Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Armadillo Clay

Today at lunch I stopped out at Armadillo Clay to pick up clay for my pottery class.  This was my first visit and it was a positive one.  The employees were very friendly, knowledgeable and super helpful which was very appreciated since I'm still new to clay.  I picked up some tools and a couple blocks of clay.  Since I mentioned the possibility of doing Raku, they informed me that the clay on my class list was not appropriate for the thermal shock resistance required for Raku.  So I purchased both the Dillo White from my class supply list and Raku clay just in case.  

They have a huge selection of fusing glass, slumping forms, glass cutting equipment, glazes, molds, clay and clay components, kilns, wheels, extruders, hand tools, and other tools and supplies.  In addition to my purchases, I also checked out their pottery wheels, but their prices are considerably higher than clay-king and although I like to buy local, a $350 price difference is too much of a difference so my wish list remains unchanged.  

I'll definitely come back to Armadillo.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Between Form and Function

My first class at Dougherty Arts Center is a pottery class called Between Form and Function taught by John Vela.  I attended my first of six classes last week.  There had apparently been some administrative issues because John had tried to reach me by email to inform me of materials I would need for class, but he had my email address wrong so I showed up empty-handed.  John was superb and made me feel right at home, quickly finding tools and clay that I could use for class without making it feel like an imposition.  He was wonderful.

Apparently you cxan focus on what you want in this class whether it be throwing on the wheel, slab/coil building or pinch pots.  Everyone wanted instruction on throwing on the wheel so we quickly moved into setup of our work area and centering clay.  Since I'm a lefty but often do things right-handed, I wasn't sure which way to go.  I told John what a horrid time I had trying to learn this skill thirty years ago back in high school (my pottery teacher actually completed my final project for me so as not to ruin my GPA, well, except for the lid, I did that myself).  He told me he wanted me on a reversible wheel and he started me off left-handed.

I had such an enjoyable time I can't help but think that my problems all those years ago were due to a right-handed wheel.  Although I do currently have considerably more upper body strength now too.  In any event, I was able to make two cylinders as instructed and then played around making imperfect (intentionally) pieces just to have fun and push boundaries of the art form for familiarity's sake.  I made four pieces in total.

John seemed to think I was doing well for a new student. I was able to make a cylinders as he'd instructed me to make, so I definitely felt like it was successful too.

He mentioned that there was the possibility of doing Raku firing if the burn ban continues to stay lifted, so I'm crossing my fingers.  I'm a HUGE raku lover and would love to have my own pieces to add to my home gallery.  Next on my list is to go pick up the clay John told met get and we'll see what else I learn in the next 5 weeks!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hormonal Hell & Other Things a Man Will Never Experience Out On The Shooting Range - My experience with Beyond the Basics and Competitive Pistol 1

Last weekend was a perfect storm for me.  I'm going through menopause early at forty-five and I haven't had my period since December of last year, so when I started menstruating the night before a full day of pistol classes, I was less than overjoyed. 

I have to wake up early for these classes since they're an hour away, there is a lot of gear to load in my vehicle and I need to arrive by 7:45am at the latest, and since I'm not a morning person I don't really look forward to my classes out at KR Training until after I'm on the firing line, gun loaded in holster, waiting to hear the beep to start shooting.

I knew things weren't going my way when I woke up Saturday morning and had already saturated the tampon I'd applied right before going to bed, so I added 2 tampons to my go-bag instead of my typical one.  I felt bloated and tender causing my lower-back to hurt, and my problem rib was dislocated both front and back again too so I was short-tempered before I even stepped out the door that morning, but I had signed up for these classes well in advance and didn't want to skip it due to something so trivial as my period or a chronic rib dislocation (it'd been in place for my earlier classes, so this was my first class with it out).  So I sucked it up, loaded up my gear and headed out to A-Zone range.  

I arrived early which was great because I didn't have to rush. Karl smiled when he saw me and said "There's a familiar face!"  That made me feel very welcome.  He also mentioned that next year I'd likely be ready to take the instructor courses so that was a vote of confidence I wasn't expecting either. Karl is a great teacher and an all around nice guy.  So are the rest of his staff.

