There’s a first time for everything.

Last weekend was a first time for a lot of things – for me anyway. Hosted by FMG Publications, publishers of American Handgunner, Guns Magazine, American Cop, and Shooting Industry, the Shooting Industry Masters event benefits the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s First Shots program.

Organized as a friendly shooting competition for industry insiders, the Masters event has raised nearly $100,000 over the past three years. This year’s event at the world-class Rockcastle Shooting Center promises to be a record breaker when all the donations are tallied. Money is raised through sponsors, team entry fees, raffles, auctions, and the world-renowned side matches.

Over two full days, teams compete in three event categories: handgun, rifle, and shotgun. With the exception of the shotgun event which is a sporting clays format, the stages are almost all multiple-gun shoot-and-move scenarios. And the side matches? Let your imagination run wild with things you can do with guns, night vision, lasers, and zombies and you’ll get the idea.

The really fun part of the Shooting Industry Masters is the opportunity to do a lot of things not normally accessible at the neighborhood range. In fact, with all the shooting in which I’ve been fortunate enough to participate, I still racked up a large list of ‘firsts’ at this year’s events. With that said, here are some of the highlights:

I shot an FN M249 Mk 46 machine gun.

FN M249 Mk 46 machine gun

The FN M249 Mk 46 is an assaulters gun

A new model designed as an ‘assaulters gun’, the Mk46 has been simplified, and lightened, to allow a professional door kicker to handle it more adeptly. The carry handle is gone, as is the ability to insert standard AR magazines, so it’s belt fed only. A new stock design with hints of M240 appearance rounds out the package. At this side match, hosted by FNH, you plunk yourself down on the ground, jam the bipod into the dirt, and engage three steel targets about 150 yards downrange. Attendees were given two competition options: fire a 20 round belt to knock down all three targets in the fastest time or use a 10 round belt to knock down all three with no time limit. The 10 round option required serious trigger control to limit yourself to two round bursts. This provided four or five bursts to cover all the targets.

I’m trying to convince my wife that the Mk 46 will make an excellent home defense gun.

I got smoked in the Colt 1911 side match by American Handgunner Editor Roy Huntington.

Roy Huntington American Handgunner Magazine shooting Colt 1911 Shooting Industry Masters

Don’t let Roy fool ya. The boy can shoot!

Don’t let the humble and nice guy image fool ya. The boy can shoot! Colt set up a course of fire consisting of two 1911’s on a table – a .45 ACP and a 10mm. The idea was to pick up one, your choice, then engage 3 steel plates with double taps. Then pick up the other gun and knock down a series of six bowling pins with one shot each. Each gun was loaded with only six rounds so there was no room for misses. Oh yeah, and the whole scenario was timed.

Lesson learned: don’t bet with Editor Roy. Even if he does claim that he hardly ever gets the chance to shoot.

I got a chance to try Cowboy Action Shooting

Shooting Industry Masters 2012 Benelli cowboy action shooting

Cowboy Action shooting can be fast and fun

I’ve always had an itch to try a Cowboy Action event. I’ve just had a thing for lever action rifles, six guns, and last but not least, coach shotguns. And cowboy boots. At the Benelli side match event, I got to try all three in a single string of fire – plus a Uberti rifle in .45-70. I had to push the limit of my already questionable powers of concentration to even complete this string of fire. Start from a sitting position, leap to a window and pick up a single action sixgun to engage a series of height-challenged steel Evil Roy’s downrange. Next, run, don’t walk to another window and pick up a lever action rifle to engage some slightly chubbier steel cowboy bandits. At the next window awaits a coach shotgun. Whack a steel target with the first shot. If and when it falls, a clay bird is launched in to the air. Nail that and you’re off to the final stage where you pick up a .45-70 to hit a steel plate way, way, way out in the woods.

Hat’s (cowboy style of course) off to Benelli for creating a great side match stage to introduce folks to the fun of cowboy action shooting!

I re-killed a horde of undead in a cave.

Surefire cave match - Shooting Industry Masters

Can’t see anything? That’s exactly the point!

