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The Early Days of IPSC

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Nah, but he would not have been first in line to apply CPR when you went face-first into the dust. Gunsite is at 4500 ft, and the air is thinner than you'd expect. time for a Gunsite story:

I'm a hotshot IPSC shooter when I show up for my 250 (basic pistol) class in 1987. I can hit anything, shoot faster than mortals, and my reloads are blazing fast. Tuesday morning I get hauled off to the Funhouse. (I think it was Tuesday) I go through the funhouse, killing all in my path except the good-looking women, including the bad guy hiding in the closet.

Once outside, the instructor debriefs me, then points to the path and says "That will take you back to the North Range. NEXT!"

I walk across the road to the path, and go six feet in, when it hits me. They've just spent fifteen minutes in there trying to kill me. What's down this path? Hidden targets? Remote activated movers? I draw and check ammo, I reload mags, I make sure the gun is full, the first spare is full, and head out. But since 'I know' the deal, I'm not going to let them see me skulking. I'm just going to be Mr. Casual, but I'm going to spot any trap, any mover, any threat, before it becomes a threat.

I walked back to the North Range without incident. As I was walking up to the firing line I realized I had just graduated. Everything after that was icing on the cake, as I had learned the lesson Gunsite was trying to teach: awareness with serenity.

After the shootoffs and graduation, I overheard many talking about learning this or that, but all the chatter was about shooting. Grasshoppers have so much to learn!

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I can recall one of the first matches I was at in about 1985 where a guy steped up to the line, made ready, shot the stage quite well, but then when he finished, he unload and showed clear, then twirled the 45 like Roy Rogers may have befor putting it away. Needles to say, he didn't get to shoot another stage. The RO grabed him by the back of the shirt and draged him off the stage yelling and screaming at the top of his lungs.

The good old days....


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Oh, the early days. A couple of 3-gun stories. We're setting up a 3-gun match, and due to range scheduling, we have a rifle stage on a range where the longest shot might be 50 yards. All the rest are close-in, with doors, barricades, etc. One of the members, Gary, looks it over, and says "This isn't a rifle course. You don't shoot rifles at this distance." I look at his brother Bruce, who spent 13 months in Vietnam, mostly carrying an M-60, and ask him "Would you use a rifle or a handgun, to shoot people this close?" He looked at me like I'd just stepped in something a dog would leave behind and said "Rifle, every time." No one ever questioned the distance of a rifle stage ever again.

Years earlier, we had one of our first 3-gun matches. This would have been 1981-2. We have to specifically tell one of our members, an NG NCO, that he could not bring his M-16 from the armory unless he shoots it semi only. (Yes, Virginia, NG members could check M-16s out of the armory for their own practice back then!) At a 3-G match a month or two later, we have a member who was a combat vet going through a rifle stage, when his rifle malfunctions. He drops it on the ground, draws his pistol, and finishes the stage. When we tell him he is DQ'd for dropping his rifle, he replies; "This is combat shooting right? Well, that's what I did outside of [name of little Vietnamese hamlet which I forget] when the same thing happened."

I forget if the DQ stuck or not.

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  • 3 weeks later...

OK, 'nother tale from the old days. Although this one isn't as old as the others. First, some background: at Second Chance, we used to have "Free for All Wednesdays." Wednesday evening the back range would be closed, we'd retire to the top of the hill in back of the range, and fire tracers into the darkness.

After a few years, the volume of fire (guys would spend all year cruising the gun shows, looking for tracer ammo. I know one guy who bought a Mauser just to shoot the tracer 8mm he had scored at one show.) got to be pretty intense. Then the belt-feds showed up. We'd have belt-fed M-60s, MAG-58, and finally, an M2HB! Richard started to get a bit annoyed that some of the downrange equipment was taking hits.

But the stopper came when someone showed up with an H-K M-21. A belt-fed G3 derivative, a lightweight, hard-kicking, belt-fed .308. Well, they're having fun shooting it (from the shoulder, at the backstop 300 yards away) and after a belt one of them puts it down, and because the barrel it hot, he takes the barrel out .(removable barrel, inside the shroud) One of the other H-K crew picks it up, and not noticing the lack of a barrel (it was dark, he'd had a drink or two....) loads a belt and fires it. The tracer goes bloop-blooop-bloop out the shroud, and burning merrily, drops into the dry grass. Chaos ensues.

