There was a noticeable lack of global warming at the PASA Park range this year, chilly mornings, rain and gusting winds left much of the range in mud and puddles. The stages though were well drained which ensured good traction as 372 competitors ran the gauntlet of the Single Stack Nationals.
The past two years have been filled with drama; Dave Sevigny’s flawless victory in 2011 ended the longest winning streak in USPSA, beating sixteen-time Champion Rob Leatham. Onwards to 2012 and the ‘thud heard around the world’ as Leatham, with victory in sight dropped his gun on the penultimate stage and was disqualified. Solid performances by Nils Jonasson throughout that match earned him the Championship, and the number of people who have laid claim to the title had increased to three.
All eyes were on those same three competitors in 2013, joined on the same squad for the first time with Max Michel, Shannon Smith, Phil Strader, Todd Jarrett and Mike Seeklander.
But Leatham’s preparation for this match had left much to be desired, Rob explained;
“Compared to previous years, I unfortunately wasn't able to practice with my Single-Stack much. My normal preparation as such is that I shoot matches and mess with the equipment all winter and spring long. That way, when I'm a few weeks out of a major tournament, all of the equipment is good to go and I'm just fine tuning. This year, I had a shoulder injury that threw a monkey wrench in all that.
The injury, which occurred early in March, left me unable to shoot for over 3 weeks. When I was finally cleared to shoot by my doctor, I had several other obligations which precluded me following my normal training routine. The bulk of my SS practice were the few rounds I was able to shoot while teaching. After the 2 weeks of instructing, it was off to the NRA Show and home for 3 days before I headed to the SS Nationals. I basically relied on experience to get through the SS Nationals. Fortunately, at this point in my career, I no longer feel like I have to pound thousands of rounds down range in the 2-3 weeks before a match. This attitude was perfect this year, as physically, my capacity to train was drastically reduced. The best part of the whole situation was shooting a penalty-free match after being DQ'd last year. It feels like a comeback. I still feel fortunate to have won, but it is very satisfying to fight the odds and come through.”
As the SuperSquad gathered on Stage 1 they were blissfully unaware that the match would turn not just on the stages, but at the chronograph station too.
Max Michel took control of the first stage narrowly edging out Shannon Smith on the three position course of fire, noticeably off the pace was Rob Leatham who dropped nearly two seconds to Michel who was running his Sig Sauer Max 1911 (you know that you have made it in this sport when you have a gun named after you).
Leatham perked up on ‘Whats in the case ?’ a tricky little course with multiple options it started with the gun and all magazines in a closed briefcase, how many magazines to take and how to hold them determined how quickly the stage could be shot. There was an added difficultly with magazine pouches that are designed to hold the magazines firmly yet grant easy and rapid access. Putting a magazine into the pouch as fast as possible does not always work out as Nils Jonasson discovered; After shooting the first array of targets he reloaded from a magazine in the briefcase then tried and failed to stuff two more into those pouches while moving to the next position.
As a result he had to hold them in his left hand while still using a two-handed grip on the gun, the round on the magazine became dislodged after trying to push it into the pouch and this caused a malfunction after the next reload. The clock ticked away for about twelve seconds while Nils battled to clear the malfunction that cost him about fifty-nine match points, in a contest as close as this one that is essentially ‘game over’.
Leatham wasted no time with his method, after loading the gun he engaged the first array of targets, grabbed three magazines and reloaded to the first port while still holding the other two, it was smooth and fast and took Rob from 5th to 2nd place.
Onwards to the Chronograph and Max Michel scraped through with a power factor of exactly 165, but Dave Sevigny was not so fortunate as a 164.7 will testify. After the match I asked Sevigny about his ammo which is supplied by Atlanta Arms & Ammunition. “The ammo was factory loaded 230 grain FMJ, .45 ACP at 170 Major Power factor. 45 is all I’ve ever shot in Single Stack. The ammo I used was tested extensively to make sure this problem wouldn't happen. The same ammo lot was tested at the factory, on my chronograph, at a club chronograph and passed two majors. The chronograph in Barry showed a 20-40 fps speed reduction from the previous five averages I saw. The reports of inconsistencies at the Nationals were very broad. Some made it, others did not even when they did their homework. My lesson here is to try getting 180 PF ammo so this never happens again.” - Dave Sevigny.
Single Stack division rules allow ten rounds in the magazine for those shooting in Minor, but with a .45 fitting those extra rounds in the magazine is not possible, leaving Dave shooting for Minor score with what is essentially a Major setup. As the match resumed on stage three, Dave estimated that shooting Minor would probably cost him about four percent of the match score, a remarkably prescient statement as he would finish just under 3.3% behind Leatham.
