USPSA’s first combined “Optics” Nationals is in the books. We were fortunate enough to take part—as perhaps you gathered from this and this—and have nothing but good things to say about the whole show. Frequent A1F contributor, 2016 Carry Optics Women’s Champ (runner-up this time around), and S&W Shooting Team Captain Julie Golob even ran through a stage for us, showing how to break it down and then actually run a middling-length Nationals stage.
But this is hardly the end of the take-aways, even for folks who think this would never be on their to-do list.
Regular Folks I
The media loves to paint a picture of “regular” folks—those without military or law enforcement backgrounds (and even some of those with)—as too physically, mentally or morally incompetent to possess or use firearms. Yet competitions like Nationals include a huge percentage of people from outside these professions—regular, in other words. Once again, the whole schmear was injury free—or at least gunshot injury free.
If you take a minute and think that through—or better yet watch it (lots of good videos here)—it ought to amaze, at least a little. The “why” is simple enough: USPSA and sister disciplines/organizations rigorously enforce the best safety regimen on the planet (a ~2 percent DQ rate this year), yet can turn people loose for events like Nationals and continue to get unprecedented results. Running with scissors doesn’t hold a candle. But at the 2017 Optics Nationals, 338 participants fired an absolute minimum of 481 rounds each at various targets, or somewhere north of 160,000 rounds, without a single injury, to say nothing of a fatality. … 338 participants fired an absolute minimum of 481 rounds each at various targets, or somewhere north of 160,000 rounds, without a single injury (by gunshot).
It’s pretty clear that many “regular” folks can and do know how to handle firearms safely, even under very strenuous conditions. It’s also pretty clear why we saw no so-called “mainstream” media anywhere near the Universal Shooting Academy: They can’t be reporting such progressive heresy, however true it might be.
Regular Folks II
Another “regular” aspect for which we can find no allegory in other endeavors is the access bread-and-butter types have to the highest levels of competition. Wanna watch? Just walk in. Wanna participate? Join USPSA (and pass their safety class; straightforward, but not trivial), then be quick on the “enter” key, or earn a slot based on regional performance. (We’ve attended via both mechanisms.)
Try that at the Masters, or Daytona, or Wrigley Field. Just sayin’.
Moreover, even a trifle in the way of manners will get you a smile and handshake from quite literal legends: This is how we met Rob Leatham, for instance, years before we had any (miniscule) “rep” to trade upon. And this is a guy who’s won just about everything 10 or 12 times over (top-10 finish again this year, even against a monster field in Open Division). Max Michel Jr. (2017 Carry Optics Champ, among many other titles) is much the same—could not be nicer. Taran Butler (serious legend in his own right, of recent “John Wick” fame, and second in PCC division); Todd Jarrett (third, PCC)? Ditto and ditto.
Then there’s Julie Golob, of course. It’s hard to imagine a better ambassador of anything than she: mom, veteran, extraordinary talent and genuinely nice person.
Perhaps best of all, there were some new names landing at or near the top this year, which in turn is a great portent for growth and continued popularity of USPSA-style competition.
Regular Folks III
There’s a third tradition at USPSA Nationals that we like, and which says an awful lot about how past and current leadership (Mike Foley, at present) view the traditions of the discipline: A sort of corporate congeniality gets fostered year in, and year out.The shooting community is an incredibly friendly one, and even at the highest levels of competition it remains so.
A first example—and perhaps the most obvious—is the match staff we see each year. Most don’t get paid (though USPSA tries to cover their hard costs), yet still they come. They bring continuity as well as consistency, and are helpful nearly to a fault. If anybody deserves credit for the astonishing safety record, it’s these men and women. They’re often superb competitors, too—misjudge them at your peril!
If you plan with reasonable care, you’ll be able to shoot at this stratospheric level with friends from home, wherever that happens to be. Two shooting buddies from Minnesota, for instance (both with impressive skills and finishes in Carry Optics and Open Divisions, by the way), and a father and son from New York were on our squad. It’s a great way to build in a little support for what is still a stressful, high-stakes venue, but also yields some good-old-fashioned bonding.
Father and son George and Bryan “Doc” Jones won our self-effacing humor award handily with their OOPS—Overly Optimistic Practical Shooters—club shirts. Both are experts in the “which-end-goes-bang” business, too. Photo by A1F Staff
It’s also a great way to meet new and fascinating people, and foster friendships that survive the competition. Our squad had a well-known 3-gunner who crossed over to shoot a PCC: He put on a clinic and showed us what it takes for a top-20 finish. Given the choice, we almost prefer this "stranger" squadding. The shooting community is an incredibly friendly one, and even at the highest levels of competition it remains so. Therein lies another “truth” the media would never relay to wider America, but which is an enduring pleasure to experience firsthand.
Last, we’ve long maintained that there are few ways for regular folks to improve their gun handling—and therefore safety—like competition. And in terms of making a good shot when you must, and not merely when you wish, few things teach this like USPSA.
2017 Optics Nationals—Divisions & Winners
1st – Max Michel Jr. 2nd – Hwansik Kim 3rd – Shane Coley High Lady – Ashley Rheuark High Junior – James de Lambert High Senior – Johnny Bister High Super Senior – David Johnson High LEO – Joshua Eernisse High Military – Matthew Mitchell
1st – Cody Baker 2nd – Chris Tilley 3rd – Lesgar Murdock High Lady – Kaci Cochran High Junior – Cassie Beahr High Senior – Rob Leatham High Super Senior – Robert Mills High LEO – Billy Lester High Military – Brad Balsley
Pistol Caliber Carbine
1st – Max Leograndis 2nd – Taran Butler 3rd – Todd Jarrett High Lady – Lena Miculek High Senior – Frank Winn High Super Senior – Tony Hyatt High LEO – Ian Meyers High Military – Chris Tounget
Frank Winn has been studying arms and their relationship to tyranny, meaningful liberty and personal security all his adult life. He has also been a competitive shooter and firearms safety/shooting instructor for more than 20 years, though he won’t admit how many more than 20.