Written by Jared Flanagan
“I think a big part of why this match ran so well and was strong to the finish had to do with the competitors. Everyone was watching out for and respecting each other.”
I left Las Vegas around 7:30 to head out to the NRL Owens Armory Battle Royale being held in Chino Valley Arizona. It was a typical southwest spring day, warm, windy and clear. I rocketed over Hoover Dam and into Arizona; a little over 3 and ½ hours and I was turning off 89 on the way to the Gunsite Academy facility.
I had never been to Gunsites property before, although I was well aware of their history and the immortal Col. Jeff Cooper. As I passed under the Gunsite Raven at the entrance, I was immediately thankful they afforded the NRL and Owens Armory the opportunity to hold a match there.
I took in the terrain. Chino Valley sits at about 4,000 feet and is comprised of old mountains, whittled down by rains and winds. The rolling hills are covered with Juniper and Pinion scrub, prairie grasses, cacti and lots of critters, including Jack Rabbits the size of small kangaroos. And of course, the oldest indigenous element: Moon Dust.
This dust has the consistency of talcum powder and will find its way into literally everything. Everything.
The winds were steady at 10-12 and gusting up to 20 on arrival. I pulled in and met up with Nick Beard Owens, Tomas Meraz and Christopher Tressler and registered our Sin City Crew into a squad. My teammates would be streaming in throughout the day. I met Nicks newest addition, Goose, his chocolate Lab pup. Poor guy had a large nodule on his neck and was going to the vet the next day. Hope all turns out OK.
More shooters began showing up and we were able to zero. The zeroing was done at Gunsites 100 yard range and we also had The B & T Industries One Shot Challenge side match for best shot on the Ace of Spades. There were no targets at distance to check DOPE, but in truth, I kind of liked that. Walt Wilkinson from Gunsite oversaw the zeroing. I do believe he was checking us out as this was the first time an event of this size and scope had been conducted on the property and as he told us at the end of the match, he was an advocate of this event and went to bat for us with the owners. Big shout out to Walt Wilkinson and Gunsite. Also, hes one hell of an RO.
We met up at 6:30 for safety brief and last minute info. Nick needs a bullhorn. Tomas sang the National Anthem and we all joined in and we all need singing lessons, except Tomas. Then we loaded up on trucks and trailer/people hauler, making our way to the field range. We dropped over a rise and then before me, a long valley emerged about 2 miles long and a mile wide. The open end faced East, and the morning sun lit the hilltops around us as we moved to the ridgeline running east/west. The weather was calm and cool; but the few clouds above clearly indicated wind. The hills on each side of the valley were covered with junipers and occasional openings revealed targets galore.
After a short hike up the hill, I got a clear idea of the layout. I liked the arrangement. The stations were close, but because of the trees it didnt seem that way. It was exceedingly efficient as all 10 stages were scattered along about a ¼ mile so humping gear was minimized and allowed for a free flow from stage to stage.
Our first stage was RO’d by Regina Milkovich. As we went through the stages, one of the real advantages of this match was nearly every RO was experienced at MD’ing matches, was an accomplished shooter or otherwise extremely qualified. Pretty much every RO had a PhD in RO’ing. This gave me a lot of confidence that conduct would be in line and that I could trust gaming would be minimal.
Swarovski provided their incredible optics for the longer stages. Most stations had at least 2 spotters and that provided great consistency from stage to stage. The ROs were clear in stage description with the exception of the positional stage, which was remedied with a re-shoot for squads that needed to.
The use of natural terrain was excellent and fun. Other props were mixed in; hay bales, HOG saddle, rooftops, troop hauler truck, barricade. Target locations were clearly marked with number boards. Some of the target locations were stealthy. Target sizes were generous with the exception of Stage ECHO Turkey Creek Ranch Prairie Dogs. Those little bastards were hard to hit.
As the day progressed, the wind showed up and by the end of the day we were getting some gusts just this side of 35 MPH, pretty steady at 15 but literally different conditions from shooter to shooter. Moon dust everywhere; however I did not hear of any gear failures I think New Mexico stills holds the title for that.
We shot the ELR stage last of the day. The farthest target was at 1305 yards and it was taking 3.5 MILS of wind for hits. Day 1 went a little long due to targets needing to be fixed 3 times, but that pretty much happens at every match.
Day 2 broke cool and calm. Winds were supposed to be much lower and we were lucky in that our first stage of the day was long range. This was smart on behalf of the match planners. Since our squad finished Day 1 on ELR with max winds, Nick figured that that squad should be able to start in the morning on a Long Range stage.
This day started on the narrower, southern end of the valley.
The winds tried to pick up but refused to get steady. Between that and the typical convections of mountain terrain, the wind was nearly unreadable. The previous day, we were able to share data between us and get at least a starting point for wind. Not Day 2. Conditions were almost completely different from shooter to shooter. On STAGE Oscar McMillan Stocks Car Stage, which was 4 targets, 2 rounds to each I literally went from a .2 MIL hold Left to a .4 MIL hold Right by the last target in less than 2 minutes. Dust would blow right to left but the actual hold would be left. Crazy stuff.
My favorite stage was STAGE Papa The Surgeon Tree.
This stage utilized a dead tree that looked like it came out of a fantasy story. You had to establish 4 positions within the tree and shoot a pig target at 456 yards. A classic field stage where you had to be very efficient in building a position and getting steady. Switched to support side for one position and it made a huge difference, got both hits.
Moving from stage to stage all the shooters we would pass were in good spirits and happy. I asked a few ROs if there had been any issues and it seemed like things went well. I did not witness any safety issues, or hear of any. Shooting concluded in a timely manner and we all headed down for the scoring and awards.
The table overfloweth.
Owens Armory put together a fantastic table. The venue was an outdoor covered building with a small courtyard located at the RV park Gunsite maintains for their students. Not too big, not too small. Mature Pines broke the wind and the sun was lower on the horizon, making for a beautiful cool evening. Good food was provided and scores posted. We gathered in the courtyard for awards and trophies. I was impressed that Nick made it a point to slow down the names of each participant so everyone got a chance to be recognized. Very gracious move. That is something that I have never appreciated at other matches Ive been to; when they just rattle off 5 or 6 names and then the table frenzy begins. None of that at this match.
I think a big part of why this match ran so well and was strong to the finish had to do with the competitors. Everyone was watching out for and respecting each other. We had a lot of people who were shooting their first match ever. Experienced shooters were helping out newer folks. It was a really good time to be in that kind of environment.
Summing It Up
Settled in the northern Arizona mountains, Gunsite Academy has a long and distinguished history. They showed great faith in the NRL and Owens Armory by allowing us to prove to them we are good people who know what were doing. Owens Armory did not disappoint, nor did our shooters. Walt Wilkinson was recognized during the Awards and provided a nice YETI cooler for all his help. He took a moment to confide in us that he took a chance and had to really promote this match to the owners to get a go ahead. He then stated that not only did we not disappoint, but that we exceeded his expectations and then some. I am very proud to be part of the NRL and with the kinds of shooters that can conduct themselves in a safe and professional manner. I think this match was a real success and I look forward to the time when I can once again get schooled by the winds of Chino Valley .
Oh, and Goose? Well, he had a foxtail in his neck. Vet says hes gonna be fine
Match Director of National Rifle League Championships