There was piracy afoot at the land-locked range outside Wichita Falls, Texas; For the eighth successive year the Double Tap ranch has provided a wonderful shooting contest with imaginative stage designs based around a common theme. Piracy was the name of the game this year and there were challenges that would give even the affected Captain Jack Sparrow some pause, with some accuracy and speed targets tied together with tremendous props and an attention to detail that is usually only seen at a World Shoot.
Match Director, Robert Porter and Range Master, Ken Cobb organized an efficient match that provided a solid test of shooting skills, all the props were relevant and added to the twelve stages; Golden coins, a leather map, what appeared to be almost a full-sized anchor, cannons, sail-boats, planked walkways, a ship’s wheel, shackles, the obligatory Pirate Parrot and balls...! Yes, there was a stage that required a lot of balls.
The match began on Thursday as the Range Crew that would be laboring under the hot sun for the next few days were given an opportunity to shoot the match for free. The necessitated a small price increase in the match fees over last year but this crew is worth every penny! Not all the RO’s were able to complete the match that day and a few had to complete the stages during breaks on the following Friday. Despite all their hard work they were a uniformly jolly crew of Pirates who had a ready smile for everyone and the match progressed without a hitch throughout the following three days.
Some of the hard-working Range Crew getting some lead downrange
Some shooters elected to shoot the entire match on Friday, which although warm was blessed with cloud cover and a light breeze for much of the day. Most of the top shooters would compete over the weekend, shooting eight stages on Saturday and the remaining four on Sunday morning.
That the match had incredible stages was no surprise to anyone that had attended in the past, what was a surprise however, was the contents of Athena Lee’s Starlight Gun Case. She has been shooting Open guns since, well since forever. But this year, nestled inside the foamy interior was a LimCat WildCat-6. Six inches of Limited Gun, no more compensator, no more Major 9, no more C-More, just a gorgeous hunk of gleaming black machinery with an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-fiber-optic-front-sight.
I asked Athena what prompted this change.
After last year's intense shooting season, I was burned out. At around March or April this year, I realized that I still didn't want to shoot. I had sent all of my open guns to Johnny Lim (Limcat Custom) because he said he was re-designing the guns and giving me new ones to shoot for this season. I was also toying with the idea of shooting a different division other than open and I thought limited would be a "gentle" transition into shooting iron sights since everything was pretty much the same as open except for magazine capacity and of course, the sights. I consulted with Johnny and figured that the limited would be built way faster than the open guns so I went for it.
Before I knew it, the Double Tap match was coming up pretty quickly and I knew I had to commit to shooting it with a limited gun (because really, I had no choice since I didn't have any of my open guns). The gun arrived two weeks before and I think I shot about 1000 rounds through it. I had hoped that the "newness" of the division would inspire and motivate me to shoot again. And it did! I had a great time shooting limited with no expectations at all.
Athena Lee rocking her new WildCat-6
Carina Burns-Randolph has been shooting both 5” and 6” Limited guns for years and has a strong record at the Double Tap Championship, winning High Lady in all but one of them.
...I had no clue she was going to bring out a new 6" Limcat. She'd posted on Facebook that she was going to debut some fancy pictures but I didn't know until I walked up to her part way through the match on Saturday and asked her what the big reveal was. She pointed to her holster, threw her hip out, and said ‘Ta-da!’ which made us both laugh. I love Athena's sense of humor.
Both Carina and Athena are devotees of Cross-Fit training, one is a veteran with a Limited Gun and the other was shooting her first match in this division. This was going to be interesting, would the Athena’s skills transfer to this new division or would Carina’s experience and highly competitive attitude win the day?
The two shooters were on adjacent squads, with Athena Lee, Valerie Levanza and Alvin Ilanira forming an Asian contingent starting on Stage 4 with Carina Burns and Manny Bragg starting behind them on Stage 3.
For Manny it was the start of a convincing win as he finished 2nd in four of the stages and won six more to win by over seventy points from Orville Henriques who shot on Friday. The match was less fun for Strader. A bad fall on Stage 5, ‘Rum Runners’ left the USPSA President with a bad strain that was further exacerbated on the following which required squatting down to shoot through some tight cannon barrels. Regrettably he was forced to retire from the match as he was clearly in considerable pain from the injury.
After Stage 4, Carina had opened up a narrow five point lead on a terrific stage that started out with the shooter standing on the deck of a ship holding the wheel. A quick sprint forward into the shooting area opened up a slew of possible shooting plans. Targets were available to ports to the left and right and down-range another port contained four plates, two of which activated swinging targets that could be in engaged either through the ports at up-range or low ports down-range. The even numbered stages provided a problem for the competitors in the morning as all the steel was black, and in the early morning, the sun was peaking over the top of the berm and putting those plates deep in the shadows.
I asked Carina about Stage 4, ‘Scurvy Dogs and Bilge Rats’;
“Stage 4 was the most challenging for me. I was about 2 inches too short to engage the steel from behind the barrels where most of the other limited shooters took them. Since I had to run up-range anyway, I decided to borrow from the production shooters plan and took the steel and two partial targets thru the low ports from a sweet spot. The stage focus was accuracy and there was more target available on the partials this way. I then charged back up-range hoping to negotiate the timing on the swinger through the left port and then finished on the right port. If I'd taken the swingers as well up front, I would have needed a reload charging up range which is always risky. My time was good but the hits weren't all there as I had to drive between the swinger and static targets. If I shot it again, I'd probably clear the left and right ports first and then take the swingers from up front. The squat to shoot through the low port would have made them awkward but it'd be easier to control the timing. Besides, incorporating air squats into my shooting makes my CrossFit coach happy.”
