Where to begin? This year’s United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA) Back to Back Nationals in Las Vegas, NV has to be one of the most memorable ever for me in my shooting career. I have to admit, I have struggled with my performances over the past couple of years.
Since becoming a mom, my family has been first. I have had to cancel matches, skip training and make stressful, last minute changes to plans. As my Smith & Wesson teammate Gordon Carrell puts it best, “life happens.” I love being a mother and wouldn’t change anything. Even though it’s difficult because I remember what it was like to be confident and know exactly what I am capable of on the range, at the same time I am thrilled with how well I have stacked up against tough competition as a mom.
This September has been the first time in what feels like ages that I have that confidence back. The reason, thanks to my parents and my husband, I have been able to dedicate the time I needed to shoot. The weeks leading up to the nationals most of my days started by making us a family breakfast and taking my daughter daycare. Some quick work emails and then it was off to the range to shoot 400-500 rounds in the morning. A brisk lunch and then a crossfit workout was next on the agenda followed by another 200-300 rounds all that with my International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) Smith & Wesson M&Ps. After live fire it was dry fire stage work with the revolver. Then I would race to the shower to be on time to pick up my munchkin and make dinner. Many of those days my husband would take my daughter to daycare for me or pick her up giving me even more time to focus.
For me, training for a nationals or any major competition is more than just putting rounds down range. I train hard. I don’t stop until I get it right. With no coach or training partner I have to be hard on myself. I have to be brutally honest and use tools like my shot timer to push me to the next level. I am physically tired, sore and mentally exhausted after a good day of training. Shooting to win is hard work, and I love it.
After all the dedicated hours, I felt better than ever jumping on a plane to Vegas. It wasn’t exactly that simple though. The itinerary was a long four and a half hour drive to the airport with my little one and all my gear. We spent the night in a hotel and then woke up for early morning flights back to the east coast. Another overnight stay at a friends house who then took my “munchkin” to my parents the next day wrapped up my time back east. Morning flights to Vegas and then match check in completed the journey to the nationals. All that with a nasty upper respiratory cold-like thing, I was pretty beat and sad to leave my little darling. I still struggle with having to leave her to go to events. But, I had a job to do and I was excited to shoot.
Going into the first match of the Back to Back Nationals, I had no idea where I would stack up in Revolver. This marked my first USPSA revolver match… ever. Last year I had hoped to go for the title, but with a tendinitis injury I was only comfortable shooting minor. I never got a custom ammunition load worked out so I had to ditch the idea last minute. This year, major was no issue for me, but practice ammo was. I had just 400 rounds of .45ACP with Federal Premium Ammunition primers seated the depth needed to function with the gun’s custom trigger job.
Like last year, the sport’s “Great One” Rob Leatham kindly offered to let me use one of his 5″ Smith & Wesson Model 625’s. It’s an awesome gun with a glowing fiber optic front, titanium cylinder and trigger work by Apex Tactical’s Randy Lee. Of course, it felt even better knowing that the gun is set up exactly the way Rob Leatham would shoot it if he were competing in revolver. My only change to it was adding my custom Hogue grips that fit perfectly to my hand. Oh, and they are really pretty too!
The beauty of training for revolver is that you can literally dry fire through entire courses of fire. I saved my live rounds for the last couple days of practice before I left for Vegas and spent my time focusing on trigger control, reloads and transitions. By match day I was completely confident in my ability to trigger the gun. As for my revolver reloads, I am MUCH faster reloading my M&P’s and S&W 1911’s, but I felt the revo loads were good enough that it would come down to my hits on the target.
Annette Aysen is the first lady of revolver. It’s a division that doesn’t get the glamorous coverage. That’s just sad considering this woman, who happens to be one of the nicest people you will ever meet, has dominated the wheel gun in both USPSA and ICORE for many years. Annette is smooth when she shoots and everything just flows. I was excited and honored to compete with the woman I consider the best of the best.