Trying to get several dozen shooters, all wrapped in their own world of shootign tracers, to stop, and keep the guys waiting to shoot from firing, so we could put out the grass fire, was real work.

After that, Richard changed it to "Propane Wednesdays" which is another story.

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Awesome was the "Nuclear Propane" demo one year. For those who don't know, propane tanks are like scuba tanks, no one uses repaired ones. If it leaks, it gets scrapped. So Richard contacted the local propane dealer, who saved the leaky tanks all year. He'd then fill them Wednesday, and Richard would haul them into the impact area of the back range wednesday afternoon.

Then, just before sunset, he'd shoot them with his machineguns; tracers, ball, whatever, and blow them up in turn. To add to the festivities, he'd have the ordnance crew spread cans of gasoline and dynamite charges around the impact area. (What fun, the next day, walking the range, making sure everything had gone up, and dealing with it if it hadn't!)

We'd gather on top of the hill where Richard was firing from, some 300 yards off, and watch and cheer while Richard blew stuff up.

One year, wednesday was a gray, cold, misty day. The propane tanks were arranged in the mud, and the charges set. Once we're all there, Richard loads up his MAG-58 and starts blasting down into the range. (The berm and range forms sort of a bowl) He nicks a couple of tanks, but they don't light. Muttering, Richard stops, opens the feed tray, yanks out the belt, and slaps in a belt of mostly tracer, with intersperced spotter rounds. Spotter rounds are "explode on impact" and marginally safe even in a mlitary environment. He cranks the handle, but by this time the propane has had time to leak out of the nicked tanks and had formed a cloud in the bowl. (The cold, misty, windless day acted to keep it from dispersing.) Richard's third or fourth shot ignites a tank, which ignites the cloud. The overpressure ignites all the gasoline, ruptures all the other propane tanks, and detonates all the dynamite. In one huge fireball/explosion.

We're 300+ yards off, and the shock wave nearly blows us off the shooting platform. The heat wave just about singes our eyebrows. No one has time to dive for cover, as we watch pieces of propane tank loft into the air, bouncing off the range floor.

Just before the applause, someone calls out "Cool! Do that again!"

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That's probably how Richard figured out that it's big fun to wing the LP tanks with regular ball ammo, let them leak for awhile while pimping the crowd, then hit the gas cloud with a tracer and KA-BLOOOOOM! He got it down to a science. Even on the milder propane Wednesdays, though, that first big fireball would always push you back!

One of my more favorite SC memories was the year he made everybody all excited with the special Bingo game where the prize was an old Mercedes 300D. Everybody got one Bingo card with their entry, Richard played it up all week, and we were all breathless and excited on the last night of the match, when we finally played the Bingo game for the car. (Even if you hadn't shot well, you knew you had a chance at a major prize!) Richard pulled out the little markers, called out the numbers, really played up the drama. Finally (you guessed it) all at once, 300 people all yelled Bingo at the same time! Of course the game was rigged from the start. Richard had several guys prepared with ballistic shields (Kulovitz and Chudwin, if I remember right) to jump in front of him and block all the pencils and various debris that people were throwing at him from the crowd.

It was one of the better jerk-jobs we'd all seen, and RC pulled it off perfectly.

I still laugh thinking about it! He sure had me going...


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OK, another Richard story. Richard was Second Chance in the old days, and what Richard wanted, happened. Sometimes his dealers would show up at the shoot, to see what the whole circus was like, and have some fun. So, one year, a dealer shows up with his girlfriend or wife. (I forget which she was.) Richard decides to show them a good time, which for Richard meant shooting firearms.

A bit of background, for those who were never there: at SC, you could shoot machineguns in the back range practice area. You could even buy ammo and use a rental gun! (The Back Range at SC was where I first learned that some Russian burp guns throw brass straight up, and if you don't move right after a burst, it will ran down on your head.) Up on the timber platform dedicated to things Browning and belt-fed, Richard had his own personal watercooled 1917, and an M2HB. Yes, a .50 cal!

