Last year’s Pecos Run n Gun was an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. I count myself blessed that I got out with all my gear and limbs intact. Despite that feeling, as soon as I got back, I started making plans for my return. Something about the event got right down into my soul. Maybe its my daily life living in a cubicle or the love I’ve always had for West Texas, but I had an itch all year that only Run n Gun could scratch. Apparently, our resident coffee reviewer and frequent commenter, Tex300BLK (aka Wes D.) did as well. And thus, a road trip was born…
Our trip out there was already covered in depth. TL;DR We drove a lot, we went swimming in a desert oasis, the power went out in our hotel, and we got our last good night of sleep. Early the next morning, we headed out bright and early to the staging area. Instead of being five miles down a rutted dirt road, it was about 100 feet off the highway on a much smaller piece of land. I never got the full story on the change of venue, but this year’s course was significantly shorter in terms of both course length and shooting distance.
We quickly secured a camping spot and got started on getting everything set up. Our sleeping tent as well as a shade tent were up and running in time for the sun to come up, and we quickly had our gear sorted out. Last year, I had so much “fun” camping out that for this year’s event I planned to camp Friday and Saturday night on the grounds. The difference of course being the word planned. There’d be no more sleeping in my truck this year. I brought a comfy cot, a nice big tent, a couple sleeping pads, along with enough food to feed an army and some delicious sipping whiskey. I also packed up roughly ten gallons of water.
Speaking of water, I got serious about hydration the night before and didn’t slow down at all on Friday. This is a picture I had to take as proof to my family that I was indeed, hydrating religiously. The reason for all that water was that temperatures were forecast to be well into the hundred degree range, peaking somewhere around 115 or so.
After we killed off a french pressed pot of gourmet coffee (another change from last year), we headed over to the RO meeting led by our fearless leader from years prior, Smokey Briggs. And just as a sidenote, having been to two of these events, Smokey is the best gun event organizer you could ask for. This is one hell of an event that requires months of planning and consistent maintenance during the weekend to make sure it goes well. The more people I meet from this part of the world, the more I realize how much I like them. They don’t bitch and moan, they work hard, and they’re good at reacting to changes in plan. If you’ve enjoyed reading my stories about the RnG, know that they don’t happen without Smokey and his crew. Feel free to donate to their cause here:
Pecos Rifle Club
903 E. 3rd Street
Pecos Texas 79772
At our early morning briefing, smokey went through the course of fire, explained the rules, talked about the weather, and encouraged everyone to hydrate. He assigned each of us to a shooting stage. Wes and I got put at Stage #2, one of the rifle stages. And then Smokey started on the run order. I waited and waited, and waited some more. Finally, I heard Wes’ name. And then one more, and my own. Shortly thereafter, I was followed in the run order by Smokey himself, who always goes last. I took a look at the field of ROs, roughly 35 or so. Then did the quick math to see that if everyone went on five minute intervals, we’d be running for less than three hours. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that we’d be wrapped up before the heat really kicked in.
Remember when I said that Smokey was good at logistics? As every shooting station needs at least two people, but preferably three, and we only had enough to staff fully at five each the next day, there’d have to be a fairly large pause in the day while we moved half the group back and forth from the shooting stations. I was wrong. We’d be out here all day and it was already getting warm.
Back at our camp, Wes and I grabbed a couple gallons of water, some snacks, and folding chairs, and then snagged a ride out to our assigned station. Whereas last year’s exodus of ROs took nearly one hour thanks to the rain, we were all set up, and ready to start taking runners within the span of thirty minutes or so. By 10:00 AM, I’d put back over half a gallon of water and a regular sized bottle of gatorade. As shooter after shooter came through, we’d all take turns huddled in the shade of the tent, hydrating, and bullshitting until our turn to run the competitors through came around. At my peak, I was peeing significantly every 20 minutes. But damnit, my pee was clear, and I was caked in SPF.
