As I sat in the middle of the desert at 10:00 PM in my truck preparing to spend the night in some sort of contorted position and wondering if my vehicle would tolerate idling all night to run the heater, I thought back to the main page of the Run n’ Gun website which states, “The range is far and away from civilization and the logistics are a stretch. Good attitudes are required. If a minor hitch in plans will ruin your whole day, this event is not for you.” I laughed a bit more when I remembered that a short 15 hours earlier, I had told Smokey, the event organizer, “This is going to be fun” as we slogged through the mud getting to the base camp, and he replied…
“This is going to be a clusterfuck.” Truer and more propehtic words have never been spoken. The Pecos Run n Gun of 2014 was in all ways a clusterfuck. I saw gun failures I’d only read about on the internet. I watched truck after truck get hopelessly quagmired. Blisters and sunburns became the norm. I watched fellow competitors fall waist deep in the water during the race and after. They were forced to cancel the main event Saturday. And I’ve honestly never had more fun.
The Pecos Run n Gun is traditionally held each year in August or September north of Toyah, TX. Pecos is off the beaten path. Toyah is remote, and Run n Gun is about 10 miles north of that. The format of the race is simple. Cover seven miles through the desert, stop at six shooting stations along the way that utilize your rifle and pistol, and take everything you need with you along the way including water, food, ammo, supplies, communication gear, etc. This is the open class events of open class events. There are no restrictions on guns, gear, or tactics. As long as you stick to the course, and shoot clean, the organizers don’t care how you do it.
As you can imagine, a race like this requires a metric load of preparation, planning, and logistics. Smokey Briggs, pictured above, is the guy behind it all and for the week of Run n Gun, he’s the busiest man in the Pecos area. As part of the race plan, the range officers go out Friday morning and run the course. This allows the RO team to establish competitive times, but also gives valuable feedback to Smokey about how the course is laid out so that he can make any changes to the stages in preparation for the main event on Saturday.
I’m a sucker for a fun time, and being a RO for this event sounded like the pinnacle of fun. I shot Smokey a note and got signed up to be an RO. I arrived in Pecos on Thursday evening with my coworker Thomas who had not volunteered for RO duty, but wanted to come along on Friday to help. We had dinner in Pecos, grabbed some last minute supplies at Walmart, and hit the sack.
We woke up Friday morning to intermittent rain and fairly cool temps. Meeting up with the convoy at the local truck stop was my first taste of being underprepared as the regular crew of guys were almost all driving four wheel drive vehicles of some sort including a couple of old Land Rovers. I brought my trusty 2003 Toyota Tacoma PreRunner (2WD) with 210,000 on the odometer. Off we went towards the course. Total travel time to get to the five mile dirt road that leads to HQ was right at an hour.
Once we got there, it was organized chaos for the next 30 minutes as we slipped and slid down the five mile stretch of road that was most decidedly unimproved. Once we made it to the base camp, everyone bailed out, found a place in the desert to relieve themselves, continued hydrating, and checked in for the RO meeting. Until that point, the skies has been dark and ominous but had only spit a bit of rain. Shortly after the RO meeting concluded, the sky opened in half and proceeded to dump rain at a rate I’ve never seen before. It was the kind of downpour that cuts visibility and immediately soaks everything. And it kept going. For 45 minutes we sat under a tin roof as the rain kept falling. I watched as a muddy road became a very muddy road, a very wet muddy road, and finally a river. A guy walked past me with a hat that said, “Embrace the Suck.”
After the rain let up, the first round of ROs headed out to the various stages while the rest of us hung back and readied our gear. The video above is from one of the regulars who headed out with the first round of Range Officers. As you can see, the roads were rivers and generally were a travesty to navigate. The vehicle of choice was an all wheel drive International school bus with snow chains. It was fairly unstoppable.
