The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Competition Training and Kelly Neal

Background

Arizona is home to a lot of great competitive shooters.  The 300 days of sunshine, open space, world class shooting facilities, and gun friendly laws no doubt contribute to this.  Kelly Neal is one of these great shooters that I’ve had the opportunity to shoot with over the years, both at local and national level events.  He’s the kind of guy you want on your squad so you can both watch him solve stages with ultimate efficiency — then pick his brain about how to do things better.

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Kelly “On Deck” at Superstition Mountain Mystery 3 Gun 2015

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Kelly shooting steel targets offhand at 2 Gun Action Challenge Match in Tucson, AZ

Kelly is different than a lot of 3 gunners in that he started shooting as a junior in High Power rifle competitions.  This background shows in the way he chooses to shoot stages; he will often take shots off hand or from less supported positions because he knows he can make them.  Not having to get into supported positions reduces movement time and improves his overall stage efficiency.  After Law School Kelly got into USPSA pistol shooting, and in the late 90s transitioned into 3 Gun. There he has risen to be one of the top outlaw match competitors in the country, regardless of the division he chooses to compete in at any given match.  Unlike many of his contemporaries Kelly does not work in the gun industry.  He has full time job as a prosecuting attorney and shooting is a secondary pursuit.

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Kelly tearing it up with his shotgun at SMM3G 2015

Multi-Gun Skills Class

Kelly recently started running competition oriented training classes for shooters who want to up their game.  I had the opportunity to attend one of these classes back at the beginning of March 2015.  The timing was good because I would be shooting Superstition Mountain Mystery 3 Gun later in the month and the class would be an excellent skills tune up.

A single class cannot make someone rocket to the top of the scores, but it can show them better ways of doings things and identify short comings to keep practicing.  The goals of the class were to work on marksmanship skills and movement efficiency and give the students things to practice on their own.  Many of the drills Kelly ran were harder marksmanship wise than those encountered in match environments.  The idea being if you practice harder than you need to perform at a match performing well at a match will be easier.  There are a number of random variables and stresses a competitor may encounter at a match that they may not encounter practicing on their own or shooting club matches, so training at a higher standard and practicing that higher standard makes a lot of sense.

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Kelly explains how to shoot under different scoring systems

One main emphasis of the class was working within particular scoring systems.  Various action matches have different balances of speed vs accuracy in their scoring systems.  On one end you have International Multi-gun style scoring where speed is supreme. On the other end are scoring systems like the local 2 Gun Action Challenge Match uses where each shot is scored with seconds added for hits outside the A or 0 Zone.  Kelly demonstrated to us the difference in cadence for shooting under different scoring systems.

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Many drills focused on movement and awareness of muzzle orientation and rapidly deploying the rifle for a controlled movement position onto target.  The techniques Kelly demonstrated for controlling a long gun during movement in a match environment made it harder to break the 180 and the rifle faster to deploy.  The same applied for handgun at shorter distances.  We were often only allowed limited shots to emphasize the need to make first round hits.  Later we were allowed to push speed and have multiple shots if necessary.  Balancing speed vs accuracy is something all action competitors must work on.

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Multi-gun or 3 Gun Competitors’ rifles generally follow the same basic trends; free floated barrels, match triggers, variable power optics. Other features vary based upon user preferences.

I personally ran these drills with two different KE Arms AR15 rifles; one with MILSPEC fire control and bolt carrier group (BCG), one with KE’s match trigger and a lightweight BCG.  I was consistently 10-15% faster with the match trigger and lightweight carrier.  I found it useful quantifying these differences in class; when your enemy is the clock every percent of speed increase helps as long as the gun remains reliable.  Kelly was using a lightweight aluminum carrier in his rifle and said that it had been running great for him and minimized sight picture disruption as the rifle cycled.

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Author completes movement drill while keeping muzzle down range observing the competition 180 degree rule. Muzzle awareness is key to complying with match safety rules that allow anyone of any skill level to attend.

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RECOIL legal contributor, Jason Squires, completes the “Cross of Iron” drill that tests movement, rapid sight acquisition, and accuracy on the clock.

Midway through the class we did some man vs man drills.  Two shooters faced off engaging identical targets with a mandatory reload in the middle.  This upped the stress level considerably and some students fumble factor increased.  Reload speed wasn’t nearly as important as making first round hits on the targets.

Transitioning between guns is also a critical match skill.  We practiced acquiring one gun and loading it, clearing or safing it, then going to the next gun and loading it.  Kelly emphasized doing this safely is better than going superfast and dropping a gun or not clearing it properly that would result in a match DQ.

I think the class was great for middle of the pack to top 10% competitors or for high level pistol competitors looking to transition into multi gun.  The class is not for novices, you need a decent amount of match experience or a beginner class and already know how to run your guns before showing up.  High level tactical shooters could use Kelly’s class as a transition point to the competitive world.  Show up with a zeroed rifle as well or you really won’t get much out of it.