Another 1.3 fps on each bullet would have been certified as Major and with Dave’s scores for the match, it would have earned him the win, beating Leatham by seventeen points. With two stages already behind him I asked Dave how he handled this situation;
“I kept my head in the game and dealt with it.” - Dave Sevigny.
After the two stages it was Shannon Smith who held a slim lead over Rob Leatham and with two more solid runs on Stages 3 and 4, he increased that margin. But a poor plan by Smith on Stage 5 - a complex memory stage - cost him dearly, finishing four seconds behind a blistering run by Sevigny that lifted Dave from fourth to second, now less than a single point behind Leatham.
With two of the top contenders under the gun, Nils with a leg injury and Sevigny’s Minor scoring, I asked Rob Leatham if this changed his game plan while the match was underway.
“Not really.”, Leatham replied. “I just went in to do the best I could... all things considered. I kind of watch what everyone is doing as the match progresses, but I never thought I was ahead. I shot a little more conservatively than normal as I was not as sharp as I wanted to be, but this had nothing to do with the other shooters. You have to understand that the chronograph happened after the second stage, and there were a whole lot of other guys who were shooting well. It ended up being Dave and I in the end, but we never knew it was shaping up that way.
Dave on the other hand really turned on the gas! He was behind the proverbial 8 ball and figured he had nothing to lose. This made him a bigger threat than ever! He was Ricky Bobby! That he was able to push as hard as he did without racking up a bunch of misses is testament to his skill. Reminded me of Jerry Barnhart in the old days. He also had to absorb a rough reshoot on one of the speed shoots due to a timer malfunction, after the first run had been perfect. That cost him a pile of points unfortunately.”
The match was starting to heat up, but those lower scoring peripheral hits that accompany Minor started to eat away at Sevigny’s scores after he dropped ten points on Stage 6, this started a decline that would continue all the way through to the brutal standards exercise. Standards are a staple at the Single Stack Nationals and Leatham usually excels at them and this year was no exception winning the stage with 87 of the 120 available points. A lot of peripheral hits on this stage pushed Sevigny back another sixteen points, shooting Minor with a .45 really sucks !
As the Super Squad headed to the all-steel stage, Sevigny was back in third place behind Shannon Smith, a whopping sixty-eight points behind Leatham. With no peripheral hits to worry about, Sevigny tore into ‘Ironman Down’ taking four seconds from Leatham and closing the gap to just under fifty points. But with only two stages remaining and a consistent Leatham there was simply not enough time to challenge for the win. Shannon Smith and Nils Jonasson won the final two stages, but Leatham had built up such a lead that barring another ‘thud’ he would win the match. His final stage was his worst of the competition, three seconds slower than Jonasson as his plan was not the best for this multi-position stage. But he had done enough to take back his title.
After a long day of shooting, the competitors gathered at the Smith & Wesson hall where the competitors could rest and talk about the match (and the chronograph) while they waited patiently for the results. At the presentation, Rob Leatham took back the title of Single Stack Champion while acknowledging that Dave Sevigny had shot the better match. I asked Leatham if he thought it was possible to win this match shooting Minor ?
“Absolutely.”, Rob replied. “I'm just not the guy that can do it. After the shoulder injuries, I actually considered it for a bit as I am having trouble controlling the gun in the manner I am accustomed to. Still a little weak. Interestingly, a year ago to test this theory, I shot both the Western States SS Championship and the Area 2 with my minor SS. What I found is that I simply do not shoot one gun faster or more accurately than the other, and I just end up dropping more points with minor. I knew the SS Nationals wouldn't be a hose fest with really high hit factors so figured I wouldn't really benefit shooting minor. I think it will happen, just not on this kind of Course of Fire or by me.”
Late Thursday evening, as storm clouds gathered Jessie Duff was checking out the stages of her first ever Single Stack Nationals (or as her mother calls it, ‘Short Stack’). There was not much time to complete her review as the rain soon started to fall, lightly at first and then the deluge hit as torrential rain fell over the range and surrounding areas.
As luck would have it, many of the top women shooters found themselves on the same squad shooting on Friday. Randi Rogers had completed her match on Thursday but Sara Dunivin, Lisa Munson, Jessie Duff, Maggie Reese, Doni Spencer and Lisa Larson were all squadded together which allowed full coverage of their match as the top men would not shoot until the next day. Of the top five women, only Lisa Munson and Randi Rogers had chosen to shoot Major, with an extra couple of rounds in the magazine there were several stages where the competitor had a few more options with regard to target engagement.
Jessie took the lead from the beginning on Stage 1, using that two extra rounds enabled her to shoot on the move followed by a reload as she moved into the middle shooting position. Her lead was short-lived however, as Lisa Munson overtook her on ‘Whats in the case ?’ following a sluggish reload by Duff at the final shooting position.