The morning class was Beyond the Basics and a good portion of the class was review of things taught in Basic Pistol 2, but with a lot more background information about WHY we do things and HOW techniques evolved. Being much more of an intellectual than a jump-in-and-figure-it-out-as-I-go kind of person, this class was extremely helpful to me.  I wish I'd taken it much earlier in my curriculum at KRTraining.  

Before we even got out on the range, I already had to visit the bathroom due to bleed through and I was freaking out that I was wearing a white shirt and khaki duty pants instead of dark clothing.  Sure it was more compatible with the Texas sun standing out on that range all day but when I was bleeding like a stuck pig and had to navigate getting my pants down with a holstered gun without getting blood stains everywhere, especially my brand new Under Armour tactical duty pants, well let's just say I've never wished more that I was a dude instead of a PMSing chick in my entire life. And of course there was a line at the bathroom waiting behind me.  No pressure.  

Once out on the range, we went through drills again very similar to Basic Pistol 2, but there was more emphasis on technique and trigger management and reference to aspects specific to competition which was new material.  

One of the instructors actually noticed that my shoulders weren't even.  He said I hadn't been doing that before so I'm pretty sure it was due to the dislocated rib (the rib is out on my right side and my left shoulder was raised). I told him I had scoliosis and a bad back so he'd understand that I wasn't just jacking up my posture for shits and giggles.  He was really cool about it.  And I tried to stretch out my trap as best I could to get that shoulder down.

This was the warmest day I'd been out on the range, and I found that the heat made my palms really sweaty, making gripping my gun firmly a really challenge.  The longer I stood, the more my cramps increased, the more the blood flow increased, and by the end of the first session, I was really worried I was bleeding through but didn't want to leave the firing line early.

I've never put my speed belt through pant belt-loops, preferring to just cinch down the velcro tight against my everyday belt.  I've never had a problem with it.  But Saturday I was so bloating that I didn't cinch it down tight and Karl came up to me and said I had to fix my belt.  This was the first time in all my classes that he'd noticed I wasn't using a belt loop so it was obviously not tight enough and I'm sure my shirt wasn't staying tucked and at that point I really didn't friggin care any longer.  I was not in a good mood.  But I did what he told me to do and then had really bad problems getting my paddle holster and mag holders to stay put (they slid around) and going to the bathroom just became a comedy of errors.  I was not happy on so many levels. Obviously I am doing something wrong with my gun belt setup but I knew I didn't have the temperament to even ask for help that day.  Karl did try to help me as he brought it up again and I finally just told him I was having problems going to the bathroom so much because of my monthly and he just left me alone after that, bless his heart.  

Incidentally, when Karl told me I had to go fix my belt, I had just bent down to pick up my dropped magazines and my bra came unclasped. I'd apparently never worn a front closure bra to the range (and I never will again) and the movement trying to hold my belt in place and stoop over was enough to unhook it.   So I was standing there with my wrists to my chest to keep things from popping out in my fitted white shirt as the instructor was lecturing me about how my belt was not correct.  I'm sure I looked retarded with my arms up like that, but I didn't really have a choice. When he told me to go to Bay 2 and fix my belt I was thankful for that small miracle as it allowed me to fix my bra as well as my belt! If I'd had a sense of humor that day, it surely would have been one of much laughter, but alas I was not in the smiling mood. 

So now I'm standing there with sweaty palms so I can't get a good grip on my pistol, my back is killing me, my gut feels like it's been used as a punching bag, my belt isn't holding my holster in place, I'm worried I'm going to squeeze my arms together and make my bra pop open again and I'm freaking out that blood stains might be spreading in my nether regions for all behind the firing line to see. What happens next?  My electronic ear muffs start making these louder than hell long beeps repeatedly.  I figure my batteries must be getting low but the damn things keep beeping like 10 times, and I completely miss what the instructor has told us to do, did he say shoot at target A or target B first and then was it target 1 or target 2 after that, and how many shots go to which? So instead of focusing on "shot cadence" like I was supposed to be, I was just confused and distracted as my muffs continued to beep halfway through the exercise before completely going dead.  At that point I was just thankful they stopped blaring beeps in my ear, and the totally botched exercise over with, the damnable earmuffs!  

