TEQUILA'S LEADVILLE SHOOTING SCHOOL
The September 2002 class of the Leadville Shooting School consisted of some beginners, some slightly experienced, and some very experienced cowboy action shooters. All left happy after learning much.
Richard Young, AKA Tequila in SASS TM, is a 5 time Modern Category World Champion. When he has a good day, he wins the whole shooting match. When he has a semi-bad day, he only wins his category. It usually takes a gun malfunction or major brain fade to knock him out of winning his category. In other words, he's a natural, and he works hard at being good. He moved to the top of the pack through intelligent, studied practice involving time and motion studies, eliminating a few hundredths here and there. "If I'm not shooting, I'm moving," he says. "One must remember that this is not a game of speed but a game of concentration. You must engage each target only fast enough that you do not miss. One bullet, one target. The speed will come with time." This so impressed an early student of Tequila's he made it into a plaque and gave it to Tequila. It is now one of his most prized possessions.
In an effort to spread the word on the techniques he has developed to become a star in the sport of cowboy action shooting, he has developed a 2-day school, given to groups of 12 or less. It is a traveling school. It traveled to beautiful Eagle Lake, Texas to the local SASS TM Club, Tejas Pistoleros club range on Labor Day Weekend, 2002, through the efforts of Dave "Jericho Walls" Bunce. 10 students were on hand, ranging from highly competitive shooters to one absolute beginner who had never attended a CASTM match.
Starting bright and early on Saturday at 0800, Tequila explained what he was going to do, and what we were going to do. Using his "Head, Hands, Feet, Guns, and Gear" analysis method, he was going to determine ways we could each take 5 seconds or more off our stage times. I figured I needed 40 seconds off my average time to be competitive, and short of an optic nerve transplant, it wasn't going to happen. But I'd take 5 seconds as being better than a kick in the head by a big mule. That's a minute off your total time at a big match.
He had us each go through a fairly complicated stage and timed us with a PACT Mark IV Championship Timer that utilized a printer so we could keep a record of split and total times. The timer was, he said, a key to his success. Once he began practicing with it he learned how to shave hundredths here, tenths there. He learned that the over-the-gun single round loading method was the best for him with the '97 shotgun. He also uses it when single loading an extra round in the rifle. That secret moved him from the top 10 in matches to 1st overall.
The stage had us start sitting on a chair 10 paces from one of Tejas Pistoleros props, a line shack with 2 rooms and 4 windows. At the buzzer we got up, ran to the entrance door, into the shack to the right window where our rifle was staged, retrieved it, swept 3 targets 3 times and reloaded one single round and shot on the center target, grounded the rifle, moved to the left window. Then we drew one pistol and did a Nevada Sweep of 3 pistol targets (1-2-3-2-1), and holstered the pistol. Then we opened the door between rooms (raising a lock bar to do so), drew the second pistol in the downrange door and fired 5 shots on one 12" x 12" square target, holstered the pistol, retrieved the shotgun, and swept 2 pistol targets 3 times to stop the clock. Tequila demonstrated it in 41 seconds. The rest of us took a little longer-ranging up to 200 seconds.
Then we began working on the individual weapons. According to Tequila, matches are won with the shotgun, a wash with the rifle, and lost with the pistol. (Most misses are pistol misses). So we started with shotgun techniques. Usually shotgun shooting is easy. The targets are usually stationary and close (except in Texas, where match directors often don't read the SASS Handbook about making targets easy. Here shotgun targets fly, pistol targets can be 4" square at 12 yards, and rifle targets can be 6" plates at the tree line-painted green). It's the gunhandling that separates winners from losers. Tequila shoots a '97, and I would, too, if it was allowed in my category. It's generally easier to manipulate, but it's more prone to breakage. Tequila has gone to the fourth generation Norinco '97 in an effort to find a reliable one. Doubles can be as fast, especially in 4 shot strings. But they have more land mines built in. Pick it up wrong, and you can close the action. Loading is generally more difficult. It must be unloaded while the '97 ejects. When re-staging it, it's more prone to closing the action, and to falling over when staged vertically. Yet the current World Champion shoots a double. So did 5 time World Champ China Camp. Go figure.
Each aspect of handling each gun was covered. He taught us how to pick up a double with one hand, use the props to help keep it open, and retrieve 2 rounds while doing this. Then when the gun comes to your waist, you can insert 2 rounds, close the action, shoulder, and shoot. Unloading the empties he covered in detail, with a one-handed rearward shove while grabbing 2 more rounds with the weak hand. Thumb and finger position are critical.
