Perfection is an un-achievable goal in practical shooting, the best that a competitor can hope for is to be just a little better than everyone else, a little smoother on transitions, a little faster across the ground and a touch more accurate. But when the competition shares those objectives and has the skills to pull them off then perhaps the only reasonable goal is not to screw something up, which is easier said than done at the Single Stack Nationals.
Participants will practice for months to ensure that they perform at the highest level, thousands of rounds will be sent downrange along with numerous dry-fire draws and reloads. Unless of course your name is Phil Strader in which case you do none of these things; If you’re Phil Strader you shoot a single club match the previous month and then blast through 24 rounds of borrowed ammo the day before the match and call yourself ‘good to go’, its a novel approach and one that other competitors may want to emulate considering what happened on the final day of the contest.
But lets not get ahead of ourselves; The main match started on Thursday as competitors were hit with a few delays for some torrential downpours, unfortunately that bad weather continued on Friday as Maggie Reese and Sara Taylor (nee Dunivin) began their quest for the ladies title. Julie Golob was expected to join this squad but a last-minute injury caused her to miss a competition that she had a solid chance of winning, this left Randi Rogers and Annette Aysen to fly the Smith & Wesson colors.
The weather was co-operating for the first three stages of the match as Sara and Maggie started with a field stage before attacking two small speed shoots. It was then that the match ground to a halt as heavy rain moved in along with some impressive thunder and lightning, despite calls for all competitors to head down to the S&W Hall to seek shelter, some preferred to hide under the wooden structures on each berm instead. The fact that they all had metal roofs was cause for slight concern but it least it saved a long walk. After more than an hour, the worst of the rain moved away but the competitors had to deal with bagged targets as that precipitation continued for much of the day, a match that started at 8am would not end for eleven hours!
Constant checking of the Weather App seemed to indicate that the weather would be perfect on Saturday, such predictions were met with derision by those slated to compete the next day but the iPhone was remarkably prescient as the light clouds started to clear and the sun woke up the bugs..., those that hadn’t drowned the day before.
Jessie Duff and Lisa Munson had elected to shoot the match on Saturday and so avoided all the rain and bagged targets that had plagued Sara and Maggie, in fact the match moved significantly smoother on that last day as many of the squads were finished by 5pm, two hours faster than the day before. Duff simply dominated this match, shooting Minor she made the most of the extra magazine capacity and pushed Lisa Munson who was shooting Major into second place by over 76 points. Its hard to imagine anyone who can knock Jessie off the podium at this match, she seems to excel with her Taurus 1911.
The Super Squad this year was made up of the top ten competitors from the previous year including Jacob Hetherington who got off to a great start with a solid win on the first Stage of the match called ‘Sidewinder’ which involved running left and right (twice) and up the middle, his speed across this stage was nearly a second faster than Sevigny. Strader showed up late and had very little time to prepare for this stage and that was reflected in a poor time and a lot of dropped points.
Onto Stage 2, ‘Awkward’. This went to Gilbert Perez who was shooting on a different squad and somehow managed a time two seconds faster than everyone else. There were five paper targets and two poppers, a target and a popper were available to the left and also mirrored on the right of the barricade and the remaining three paper targets to be engaged through a window. Competitors could engage the targets to the left and right, then perform a mandatory reload before engaging the remaining targets through the port, or vice-versa. The gun started unloaded. Twelve rounds, an un-loaded started and a reload and Perez wiped it out in 5.96 seconds, down just two points. His nearest rival on this stage was Todd Jarrett who shot it clean in 7.99...!
It was another disappointing stage for Strader but it seemed to light a fire under him as he then hit a streak of top three finishes on Stages 3-10, Phil explains;
“Yeah, the first stage was a bit frantic…showing up late and an abbreviated walkthrough didn’t help. The second stage resulted in some bad points, but it reminded me that I’m still able to keep up with everyone. After that, I just tried to focus on my points and hitting the steel on the first shot. Most of the top shooters in this field have the same skills…it’s just a matter of applying it as consistently as possibly.”
Sevigny suffered from a miss and a no-shoot on Stage 9, a speed shoot with five paper targets and two poppers. Strader polished this off in six seconds, a short transition to the left required a flawless reload and the partial targets required careful aim, everything about this stage epitomizes the Single Stack Nationals, there was no room for error. Sevigny snagged the no-shoot on his final shot but thought that it had cut the line for a scoring hit on the target, closer examination by the RO resulted in a Miss and No-shoot which cost him twenty-five points, this mistake cost him the match.
After the Dark House stage, which wasn’t all that dark, the Super Squad headed over to the Standards where Elias Frangoulis had one of his best results but not enough to beat out Enoch Smith and Glenn Shelby who shot 108/120. Strader faltered here a little and a poor time on the all steel stage put his title bid in jeopardy, Hetherington took another stage win clearly excelling on stages with movement as he blasted down all the steel over a full second faster than the rest of the squad.
As they headed over to the final stage of the match, it was Nils Jonasson who was leading, consistent performances throughout the day had kept him in contention and he looked set for his third win at this event.
But then it all went horribly wrong; Stage 14 started with the competitor standing outside the shooting area, grasping a looped door handle, it seemed simple enough, open the door and engage the targets from within the shooting area. But Nils put his hand too far into the loop, as he opened the door his fingers got stuck, as he moved forward, the door moved backward and his fingers bent further back. Everyone was waiting for the snap as his fingers broke but he was able to drag his hand out at the last moment, after the stage he was clearly in pain and that had been reflected in points and on his time. The double-digit lead that he had going into this final stage was wiped out with a whopping 24 point loss, he would finish the match in third place behind Dave Sevigny who lost to USPSA President Phil Strader by less than thirteen points.
Phil summed up the match, “This is my first USPSA National Championship. I’ve come close a few times, but always seemed to fall short at the end. I love Single Stack, the best thing about it is how even it is. There are so few things you can do to the gun to gain an advantage. The only possible move is to shoot minor, you gain the magazine capacity, but you loose the points. At the Nationals, it’s not a huge advantage, so most everyone shoots Major. It really comes down to pure skill and ability…and luck in my case!”
It was not luck that won the match, it was making fewer mistakes than the other competitors, and that’s the Single Stack Nationals.
Phil shot a Springfield Custom .40 that he won at a previous Single Stack Nationals, Blade-Tech holster and magazine holders, Wilson magazines, Sprinco guide-rod and Warren sights.