During the lulls between runners, we also entertained ourselves by shooting Wes’ 1911 at the steel targets pictured in the distance. Wes is a better shooter than I am (There. I said it.) Before long, the call came out on the radio that Wes and I needed to head back to the starting line to get geared up. I was hungry, so I made myself a Dagwood of a sandwich, polished off a bunch of chips, and continued hydrating. Roughly a half hour after we got back to camp, Wes took off. Ten minutes later, I did the same.
Where last year’s course was a constant mudbath, this year’s was dry as a bone. But this is the desert. So dry means sand. And sand means work. And boy was it. I took off at a decent clip from the starting line, but the heat and the sand and the knowledge that I still had a long way to go put me back into a more relaxed fast walk almost immediately. Like last year, I didn’t bring my iPhone as a reference, so I don’t know how fast I was walking, but I know that my legs were burning from the start to the finish, and I pushed my body harder than it wanted to be pushed. I’d guess that the first stage was about a mile from the start line, and based on the time I had on my watch, and my guess at how I was covering ground, I’d say I was pretty close.
Stage 1 (Clear the trench)
Course Description: Two 12×18 swingers at about 100 yards. There are three shooting points. Shooter must hit both targets from each shooting point for a total of 6 hits to complete the stage.
Course Review: This was a deceptively described course of fire as there was no mention of the natural barriers in place that prevented you from fully utilizing the attractively placed items that might normally offer support. Each time I got behind the gun, the view through my scope was obstructed by tall grass and bushes. I could sort of see where the target was supposed to be but it was fully obscured by grass. The first shooting point was a gimme, and I easily got set up, took my shots, and moved towards the second point where I encountered the tall grass. After wasting a few seconds trying to figure out how to shoot over it, I ended up just shooting through it. I registered hits on each one. Moving up to the last point, I had a good view and smoked those two.
Like last year, I was in the zone with my rifle. I spent a lot of time building up my RnG rifle for this year (fodder for a separate article), and it ran just beautifully. I did manage to miss on this stage, but I knew that I missed as soon as I squeezed the trigger, just like last year.
Once completed, I loaded up my gear, and moved on to Stage 2 which was a fast five minute walk away.
Stage #2 (Defend the beach)
Course Description: At the firing line there is a section of cattle panel suspended on t-posts to create a low-crawl opportunity. There are four reduced-size sillouhettes at approximately 120 yards. Shooter will negotiate the low crawl and remain under the obstacle to engage the four targets. Each target must be hit twice for a total of 8 hits. Shooter will exit the front of the obstacle, clear his weapon, and proceed. Shooter may insert a magazine into his rifle, BUT NOT load a round in the chamber, before negotiating the low craw. Time starts before shooter enters the low crawl.
Course Review: As this was the stage I’d been working for the past several hours, I had a deep and thorough understanding of how it was to be run. This stage provided a lot of frustration for runners as it required you to get to the suspended cattle panel with an unloaded firearm. Most chose to insert a magazine on a closed bolt with the dust cover closed while other went ahead with an open bolt and the cover closed. Many of them fumbled with the gun when it came time to get down, and still others were forced to reload after running out of ammo. This is where last year’s experience helped out. I’d spent a lot of practice time manipulating my gun and getting familiar with various scenarios that might be presented.
When it came time to start, I loaded a downloaded magazine (29 rounds) on a closed bolt and yanked and tugged to make sure it was seated. I closed my dust cover and made sure that the flip up covers for the scope were still in place and locked down. When the “go” command came, I sprinted forward, dropped to my knees, and dove under the panel, making sure to keep my rifle high and ejection side up. As soon as I could clear the panel with my muzzle, I dropped the bolt with my support hand and moved it forward to flip the objective cap, and then brought it down under the handguard. Meanwhile, I used my right hand to flip the rear lens cap, and got the safety off. I buried the base of the mag in the sand, and used the earth as a my support for the buttstock. I don’t remember my misses, but I know that I burned that stage down. It was the second fastest time I’d heard of that day, the other being the RO that placed highest overall.