Using a PACT MKIV Championship Timer, Tequila times every shot made by every shooter and prints out the results. Only with this can comparisons be made and small improvements noted.
He gave us each dummy rounds to practice with and showed us how to make more. Lots of dry practice minimizes the fumble factor. (Hint: if you use red Winchester AAs, make your dummies from green Remington hulls so they will be visually quite different from your live ones. Fill the primer hole with white RTV-visible-and cut it off even with the case, fill with corn meal and crimp normally. Seal the end with RTV, too since it'll get dropped a lot. It'll have the weight of an empty hull. If you fill the hull with wad and shot to simulate the weight of a full hull, don't use powder. Substitute corn meal again. Even without a primer powder is still capable of going bang under extreme circumstances. For rifle dummy rounds buy the A-Zoom ones so you won't confuse with real ones-or paint yours red if you make them yourself.) Speaking of practice, Tequila has a practice range at his house. Every champion shooter I've ever talked to has easy access to practice facilities. It's very important, and it is quite difficult for many of us, where public ranges won't allow drawing from holsters, shooting at steel, rapid fire, etc. The backyard practice range is a big plus. It doesn't mean you can't be a champion without one, but you'll have to find some place to practice a lot.
Tequila covered the Winchester '97 as extensively, with 1 and 2 round loading techniques. There are times you need to load 2 rounds in a '97, such as when firing one round launches a clay bird.
He covered the pistol with strong side and cross-draw techniques. Tequila uses one strong side and one cross-draw holster. He feels most comfortable drawing both pistols using the strong hand. Of course he reholsters with his weak hand while grabbing his strong side pistol with his strong hand simultaneously. "If I'm not shootin', I'm movin'." Two-handed shooters, I note, usually shoot cross-draw (exceptions noted), while duelists usually use 2 strong side (one left, one right). It's a matter of stance. Using a cross-draw is a problem with duelists. Incidentally, Tequila is almost completely self-taught, but when he demonstrates his drawing technique, it is essentially the same technique taught at Gunsite or Thunder Ranch. He shoots what I see as a modified Weaver Stance. His weak arm isn't noticeably bent, but that's an artifact of the grip needed with the single action pistol when using the weak thumb to cock the pistol. His strong foot is about a foot behind his weak foot, legs spread comfortably apart, strong shoulder behind the weak shoulder, not even with it á la Isosceles. When he starts his draw, the strong hand goes to the gun, and the weak hand goes to chest level simultaneously to meet the gun as it comes up, so by the time it's in firing position, he has a strong grip on it with both hands. The gun is cocked by the time it is pointed at the target. He uses the sights every time, using the front sight as a speedometer, firing when the front sight is on the target. He does not sliphammer. He does not point shoot. People just think he point shoots because they think he's shooting too fast to see the front sight. Every champion I've ever talked to from IPSC to SASS has sworn he always uses the front sight. Believe it.
When one of us would miss during an exercise he would, in front of the whole class, count One-thousand One, One-thousand two, one-thousand three, one-thousand four, one-thousand five-for each miss. "Do you think you could have hit the target in that amount of time?" It worked on me. I did not want to sit through that count.
Tequila patiently answered all questions and gave useful answers.
Tequila told the story of his Ruger Blackhawk's trip to the factory after 86,000 rounds more or less. Ruger wanted to send him a new gun. He insisted they fix that one and not re-blue it. Both guns, except for lighter springs, are essentially stock.
We covered rifle shooting and the single-round reload. Most people hate single-round reloads. Tequila considers them an opportunity to make up time on such people.
We shot groups with both rifle and pistol to see that they did or did not shoot to point of aim. Before every major match Tequila does this with his weapons to make sure they shoot to point of aim, part of match preparation.
Tequila uses Marlins, beginning with a CS and now using a Cowboy that Marlin made for him with a 20" barrel. He was responsible for the new Competition model Cowboy. I got a kick out of him telling us to carry a spare bolt. This is a part they won't sell to gunsmiths. It's factory fitted only, but, of course, they'll send it to him. I keep spares for the firing pin (one-piece substituted) and ejector and have changed a broken ejector at a match between stages. I'd keep a pre-assembled spare bolt if I could get one. He likes 20" barrels, hence that length on the new Competition model.
The Marlin has a big advantage on the one-round reload. If you're right handed, you can leave the action open, grab a round with your left hand, and insert it in the open ejection port using the over-the-gun technique. We lefties can "look" it in and use our right hands. This is faster than inserting it in the loading gate and working the action again on a Winchester, and the gun never leaves your shoulder.