I had spare batteries and a screw driver in my range bag so I replaced the batteries right after class (and of course someone decided to start shooting again on the range while I was unprotected, perfect).  Then I ran to the bathroom for more menstrual triage and none too soon (luckily no stains in my pants thought).  Finally I had time to eat lunch and regroup.  But at this point I had used all my tampons and I had another full class to get through and my cramps were so bad they rivaled those of my early teenage years when I had to miss school they were so bad.  I was in pain and Advil wasn't touching it.

The second class was Competition Pistol 1 and we learned about the differences and requirements for USPSA, IDPA, Steel and other competitions. It was very informative and helped prepare me for what to expect if and when I decide to compete.  Since I just purchased (thank you, Jason!) a 5" barrel Walther PPQ, I figure it's in my not so distant future. 

The range work we did included: 5 steel targets in the Steel Challenge stage, 6 6-inch steel targets on a resetting plate rack, and two separated shoot house stages (one set to IDPA and the other to USPSA).  

Unfortunately, my performance on the range was the most inconsistent it's ever been.  One minute nailing everything perfectly and the next missing multiple targets multiple times.  It was the most frustrated I've been by far on the range.  So much was going wrong, that there were too many variables to troubleshoot and I finally just lowered my expectation to getting through the class without leaving prematurely (if my pants didn't bleed through that was) and without losing my temper.  

There was a sweet, sweet female student that ran to her car and gave me a spare tampon when I shared my women-woes with her so I was able to run to the bathroom midway through the second class for my final menstrual machinations at the range.  Thus I did make it through the class, and learned that I definitely prefer the USPSA and Steel style competitions to the IDPA style competitions which are much more restricted and scripted. The more open format without limiting the rounds in my magazines felt more fun and creative problem solving to me.

When I got in my car, it was the first time that I didn't call Jason excited to tell him how it went.  I just took the hour to decompress and chill and eat a Big Mac (you know I'm having a bad day when I stop and get a Big Mac). When I got home, I ditched the range duds, climbed into bed and I didn't get up until the following morning. Man, that sure didn't go the way I'd wanted it to.  

Out of all of it, I learned that I need to do more consistent dry fire practice. And I am in serious need of learning proper trigger management.  Tom Hogel, on of the instructors, has been trying to help me work on this, but I am really starting to feel like I'm retarded when it comes to how I'm supposed to press the trigger. It's clear to me that I'm yanking the hell out of the trigger and that I'm not holding a tight enough grip on my pistol grip, because Tom has stopped and told me so.  I very much appreciate that he's taking the time to stop and tell me what I'm doing wrong, but I don't feel like I'm actually understanding how to do it right.  

I'd started out doing dry fire practice daily after my first class with Karl but it changed after the conference mostly because my guns were dirty and I didn't feel like cleaning them and if I took them out to dry fire I'd feel obligated to sit down and clean them because I bought that expensive Sure Strike laser for dry firing and I couldn't very well insert it into a dirty gun.  So I avoided it.  I'm positive that my lack of consistent dry fire practice had a great deal to do with my inconsistency at the range on Saturday. While I'm sure that my hormones and my back/rib problems played a secondary role too, I know I'd have done better even with everything else, if I'd been practicing dry firing regularly.  On the other hand, if I don't know what I'm doing wrong with my trigger press, then dry firing incorrectly could cement the things I'm doing wrong and do more damage than good.  I'm really not sure where to go from here.

I don't have any classes scheduled with KR Training.  I have a Defensive Carbine class scheduled at in May. And that's it. It's probably a good thing though considering I didn't find last Saturday very much fun.  I'll wait until I'm no longer in the PMS parade, and see how I feel about just going to Reds and shooting a couple hundred rounds using the practice drills that Karl taught (well I can't draw from holster, but I'll be able to work on trigger management for sure).  

Jason also bought me a SERT gun this weekend, so I'll be able to practice still even when my gun is dirty from now on.  This man is truly a gem.  I am so very luck to have such a supportive spouse.  