This dealer was tops in sales, so Richard decides to have some fun. He takes advantage of a range closure for maintenance to have a couple of propane tanks hauled downrange. However, as it had rained the day and night before, so the work crew couldn't get the tractor very far downrange. We're 30-40 yards from propane tanks the size of Buicks.

After the tanks are out, and maintenance is done, Richard loads a belt into the .50 and gives the wife/girlfriend the ten-second M2 lecture: "Sit here. Hold these. Squeeze like this to fire it. Line the sights up on the tanks." I'm sure the idea was to impress the dealer, and startle the wife/girlfriend.

Well, the concept of aiming is new, so she misses with the first few shots. When she does connect, and ignite, the tank, she has only barely nicked it on one end. The next thing we know, the rocket-nozzle propane tank is starting to spin, and moving towards us! As it burns and spins, it is building up RPM, and starting to stand on end! The poor woman is so overwhelmed by the recoil and vibraiton of the 50, I'm not sure she would have noticed if Elvis shouted the winning lotto ticket numbers to her, and she keep shooting, even though she is missing! Richard shoves the poor woman out of the way and wrestles the M2 so he can hammer the attacking propane tank into submission. However, in so doing he nicks the second tank in the exact same way, which starts to do the same thing! I thought he was going to break the pintle and tripod, wrestling the M2 around so he could hammer the second spinning and charging tank into the mud!

All the while, I'm standing on the steps on the back of the platform, watching the tanks, trying to decide which way to flee if they hit!

Afterwards, the dealer thanks Richard, and he and wifey go off. I'm sure he got an earful, and after that propane tanks were only shot from the top of the hill.

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People seem to underestimate how many of us shooters like to see these old photos. I beg Benos to put more on his site, and any old match photos from others also.

Great thread!

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The problem I have, is that I have to scan all those old photos to post them. A bit more, a lot of which came from another category here on the forum:

I don't know how many do it today, but back in "the day" we didn't stop for anything. We actually took pride in toughing it out, to make the other shooters feel like wimps. (We used to shoot on the same range as a local PD did for their qualification. We never quit, even when the PD quals were cancelled due to weather.)

The coldest I've ever shot was a match in 1980 or so, at Paul Cunningham's range/farm near the Ohio border. A storm had just come through, so we had two feet of snow. The temp at dawn was something like -25 degrees.

We used a snowblower to cut a path to the range, and create a firing line. We built fires in 55 gallon drums. We parked trucks around the fire barrels and firing line to create a windbreak. And we shot the scheduled match, which was.....the International Rapid Fire course from the Olympics.

I kid you not, we were doing five targets at 25 yards from the holster, in eight, six and four seconds, when we could pry ourselves from the fire barrels. It was sooo cold the pasters didn't always stick to the cardboard, and we had to watch the targets for falling pasters.

We then retired to Paul's house for hot coffee and to calculate the standings. For a while those who had shot that match referred to themselves a "Veterans of the Eastern Front."

Then there was the Monsoon match. The scheduled match day arrived with steady rain, but we didn't call it off. Targets lasted ten minutes even with plastic bags on them, so we just shot an all-steel match.

Are we wiser, lazier, or more sensible now?

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Our club was one of the first, affiliated with IPSC directly back in 1977. For a bunch of years we were like so many clubs were, and are to this day: the red-headed stepchild of a bigger club. We shot on a farm. We used a State range. We rented an indoor range in the winter. We finally had a semi-permanent place on a "range" that was an open field on a landfill. Which we shared with the local PDs. (Now THAT was scary.)

We were the "crazy combat shooters, quick-draw and running with guns." Other shooters looked down on us. The landfoll did regular pit maintenance and generated new pits. One time they dug a new pit, and had to cut down huge elms to do so. It was tragic, their cutting down these trees, and hauling the rootballs out. We're talking ten-foot diameter rootballs, hauled out with huge backhoes. They dumped the rootballs in two rows on an adjacent field. (The real miracle was that such huge trees had survived the successive waves of Dutch Elm Disease, and no one had bothered to do any testing to find out why. For all anyone knows, they cut down a batch of trees that were genetically resistant to DED.)

