Back in 2005 I was the co-director of a competitive match that we put together to raise money for the Dana Farber Institute, one of the country’s leading cancer research organizations. It was held in memory of Isabella deBethencourt, the infant daughter of Heather and Michael deBethencout who succumbed to cancer at 11 months of age. We got a ton of support from the industry, Smith & Wesson lent us the use of their academy’s fantastic indoor training facility, and the local IDPA chapter volunteered as ROs. Because neither of us had put together anything like this before, we naturally were caught flat-footed match day with resources. Seeing this, several people who had shown up to shoot jumped in and did what needed to be done, foregoing their opportunity to shoot. No one complained. Shooters really are the best and most generous people. We repeated the match at an outdoor venue the following year where we even had vendor-sponsored teams show up. Several tens of thousands of dollars were raised at each match.
This was an entirely new kind of match, one designed to mimic reality as closely as possible with a single shooter shooting live ammo. It was also meant to drill home some lessons that traditional matches don’t. It was shot entirely from concealment, and competitors were simply given two instructions ahead of time: show up with 1) a suitable carry gun and 2) any other gear they should have on them to be prepared for a true emergency. Questions about anything else — and there were many from the competitors who were used to standard competitive venues — were met with an “I don’t know” from me or anyone else involved in running the match.
Memory is a little fuzzy now, but I believe there were five stages. All were shot blind; there were no walk throughs; shooters were staged outside each range and allowed in only one at a time, and they left without being allowed to talk to anyone who hadn’t shot the stage. In most cases the stage wasn’t even visible to the shooter before the start buzzer. Targets were photo-realistic ones with overlays for the hands so that any target could be made to be pointing a gun at the competitor or holding something innocent like a cell phone (example here). There were several shoot and no-shoot targets on each stage. I’ll describe the event, and the stages that I remember, as best I can.
- The shooter is behind a curtain so they can’t see the stage. At the start buzzer all lights are turned off, plunging the entire range into total darkness. The prepared shooters simply drew their lights and shot the stage; others groused that if they’d been told there was a low light stage they’d have brought a light. They were told to see instruction 2.
- The shooter is told their spouse is at the end of the range, represented by a 75-pound heavy bag. They are first to go down range and find their “spouse”, then drag their spouse back to safety, only then unholstering and shooting whichever targets need to be shot while walking backwards and dragging their “spouse” with one hand. (We had an RO walking backwards behind the shooter to brace against any falls or trips.)
- The shooter is told that their child is trapped in a burning car at the end of the range, and that they have to shoot their way to him in order to rescue him. Once there they were to free their “child” and bring him back to safety. (We had a mannequin seat-belted into old shell of a car, and even a little battery-operated fabric “flame” on the car for atmosphere.) Well, the seat belt was non-operable; it couldn’t be released, and the mannequin couldn’t be gotten out of the car unless it was. The clock was stopped once someone holstered their gun and snapped open a knife (in order to cut the seat belt). Many competitors said, “It simply would never occur to me to destroy a match prop.” Others didn’t have a knife with them, and were reminded of instruction 2.
- The shooter was presented with a sea of targets, maybe 50 of them on the range. Most were no-shoot, a few were shoot. He was told that his child was in mortal danger down range at the berm (there was a doll there) and he was to get to his child as fast as possible without being exposed to a shoot target any longer than it took him to shoot it. Most competitors did as we expected and moved as fast as possible in a tactical manner through the sea of targets. But the winner of this stage, a federal LEO, simply started knocking them down rather than move around them. Good lesson there!
- Some stages had the competitor interacting with actual people who tried to distract or delay them.
- I believe there was one stage in which the competitor had to move through a series of no-shoots to try and find the shoot target, in order to accomplish some task that we’d specified. But there was no shoot target — they simply had to recognize that and get on with the task assigned. This flummoxed many competitors.
- In all stages safety was critical, and any unsafe gun pointing or handling was a DQ’ing offense. Guns were to to be holstered at all appropriate times, including during the middle of a stage, if so required.
- At least one stage had extremely loud music start up when the start buzzer went off, to distract the shooter. Really loud!
- Some stages required the shooter to take out their cell phone and call 911. Many shooters didn’t have one on them; others didn’t think to make the call.
The score for each stage was some combination of score and time, and each match had a winner and other place-holders who got some really good prizes donated by our industry partners. As PO’ed as some competitors were by a stage they weren’t prepared for or didn’t handle well, almost everyone made a point to tell me that this match was the very best training they’d ever had.