I feel like I'm getting worse instead of better now and that pisses me off more than a little.  So hopefully I can turn that around quickly.  I hope so. Because if it stops being fun I'll stop doing it and I really did love doing this stuff until last Saturday.       

Monday, April 14, 2014

Elder Scrolls Online

I never played Skyrim beyond a day or two of game play because it didn't offer a co-op option so that Jason and I could play together.  Jason talked on and on about the game and played the livin' shit out of it when it came out so I was really looking forward to Elder Scrolls Online's release as it is an MMO version of Skyrim so we'd be able to play together again.

We've played it a couple nights now.  I like the look and feel of the game.  The character create was very fun to play with.  The tutorial was pretty straight forward although I definitely relied a lot on Jason to show me how to do things since he'd already played before I started. The quests are interesting and not grindy which is very nice.  The world is engaging.  Transportation makes sense.  Dying/rez is intuitive except for the soul trap thing that you don't realize you need to figure out until after you are sitting there over a corpse that is your buddy.  Ooops.

The crafting system is freaking awesome although since it's subscription based and not ftp/mtx (free-to-play/micro-transaction) based, it is a bit of a grind to save up resources to effectively gain the xp needed to craft something of true value. The combat and skills usage in-combat is simple and effective although I wish I had more than 5 skill slots active at one time. The skills management hud is not particularly intuitive at points as learning you can split an already selected skill to augment it isn't something that you see before it's available so you don't really know to plan for it..

I liked that I could buy more bag slots early on. And that I had access to buy an MTX horse early.  I don't like that I have to manually map my keyboard/mouse controls for each new character created.  I also don't like that I can't auto follow Jason when I need to go to the bathroom (he has to stop wherever we happen to be and defend me until I get back, stupid). I wish the bank and the merchants were located closer to one another so I am not running to and fro repeatedly due to poor planning.  I wish there were an auction house or a means to do micro-transactions so I can buy crafting components instead of harvesting them in-world because I don't have the hours and hours to play that others do. Maybe this isn't allowed to prevent a pay-to-win infrastructure, but I don't PVP so it just limits my ability to enjoy the game a bit. There is enough variety in game content to keep busy and not feel like anything is seriously repetitive, well, except for this one quest early on where you go around and talk to all these people all over town and you just want to jump off a cliff, it's so boring, and there is not action related to it at all. But other than that.

For most of the first 10 levels , I felt pretty over powered when paired with Jason, so it never felt like I was worried I might not make it through a fight successfully. Then we logged in one night to fight Doshia.  We had problems just logging in that night and that should have been the first red flag.  We were already grouped when we logged in which definitely seemed not right, and then we couldn't see each other's characters and our names were grayed out on our group list.  We both logged out and back in, even restarted our computers but nothing helped.  Eventually Jason figured out that he could right click and travel to me and that fixed the problem, so apparently we were not the same instance of the game.  But we're on the same server so it didn't make sense that we wouldn't see one another.  Something was clearly broken.

So later that night we get the Doshia quest and when we enter the instanced zone we're separated.  Since in some MMOs group members have to do instance zones alone, so we groaned but went about our separate instance fighting our way to the boss.  That's when things got ugly.  I am a tab targeter and Jason is a point and click targeter.  He has a heal.  I don't. He likes ranged attacks and complex positional combat. I like to open with big booms and then up close and personal  in-our-face melee  Our preferred game play styles are extremely different, and usually that doesn't mean we can't play together, in fact it works out quite well for us.

But my way of playing did not fair well with Doshia and I could not hit the orbs before she got them and healed or without her beating the ever living shit out of me.  It was retarded.  I died like 20 times and paid way way more on armor repairs than seemed fair.  Jason died a bit too but he finally prevailed.  Eventually he was hanging behind my chair watching me deal with Doshia and saying he didn't know what I could do differently, so I decided I was just so disgusted that I'd abandoned the quest and moved on so we could at least continue to play together.  Not long after that we ended up at a timed race quest. I'm not the most observant person in-game and Jason was running behind doing something else (it's usually the other way around) so I started the quest but didn't realize I was being timed so by the time I got my shit together there was no way I was going to complete the race in the allotted time. I failed it so I went back to the quest giver and tried to restart it.  Nope.  It wouldn't let me.  I was again dead-ended. It was the straw that broke the camels back. That night I learned a new term.  Rage Quit.