I went out third in the lineup and in the interest of brevity for this piece, I’ll write a separate article describing the course of fire. Suffice to say, it was a lot of fun when it wasn’t sucking, and provided an excellent test of my gear. The real fun began later that afternoon after I finished. Because the RO team has to RO for each other, I had to head out to Stage 5 within about one hour of the finish of my race. Luckily, there was a shade tent and I brought lots of water. So I sat and hydrated and chatted with Smokey’s sister while RO after RO came through our stage. Then at 4:30, the sky opened up again. This time for real. Luckily, the RO teams were almost finished but the damage was done as all of us were completely soaked, muddy, and freezing. We headed back to the base camp for steaks, potatoes, and some adult sodas to celebrate the end of the day.
Keep in mind, at this point I had planned to be there for the day and make the return to my soft, well lit, climate controlled hotel room after the festivities had wrapped up. I had packed no extra clothes, sleeping gear beyond a hammock, or really anything beyond what is in my bug out bag. So along with two other vehicles (all 2WD), and three other guys, Thomas and I made a run for it.
We made it approximately 1.5 miles before we had to slow waaaayyyy down. The image above was posted on the Forgotten Weapons website with a note that it was from one of the ROs. That RO was the same guy that was trying to get out with me, so I’m somewhere out of frame in this photo. As you can see, the road is a river. All of us kept getting stuck, and we realized that we were going to have to move slowly and methodically to get through the mess. So we would stop in a high spot, and walk 100 yards forward looking out for any hidden holes. Right about here in the photo above is where one of our guys fell in up to his waist. Since none of us hated our trucks enough to bury them in a waist deep hole, and the rain had largely let up, we decided to make camp with what we had. For me, that meant a cramped night in the driver’s seat of a Tacoma.
We awoke the next morning at sunrise, sore and generally grumpy. Luckily, one of our guys had a camp stove and some oatmeal, and I’d packed a decent amount of granola bars. It wasn’t a great breakfast, but it worked for the moment. After breakfast, we decided that keeping our spirits up was the most important thing we could do, so Thomas pulled his silencer equipped Buckmark out of the truck and we proceeded to plink cans to pass the time. At some point, Thomas’ phone rang. It was the guy managing communications to let us know that, a.) the event had been cancelled due to massive and dangerous flooding, and b.) the bus would be out in a few minutes to pick us up.
Once the bus showed up, the rescue crew shot around with the Buckmark for a bit and caught us up on the situation. It turns out that the area upstream of the ranch we were stationed at had received unprecedented amounts of rainfall. It had driven the water level at the beginning of the stage from the slowly moving, calf deep water I’d crossed the day before to a waist deep, quickly moving 150 yard stretch of water. Long story short, the ROs were not able to get to their stations and it would have been criminally negligent to let competitors with 25+ pounds of gear on their bodies to cross the river. Smokey offered to take us back to the main camp where eggs and bacon were cooking, and the potential for shooting games was high given the amount of steel targets hanging around.
So we packed up our gear, guns, and ammo and headed back to base camp. Once there, we had some breakfast and swapped stories of our hard night out with the others. It became clear that the plan was to let the sun bake off some of the moisture, find a way across the quagmire that stopped us the night before, and then get out. The thing complicating our plans was that there was no way around the big mudpit due to thick mesquite, so we’d be forced to go through it. After that, we’d have to cross a flooded low water crossing on the main county road. That morning, we received word that a someone had perished at one of the flooded low water crossings in the area. Very quickly, things got serious.
Fairly soon, with our bellies full, we commenced ringing a steel plate across the river at about 175 yards to pass the time until the sun dried things out a bit. One of the coolest and most unexpected benefits of attending Run n Gun was that every second person in the RO crew was either heavily involved with, or an actual instructor for Appleseed. I managed to spend some time working on my seated shooting position with a few of the guys there, and before long, I was making that gong sing. One of the instructors was putting rounds on target with his G19 at ~125 yards which was a fun thing to watch. If you ever have to be stranded, the people of the gun are good folks to be with.
Around 1:00, we started the long trek out. The bus led off and things went pretty well until we got to the big hole that had stranded us the night before. A good deal of the water had subsided, but the ruts were still terrific. Once we got the bus through, we started sending 2WD vehicles through and the ones that didn’t make it got yanked. See below for a great example of one of the vehicles that didn’t make it. Luckily, this was a rental with full insurance. That’s why we sent him through first.