Then the local PD decided to change their qual day, and we found them on "our" range one morning, setting up for qualifications. (You haven't had to stifle laughter, until you've seen a qual course where one officer is loading spare magazines for another, and handing them to him when needed, because the qual course called for a four-magazine string, but the department only authorized two spares on duty gear.) We had time to haul our gear out. We then set up in the field with the elm rootballs, using them as backstops, barricades, obstacles and props. We spent the rest of the season erecting vision bariers, barricades, creating paths among and around the huge balls of dirt and wood, having a blast.

We even did 3-gun there. I saw my first double-charged 1911 in those stumps. The shooter was racing through the line, hosing like mad, when we heard a louder "bang" and the magaizne fell out. She stopped, and looked at the 1911 like it was a house-broken dog who had just dumped on a Persian rug. The tally: trashed mag, powder-scorched frame, and nothing else. (She had Pachmayr grips on, with the steel inserts.)

But all good things come to an end, if you aren't the man in charge. The landfill told us we had to leave, because "the neighbors were complaining about the noise." (Who builds next to a landfill?) More likely it was the PD, who never felt we were "safe" (now there's a hoot) but also probably thought if we left they'd get our props and gear.

So I began looking for a new range: the next story.

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The rest of the story is not so much a fun bit, as an instructive one. (No, this is not going to turn into a didactic learning experience.)

Our club was being booted out of the landfill, so I went in search of a new place. I grabbed the yellow pages (this was years before the internet) and looked up "gun clubs." I plotted all the ones outside the ring of the city, planning to find one far enough out to avoid encroachment for a while, but close enough we could drive to it in reasonable time. I encountered the usual assortment: skeet and trap clubs who were either not interested "You do that combat shooting?" or wanted lots of money. Or Bullseye clubs, who shrank in horror at the thought of working from the holster.

I found a place that had just started hosting bowling pin shoots, evn though they didn't know how, and none of them had been to Second Chance. They were interested in our money, and rented the range to us. After a few matches, when they saw the turnout (our club was running 20-30 shooters in bad weather, ca. 1982) they gently upped the price. I was at the meetings (I joined so I could) and found the club was so poor they passed the hat at each meeting to pay the electrical bill. A retired member fronted them the tax money each year. (The road out front had just been paved, and the assesments were killing them.) There was no budget for anything, and membership was at an all-time low.

Even though the IPSC club officers grumbled each time the price went up, I said nothing at the meetings. Then some bright individual in the host club suggested "Since these combat shooters are showing up all the time, why don't we require that they be members?" So voted. After that meeting, I personally buttonholed each and every one of the IPSC shooters and told them "Don't complain. Smile and pay your dues." (Did I mention that dues were a grand total of $15 a year?) "Come to the annual meeting, and you will vote me in as President and we will stage a palace coup." They did, and we did.

We did not throw out the deer hunters, nor require everyone to shoot IPSC. We just packed the schedule full of IPSC handgun and 3-gun (years before there was 3-gun) and bowling pin matches. And began sharpening our knives for the blackpowder shooters.

That is the tale of how we came to be one of the earliest, and one of the few, IPSC-only and IPSC-run clubs in the country. And sometime during my 20-year run as President, they jokingly voted me "President for Life." Guys, I'm still waiting for the promised Mercedes.

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You guys were visionaries IMHO. Whoddathunk that 20-some years later that it would be such a strong IPSC club. As for your Mercedes...well, we would have to raise match fees a bit!!! :P I can't help but get a smile on my face when I talk about how our club is fortunate enough to not have to say "Mother may I" every time we want to do a match. Just keep the rifle range open the week before deer season, and we have it licked. I would have paid good money to see how things were back then. ;)


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You would not have had to have paid good money. The dues were $15 a year when I arrived, (1982-3) and you should have heard the screaming and yelling when we proposed raising it to $20! You would have thought members were going to have to walk the freeways picking up deposit bottles to afford both primers and dues.