Yes, indeed, that was my reaction.  I was so pissed and fed up and disgusted with the fact that I'd felt over powered all this time and then to be placed in a quest that was basically not winnable the way I play and the way that I'm spec'd out, so I realized that I had probably FUBAR'd my character spec. When I looked at respecing, it was super expensive in terms of in-game gold (it's per skill point) and you have to travel to some high level zone to do it (which means I'd be killed by NPCs way before I could possibly reach my destination).  And I had no idea that I had spec'd poorly until then because I'd not been challenged at all with any of my quests prior to Doshia.  I felt like I was sold a false bill of goods, tricked and trapped, and now left with an irreparably broken character and would now have to start over with a new character at level 1.  Considering how little time I have to play with Jason, I was pissed, seriously pissed.  I walked away and had little interest in coming back.

The next day, Jason told me his co-worker told him that the Doshia instance was a group quest and we were just experienced the same zone bug we'd experienced when we first logged in and that he should have just right clicked and traveled to me again. Are   You    Fucking    Kidding   Me?  Since Jason had already completed the quest (so likely couldn't join me to win mine) and I was dead set that I needed to respec we decided to start new characters but that really just took the wind out of my sail (beside the fact that I'd opened all the one-time perks mails from my early buy and bound them to this character).

I've only played one night after that.  Really quite a bummer when I think about how stable this game is, how polished it is, how cool it seems on a lot of levels.  It hasn't crashed, not once, for either Jason or me since it launched.  That is virtually unheard of in a freshly launched MMO.  It's amazing actually.

Jason has had some issues with broke quest lines and has submitted trouble tickets but he's never even received an automated response back let alone a resolution for any of the problems he's submitted.  Not the most stellar customer service apparently.

Not sure if I'll go back and play but I'd better decide before my free 30-days is up.

Defensive Long Gun Essentials class experience.

A few weekends ago I had the opportunity to take KR Training's Defensive Long Gun Essentials class.  This was my first formal class shooting my rifle.  I had only shot my rifle once before this class with a guy nice enough to hang out with my after one of my pistol classes to show me how to load and fire it.  Still I was very unfamiliar and uncomfortable handling and operating it when I arrived for this class.

Since I've taken several pistol classes there now and am getting into advanced coursework, one of the instructors mistakenly thought I was also experienced with a rifle and so he was holding me to a standard of someone with some rifle experience. After he barked orders at me a few times (he only did this because he thought I knew this stuff already and wanted to instill a sense of urgency in me since this was a defensive-geared class and I was falling behind) and I failed to comply repeatedly while the rest of the firing line waited, I finally just barked right back at him that I clearing didn't know how to do what he was telling me to do.  He immediately regrouped and helped/instructed me through the process I needed to learn. He totally apologized later stating he didn't realize I was a total beginner with a rifle.  It was super nice of him to stop and tell me that and I really appreciated it and it made me feel like they had taken the kid gloves off with me and that felt so awesome to think that I might actually be treated just like the guys. KR Training from my observation takes a softer approach when interacting with their female students which most gals probably really appreciate.  Me on the other hand, I just wanna be treated like one of the guys so having him take me out of my comfort zone like that was really very flattering for me personally.  

After that instruction I didn't hold up the class again (well, until my EOTech scope came flying off and the guy next to me on the line told the instructor and that stopped things again but I just tucked the scope into my duty pants pocket and flipped up the iron sights and I was good to go.  Halfway through the 3 hour class, my iron sights started coming lose too but I had a screw driver in my range bag and was able to tighten it back down. I learned from another student that I needed to invest in blue Loctite to lock the threads when tightening down anything on my rifle rails.  Lesson learned.  Luckily my EOTech wasn't broken either or that would have been a mighty expensive lesson.