Once we all made it through the mud, it was fairly clear sailing to get out the ranch. The roads had dried up in most places, and while there was a pretty decent amount of damage to the road surface, it didn’t cause any more major issues. The next phase of our journey was still to come though as there was a very flooded section of road a few miles from the entrance of the ranch. Once we got to it, everyone got out of their vehicles and stared at the rushing water. One by one, people started walking out to see how deep it really was. The results came back, “Knee deep, moving fairly quickly, and there’s a big hole in the center section where the water washed away the road.”
I certainly wasn’t the first to attempt the crossing, but after watching several vehicles my size go through, I decided the time had come to get past one last obstacle to get back to a hot shower and a soft bed. I drove slowly, avoided the hole, and made it across with just a bit of light feeling in the steering wheel along the way. Looking at the water line on my truck after we made it across, it appears that the water never crested the door line, but it did clean off my running boards and in some places, it kissed the bottom of the door seal. I’d estimate the deepest part was probably fourteen or so inches. Of all the things we did over the weekend, crossing that flooded out section was easily the scariest. Once we got through, it was smooth sailing all the way to Pecos. Both Thomas and I got a hot shower in, went out for dinner, and then crashed.
The trip back was fairly uneventful besides consuming a lot of gas and Red Bull. My truck wasn’t too much worse for wear, and my body didn’t fare much different. I did learn a couple things while I was out there that I think are worth sharing.
- Have a Bug Out Bag – You don’t need to actually call it a bug out bag, but at a minimum, keep a bag in your vehicle with water, food, a first aid kit, a roll of duct tape, something to start a fire with, some paracord, a towel, and an emergency blanket in it. There’s obviously a lot more that could be added or subtracted but be sure you can hydrate, stay warm, and fix any major broken bones or flesh wounds.
- Keep Wet Wipes in your vehicle along with a camp shovel. – The ribeye from the night before made a grand exit on Saturday morning which required a walk into the desert, a hole, and some squatting. I always keep a roll of Charmin in my BOB, a fact I proudly announced to my fellow campers when I got back from my excursion. One of them looked at me, held up a box of Wet Wipes, and a said, “Charmin? What a noob.” Then he took my shovel and headed off in the desert to do his business. Grab a box the next time you’re out.
- Keep a toothbrush and toothpaste in your vehicle – I keep a small travel brush in my BOB, and being able to brush my teeth in the morning did wonders for my morale. I highly recommend you do the same.
- Fill up before you head out – I made the conscious decision to top up with gas before we left, and I was able to run my heater all night in my truck which staved off the late night shivers. It also made charging cell phones and various other electronics possible.
- Invest in some good recovery gear – Like a fool, I didn’t bring a recovery strap with me. Luckily everyone else did. They’re a lifesaver when one vehicle has traction and another doesn’t. Paired with a good shovel, you’ve got what you need to dig yourself out of a pretty decent amount of bad situations
- Bring clean underwear – Mom always told me to do it, and this time, thinking I’d only be making a day hike, I didn’t bring extra pantaloons. I would have killed for a non funked set of pants by Saturday afternoon.
- Plan for the worst – If you don’t do any of the other stuff listed above, at least do this. I didn’t even consider that we could get stuck out there for the night. Had I given it a moment of consideration, I would have loaded up food, extra clothing, and a blanket. You don’t have to do much, but being prepared can mean the difference between a cold night on the range, or a less sucky night stranded far from home.
Despite the rain and flooding, Run n Gun 2014 was a total blast and I made a series of lifetime memories while I was out there. There’s been some chatter after the event that people slated to run on Saturday were upset that the event was cancelled last minute. My hope is that my first person account gives some clarity on just how dicey it got, and how quickly that happened. There was no way a race was happening Saturday, and the whole RO crew is lucky to have gotten out when they did.
I’d highly recommend you try out Run n Gun at some point. It took me a full three years of planning and missed opportunities before I was able to make it out, and I’m pissed it took me so long to finally make it happen. I’m a lifer for sure, and I can’t wait until next year’s race. I’ll be bringing enough gear to survive the apocalypse this time.