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OK, so we're settled in to our new range, which we own. We share with the deer hunters, plinkers and black powder shooters, but we have the whip hand, not like other clubs. We start insisting on IPSC safety standards and rules: Glasses and hearing protection. the plinkers and deer hunters grumble a bit, but comply. After all, they've been told for years it was a good idea, so they're mentally prepped. But the black powder shooters refuse.

The club had an annual black powder shoot put on by the N-SSF. The North-South Skirmish Association could be thought of as a proto-IPSC group or a pre-Cowboy Action shoot: they use four or five man teams to break arrays of objects or cut stakes in the shortest time possible. They used original or replica black powder rifles, and dressed according to the latest Civil War fashions. But they refused to wear glasses or earplugs. The big first objection? "It isn't period-correct." My reply was "Period-correct conditions also include incoming fire. I don't see that level of verisimilitude, so stop right there."

I told the group: "I understand that the small charges of black powder you use, and the low frequency of the muzzle blast, might not be harmfull to one's hearing, You've got room to argue there. But there is no way you can convince me that you don't need glasses." I insisted. they insisted. We voted "No" on their request to hodl the match, unless they wore safety gear.

I later learned that the leader of the N-SSF faction had been thrown off of several other ranges before ours for refusing to wear glasses and muffs/plugs.

After that, if you took off your glasses to look at something on the range, the next person to walk by would remind you to put them on.

things were fine until the neighbors started a fuss.

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One of these days I will have to get my son to scan in some of the pile of photos from all the old Nats I went to....some cool shots in there of some of the very colorful people from the old days....Raul Walters, Tommy Campbell, Dave Wheeler, Chippie McCormick, Joanne Hall, Kirk Kirkham, Fowler, Dalton, Shaw, Plaxco, Wilson, Dixon, and of course some candid pics of our host BE and some of TGO as well...

If I remember correctly, the pics of BE I have are before the Egret....lol

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Then there were our early forays into steel. We had a local welding shop cut popper faces and weld hinge tubes on them. (Hmmm, this would have been the brown F-100, so no later than 1980-1) We don't know nothin' about steel, so we get them made of "boiler plate." Had light-bullet major ammo been around, they'd have been knackered in a season. Since we were all shooting cast H&G 68's, they lasted a long time. (I think we retired the last one ca. 1992 or so.)

The poppers are so much fun someone gets the bright idea of using circular plates. We weld a square foot on a test plate, and stand it on one of our bowling pin rifle stands. (A six-foot length of rebar with a square plate on top. Pound the bar into the ground, stand the plate on the top square.) The first match is a room-clearing exercise. The "wall" is made of hay bales, and the plate is inside, about 7-8 yards from the door. After dealing with the "sentries" posted outside the first shooter races in, and zeros in on the plate. But since he's moving, he gets a lot closer than 7-8 yards before shooting. He's maybe 10-12 feet away when he fires, and at the sound of the shot he drops like a sumo wrestler tackled him.

The bullet had struck the plate, and the lead "dime" that many cast bullets create on impact had slid down off the plate, hit the foot, and changed angle back at him. It had struck him on the sternum, leaving a big bruise. I was right behind him. He was maybe 5'4", and crouched to shoot. Had the bounceback missed him, it would have struck me lower. Much lower.

After that, all plates had lips on the front, and all plates and steel were ten yards or more away.

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Ouch, you reminded me Patrick of when I got hit with some serious splash back. I was RO'ing a now retired, ladies champion at a local club match back in '93. The steel pepper poppers were at 10 yards. However, the local shot gunners had apparently being playing with one of them as it had a definite curve to it. She blasts off a few rounds and WHAM! it feels like someone just punched me in the chest. The force of the hit actually rocked me backwards. Instantly I think that when I look down, I will see that I'm blowing red bubbles. Fortunately that was not the case. Since I figured I wasn't dying, I decided I had better catch up to the shooter who was almost half way down the range. Heck, at least she'd be soft cover if it happened again with the popper at the end of the stage! Later we looked for the "dime" and found it, it was more like a half dollar piece as she was shooting a 200 grainer in .45. I ended up with a bruise the size of a fist. SCARY!


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