I asked Jessie about her preparation for this contest;
“My preparation for the SSN was very similar to other USPSA matches, using the same drills. But, I did put a lot of focus on my reloads, since I haven’t shot a practical match with 10rd mags in quite some time. SSN’s is a match I have wanted to shoot for some time, but it has always been right before the NRA Bianchi Cup. But, this year I decided there’s no time like the present, and just made the decision to shoot it, and train for both matches!”, said Jessie.
Unlike the men, the women sailed through the chronograph stage without incident which was a blessed relief for Sara Dunivin who achieved sub-Minor status last year and shot the match for no score. Sara’s preparation had been hampered by a lack of bullets, a problem many shooters are facing at this time. Sara explained;
“Because of the huge problem in getting ammo right now, I concentrated a lot more on dry fire before this match than I normally would. When I did work into my live fire, I was much more deliberate and paid close attention to detail with my technique. Also, instead of simply setting up mock stages and running them, I concentrated more on technique drills during my live fire to hone my skills in very specific areas. This enabled me to piece together each individual skill at the match to run the stages smoothly. That is something I learned during a recent Mike Seeklander class. It has proven to be invaluable in helping prepare for matches.”
‘Who ordered the pizza?’ went well for Sara as she pulled herself back into the match after a disappointing start on Stage 1. A no-shoot hit and a slow time pushed Lisa back into second place as Jessie took back the lead and held it for the rest of the match, but it was touch and go on Stage 10.
The 2012 Revolver Nationals had a less than impressive seventeen participants, that is just one less than got DQ’ed during the Limited & Production Nationals that shared a venue with the cylindrically inclined.
The 2013 Revolver Nationals had 119, a remarkable increase of 700% that clearly vindicates USPSA President Phil Strader’s decision that a stand-alone Revolver Nationals would generate a lot of support. Smith & Wesson stepped up to the plate as match sponsor and they were duly rewarded with wins from Team Smith & Wesson shooters, Jerry Miculek along with a clean sweep in the Women’s category as Annette Aysen continues her long list of wins finishing ahead of Kay and Lena Miculek.
I asked Annette what she thought of the first stand-alone Revolver Nationals;
“It has been a long wait and finally a Nationals for Revolver Division.”, Annette replied. “Just look at the numbers and it speaks for itself. After I sent in our entries, I would monthly look and see how many more had entered. It was awesome! I feel all Nationals should be back-to-back in some form to allow all shooters to try and compete in the different division.
Hats off to the 1911 Society. The Nationals this year was hard in it's own way. In Vegas I felt the match was harder. The stages, I feel, were more targeted to the Open or Limited Division depending what Revolver was paired off with that year. Yes some of the stages had a disaster factor to it. The all steel stage was one, but the Standards was higher. It was not too big a deal to the regular Revolver Shooter. For the shooters who wanted to try their hand at Revolver shooting, it was a big deal. Personally, it was a stage I would have changed for this reason. Yes the short stages were very demanding when a miss would cause you to do a standing reload.”
Annette Aysen summed up the match perfectly, she said “We had so much fun with our squad! It goes without saying, shooting with my husband Elliot, is always a highlight. Having our good friends Lena and Kay Miculek shooting in our squad was great! Too bad Jerry was not in our squad. He would have been proud of the shooting his wife and daughter did with the revolver. Seeing them sharing gear and gun like so many other shooters I presume did, made me smile inside. Spending the time with them shooting the revolver only reinforces what the sport is all about. In the past most Nationals had 1 to 3 ladies competing. This year we had eight. How great is that and to have all of us in the same squad 1,2 and 3! So proud to represent Smith and Wesson!”.
Joining the ranks this year was newly crowned Single Stack Champion, Rob Leatham who joined the likes of Miculek, Griffin, Carmoney, Olhasso, Lentz and Wolfe on the Revolver Super Squad.
Their match started on Stage 1 with a loss for Miculek as Josh Lentz opened up an early lead but he would not maintain it for long as Miculek started to take control of the match from Stage 2 onwards, grabbing the lead and holding it for the remainder of the match.
For Nils Jonasson the day started off in good form as he went into the second stage in third place but a slow run there and a miss and no-shoot on Stage 3 pushed Jonasson far down the leader board into eighth place, he would spend the rest of the match trying to undo those two bad stages but would finish 8th overall.
The race for second place was on between Griffin, Leatham and Wolfe with Rob taking the spot from Griffin on the second stage then promptly losing it again after Stage 3. Rich Wolfe was next to overtake Leatham on Stage 4, but ‘The Great One’ kicked back on the memory stage (number 5) as both he and Griffin wiped 2-3 seconds of the rest of the squad, with Leatham taking the stage win with some impressive accuracy.