He talked about flying with guns and provided us with the federal regulations. He discussed costuming and equipment, need-to-have items, nutrition (especially on match day where the available food is usually the 4 SASS food groups, salt, sugar, grease, and fat), exercise, stretching before a match, pretty much all aspects of the sport.
He spent a surprising amount of time on "The Spirit of the Game," i.e., playing the game honorably. He told of one year's Winter Range when the winner used specially built .32 Rugers with 62-gr. bullets and about 0.7 gr. of his sponsor's powder. His alias had his sponsor's name in it. The rifle shot the same load. It sounded like a .22 short, he said. At the awards party the winner sat in a 15 seat table... all by himself.
Tequila makes a point during his school. The classroom is a cowboy action shooting range, and a lot of lead goes downrange.
Of course Tequila shoots .38s. I say of course because virtually all of the top competitors do. He started with .38s, and, frankly, they're so much cheaper and easier to shoot than .45s I recommend them to everyone starting. I started with .45s, and it was the biggest mistake of my equipment choices.
Tequila answered a lot of questions. The end of the school, the afternoon of the second day, we shot that same course of fire a couple of times more. One shooter took 128 seconds off his first time. Obviously he was the rank beginner. Most were in the 10-20 second range. A couple were longer because they started missing. This happens, but when they start shooting in matches the time will come off. I took off 19 seconds, leaving me only 21 from my goal. That'll be the day.
Tequila has sponsors, the aforementioned Marlin, Bond derringers, PACT Timers, Ballistol, and Precision Bullets. He gave away samples of the Ballistol and the bullets, but no Marlins or Bond Derringers, no timers. Darn. All of the top shooters shoot Bond Derringers I've noted. They seem indestructible and are ready to go out of the box-and they win. (Hint of the day. Use a 158-gr. bullet in the top barrel and 125-gr. in the bottom barrel, and they'll shoot to point of aim at match distances.) And Kirkpatrick Leather Company has a Tequila rig, of course, their best seller. He deliberately kept it simple to keep the price down. It's at least $100 below the other "signature" rigs in the line. It is functional, but not fancy, with no tooling or basket stamping even as an option. Kirkpatrick makes a lot of the winners rigs. While they look "old West," they have features we need but James Butler Hickok didn't, such as a rolled lip for easy reholstering, and an adjustment screw on the back to lock the holster in place after you've gotten it where you like it. The shotgun belt, a strictly modern apparatus designed for matches, has reached near perfection in the Tequila rig. It holds rounds in pairs, separated the width of a double, with the top half sticking out for easy access. His holds 20 rounds, appropriate for some odd stages. (It may be a Texas thing, but we've faced 16 round shotgun stages.) It also holds 10 pistol/rifle rounds, handy for reloads. He loaned out and sold some of their shotgun belts. He doesn't seem to be getting much from his sponsors. As he said, he's the new poster boy for Norinco '97 shotguns, but he's just hoping for a free shotgun or two. He's also designing a gun case for Americase. Those who think there's big money in sponsorship in CAS TM probably believe Pro Wrestling is real. As an aside at least one company has offered him free guns but was upset that he told them he wouldn't shoot them in matches. He likes his Rugers. They're bombarded by people asking for free guns and were stunned that he wouldn't shoot them.
The school is demanding, even exhausting the first day. Bring your lunch, and don't keep it too light or too heavy. You need energy bars or Boost or something to keep you from crashing mid-afternoon. The first day was 8 to 6. The second day ended at 2 or so, though we added a bit of time shooting clay birds. I don't think this is a normal part of the school, but we're cursed with them in Texas. Match directors apparently think that the bad guys in cowboy movies often take off and fly. I missed that movie. I fought several gunfights in my misspent youth (the Southeast Asian Unpleasantness), and if anyone had ever taken off and flew away, I would have let him.
Recommendation: if it's held near you, take the school. If you want it to come to your club, get 10 other students, and Tequila will let you be #11 for free for organizing it. Cost for our school was $200, and the club got some money for the use of the facilities. It was time well spent for me. I've spent over 9 weeks in civilian shooting schools, 2 with Ray Chapman, 3 with Jeff Cooper at Gunsite, and 4 with Clint Smith at Thunder Ranch plus some time with Massad Ayoob and Chuck Taylor. All of these were "real world" self-defense schools, not competition schools. This is the first all competition school I've attended. It was refreshing. Not a moment was wasted. All of the techniques taught applied. The price, for the amount of training, was a bargain. Contact Tequila at 361-865-2872 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Captain Baylor's Ranger Camp