Stage #3 (Defend the hill)
Course Description: There are 6 pistol targets and 3 full-sized Delta silhouettes visible from the firing line. Shooter must engage and hit each pistol target working left to right (6 hits total), holster his pistol, and then engage the three rifle targets working left to right. Each rifle target must be hit twice (6 hits total).
Course Review: Stage #3 was fairly close to Stage #2 and perhaps Pecos knew I was feeling confident because this is the stage that kicked me in the teeth. The only smart thing I did was look down prior to getting there to see that my low crawl through Stage #2 had filled the red dot on my pistol with sand. I managed to clear most of it out, and threw up a small prayer for the foresight.
Once I got there though, things quickly fell apart. My pistol shooting went very well, and further reinforced my decision to go with the red dot over irons. But when it came time to the use the rifle, Pecos exposed the flaw in my shooting. I suck at shooting offhand. I always have. I’d planned on fixing some of those issues by using a really nice sling from Short Action Precision, but I ended up wasting precious time getting into the sling after holstering my pistol. That sling was the right thing for last year’s race which had targets out to 400 yards. With this year’s course having the longest rifle shot at 200 yards, I should have run something like the Magpul MS1.
I made all my hits, but it took a long time, and believe me, there were some misses too. Not my best work by a long shot (pun intended).
Stage #4 (River assault)
Course Description: There are two 12 x 18 swingers at approximately 200 yards and 3 shooting points, each point progressively closer to the targets. Shooter will hit each target one time from each of the 3 shooting points to complete the course of fire (6 total hits).
Course Review: To make matters slightly worse, I had a long walk from Stage #3 to Stage #4 to think over my various shortcomings. I knew that the upcoming stage was rifle only, and that it would be the last rifle stage for the course. Naturally, in my heat addled brain, I forgot what the course was supposed to be like, but I committed to making my shots count.
I couldn’t have asked for a better (rifle) end to the day. There were three barriers, all of them solid, and all with an unobstructed view of the target. Last year, I’d used a barrier stop that helped greatly shooting off of barricades, and this year was no different. I got through it, I had very few misses, and managed to balance speed and accuracy. I asked the RO as I was leaving how my time was and he said, “Middle of the pack” and sent me on my way.
Stage #5 (OK Corral)
Course Description: Target is a dueling tree with 6 paddles. Shooter must work the paddles over to one side, and then back to the starting position to stop the clock.
Course Review: If you remember last year’s review of the stages, you’ll remember that I fought my pistol the whole time. In fact, last year’s RnG was what made me put my FNS back in the safe, where it has stayed relatively untouched ever since. Not only did it have several failures to return to battery, but it seemed to degrade in accuracy as the day went by. It certainly wasn’t my fault. Not one bit. I had wanted to run my red dot equipped M&P last year, but the dot was sporadically dying at the time. Shortly after returning, I sent it to Leupold where it was fixed for free and returned to me. This year, I ran the red dot and I’m glad I did.
I don’t know if I’m necessarily faster at target acquisition with a red dot equipped pistol, that’s something that I need to put on the timer when I find the day off to do it. What I do know is that when I’m tired, my fundamentals slip, and I’m not as good at watching the front sight all the way through the trigger press. A bright red dot has a way of not lying, and it is very easy to use tired and dehydrated. On the go command, I started slinging lead, and save for three misses, just killed that stage.
I’d also had issues last year getting the plates to move with 115 gr ammo. This year I switched to 147 gr. and the plates moved with great enthusiasm. Last year’s worst stage turned into this year’s best stage. I’m told I had one of the fastest times for the whole group until some jerk kid beat me on the second day.