A miss for Griffin on Stage 6 opened the door for Leatham who took second place until Griffin took it back on the Stage 9 speed-shoot. As these two were battling it out they were edging closer and closer to Miculek and both came within three points of the fastest revolver shooter in the world as Jerry dropped too many points on the eight-second standards. With just three stages to go, only Miculek, Leatham and Griffin were in with a shot at the title, the other contenders having fallen away as the match progressed.
Griffin and Leatham had swapped places six times during the match.
Rob described ‘Ironman Down’; “That steel stage was a comedy of errors for me. Started off with a terrible first reload, then a miss at the second window caused standing reload. I then carried a partial cylinder to the next position, which caused yet another standing reload. I advanced to the last position and again didn't reload en route, forcing yet another reload in a short space! Ay Caramba, beginner level mistakes!!!! In truth, Jerry pretty much had me covered the whole time. Whenever I uncorked a good run, he did also. I beat him on one field course by almost the same amount he beat me on the steel. The rest of the time he was faster, although I may have been a little more accurate. The man can reload and move much better than I do. Maybe I should start shooting left handed and try to reload like Matt Griffin? It has to be seen to be believed!
I will never be able to put all my efforts in the revolver as I really am an auto shooter, I just really like the wheel! It was great fun and an honor just to be able to shoot with Jerry as he is about my only shooting idol. Besides, being beat by him shooting revolvers isn't really like losing.”
Two of the most well-known, talented shooters ever to participate in this sport had provided a close battle that had almost caused an upset, Leatham came within three points of taking the lead, but for that fumbled reload and missed steel the match could have gone the other way. The consistency and speed of Miculek left the other revolver shooters playing catch-up all day; Jerry Miculek remains the King of the Revolver.
Both Randi and Brooke struggled on Stage 12 and a solid run by Lisa Munson allowed her to overtake both of them and increase that lead still further on the final stage of the match. Sara Dunivin ran out of opportunities to catch Jessie, if not for her slow start on Stage 1 she would have been pushing Jessie throughout the match but this is the Single Stack Nationals, where even the smallest mistake can have huge consequences, there is simply no margin for error.
Sara summed up the contest, “During the match I knew the other ladies were shooting very well. I knew I couldn’t afford any mistakes, so I concentrated on doing the best I could and ensuring the fundamentals of my approach to each stage were in place. It was invigorating to be part of such a closely contested match.
The most enjoyable part of this match was having the opportunity to shoot with such talented and dedicated ladies. They were great competition and it made this match yet another reason amongst the many I enjoy competition shooting.”
Said Jessie, “During the match, I knew that it was extremely close between Sara and I, and also kept my eye on Lisa! I didn’t know the exact point spread while shooting, but was keeping an approximate tally in my head. These ladies are extremely talented and such good shooters, so I knew going into the match that they were some of the ones to watch out for!
I’ll definitely be back next year to defend the title! And I can only hope for such success to achieve what Rob has in his career!!”, Jessie said.
Lisa Munson dropped to fifth place with some disappointing performances on stages three through five but started a comeback on Stage 6, ‘Window Pain’ with some solid accuracy. That accuracy helped again on Stage seven and the two quick speed shoots that followed. Sara struggled on these latter two stages which allowed Brooke Sevigny to move up into third place behind Rogers as the action moved to the standards.
The standards this year were evil. The traditional three turning target arrays were joined by a recklessly placed no-shoot target in the middle of each array. With only six seconds to fire six, reload and fire another six, many competitors simply skipped the middle target altogether, the disaster factor was just too high.
Two more strings followed, one strong hand only, the other weak hand only.
Sara Dunivin scored a sixty-three on this stage, twenty-four points less than Leatham. But none of the women excelled here, Jessie scoring just forty-three which allowed Randi Rogers to move within six points of the Taurus Team Captain shooting a modified PT1911.
Jessie described her gun for this match; “I built my single stack from the Taurus PT1911, in 9mm. I had it re-barreled for 38SC, shooting minor, so that I wouldn’t run into any magazine issues in 9mm. I had some adjustable sights added, a Koenig hammer, Schumann barrel and a mag-well.”
Sara’s gun on the other hand is from Dan Wesson; “The gun I use for Single Stack is a partially custom made Dan Wesson Pointman 9. Dan Wesson only builds a certain amount of each gun per production run. When I decided I needed a 9mm there were none available, thus mine was built at Dan Wesson specifically for me. Consequently, they were able to customize the serial number for me. It is “SARA10.” I am very happy with it and feel privileged to have the opportunity to own and shoot such a nice pistol! It also has been customized with 10-8 Performance VZ Grips, an Ed Brown extended magazine release, and a Smith & Alexander mag-well.”
All the top women shot well on the all-steel stage, ‘Ironman Down’, Lisa took the stage win, a couple of points ahead of Jessie who began a solid drive to the finish line that left her twenty-one points ahead of 2011 champion, Sara Dunivin.