Surefireset up their phenomenally popular cave match. We’re not talking virtual cave or simulated cave. We’re talking the kind of cave you access by finding a hole in the middle of the woods. Climb down a rotting ladder into the hole, then squeeze your slightly-out-of-shape butt through a rocky entrance that’s about three feet tall. Crab crawl for a bit, then navigate 20 yards or so of 18 inch wide winding crevasses. Now you can mostly walk. Proceed another 100 feet or so into the cave and you find a couple of Surefire folks waiting with a Glock 17 equipped with a tactical light / laser combo unit and a couple of loaded magazines. Your instructions are simple. Keep going into the cave and shoot anything you see. It turns out you’ll see a series of 3 dimensional zombie targets. Hint: You might even encounter Zombie Adolf Hitler and of course Zombie Osama bin Laden.

Navigating a cave in complete absence of light, equipped with a gun, tactical light, and laser is one of the most exciting shooting experiences I’ve had.

I cleared a shoot house with night vision goggles and an infrared laser equipped H&K 416.

Shooting Industry Masters - night vision shoot house

Geared up with night vision.

I think this stage motivated me to acquire the ultimate rodent hunting setup. Pick a fun gun, appropriate to the mission, like an Umarex H&K 416 full auto airsoft in this case. Add a night vision monocle to the tactical helmet of your choice. Mount a Crimson Trace infrared laser vertical grip, and launch into the depths of a blacked out building. Being that zombies were an unofficial theme, you could expect to find them throughout the darkened house.

I was impressed by the usability of the system. I set up the night vision scope over my right (dominant) eye and proceeded into the house with both eyes open. The gun, sights, and targets were perfectly clear. Of course, the way to go on this one was to use that infrared laser dot. Fun.

I tried the same target scoring system used in Olympic shooting competitions.

Shot Response Electronic Zombie target

The Shot Response electronic scoring system

Shot Response created the Guns and Golf Zombie Challenge match. This was a  wildy popular shoot and move stage that showcased the Shot Response electronic scoring system. This is no gimmick. You shoot real guns, with real ammo, at real targets. The Shot Response target frame contains microphone / pressure sensors which triangulate the location of the hit. Results are processed by computer and displayed on screen at the shooting line. Distance from center, group size, and other feedback metrics are displayed and stored for analysis and printing. In this event, the Shot Response folks created a zombie golfer target, decked out in rotting lime green golf attire. Start the stage from a golf cart with a double tap from an FN SCAR, then run across the street to a kneeling position and launch another double tap. Now run to a sandtrap and engage the still-undead plaid pants corpse from a standing position. Next, drop the SCAR in a golf bag and run to the green. Grab an FN pistol from the hole and engage with another double tap. This is one persistent zombie. To finish, dash to the 19th hole, plant your fanny on a bar stool, and nail the zombie two more times. All of this is electronically recorded. And timed.

This system will absolutely show you how much you suck. No more excuses. I loved it.

Look for the Shot Response system at the upcoming Olympic games.

I finally got to shoot an FN SCAR.

FN SCAR - Shooting Industry Masters 2012

Hot Caliber teammate Douglas unloads a SCAR – the fun and easy way!

The Shot Response Golf Zombie Challenge match featured an FN SCAR 16Sfor the first three shooting positions. Built as a contender for the next generation assault rifle, the SCAR can be configured in 5.56mm or 7.62mm. It’s a short stroke piston design which allows the system to run cooler and cleaner. Add user swappable barrels and lots of rail options and you have a very customizable platform. I found the SCAR to have a soft and controllable feel – OK, that’s kind of expected with a 5.56mm rifle – with no “twang”  as with many AR platform rifles.

One tip – be sure to keep your forward hand out of the way of the reciprocating charging handle.

I found out that it takes 1 driver, 1 ballast guy, and 3 pushers to move a golf cart up a muddy hill.

Shooting Industry Masters 2012 muddin with golf carts

This cart was not equipped with muddin’ tires…

Day 1, Friday, started on the heels of a torrential thunderstorm the previous night. Add some morning showers, and the woodsy Rockcastle shooting center was buried in about six inches of mud. The size of the facility mandated the use of gas powered golf carts to get from one event to the next. With each golf cart being loaded with four people, conditions were ripe for lots of mud-bound vehicles. We learned the hard way that steep hills require a coordinated team effort to move the cart. A driver, a lard guy, and three pushers just might get you moving.

Dirt. Mud. Water. Guns. Yes, it was as fun as it looks.