"The only desert biathlon in the world, we think"
(Originally published in 2003)
By SMOKEY BRIGGS
We wanted to create a new kind of event. It started coming home from a high power match in New Mexico. It takes about four hours to negotiate the winding mountain roads and long stretch of desert back home to Pecos. The cab of the big Ford pickup was packed with four shooters and plenty of gear since it was raining, and the toolbox on the flatbed was reserved for rifles. All of us were really novices at high power shooting. I got my first taste of competitive shooting in the Marine Corps. I got my first rifle for my 6th birthday and have been shooting ever since. The known distance course at Edson Range was nothing but fun.
So, a year or so after joining the Pecos Rifle club I asked if we had ever held a service rifle or high power match. That summer we held our first match, shooting the entire course of fire at 200 yards with reduced targets to simulate 300 and 600 yards. Before long some of us were traveling to Capitan and Roswell when we could afford the time to shoot at "real" matches with full distance ranges and target pits.
In the cab of the truck that day was a substantial portion of the core of our club. Like I said, we were all novices at high power and none of us shot better than marksman. Most began shooting high power and service rifle the year before and most brought CMP Garands with little or no modifications to the match. Eventually the topic turned to the top shooters at the match and what it took to get "that good." Time and money was the eventual conclusion. Lots of time to practice and no small amount of money to afford the time and the kind of rifle and such that could compete. A little talent might not hurt either, we decided.
Everyone in the cab, along with enjoying competitive shooting, also had a dozen other interests and obligations. Most were married. Half had children that needed bedtime books read and marksmanship instruction. All had at least one job and most had something on the side that helped them get buy in the gloomy economy of West Texas. Most were also hunters who would not dream of missing dove, quail or deer season, nor the occasional wild pig hunt. Four-wheel drives and camping also figured into the equation. Physical fitness was a universal hobby.
The final conclusion was that none would ever be able or willing to afford the kind of time and financial commitment to high power or service rifle shooting to be "really good." Somebody piped up that "things would be different if you had to run a couple of miles before you shot." That line has been blamed on the Marine in the group more than once, along with a slew of less-than-nice words, as one of us plodded along a trail with a rifle eating into our back, and sweat stinging our eyes. Whoever said it, the idea caught on and in the cab of Cary Hannzs' wife's red Ford pickup we hatched the idea for a desert biathlon.
We held the first one in September of 2002. Early in the planning stages the event was aptly named the Run 'n Gun `n the Sun, and it was true to its name. By noon the temperature was well past 105. As the founders of the event the group in the cab ran last, in the worst heat, after making sure our guests made it through the course without incident. Our primary concern was safety. The toughest problem to crack was a "range" where you could run along a course and stop periodically to shoot.
A good-hearted land owner about 50 miles west of Pecos allowed us to use her land and we mapped out a cross country course of about five miles with three shooting stations along the way. Each mini-range is set up so that if you extend the firing line into infinity in either direction you do not intersect any portion of the course. Club members and volunteers helped man the stations.
Runners must run with rifle and ammunition. Before they leave the start point a range officer assures that their firearms are clear. The same thing happens as they entire each firing area. At the firing line competitors load and shoot the course of fire. A safety officer then checks them out of the range. The procedures and range officers worked flawlessly and after two runnings of the event we have not had a safety violation, much less injuries. We plan to keep it that way. Bad attitudes or poor sportsmanship will earn you an escorted trip off the range, but the nature of the competition seems to discourage that crowd, and we have yet to have anyone show up who was less than the finest kind of sportsman.
Communications proved to be the toughest nut to crack. The first year we used FR radios but we had to relay messages all around the course. Last year we tried CB's but interference from illegal radios far away on I-20 made it a less than perfect solution. We are working on several ideas but any suggestions are welcome.
The course consists of about five miles split between pure cross country and caliche roads. The first two courses of fire consisted of ten rounds on paper. Targets were the SR2 and a silhouette target we happened to have plenty of. Ranges are not known and vary throughout the course from 150 to 250 yards. Range estimation counts. The final course of fire consists of five steel silhouettes that must be knocked down for the competitor to proceed without penalty. We use shooting scores to modify run times to arrive at final scores and the scoring is set up so that you must run and shoot to compete - a track star that cannot shoot cannot win, nor could a top shooter who walked the course.
In 2004 we plan to have two classes in response to requests from competitors the past two years - Thoroughbred and Clydesdale. The names do not, however, refer to the build of the runner. After-race bull sessions revealed two fairly distinct competitors - one group leaned more toward the pure biathlon type event while the other, usually ex-infantrymen, wanted to compete in full kit. The Clydesdale class was designed for the ex-infantrymen in the crowd. Competitors must wear over the ankle boots and long pants. They must carry their own water (at least one quart/liter). They cannot accept assistance from anyone else on the course such as using someone else's cleaning rod to knock out a stuck case, and they must carry a certain amount of ammunition (more than is needed for the course of fire - 80 rounds for large case calibers and 180 for small case calibers such as 223. Thoroughbreds are anyone that does not meet the qualifications for Clydesdale. In either class competitors may use almost any rifle - from Winchester 94s to AR-15s. Optics of any kind are legal.
The registration fee is $75 this year. We charged $65 last year and lost money and the club cannot afford the loss. For your fee you get one Run 'n Gun T-shirt and a ticket to the awards banquet that night. You have to pay extra for mom and the kiddos but we only charge for the cost of the meal.
Most competitors get to town on Friday night. We have a safety brief and sign up that night and make arrangement for the convoy trip to the range in the morning. Most then stay for the banquet where targets are scored and lies and excuses swapped in great quantities, usually over chicken fried steak.
This year's event is planned for either the second or third weekend in September. We will firm up the date by April.
Anyone interested in any aspect of the event can contact Smokey Briggs at 432-445-5475 or 432-943-4321.