My class was nearly half women which I imagine is pretty rare, and I wasn't the only novice; although, there were several students there that appeared to be quite familiar with their rifles/shotguns.  Oh, yes, this class allows you to bring whatever long gun you want (shotgun or rifle/pistol caliber carbine) so we had to wait while the shotties were reloaded but that was the only delay and frankly it was nice to be able to rest my arms while they did that. Another thing I learned is that you really need a sling for carbine classes because your arms and shoulders get a real workout holding that big ol' rifle in low ready through out a 4 hour class.  

Another thing I learned is that my fancy electronic pistol ear protection does not work for rifle target practice. I ended up having to put foam plugs in my ear canals because the butt of my gun kept kicking the thick earmuff off my rifle-side ear which would have been pretty painful if it happened while the gun was still going BANG! I have a pair of low profile lower-cost electronic muffs but I didn't bring them because I've been leaving them in my nightstand with my personal defense gun and honestly didn't realize there was a difference.  This wasn't something covered in my basic long gun class taught at the AG&AG conference unfortunately, but then again neither was the Loctite requirement on my rail-mounted rifle accessories.  

The class focuses on fast response, technique, and accuracy for relatively close quarter encounters (5yds to 20yds) with a long gun. Makes sense for a defensive class as you're not likely going to have a lot of 100+ yard defensive encounters (or even hear of them) as a civilian. I hadn't zeroed my sights or scope yet (I still don't know how to do that unfortunately) but even so I didn't have a problem hitting my targets quite accurately once I was taught the concept of holdover. Basically your long guns bullet trajectory is not a straight line (it arcs) but the line of sight targeting of your sights/scope is a straight line, so your target picture will only be right-on using the cross-hairs at two distances and the rest of the time you'll be too high or too low. If you know the distance at which your sights are zeroed and know roughly the distance of your target, you can adjust where you aim using your reticle to accurately place the intended shot at other distances.   

We learned how to properly hold and shoot our long guns, how to reload, how to properly present from cover, how to slice the pie with a long gun, why we need to be able to shoot our long guns's using either hand defensively, learned how distance plays a role in pivoting around corners/barriers, had an opportunity to clear the shoot house with a pistol-caliber carbine, learned to shoot from standing and kneeling positions from cover, and learned how to shoot quickly from high-ready and low-ready and when each technique is most effective.  I think we were supposed to learn how to clear a malfunction but I definitely don't feel like that was something I understood coming out of class (but then again getting everything the first time is pretty rare).  

I had a very positive experience yet again at KR Training.  I definitely get the impression that Karl is way more of a pistol guy than a rifle guy since there aren't a lot of rifle classes offered so I'm going to be trying other training outfits in the area to get more hands-on time with rifle work.  Unfortunately, most of the remaining classes I want to take for the first time at KR Training are scheduled while I'm in that other class, vacationing in England, or attending the National Romance Writers of America conference in San Antonio.  I know there will eventually be offered again, but I panic when I think that won't get any holster practice in the meantime.  Most of the local ranges don't allow you to draw from holster, or to rapid fire which are two really critical skills to work on at the range.  I hope I can find a way to get more time doing this before those classes come up again.

Next weekend I have my last big weekend at KR Training scheduled.  I'm taking Handgun Beyond the Basics in the morning and Competitive Pistol 1 in the afternoon.  I so so love my Saturdays learning and shooting at KR Training.  It makes me week at work fly by just looking forward to my time on the range.  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Defensive Pistol 2, AT-2 Force-on-Force Scenarios, and AT-A1 Low Light Shooting

This past weekend I attended 3 back-to-back courses out at KR Training.  Defensive Pistol 2 in the morning, Force-on-Force scenarios in the afternoon, and Low-Light shooting in the evening.

It was by far the longest day I've ever had at the range.  I got up at 6am to get out there by 7:45a.  And I wasn't packed up and to my car until 10:15p.  That's a LONG day!