After leaving Stage 5, I found a pep in my step and started covering ground. About ten minutes after leaving the stage, I sucked down the last of my water in the Camelbak, the wind stopped, and the sun came out in full force. For this article, I went back and looked at the weather channel’s history for September 18th, the day I ran, and they said the high was 100 degrees. That’s a bunch of crap because a.) it felt way hotter, and b.) the thermometer at the start line said it was 108 degrees when I headed out.
Admittedly, I did a poor job of preparing my body for the race. I set out with high hopes this spring, but a new role at work meant that I spent a lot of time working weird hours and on the road for a week or more at a time. Ultimately, I got behind the curve on working out, and realized with a few months to go that no amount of work was going to catch me up to where I needed to be. This is a hard race, and it requires a deep battery to do it fast.
What I did do, and the thing that I’m very grateful for in retrospect, was change the limited workouts that I did get it in from casual and lackadaisical to intense and focused on pushing through some mental barrier. I spent a month doing ten rep squat sets on the minute for ten minutes at a time (try it some time). If I told myself that what I really wanted to do was five reps of something, I’d do a sixth. I stopped focusing on how much weight I put on the bar, or how many minutes I worked out for, and started focusing on making myself hurt, and then pushing through that hurt to finish a goal I set for myself.
With about a mile left, no water, legs on fire, shoes filled with sand, and every muscle in my body hurting, I found myself in a place mentally that I’d gone to many times over the preceding year. I was tired and I wanted to quit. I wanted to take a breather and then finish it out. Instead, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other until I reached the finish line. Time on my watch said I’d done it in roughly ninety minutes.
Once I got back to the base camp, I sent a message to my wife to let her know that I’d completed. She asked how I felt and I sent the picture above in return. The macho man inside me wants to tell you that I could have run the whole thing, but I really didn’t have the gas to do that. I spent the whole ride back from Pecos wondering how I could have done better, and the honest truth is that I think I left it all out on the track, something I haven’t been able to say since I ran my last collegiate race in May of 2008.
Following the race, I had a chocolate milk, something I really can’t rate highly enough. I sucked down another half gallon of water, and got myself back on track with peeing every twenty minutes. Not to get you too deep into my world dear reader, but prior to leaving the starting line, I was still peeing regularly every twenty minutes. Ninety minutes of moving and shooting later, including drinking a 2L Camelbak and I didn’t feel the urge until half an hour after I finished the race. It was hot. Real hot. Before too long, Smokey and Cecil, the gracious host who lets us use his land, fired up the grill and got to work cooking some steaks.
I’ve had the privilege of eating some fine beef in these United States. In fact, several months before this trip to Pecos, work took me to Chicago where I dined in one of the city’s finest steakhouses. I ordered a ribeye there that up to that point, had been the finest steak I’d ever eaten. That is until Cecil pulled a rare piece of beef off the grill and slapped it on my plate. Ladies and gentleman, there’s nothing like a run through the desert to stoke your hunger, and a steak cooked rare over an open fire and a baked potato eaten with your bare hands is living high indeed.
A week or so later later, I got the word that the final results were posted. I opened up the spreadsheet, and was shocked that I didn’t have to scroll to the bottom to find my name. I finished tenth overall with a run time of 1 hour 26 minutes. The shooting stages weren’t individually scored, but I did manage to pick up 81 points out of 100 for the running and 83 points out of 100 for the shooting. I got beat out by one other range officer who, frankly, is a freak of nature athletically and behind the gun.
The Pecos team records the temperature for your run so they can normalize the run times. The spreadsheet says I had one of the hottest temperatures at 108 degrees, but I got edged out by a couple guys who went out at 110 and 111 degrees. Did I mention that it was hot? And if you were a runner on Saturday, curious about the animosity coming your way from me, it might have been because the hottest temperature recorded all day on Saturday was 95 degrees. The low, a brisk 77.
There were 98 competitors total. With the modifier for the heat index, my adjusted run time ranked me 38th and my shooting had me at 6th place. I’m very pleased with those results and I’m looking forward to moving both numbers up next year.