There’s no way to put a good face on it: We’re simply embarrassed not to have gotten ourselves to He-Man Nationals (May 28-31) sooner.
First, Match Directors JJ and Denise Johnson are friends of AW. He’s a retired 27-year USAF veteran (C-130 Loadmaster and USAFA parachuting instructor) and competitive skydiver/photographer. No surprise that he’s a gun guy. Denise is a different story: A middle school math teacher for thirty years (now retired too), she grew up in an anti-gun family. Our collective contagion caught up with her in the mid-’90s, however, and as she puts it, “I never looked back.” They both took up 3-Gun in 2003, and met at a Rocky Mountain 3-Gun match.
Second, we should know well how good their matches are, having shot, worked and even designed a stage or two for them in the past. Their eye for safe, keen competition and good, clean fun are just about legendary. A steadfast commitment to 3-Gun combines with near-faultless organization for another benefit: impressive sponsorship and a corresponding prize table.
Third, He-Man Nationals lives at the NRA’s Whittington Center. With more than 33,000 acres, the ability of the Center to provide a natural terrain setting for the courses of fire makes most any “flat/square” stage you can name pale by comparison. Small wonder, then, that year in and year out a quarter of the entrants come from military and law-enforcement ranks: a training angle, for sure. Elevation is a decided factor (6,300 to 8,100 feet), so prep accordingly if you want to play next year.
Fourth, He-Man Nationals is just what it implies: a match where the big dogs howl. 7.62/.308, 12 gauge and .45 ACP rule the roost. Part of the motivation for this is the general under-representation of He-Man (sometimes called Heavy Metal) in many 3-Gun matches. No loss of focus here, but bring your mouse gun if you like: In typical, splendid Johnson good humor, you’ll shoot in “Wee-Man Division,” and winning it will still take mighty fine shooting. Friend of AW Craig Calkins (CSPD) won this year, his prize package including a lovely tiara and nearly microscopic trophy.
Last, you get to honor the memory of a first-rate guy, top-notch shooter and dedicated cop who left us too soon: Captain Eddie Rhodes. A 30-year member of his hometown PD (nearby Pueblo, Colo.), Eddie’s wife Vicki Carlton (also Pueblo PD) generally presents LE division winners with the Eddie Rhodes Memorial Trophy. Eddie was a huge fan of the Division, and it’s a great tribute—very much in keeping with his substitute for the “stand-by” command: “Prepare for Glory!”
The match itself consisted of seven stages this year. One, four and seven used all three guns on multiple target types: Rifle shots to 520 yards, and birdshot or slugs on steel, clay and paper targets. Stage two was rifle (to 320 yards) and shotgun. Stage three was rifle only with a mix of paper and steel targets to 620 yards: Yeah, these guys are good. Stage five blended shotty skills with pistol craft, and six was rifle and pistol. All told, 66 rifle, 69 pistol, 78 birdshot and 9 slug shots. Only the strong—and versatile—triumph.
Another of the joys of Whittington is the availability of both natural terrain (for the main stages) and regular ranges. The High Power Silhouette Range figured this year as the location for the hugely popular (and fun to watch) He-Man Shoot-off. This head-to-head single elimination venue puts a $20 entry fee in the pot, and the winner takes it all. It’s a “game-on” undertaking of the first water, though: Clear five piggies at 300 meters in 15 seconds (20-round limit), with the top eight advancing. Those top eight now add a sprint to the rifle, then clear the piggies. Turkeys at 85 yards (slug/shotgun) follow, with chickens plus a crossover stop popper at 35 yards to end. Winner Tate Moots made off with the $300. At a run, we thought we heard …
As we said, we’re embarrassed to have taken so long to get to this match, even as a spectator. With sponsors like Ergo Grips (Platinum), Hornady and Troy Industries (Gold), and JP Enterprises, DPMS, Devil Dog Arms, Burris and NightForce (Silver), you can tell what the industry thinks of the venue. With MIL/LE participation at about 25 percent, you can tell what people who shoot for a living think. And with 13 women participants, the wonderful physical democracy of shooting has survived, even thrived, at He-Man Nationals.
What we think should be obvious, too: no more spectating next year.