The DP2 class was similar to the DP1 course, with additional complexity added in, in particular shooting from cover. It looks easy, but learning how to present around a barrier with a firearm while limiting how much of your body is visible to an active shooter is something you need to practice, a lot. KR Training recently built a shoot house in bay 3 so we had a chance to move and shoot clearing the house with paper targets, dummy targets, moving targets, and metal targets while trying to distinguish good guys from bad guys.  We each "manufactured" a double feed and learned how to recognize and clear it.  We also practiced swapping mags. Because I'd performed so dismally in my Simunition class at the AG&AG Conference, I'd practice for 3 straight nights during my dry fire time just dropping mags, grabbing mags from my belt, seating mags and racking the slid.  I actually broke a blood vessel in the heal of my hand the third night from seating a sticky mag too hard too many times and I ended up working with an injured hand on Saturday.  But my mag swaps were noticeably better on the line and Karl singled me out for the first time ever with a "Good!"  Woot!

The AT-2 Force-on-Force scenarios class was all about working through encounters with other people in dynamic (semi-scripted) roll playing with Airsoft guns. We were all outfitted in protective gear which KR Training provided along with the Airsoft guns themselves. Some were indoors and others were out in the shoot house. We learned additional skills like slicing the pie and understanding how angle and distance from the pivot point play roles in what you and the target can see in those situations. This work was very different because there were many variables to take into account and there were many potential outcomes with varying degrees of "successful resolution." In the dynamic scenarios, it was really shocking to find myself not reacting the way I knew I should react. I remember thinking, what the hell are you doing standing here, that dude is pointing a gun at that other guy, why aren't you running away and yet I stood there quite dumbfounded .  It was really eye opening to see how incongruent what I KNEW I'd do and what I ACTUALLY did really were!  This coursework was also really helping in practicing how to evaluate an encounter and to determine the level of threat, the type of threat, the appropriate reaction, and typical traps that you can to learn to avoid. We also had a chance to use improvised weapons and it was amazing to see how doing so could reset the OODA loop and buy you time. It was invaluable, all of it.

The AT-A1 Low-Light Shooting class is where we learned about the various ways to hold a flashlight with a handgun, how to use a flashlight in a way that made you less of an easy target to an active shooter, and also incorporated the use of cover and moving around barriers and even laying under barriers.  I'd never shot from a prone position before.  It takes some getting used to.  We also had a chance to clear the shoot house at night. At the end, I was so tired I had a hard time keeping disciplined to aiming well and pressing my shots instead of slapping the trigger.  In fact, my very biggest issue is definitely trigger management. I need to take time at the range and just work on this.  It really is the biggest thing between being a mediocre shooter and a good shooter.  The disparity of my dry fire work from my live fire work is growing because I'm not getting to the range to practice firing as much as I do dry firing.  Practice should be 5 to 1 I think they said.  But I'm not 50 and never doing the 1 until I take another KR Training class.

I'm really bummed because the courses I want to take next are all scheduled when I'm taking classes elsewhere, am vacationing in England, or attending the national writer's conference in San Antonio.  I'm a bit panicked that I won't be going to the range every other weekend so I may actually have to force myself to go out to a local range and do drills on my own like I'm supposed to be doing.  Dry fire is only going to take me so far.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Girl & A Gun Conference 2014

When I started on my quest to write a novel, I wanted a female heroine that was tough. Eve Dallas tough. But I didn't want to make her a cop so instead I decided she'd be a competitive shooter raised by an ex-spec-ops dad and surrounded by gun-totin' alpha-males growing up on the ranch where her dad made his living now, a tactical training ranch. Once I figured that out, I thought I'd done the difficult part, but I was in for a rude awakening.

There was so little online about what I needed to know for my book and even less related to women. So after a few ridiculous emails to dudes that actually work in those tactical training ranches (can you say "No Joy"?), it became clear to me that the only way I was going to learn what I needed to know was to do what I always do. Yep, you got it, I took a class and another class, and another class.

While I'm finally just now getting into classes advanced enough to be relevant to the things my heroine should know, what I've found, or stumbled into, is that this whole world that opened up for me is something that I truly love and I'm actually halfway decent at it too. 

Although I started off on the wrong foot, I eventually found a trainer that not only met my expectations, he exceeded them.  (Yes, that'd be Karl Rehn at KR Training).  And after my first day of training with him, I actually had the confidence to sign up for the AG&AG Conference up in Waco, Texas.  I didn't know anyone going. But that didn't stop me. 

