to be done and not still shooting. Junior piped up that “I think I have a new, expensive hobby. Shooting steel!”

In retrospect, there are two things I need to fix to improve in this style of event. Well, three things really but I can’t afford Lasik. My reloads are really slow. I’ve spent the last year learning how to be a more accurate shooter willing to give up speed for accuracy. I haven’t really performed any sort of drill or practice for magazine swaps. If you watch some of the YouTube channels, this is a big regimen for a lot of people. But then if you watch some of the YouTube channels you might think the average person is going to wind up in some sort of extended John Wick style shootout where they engage a nearly endless army of opponents and need to reload multiple times. Not me. When it comes to fight or flight, flight is first on the list. There is a reason I run! When the shooting starts, I’m outta there! Still, for the purposes of sporting events, being a more efficient reloader definitely saves a lot of time.

The second thing goes back to being more accurate. When I miss, I miss low. I used to think it was because I was jerking the trigger. Yesterday, after I re-mounted my optic with the new plate, I took a quick trip to the range to verify that it was still on. It needed a slight adjustment but the nut at the back of the grip needs a bigger adjustment. When shooting live ammo, I have a tendency to push forward into the shot which dips the muzzle downward causing my low hits. This goes back to fundamentals. Knowing what I’m doing and doing things right are two different things but at least I know what to work on.

Like Junior, I predict more falling steel in the forecast.


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