By the time they had both completed Stages 4-6, Carina had a twenty-three point lead over the Limited rookie, Athena Lee.
But Athena’s accuracy started to make some inroads on the challenging Stage 7, ‘Walking the Plank’. All the shooting had to be done from a narrow flexing plank, any missteps resulting in procedural errors. Some shooters like Allie Barrett seemed to take this stage in their stride, but for others like Top Production Junior, Jacob Hetherington it proved expensive as he earned a 10 point penalty for stepping off the plank, once the wobbles set in, penalty points soon followed.
This was Athena’s best stage of the day, dropping just six points to bring her within five points of Carina as she smoothly negotiated the tricky surface.
‘Shiver me Timbers’ on Stage 8 seemed to suit Athena’s style shooting the stage the same way her two friends, Valeria and Alvin using their Open guns. Carina’s plan seemed slower but there was only a tenth of a point between their two scores.
It was setting up to be a close match but then Athena faltered on Stage 9, ‘Pillaging & Plundering’.
Throughout the match, Athena’s BFF Valerie Levanza had been preceding her in the shooting order, moving into the third shooting position on a twisting stage, Valerie turned too far and broke the 90 degree rule resulting in a disqualification. A rattled Athena was up next;
I was always the next shooter after her so that was pretty mind-numbing and heartbreaking. I should have asked to be pushed down but that didn't occur to me at the time because I was still in shock. All I can remember when that buzzer went off was feeling disjointed and just wrong.
Three misses on this stage pushed Athena back twenty-seven points behind Carina who was on a roll at that point, racking up a top 14 finish on her final stage for the day, ‘Shackled’. One of the most challenging stages it had a wire that went straight down-range before making a 90 degree turn to the right. The competitor’s weak-hand was shackled to this wire the entire time necessitating a crouched shooting position or strong-handing the entire stage.
Athena would finish her day on Stage 11, ‘Weighing Anchor’ which required the shooter to hoist a huge anchor onto a post before hosing the targets from a raise platform. It was another bad stage that would cost her an additional 24 points against Carina.
The final day of shooting, Sunday was promised to be a scorcher, but a constant breeze kept the temperatures at bay as the competition neared its conclusion. Carina started on Stage 11 after which she had a commanding 51 point lead over Athena who had started on Stage 12. Known officially as ‘Shipwrecked’ it was the ‘stage with all the balls’. A confined shooting area that was filled with plastic balls (about $400 worth), if the shooter stepped on one it could easily cause a loss of balance, so the smart money was to shuffle the feet to move to the three shooting positions. It was a difficult stage to shoot well but Carina managed yet another win and another ten points to add to Athena’s deficit.
Carina described Stage 12;
My favorite stage was Shipwrecked - Stage 12. Porter is a genius - I mean shooting inside a ball pit?!? Brilliant! The stage had an unloaded start, unusual movement (which our squad deemed the geisha shuffle), and a charge back up-range...all with a quick swinger and a smattering of partial targets. If you didn't shuffle, you risked stepping on a ball which could end in a possible face plant into the ball pit. Again, so many options. Where to reload? Was it better to move and shoot or shuffle to the sweet spot? I like Porter's style of matches, it's a mix of turn and burn and think it through.
Back to Stage 1, ‘Lilly Livered, Land Lubbers’ and Carina was on a charge, with a top 12 finish that netted another nine points, but Athena started to attack on Stage 2. Despite having to double-back to take down an errant popper that failed to fall to a 180PF bullet, she was still able to take away two points on this challenging memory stage. This was Carina’s last stage and while she was shooting it, Athena was tearing up Stage three.
Taking seventeen points from Carina on her final stage saw Athena finally getting her groove on. ‘Pieces of Eight’ required the shooter to start with an unloaded gun and a coin on the table, load the gun, grab the coin and deposit it on the other side of the stage before the final shot. Athena’s run was perfectly choreographed, smooth, seemingly effortless and a top six finish !
Every stage was a learning process for me. It was a cumulative experience beginning with Stage 4 (our first stage), where as soon as that buzzer went off, everything about iron sights flew out of my head and I was back on open mode. I did horribly and told myself to calm down a little bit and just align my sights on the next few stages. Chanting ‘front sight, front sight’ over and over again in my head helped me stay focused. By the second day, it seemed like I was a different shooter because I ended placing 6th on my very last stage!
Although a great run it was nowhere near enough to beat the master at this match, Carina’s performance over the two days was too much to overcome. Although the skills required to shoot Open do transition to Limited in many regards, there are no shortcuts to experience. Carina’s win is a culmination of years of familiarity and training with her STI Limited gun. I asked Carina if she keeps track of her competitors at these matches;
Yes and no. I tell myself I will only look up and validate my scores to be sure they are right. But sometimes, curiosity gets the better of me and I look at where I am at overall. It depends on where my head is. If I'm behind and confident about my match, I calculate how many points I need. If I'm struggling, I leave it alone and instead work on cleaning up the little details for each stage. At that point, I don't need to be better than somebody else; I just need to be better than I think I can. At Double Tap though, curiosity won out because I wanted to see what the former world champ was doing! Also, another lady had shot all the stages Friday and was obviously sitting at the top of the leader board. I calculated what I need to do and I did it.