2023 USPSA Primary Arms Space City Challenge

How about a little recap of the 2023 USPSA Primary Arms Space City Challenge? Let’s take a look at how it went and what I learned. Spoiler alert: it didn’t go as planned, but it was a whole lot of fun.

My first season of major USPSA matches came to a close with the Primary Arms Space City Challenge match which also happened to be my second major match ever. It was a hoot! And once again, I learned a lot. In this post, I’ll review the timeline of events, how I did, what I learned, and close out with my thoughts and plans going into 2024 regarding USPSA.

Before getting into the weeds, let’s take a look at the gear I used since someone is going to end up asking about it anyway:

The USPSA level 2 match, which was sponsored by Primary Arms as the name implies, took place on October 19-22, 2023 at Wallis-Orchard Gun Range and hosted by the Wallis Orchard Practical Shooters Club. The event was organized well and was run smoothly with one minor exception that I will get to later. The range and facilities were superb with only one exception I can think of as long as we ignore the parking situation which was a pain in the rear end. To be fair, my perception of parking being a pain is largely exasperated by the fact that I drive a full-size truck. 

Given this match was my first level 2 match ever, I don’t know if the size of this match and the amount of sponsorship it had is atypical. However, it appeared to be very similar in size and sponsorship as my first major match, the 2023 Staccato Area 4 USPSA Championship, which was a level 3 match. Let’s just say that it exceeded my expectations by a large margin. I expected it to be a little smaller. Although, I have to admit I didn’t stick around to check out the prizes awarded at the Area 4 Championship so I have no point of reference. It’s hard to say how that would have changed my expectations. Nevertheless, the Space City Challenge was a bigger deal than I thought it would be.

There were 338 registered competitors. Of which, 126 competitors participated in the Carry Optics division which I participated in. Thirty-two of those were C class competitors like me. The match consisted of 12 stages with a minimum round count of 317. 

The original plan was to drive straight to the hotel on the 19th and walk the stages on the 20th in preparation for shooting all 12 stages on Saturday the 21st. Things didn’t quite workout that way because, well, life happens. Instead I drove straight to the range and met up with two of my squad mates around 1PM on the 20th. We spent a few hours walking the stages and came up with our initial stage plans. It wasn’t a particularly long drive, but the drive combined with walking around during the hottest part of the day with the sun beating down on me was a bit tiring. As a result, I didn’t visualize the stage plans as much as I should have in the evening. I also wasn’t as diligent about preparing for this match as I was about preparing for my first major match. All of that showed in my match performance the following day. On a more positive note, I did get to observe JJ Racaza burn down a stage and watching a world class Grand Master at work is a sight to behold. Lessons learned, arrive as early as possible to give yourself every opportunity to rest up before a match and don’t slack off on stage planning or visualization.

Saturday started bright and early. Scratch that. It was early, but it was dark. By dark, I mean pitch black. Regardless, I met up with my squad mates on Stage 5 and got ready to get started. Hammer down happened at 7:45 AM and it was off to the races. Stage 5 was my third best stage of the day with 17 alphas and 5 charlies along with a decent time for me. I’m not the fastest guy in the world, but I was content with my stage plan and my flow. I did experience some trigger freeze on an easy target towards the end of the stage which tells me I was letting tension creep in. Not a big deal though, I just have to remember to keep my focus on the process and not the outcome. Just shoot the stage. The results will be what they are.

Stage 6 was my second worst stage of the day. More than likely it was because I didn’t shake off the trigger freeze from the previous stage and carried that with me into the stage. I was so preoccupied with being relaxed that I let myself relax. The result was a slower stage time with half a dozen makeup shots. After all that, I still managed to pick up my first delta and two mikes. Seriously, the importance of the mental game can’t be overstated. A poor mental game leads to mistakes and tension. Mistakes and tension leads to more mistakes and more tension. It’s a downward spiral that is difficult to get out of and I was already getting sucked in.

Stage 7 was thrown out on Friday for some reason unknown to me. So the squad headed over to stage 2 which was backed up due to the missing stage. During that time we headed over to get chronographed early. The Federal American Eagle 9mm Luger 147 Grain FMJ ammunition I was using came in at 154.4 power factor (PF) which, according to the match official running the chronograph, was the second hottest minor power factor ammunition he saw chronographed at the match. The only reason it wasn’t the hottest was because an Open division shooter had loads that were too light to meet the minimum PF requirement for major power factor and was bumped down to minor. My squad mate reminded me that I’m not doing myself any favors shooting hot factory loads. I really should make the investment and start handloading lighter match loads or consider spending extra money for USPSA certified ammunition that is loaded lighter. 

Stage 2 was pretty terrible. That is my performance was bad. The stage itself was actually pretty fun. This was the stage that I got to see JJ Racaza burn down. I ended up hitting a no shoot and picking up a mike on a relatively easy target. I did call the hit on the no shoot and made it up with a good hit. The mike was a result of failing to follow through on the second shot of that easy target. I took the difficulty for granted and let my visual focus leave before I fired the second shot. Other than having a slow overall time which didn’t help my hit factor, I did manage to get good hits with 26 alphas and 5 charlies. 

