2014 was my thirteenth year competing in action shooting events. Matches have started becoming routine after going to the same ones year after year. Even with the more challenging events I go to like the Ironman 3 Gun I know exactly what to expect. The stages may change, but the skillset required to complete the matches remains relatively the same. Many of the same people I shoot with at Ironman recommended the Purgatory Flats Hard as Hell Multi-Gun Match (HAH) as a next level challenge. After watching John McClain’s videos of the 2013 match and seeing how challenging and physical they were I knew I had to attend. HAH is held at the Southern Utah Practical Shooters, Inc Range. I spoke with the match director, Ken Nelson, about the match for more details. He assured me that the 2013 blizzard was a fluke and the weather in St. George in December is typically in the 50s-60s during the day. GWACS Armory generously donated some CAV-15 MKII receivers to the prize table to cover my slot for the match.
There are a few differences in regards to equipment rules for the HAH match. As long as a gun is legal in your division, you can use a different gun for every stage, where most matches require you to use the same rifle, pistol, and shotgun throughout the match. Shooters are also not allowed to strip off chest rigs or other ammunition carrying equipment once a stage has started. Once you watch the videos you will see why some people might want to. There are a lot of physical challenges that could be handled more easily with minimal gear. Lastly because of the length of the stages, coaching is expressly allowed because memorizing the stages entirely would prove difficult.
I chose to compete in Open division with the following guns:
Shotgun: VEPR-12 with Vortex SPARC 2. I had two coupled 12 round mags I would start stages with and reload with MOLOT 8 rounders out of my chest rig. This is the same gun I reviewed in RECOIL a year ago.
Pistol: Suarez International Red Dot Glock with Trijicon RM01. The RMR made hitting all the further pistol steel and one handed shooting I had to do a breeze.
Rifle: CAV-15 MKII lower with 16″ mid-length upper and Vortex 1-6 Razor HD with JM Reticle. I brought a bipod but there was nowhere to use it.
Close Range Rifle: Because we could swap guns out for specific stages I used a post-dealer sample Brethren Arms BAP9 for all the close range rifle work. I had an original Vortex SPARC on this gun.
I used all of them as much as I could in the 2 months preceding the HAH match at local matches and teaching my multi-gun competition classes.
I drove up to St. George with two other shooters from Phoenix. The drive only took 7 hours and this was a nice change of pace from some of the other events I go to that require two days of driving there and back. The SUPS range is located only about 20 minutes outside of St. George, again increasing the convenience factor of attending the match and making it generally more pleasant. Ranges by necessity are often located in the middle of nowhere so you might have up to an hour drive in the morning and back to the hotel at night, or the choice of camping on the range. With good restaurant and lodging options so close by, it really made attending the match feel more like a real vacation.
The match was supposed to have an alternating AM/PM schedule for shooters so we showed up at 10AM on the first day of the match (12-5-2014) so we had time to hit the sight in range and check our zeros. We showed up to our first stage at noon with the rest of our squad consisting of about 13 shooters. One thing that stood out immediately to me about the match was there were no dedicated Range Officers. Most major matches have dedicated ROs assigned to each stage to make sure scoring is consistent and squads move on schedule. I did not see any scoring or consistency issues from squad to squad, but the lack of dedicated ROs to brief the shooters and keep things moving did cause the match to drag. A lot of this is simply trying to figure out what the stage description means and shooters walking through the stages more than they would normally with an RO to explain it to them. Fortunately our squad was filled with people who had RO and match logistics experience so we were able to work things out. We did have to ask the MD how penalties applied in some cases. The MD has already announced that there will be dedicated match staff for next year, which is a good call to keep long stages like these moving along.
Our squad shot in alphabetical order with the first shooter rotating to the bottom on each stage so no one had to go first twice. This put me third in the stack for our first stage, Stage 7. Stage 7 involved pistol shots to 50 yards, close range shotgun, flying clay, slug targets at 50 yards, and rifle targets at 200-300 yards. Stage 7 went pretty well for me until I got to the rifle portion.
Fortunately I was able to borrow a bolt group from squad mate Ryan, and test fire my rifle between stages. On Stage 8, the obstacle course I was up second. I wish I had been lower in the stack because watching others go through it made better techniques for handling the course more apparent. This stage required pistol shots to 50 yards, and rifle shots to 100 yards.
That was our last stage for day 1. We finished up at about 6:30PM. It became apparent by the end of day 1 that the AM/PM schedule would not work for the volume of shooters and the length of the stages. All shooters would need to be back at 7:30AM to start shooting. Our squad would need to get 4 stages done on day 2 to stay on schedule.
Back at the range on day 2 I was first up on stage 9. I elected to use the BAP9 for the rifle portion as it was all 25 yards or less. The shotgun started unloaded in the drag barrel, so I put my coupled 12 round mags in my dump pouch; as you can see in the video they didn’t stay there. There’s really no good way to carry mags that large while doing this stuff.
This was the trench warfare stage. Lots of shotgun targets in the trench, then some pistol targets starting at 50 yards, then rifle from 100-600 yards. I was last in the squad on this stage so I stayed behind the berm on the rifle portion waiting to call hits for the shooter when they got up there. While hanging out back there sitting I apparently scooped up a mag well full of dirt in my Glock. I realized this when I went to make ready and sand and pebbles fell out of it. I quickly field stripped it, blew it out, and reassembled it without issues on the stage.
We did not stop for a lunch break. Fortunately because the range was so close to town Tactical Performance Center ordered pizza and had it delivered to the ranges. I’m not normally a fan of Dominos, but it tasted pretty good after running around the range all morning.
