PUBLISHED: 11:16 12 January 2012 | UPDATED: 10:02 23 April 2012
The 27th of November saw the finest Iron Plate Action Shooters (IPAS) shooters from across the country converge at the Sywell shooting ranges near Northampton, for the much awaited National Competition.
The ranges there are huge, accommodating many different disciplines, from our low powered CO2 handguns, to top flight shotgun competitions, but on a cold November morning I was glad to get inside the building to get away from a chilling wind. The clubhouse boasts a comfortable reception area with plenty of seating and a range that had been temporarily divided in two to allow four IPAS stages to be run simultaneously, thereby allowing the day to move on at a good pace. This is to be well commended, as getting some 40 competitors through eight stages in a reasonable time is no mean feat.
Id been looking forward to the event, but had let my practice sessions slip badly, as some of my far-too-many other hobbies had crept up the leader board, using time that should have been spent on the range. I then made the classic mistake of trying to practise far too hard in the fortnight leading up to the day. Along the way, I managed to drop the pistol onto its optical sight on a concrete floor, aggravate an old climbing injury to my right shoulder by attempting some indoor climbing routes that were well above my ability/talent/skill set and after chronographing my Colt, realised that it was well down on power. The first two stupid mistakes conspired to lower my self-confidence somewhat, but I sensibly decided that I should leave the pistol alone rather than trying drastic surgery just before an important event and possibly making matters worse. To say I arrived badly prepared would show mastery of understatement, so I made up my mind in advance to enjoy the day and consider it a learning experience.
The usual suspects
It was a great pleasure to see so many familiar faces assemble in the club room and listen to the banter and good-natured ribbing that was going on. I could see that many other people were very happy to be there too. Even from my limited experience, I noted that all bar one of the top competitors was present, giving the competition every right to call itself the National event with a capital N.
After the proper safety briefing was done, we split into two squads and set about the comp. The range reminded me of the good old days shooting fullbore practical pistol with my friends at the Old Windsor pistol club with the low ceilings and wall baffles to trap wayward bullets. The targets were unsurprisingly set at quite modest distances, but some creative thinking had added variety to the layouts, with some being like nothing Id ever seen before. But before you think close means easy, remember that this is a speed event and the closer they are, the faster people go, so get your head around this one. One stage had three plates set at about 15 yards and some bloke called Steve whats-his-name drew his pistol and hit them all in 1.2 seconds. 1.2 seconds is the time it takes to take your hands out of your pockets and clap twice. The standard was evidently very high, and that did nothing for my already low confidence. There were some faces new to me with some ferocious talent, including some with perhaps not the very best kit, but enough talent for that not to matter. Shooting side-by-side with the best is intimidating, but also the very best way to improve and progress but I have to confess to feeling somewhat inadequate compared to my more recent competitions where I did much better.
Going to the line for my first run I felt rough and tried to decide whether it was match nerves or if I was actually coming down with something like a heavy cold. I felt slow and could tell I wasnt reacting to the timer like the folks around me, but I tried not to become despondent. I should enjoy the day, have a laugh, and try to learn anything I could. With this type of competition theres plenty of time between runs to chat to your fellow competitors and I particularly enjoyed meeting Nick Hulme (Magic 9 design Ltd) who is a top class engineer with a passion for improving and upgrading guns. He makes must-have items like beavertails and commander hammers to fit the Umarex Colt 1911, which is the first choice of many of the top shooters in our sport. His parts grace their guns and theyre not only there for their good looks. Anything that makes their guns more reliable and perhaps a 1/10th quicker is snapped up by serious competitors and taken to the limit in these highly competitive events.
On the subject of equipment, over the last few years people have asked if it would be possible for 6mm airsoft pistols to be allowed to compete against the usual Umarex CO2 pellet firing guns, and until now they werent. It was decided that a test should be run, with all the committee present, to see just what would happen to the large plastic balls when fired against a steel IPAS plate, so during the lunch break a number of shooters were invited to bring their airsoft guns to the line under range officer control, and fire them. A number of things emerged from this. Firstly, the fear of high velocity rebounds proved to be unfounded. Next, the guns proved themselves to be accurate enough for competition use, albeit on an indoor range with no side winds to contend with, but the most obvious result was that everybody who shot one was blown away by just how much fun a high quality airsoft pistol is to shoot. Being blow-back semi-automatics, they can have short travel, light, clean triggers which no double-action gun could ever match. This also means the rate of fire is much higher too. At the end of the comp was the AGM, at which it was agreed to accept these pistols for future events in a class of their own for now, to see how things progress. This is something I welcome, as it opens the IPAS door to many other shooters who own these great pistols.
As they day wore on, it became apparent that the usual suspects were in the running for the top spots, with the occasional new face to put the cat among the pigeons. As for me, I felt somehow more relaxed and able to shoot at my best, despite a splitting headache. In fact, my very last run on the final stage of the day was something of a landmark in my IPAS career. It was a set of five plates set in a diamond formation, with the stop plate in the middle and at very short range. Steve Taylor was the RO for my run and he encouraged me to simply snatch the pistol from the holster and go for it so I did, and was rewarded with my first sub two-second, five-plate run, which was the ideal way to end an otherwise poor day. Leaving on a high was a good way to finish what could have been a real knock to my confidence.
The prizegiving was a raucous affair with plenty of clapping and Micky-taking along with some pretty happy faces. Prizes were tins of RWS Hobby pellets, the number one IPAS choice of ammo, kindly supplied by RUAG Ammotec, the UK importer for RWS pellets and gratefully received. Theres no question that you dont get to the top in our sport without plenty of trigger time and plenty of pellets down range.
Nobody was surprised to see Steve Taylor win by a pretty substantial margin, but it was great to see Bob Skidmore come 4th in standard and young Craig Meegan come second. Bobs been working hard on his skills and was honestly shocked to achieve his position. Craig is clearly a precocious talent, shooting a pretty standard looking pistol, but when youve got that much innate skill, the kit doesnt matter much. Also if you have a look at his time, youll see its good enough for third overall, beating many open class guns.
My position was near the bottom of the open class, which was no surprise to me.
It was a fine day, well prepared and well run and my thanks, and that of all the competitors, goes to the organisers, without whom the day couldnt have been had.
Everybody left looking forward to 2012 and discussions were already in full swing for dates for next year. As for me, it was time to take the positives from the day, especially that 1.99 seconds five-plate run, and set about designing a winter training programme to work on the weak areas in my skills.
Ill also be upgrading my Colt 1911 with some tasty upgrades that Ive ordered from Neil at magic9er to see if he can impart some of the magic he puts into the winners guns into mine. Heres hoping!