By Massad Ayoob, GUNS Magazine
Experiential learning is the kind that stays with you. Over the years (in shooting and in life) doing things right gave me positive reinforcement and warm fuzzies, but making mistakes was where I really learned lessons. Unfortunately, learned lessons are useless if you ignore them. I was recently reminded of this.
The scene was The Pin Shoot, this past June’s long-awaited reincarnation of the old Second Chance bowling pin match in scenic Central Lake, Michigan. Having shot all 24 of them from the mid-1970’s to 1998, I was one of a great many shooters eager to enjoy this most fun match of any on the “pro tour.”
The 1911 .45 auto is far and away the most popular handgun for this sort of thing. The pins must be blown all the way back off a 3-foot-deep table, with the timer stopping when the last one hits the ground behind. I acquired some new bowling pins, put ’em on a table and measured how far this and that load sent pins off the table. SIG’s very accurate 200-grain V-Crown jacketed hollowpoint, which John Taffin found to average 927 fps on his chronograph, landed the pins 40 inches back. The JHP’s wide mouth looked to take a nice bite into the pin even when the shot hit a little to the side of center on its convex surface. This seemed adequate and I liked the mild recoil. I ordered 500 rounds of it.
One hundred each went through the 1911’s I had selected for the match, with 100-percent reliability. The stock gun would be a 5-inch Springfield Armory TGO with fiber optic front sight and the pin gun would be my pet D. R. Middlebrooks Custom Colt Government Model with his superbly efficient recoil compensator, the JetComp. Sighting in on paper and steel instead of pins for convenience, all seemed in readiness.
The arrows show pins “down but not out” when 200-grain loads weren’t quite up to the task. In Pin Shoots, the bowling pin must be moved off the table and the load needs the oomph to do so even with a marginal hit.
The Firing Line
Due to scheduling issues on my end, I didn’t arrive ’til Tuesday of the weeklong event. The first morning I decided to warm up in the optional shoot-off. It was the first event of the day. The pins were new, the table was smooth and when I got the hits the pins sailed away. So far, so good.
Later, however, it was time for the main events. I confidently stuffed the mild 200-grainers into the mags and began with the Stock Gun. As I got to the line, I experienced an “uh-oh.” Logistics don’t allow fresh pins for every stage, and as I loaded up I noticed some of the pins were out of round, and doubtless heavier now from the lead lodged inside. Then, the familiar commands of old came over the loudspeaker: “Timers ready… guns on the rail… shooters ready…” And the bang of the blank starting gun.
Just switching to a more powerful load untested in your target gun is not the answer. Mas “tap-rack cleared” each feedway stoppage, but the unforgiving clock was ticking.
All Clear… Not!
In the six tables that followed, there wasn’t a one where I cleared five pins with five hits. Always some “deadwood” had to be shot again to make the stopwatches stop. Particularly difficult when the pins fall with their heads or butts toward the shooter. The times were sad.
Leaving the line, I went to the car and grabbed a couple of boxes of department issue .45 duty loads I had in my vehicle, Federal HST 230-grain +P at 950 fps. I had never run it through the custom Colt, but I was in line to shoot the Pin Gun event and there was no time to go to the practice range.
On the first table of pins, I could see the +P from the Comp Gun was sweeping them off decisively. But on the second, I had a failure to go into battery. It happened again a table or two later. Each time, a tap-rack was enough to clear it, but the stopwatches didn’t pause, and rushing to make up the lost time didn’t help either. I finished both main events out of the prize money.
At least I had figured out one winning combination: the standard-configuration Springfield pistol and the HST +P. They served me well enough in my two remaining .45-centric events—2-person and 3-person teams—to hold my end up and help our teams finish in the prizes if not up in the prize guns.
The pistols Mas used were a Springfield TGO-II for Stock Gun, (left), and his Middlebrooks Custom Colt Government with JetComp for the Pin Gun.
Trust, But Verify
“Adequate” power is not a compliment. A bit more never hurts. Never trust a gun with a load you haven’t run in it before! We’ve all known the fine man and the fine woman who were simply incompatible when they became a couple; the same can be true of fine guns and fine ammunition. Don’t sacrifice relevant practice for convenience. Had I practiced on pins instead of plates and paper, I’d have realized I needed more oomph.
No excuses—these were flat out mistakes, and mine, all mine. It is said experience is the aggregate of our mistakes. Otto von Bismarck said wisdom is found in learning from the mistakes of others. Feel free to learn from mine; I did. I’ll be back in Central Lake for this wonderful shooting match again, the second week in June of 2018. Hope to see you there.
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