It was the second annual conference and attendance TRIPLED this year.  Over 300 women attended the 5 day conference. Tiger Valley hosted the range portion supporting over 20 live-fire courses and the conference hall supported over 35 non-fire courses. There was everything from aerial gunnery (shooting short-barreled, suppressed firearms typically restricted to military personnel while flying in the same type helicopters the military and SWAT teams use) down to very basic entry level no-experience-required classes for those who'd never held a rifle before. There was truly something for everyone that attended.

I brought a box of parts I purchased from Brownells to one class and 4 hours later I had a fully functional AR-15 to take home with me.  All the tools were provided along with expert instruction, thanks to J.J. Schroeder from Brownells. J.J. even helped me after the conference to put together my tool order so that I could start with some high quality basic gunsmith tools from Brownells.   

I also learned how to prepare and operate a reloading press to produce my very own ammo by the gals at Barnes Bullets, Coni Brooks and Jessica Brooks-Stevens.  I didn't win the reloading equipment donated by RCBS, but that just gives me an excuse to put a progressive press on my wishlist!  (They used inert powder and strikers, allowing it to be performed in the conference hall.)  When I brought home the fired bullet "flower" keychain, my husband was so impressed with it that we bought some Barnes pre-made ammunition.

I also took a Simunition Simulator course taught by Tamara Shelley called Shooting and Moving which was taught in the conference center. Tamara did a great job of forcing us to swap mags in every single exercise we did. We students took turns recording one another as we each went through the increasingly more complex scenarios she had us work through and afterward reviewing my video, I was appalled at how long it took me to swap my magazines!  To my defense, all of the guns she provided were Glocks, and since I'm a Walther Woman, not a Glock Girl, I really struggled with the thumb mag release (yes, I'm a paddle-lovin' PPQ princess).  But that's for another blog entry.  It was a great way to learn without the added stress of live fire.  Yet another tool in the toolbox! 

Because of my classes with Karl and my late registration, I was a bit over-prepared for the track in which I was placed for range work.  But Vicki Kawalmacher (Women's Shooting Academy) and Tracy Hughes did an AMAZING job with the time they were given to teach those of us in the Purple Track. Tracy even had us running and shooting by the end of her class, and I was allowed to run and shoot one-handed with my secondary hand which was really difficult with Tiger Valley's aerial drone buzzing over my head distracting me at the time. I had an opportunity or two to teach some of the new gals things that Karl taught me and I can see the allure of getting into firearm instruction. Just seeing their faces light up when they learned something that helped them was awesome! I met a few ladies from the San Antonio chapter that basically took me under their wing for the rest of the conference. They made my solo-event into a social-event. Thank you, SA Chapter ladies!!  

I also took Karl's Tune Up Skills class but I didn't realize at the time that this was all going to be refresher material for me.  It was still worth it because I learned about the Tap Rack Training Aid by which I purchased when I got home. Now I can rack the slide while dry firing without it locking the slide open. Woot!!  

I won a pink MOLLE (MOdular Lightweight Load Equipment) backpack from Voodoo Tactical.  Walking around with it, I think if I still had my long blonde extensions I'd feel like "Tactical Barbie". But I seriously want to get the Voodoo Tactical MOLLE rifle case, already added it to my wishlist, although I'll get it in black, to match my range bag. 

My major splurge during the conference was the SureStrike laser dry fire training system. It adapts a firearm into a SIRT trainer (laser points when trigger is pulled),  It inserts into the barrel of the gun. LASR software can be customized to run different timed simulations and records your shot placement and shot time.  It comes with adapters for 9mm, .40ACP, and .223. I may have to buy a Glock since that is the only reset trigger kit they offer to allow you to pull the trigger multiple times.  I haven't tried it yet but maybe the TRT I bought will work with it?  I need t buy a USB camera for my computer so I can get this set up and try it out! 

I really wasn't sure what to expect from the conference, but it was such a positive experience that I already know without a doubt that I'll return next year as long as it's hosted some place warm.  Hopefully I'll be in the green track or maybe even the orange track by then!