Written by Andy Reinhardt (Team Bison Tactical)
As the crest of the final hill falls away, from under the warm rubber of my tires, the twinkling lights of the oasis below greet me like an old friend. Signaling the end of my long yearly pilgrimage to the vast expanses of the wonderland we know as SHOT Show. Every January, retailers, manufacturers, distributors and general “gun nuts” descend on the desert valley of Las Vegas to delight in all things outdoors, hunting, and best of all GUNS. Yet this year was a bit different. Many of us made the trip a few days early, to test our skill (and possibly a bit of Vegas Luck) at the Inaugural National Rifle League 2017 Championships.
How the Week Begins
A lone tank stands guard as I make the turn north to head up Range Road, on the edge of the National Guard Training Facility. A quick scan of the surroundings reveal sand and sagebrush as far as the eye can see, with the Sheep Mountain Range looming in the distance. Excitement starts to build as I pass the small red sign just on the other side of the railroad tracks, “Live Fire Range.” Signs of a firing range start to reveal themselves as I get close to my final destination. Several concrete and block covered firing lines come into view, all littered with various props and barricades for my shooting pleasure. Range 5 is located at the very end of the straight gravel road. Shooters can now be seen sprawled out on top of the massive 15’ tall flat top firing line. The line stretches for roughly 100 yards and is adorned with a single flag pole waving “Old Glory” in the gentle (not for long) breeze. The familiar sight of the white CONX Media van marks the registration point for the culmination of the inaugural season of the NRL. While standing in line waiting for my turn at the registration table, familiar faces are running back and forth across the line zeroing optics, gathering last minute D.O.P.E., checking environmental data, spotting impacts and catching up with old friends. When my time at the table had come, I was able to get my first look at the professionalism with which this match was conducted. Each shooter was presented with a bag full of goodies, including an NRL Championship shirt, hat, sticker, patch, and match booklet. After signing all the liability release waivers and receiving my wrist band for the provided breakfast, lunch and banquet meals, I picked up my chamber flag and embroidered Carhardtt beanie, both provided by Short Action Precision (thanks guys!)
Finally, my rifle and I ascend the stairs to take our place among the best rifle shooters in the NRL. Everything you would want from a Championship match was there. From the 100 yard zero targets, steel set up from 200-1240 yards, and even a few barricades scattered about the line. After a quick run over my Magnetospeed and a few zero confirmation shots, it was time to shoot some steel. With the help of my team mates from Bison Tactical I was able to verify hits out to 1200+ yards and felt very confident that all my gear (and me) were running smoothly. Once finished with the “work” at hand, competitors headed to the east end of the range to test their skill at the Caracal side match. Each shooter was given 10 rounds to fire out of the new Caracal MSR platform. Four targets, from 50-300 yards, each had to receive 2 rounds. Fastest time took home the rifle. After multiple shooters battled back and forth around the 10 second mark, Veteran shooter Tim Milkovich stepped up and put us all to shame with a blistering 8.6 second run (off hand). Great shooting Tim!
Uniting a Community
The BOD and Match Directors for the NRL have always been advocates for bringing a sense of community to the shooting sports. This has always been accomplished by sponsoring after hour events and this match was no exception. Friday night the NRL hosted a bowling tournament for all the shooters. Discounted bowling and beer was sponsored by PRIME Ammunition. Saturday Night brought us all together at the Big Dawg Brewery for great food, beer and company. While Sunday’s awards ceremonies also included a catered banquet and plenty of good beer to go around, I really enjoy the extra effort put into these events. It is a great way for shooters to come together off the range and get to know each other in a non-competitive environment (well, except for the bowling and the Karaoke contest in Utah, LOL).
Keeping You On Your Toes
Day 1 started with the singing of our National Anthem by Felipe Tomas Meraz, as we watched the sun slowly creep over the shimmering valley below us. After a quick safety brief, shooters, rifles and gear dispersed to shoot our first 10/21 courses of fire. Stages were divided between 2 different ranges and starting position was determined by random draw. Shooters were squaded by season ranking, and I was fortunate enough to land on Squad 5 with a bunch of great shooters and friends. With high temps in the low 50s, the 10-15+ mph wind did make for a brisk morning. Around noon, the fast switchy winds brought in our high for the day and allowed us to take off some of those additional layers while eating our pulled pork sandwiches. The course of fire that match directors Jared Flanagan and Tyler Frehner put together was fairly straight forward, but had just enough of a twist to keep you on your toes and thinking. Time frames on the stages were all fairly tight, yet cleanable, with times ranging from 60-120 seconds depending on the amount of movement required. Targets ranged from 250-1000 yards and we saw a variety of barricades including, a Humvee, Black culvert piping, roof top, wire spools, dog house, tank trap and a cinder block. A double spinner stage was also one of the highlights of Saturdays COF.