How did it go? I was very happy with my performance. I had two no-shoots in the match with no other penalties. One was just a nick and the other was on a fast “max trap” moving target. Considering the heavier double action trigger and the recoil of the .45, I was thrilled. My target scores put me in the lead and I knew all I had to do on the last day was get solid hits. Annette put a hard charge in, making up a significant amount of points on me on the last two stages, but the my lead was good enough to withstand it. It’s always hard for me to compete against my good friends and I have known Annette for years. After this match I think we both have a whole new respect for one another and our friendship is as strong as ever. She is a complete class act.
Shooting with the revolver squad was an amazing experience. A good number of them are my Smith & Wesson teammates, but shooting with them as a squad was simply a joy. Of course watching Jerry Miculek pull out a victory on the last stage was awe inspiring. He is simply the best.
The Revolver win made me the first person to win a national title in all six divisions of USPSA. The responses and congratulations were overwhelming. Reading comments on my Twitter and Facebook pages, knowing that so many people supported me was incredible. There was still work to be done though. With just one down day between the Revolver Nationals and the Production match. I needed to rest up. I was still struggling with congestion and being worn down from the illness. I knew that performing well in the second match would be even harder.
USPSA and IPSC have some pretty significant rule differences. For starters, IPSC has a five pound first shot trigger minimum where the US has none for this division. I wanted to use the nationals as a true warm up for the IPSC World Shoot so I opted to compete with my Smith & Wesson M&P9L. The trigger weighs between 5.5 and 6 pounds.The only change on this gun from stock is switching out the sights to Warren Tactical Sights.
Knowing I was competing against the talented Randi Rogers, who was not shooting a five pound trigger, I would have my work cut out for me. Add to that my awesome World Shoot USA teammates, who are all national champions, a win was not going to be easy. I have a huge amount of respect for each of these ladies as shooters.
I had a solid first day and was able to establish a lead, but it was far from comfortable. I started the second day of the match with a miss but fortunately my time was faster than my other competitors that it didn’t hurt me. The next stages went great and I was excited to snag more stage wins. A miss and a slow time on our final stage of day two closed the gap between Randi and me. I still had a good lead, but the final day would tell all.
I stayed focused on the last day of the match, taking conservative routes on stages instead of taking risks and pushing too hard. The strategy paid off. Randi needed a come from behind victory and like the champion she is, she pushed extremely hard. I was able to finish the match very strongly, won high lady and placed 38th Overall. Two national titles, in one week! I’ve done this a few times in my career, starting in 1999 when I won both Open and Limited Ladies Nationals Titles. This was even more special though, clinching the Revolver win, my 12th USPSA National Title and all six divisions.
The USPSA staff and range officers did a fabulous job and worked tirelessly to put together one of the best set of nationals matches ever! Paul Erhardt, Stefan Wendland, Paul Cabigao and Paul Hyland covered the event with spectacular photos and video. Congratulations to all those who placed in their class, division, special categories and were crowned national champions!
Of course, a huge thank you goes to my sponsors who make all this possible for me: Smith & Wesson, Benelli, Warren Tactical, ASYM Ammunition, Rudy Project, Federal Premium Ammunition, Vihta Vuori, Starline Brass, Safariland, Agility Guard, Gemini, Prois, Storm Lake & Salomon. Links and details about each of these awesome companies can be found here.
Special thanks once again to Rob Leatham and his wife Kippi for letting me use the 625 and getting it out to me. A huge thank you to my friends Lois and John for helping me with all my travels back east. To my buddy Seiichi Ishikawa – your awesome. Thank you for loading both practice and match ammo for me plus all the other little things, including taking me to a 24 hour pho restaurant when I was feeling under the weather, that made me have one of the best weeks in my shooting career ever.
I am so lucky to have the best parents I could ever wish for. I know they loved the visit with my munchkin, but they have always been ready to do whatever it takes to be there for me when I need them. Thank you so much, Mom and Dad! You have been with me every step of the way since I left home to join the Army 16 years ago.
To amazing my husband, thank you for believing in me and supporting me on this journey. I love you!
I have lots of video from both matches. I’ll do my best to share them as soon as I can but in the meantime, there are several up on my You-Tube page from both matches.