How stage 3 ended up being my best stage of the day isn’t crystal clear. I think part of it was I was already convinced that ending up with a class win or even having a top 3 finish in my class was no longer possible which made it easier to stop worrying about the outcome. The other part was seeing the “monkey” targets in action during the stage brief and getting curious about solving a shooting problem I had never seen before. The “monkey” targets are essentially swingers with a weight system that is on a cam which alters the swinging motion as the target changes direction. The movement has a pattern that is similar to that of a monkey swinging side to side while hanging on a branch. Seeing this forced me to alter my stage plan significantly to ensure that I put my hits on the monkey as soon as it started swinging in order to avoid having to wait for the target to return a second time during which it would be available for a shorter time. I made it a point to get a large number of visualization repetitions in since it was a brand new stage plan and I think that paid off. I also think that other competitors had to alter their plans and may have had trouble with the “monkey” targets. Either way, a win is a win is a win. Even if it’s a personal win. And that personal win let me reset a little and get in a better headspace. 

Next up was stage 4 which was the last stage before the lunch break. There wasn’t anything especially memorable about the stage and my performance was about average. All I will say is that the day was getting very warm and pretty humid. That and I was starting to get tired. 

For lunch I had two of the worst tacos I’ve had in my life from one of the food trucks that was available on the range. They were overpriced too which likely influenced my assessment of quality. In any case, stage 11 followed and that was a disaster. One of the problems with this stage was the lack of a safe table which is the facility exception I mentioned earlier in this post. I don’t know that having a safe table where I could have gotten a few dry fire reps in would have changed the outcome of the stage for me, but it sure would have been nice to have that option as I would have taken advantage of it since we had just taken a lunch break. Regardless, my stage plan went out the window as soon as I heard the start signal and I had quite a bit of trouble with the mini poppers that were a fair distance away from where they could be dealt with. The number of extra shots I had to send to knock down those steel targets was embarrassing and forced an unplanned reload. In my opinion, this was the toughest stage of the day in terms of complexity and target difficulty.

Stage 12 was about average for me. It was a short and fast stage. I did what I could to not carry my mistakes from the previous stage with me and I think I managed to do that well enough. However, I was tired and I was getting sloppy. I picked up a couple of deltas, plenty of charlies, and not enough alphas.

The worst stage of the day for me followed with Stage 12. It was a short stage and it wasn’t complex, but I struggled with it. I picked up four deltas, two mikes, and one no shoot. 

The final three stages, Stage 8, 9, and 10 are a bit of a blur in my memory. As I mentioned, the heat and humidity were already wearing me down. Which brings me to another lesson, when possible opt for splitting a major match across multiple days. Having a break where I would have been able to debrief and decompress would have been welcome. Not to mention having the chance to rest and recharge with a good night’s rest. 

Stage 9 was an above average stage for me. The stage had a lot of movement and it was a bit of a memory stage with plenty of chances to waste time re-engaging targets. Frankly, I was feeling pretty defeated after stage 1 and was aware that exhaustion was setting in which meant serious mistakes were a strong possibility. I reviewed my stage plan and visualized as much as I could before it was my turn which wasn’t very long as I was second to shoot. During the make ready, I made it a point to focus on the fundamentals and to shoot safely. The squad already had one DQ at this point and I didn’t want to be next. After the start signal, I simply shot the stage one target at a time. The result was 25 alphas and 7 charlies which surprised me in a good way.

I was first to go on stage 9. The thing was I didn’t have a stage plan ready. We didn’t spend a lot of time walking this stage the day before and I drew a blank when attempting to remember it. I did what I could to come up with a plan as quickly as I could, but I failed to plan a reload. When it was time to go, I did what I could to run my plan. When I found myself with an empty gun, I reloaded and kept going. It wasn’t pretty. Too many charlies, a couple of deltas, and a mike. Granted this stage had a swinger made up of a stack of two turtle targets with a no shoot target between them and that was the source of one mike and at least one delta.

Final stage and I was the last shooter. I was done. I was hot and sweaty. I doubt I smelled good and I definitely needed a shower. A shower and sleep. Nevertheless, it was the final stretch and all I cared about was shooting the stage and finishing the match. I went through the process of coming up with my stage plan and visualizing it over and over again until it was my turn. Then I simply shot the stage and ended up with my second best stage performance of the day on stage 10. The hits weren’t spectacular with 17 alphas, 10 charlies, and 1 delta. I don’t know why the result was as good as it was. 

I ended up coming in 83rd overall in the division and 16th in my class. That’s not great, but it’s not bad either. I had fun and learned a lot which is the main reason I keep shooting matches and why I decided to start shooting major matches. I’d be lying if I said I was disappointed that I didn’t end up with a class win and top three class finish. That is something that I want and don’t think my confidence is misplaced when I say that level of performance is within reach. However, I’m not going to beat myself up over it. I’m going to take what I learned and come up with a plan for major matches in 2024. If I can figure out a way to make it happen, that plan will include a level 2, a level 3, and a level 4 match. Yeah, I want to go to nationals. I’ll finalize plans before the end of the year which will also be after I shoot my first major IDPA match. Feels like it would be too preemptive to finalize any plans prior to that. The only thing that is certain is that I will keep training, practicing, and competing. 

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