On this stage we had to carry an egg in one hand whenever shooting pistol. And we had to ground it whenever shooting long guns. Rifle started slung on our backs and all the rifle targets were close range so I used the BAP9 starting with the stock folded slung on my back with the muzzle in my dump pouch. Having to start with the shotgun unloaded was a pain again because of my huge mags.
You may notice I needed more coaching on these stages where we had to sweep through the same bay twice with two different guns. When it is just one gun per bay it’s pretty simple to sweep through and shoot them as you see them. This was more complicated. Resetting these stages also doesn’t allow for much walk-through time.
We finished shooting at about 6:300PM again, getting our 4 stages knocked out.
Saturday Night was the Silencerco Team Scramble. Tactical Performance Center provided dinner for all competitors while we were waiting to shoot. FNH-USA provided a SCAR MK16S, P-12 Shotgun, and .45 FNX there were outfitted with Silencerco suppressors and Crimson Trace lasers. This was a fun event with each team coming out and shooting to theme music played by a DJ while the spectators in the bleachers watched on. John Brooks and I entered the event and shot it cold getting the fastest time over other teams that paid for multiple entries and dry fired the heck out of the guns. Shooting different guns all the time like I have been for articles helps adapt to different platforms more easily. The top 4 teams and 4 random teams were selected for the team shoot off Sunday night before the awards ceremony.
Stage 4 We started again at 7:30 with 3 stages left to go. Stage 4 had a rock climbing wall we had to traverse. I’ve never done anything like that before, so I practiced a few times before we started shooting. Brooks helped coach me through the right technique to use and got me through it on the stage.
This one really did not go according to plan for me. It’s a good example of the snowball effect of one part of the plan falling apart and other things going wrong. Fatigue after 3 days on the range was definitely a factor here. Things went decently after I got to the shotgun portion.
This was the last stage of the match. At this point everyone on the squad was worn out and ready to get it over with and head home. This felt like it was the most physically demanding, I’m not sure if that is because it was the last stage or if it was that hard. With all the obstacles on this stage I timed out with a few targets left. A lot of people came close to timing out or did on this stage. There was just a lot of things to get done in 300 seconds.
We wrapped up shooting the last stage at about 2:30, then it was time for the team shoot offs and awards.
Team Match Shoot-Offs
The team shoot offs pitted the 8 teams from the previous night against each other in a man vs man format. Shooters had to complete their portion of the course in relay format. First shooter doing rifle, running back tagging shooter for shotgun, then shotgun shooter runs back and tags pistol shooter, then pistol shooter runs back and tags team mate to shoot stop plate with pistol. Brooks and I were up in the first relay so we didn’t see anyone else shoot it. Unfortunately we did not understand the stage description and failed to swap out for the pistol stop plate, thus getting knocked out of the shoot offs immediately. Brian Nelson and Wyatt Gibson (right) defeat The Kidney Twins (left) to win the Team Shoot Off
Awards were done by 5:00. The Practiscore system used at the match no doubt expedited this. Open division had 20 shooters with Travis Gibson in first, Wyatt Gibson was 2nd with 94.9% of his father’s score, and Sean Smith was third with 93.2%. Limited had 19 shooters and was won by Adam Riser, Donovan Montross was second with 95.3%, and Scott McGregor was third with 94.2%. Tac-Scope had 74 shooters finish the match with Andy Peterson in first, Josh Wakamatsu in second with 98.8%, and Brian Nelson in third with 98.5%. I ended up 10/20 in open with 64.6% of the division winner’s score. Hard as Hell was the first match I’ve shot in a long time that I felt was truly challenging. I completed all the challenges wearing the same full gear and chest rig for every stage. I found myself thinking several times during the match “can I actually do this on the clock?”. Challenges like this are good. It forced me out of my comfort zone. Having an event like Hard as Hell to look forward to for next year helps motivate me to work on physical fitness and difficult shooting in the meantime.
What is Old is New Again
Talking with Kurt Miller and other veteran 3-gunners at the match, they said that HAH is very close to what 3 Gun originally was when it started in the 1980s with the Soldier of Fortune Matches. Sterling White also said that HAH was closer to what 3 Gun was like 15-20 years ago. More physical, hard shooting, and less memory games. Somewhere along the line 3 Gun turned into what it is today, and I don’t think it’s always a good thing. Ken Nelson told me he runs HAH because he feels it is the kind of event that needs to happen; even though they make less money off of it for the club than other events with shorter stages and faster reset times that allow for more shooters. Ken also speculated that the Global War on Terror and returning veterans are influencing the type of competitive shooting people would want to do. Many returning veterans want a venue to practice the skills they learned in the military and used over seas. Looking back the start of 3-Gun in the 1980s was likely similarly influenced by Vietnam War veterans. Another consideration is the most commonly cited reason people have for owning guns today is self-defense. Many want an arena to practice these skills in. I’ve seen the same phenomenon with the 2-Gun Action Challenge Match in Tucson. Hopefully more ranges start running similar physically challenging practical events to meet the market demand for them.
Thanks to Squad 204
I do want to give a shout out to everyone on squad 204 for making this a fun event, you were all great to shoot and compete with. It’s rare to go to a match where you feel like everyone on the squad is working together to help everyone else do better on the stages. In particular junior shooters Jalise and Justine Williams, really impressed me. At 10 and 11 years old they had a great don’t give up mindset and showed great sportsmanship. They’ve only been shooting for a year and their skills are impressive for their age. Watch them shoot their full size Robinson Armament XCRs, Springfield XDs, and shotguns that are longer than they are tall and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Special thanks to their mother, Jaime, for taking photos of our squad that you see in my article here. Follow their Facebook athlete page here.