Mid Match Zero
After breakfast, safety brief and the always-present Pledge of Allegiance to our flag, Day 2 started with a mandatory Mid Match Zero stage. Each squad was given 180 seconds to fire as many “sighter” shots as they wanted at 100 yards. Then each shooter was given 15 seconds a piece to fire 1 round at each of 5, 1” square targets for score. The closer to the center you got, the more points you scored. While this type of stage can often be a time killer for a match, this actually ran rather smoothly considering we ran all 100 shooters through at once. Once again, each squad was randomly selected to start on a given stage. Several of the courses of fire included Vegas themed events such as rolling a dice or flipping a coin to determine 1st shooting position, drawing cards to determine target engagement order and taking shots (water) between strings of fire.
Shots! Shots! Shots!
Stage 2.7 was called Shots! Shots! Shots! Shooter started standing with 3 loose rounds in one hand and a shot glass full of water in the other. On the start signal you must take the shot and then single feed each of the 3 rounds, one per target, then repeat 3 times for a total of 9 rounds and 3 shots. After you finished you got to keep your NRL branded shot glass as a souvenir. A positional off hand stage was present as well as stage 5.6 labeled, “Alright, A Spinner Stage!!…Wait WTF?!” This was a spinner stage in which you could only shoot the top paddle for a half a point per hit and 3 points for a spin. The catch is, once you spin it, you are DONE. So, the trick was to let it settle between shots and then try to spin it with your last 2-3 shots. I spun it in 3 shots! LOL
Once the last shots were fired for the match, we all headed to the Santa Fe Casino for the award ceremonies and banquet. The prize table was stacked! I saw at least 4 actions, several complete rifles, Caracal pistols and rifles, a bunch of barrels, stocks/chassis, bipods, bullets and a ton of certificates from all the wonderful sponsors that stepped up and donated to this match and the season. In addition to the awesome spread of food and desert, 3 kegs of good beer were provided for all the shooters free of charge! Both match results and overall season results were added up and shooters walked the prize table in order of season finish. After much speculation, Austin Orgain of Oklahoma took home the Championship win and the overall season win. Congratulations Austin, solid shooting! The top 5 for the match were rounded out by Rusty Ulmer in 2nd, Clint Adams 3rd, Jake Vibbert 4th and Nick Gadarzi 5th. The season results were Jake Vibbert 2nd, Jon Pynch 3rd, Nick Gadarzi 4th and Rusty Ulmer rounding out the Top 5. Huge congratulations to all of them for the strong effort all season. I was able to finish up the match in 26th place which moved me up 16 position for the season to 31st. My Team mate Scott DeCapio of Bison Tactical was able to pull out an 8th place finish for the match and the season, way to go Scotty!
SHOT Show 2018
Now that all the fun and games have concluded, it’s time to get back to work – 40th Annual NSSF SHOT Show 2018. After a much needed day of relaxing and sightseeing in the Vegas Valley with the family, Tuesday morning began packed into a large staging area, waiting for the doors to open. Roughly 60,000 firearms industry professionals make the journey to see the newest innovations in this ever growing market. The multiple levels of displays range from the very basic to the ridiculously outlandish. In the main hall, all of the large manufacturers such as Sig, Glock, H&K, Remington, Magpul, etc., have set up their multi thousand square foot displays. Many booths are quite simple and really focus directly on the products being shown. While others are lavishly decorated multi story hunting lodges that rival most of our houses. This is a great opportunity to view, handle and ask every pressing question of the people that are actually involved in development of the products we wait so eagerly to use afield. Professional shooters and celebrities can be seen freckled throughout the booths, drawing in fans for autographs and picture. A short walk across the crowded convention floor leads you to the multiple rooms of Law Enforcement and Military suppliers. While an escalator ride down stairs finds you in another huge hall full of hunting, shooting and outdoor gear. At every turn is a new sight to take in. This can be a truly overwhelming experience for the first time convention goer. The seasoned pros can be seen darting in and out of traffic, dodging bewildered first timers and wheeled milk crates full of literature. All around commerce is being conducted and reminds you of why this is such a great industry. SHOT Show is an amazing experience that is hard to convey through a simple article. If you are in the firearms/outdoor industry, I highly recommend making the journey at least once in your lifetime. It is an experience you will never forget.
A Week To Remember!
As the week comes to an end, thoughts reflect on the friends old and new that shared my time at both the NRL Championship and SHOT show. These people are some of the best in the world and I cherish our time together. Till next year, I will look back with fond memories of my week in Vegas.