Q&A With Kelly Neal

Kelly is a wealth of knowledge on all things action shooting related.  After the class I interviewed Kelly about a number of topics.  Questions in bold.  Kelly’s answers are in Italics

You’re sponsored by multiple companies, do you consider yourself a professional shooter?

I don’t consider myself a full time pro like Rob Leatham or Jerry Miculek.  I have a day job. That being said, I’ve been blessed with a lot of success and have the best of sponsors.  I also have professional obligations to those sponsors which I take very seriously.

Aside from representing your sponsors at matches, how else do you work with them?  Do you participate in R&D process with these companies?

I’ve been involved in R&D with most of my sponsors. There is definitely a lot of feedback and sponsors rightfully expect some input on the products they’re producing. I was one of the test pilots for some of JPs new stuff like the aluminum bolt carrier and Armageddon Gear Trigger, both of which I’m a big fan of.  I’ve given Leupold a bunch of feedback over the years, both positive and negative.  

How important are the action shooting sports to advancing firearms technology?

Action shooting sports and shooting sports in general have had a huge impact on firearms technology.  Competitors are always striving to improve equipment, the results of which gives often trickle down to the industry at large.  Now ubiquitous red dot sights got their big break in USPSA shooting. If you look at the modern “tactical” AR15, it has an awful lot of influence from action shooting: free float hand guards with modular accessory mounting, muzzle treatments, improved triggers, better optical sights, improved rear stocks etc etc.  If you’re a manufacturer, what better way to test stuff than to get it to the speed racers?

What would you consider your biggest accomplishment as a competitive shooter?

Winning the Ft. Benning 3 Gun in Tactical Optics in 2008 is probably my biggest accomplishment on paper but I actually have 2 accomplishments which I consider my best.  First, at the 2010 Texas State Carbine, I won the Open Rifle Division.  Why the big deal?  No prize table or anything like that. But I had a mano y mano duel with Jerry Miculek in the match.  We were squadded together and really pushed each other.  I was just able to beat him.  The other accomplishment is not even a win.  In 2002, I had a matchup with Rob Leatham at the Western States Single Stack Championship at Rio. He won but he had to earn it as I shot something like 99.6% of his score.  And remember these were the days of total Rob dominance in Single Stack.  I am still happy with how I shot that day.      

What’s your favorite 3 Gun division to compete in and why?

I’ve competed in every division and do a lot of division switching.  Each division has it’s charms and merit.  If you were to pin me down I would say Tactical Optics is my favorite.  First of all, it’s the biggest pool with the most sharks.  Second, it most closely resembles real world equipment although that is ever evolving, look at the rise of red dot sights on service pistols or multiple optics on service rifles.  It’s tough for Tactical Optics rules to keep up with the real world but not bleed over into Open division.  I am firm believer that the divisions should have real distinctions or they shouldn’t exist.  

If you could only shoot one major 3 Gun match this year, which one would it be?

Blue Ridge 3 Gun.  Blue Ridge is physically challenging and technically demanding match.  It is more of a marathon than a sprint with the “fast” stages lasting 60-70 seconds and a lot of difficult shots thrown in.  Plus Andy Horner (the MD) has occasionally thrown in standards (which I would like to see more of in there 3 gun world) and I much prefer his scoring system over the IMGA 2Hits anywhere.  I think his scoring system does the best job of balancing speed and accuracy and also the penalties for misses on target really require shooters to hit the long range rifle targets as opposed to just flinging lead and eating the penalties. Rocky Mountain 3 Gun would be a close 2nd.

Would you categorize the skills necessary to do well at 3-Gun by firearm type or by types of shooting problems i.e. close range vs long range, accuracy vs speed?

This is a tough one.  3 gun requires that the shooter manage a huge number of skills and the matches themselves have different focus.  3 Gun Nation and Superstition Mountain Mystery 3 Gun tend to be more about speed and going fast.  One simply has to operate at a fast level to do well at those matches.  Rocky Mountain 3 Gun and Blue Ridge are going to put more of a test on your ability to accurately shoot your guns.  In the end, the 3 gunner needs to be able to burn down a close range hoser stage, load his/her shotgun like lightning, be a halfway decent sporting clay shooter and then be able to post up and hit some longer range rifle targets.  In the end, you have to give each target the attention it deserves but no more. 

Is shooting local matches a substitute for specific practice?

 Local matches are great.  You have to shoot under stress with people watching.  You get to face the challenges that clever stage designers (especially at Rio Salado) come up with.  That being said, you will plateau quickly by relying on local matches to build your skill sets.  I will use Rio Salado as an example.  There is one 3 gun match a month which gives you one stage of long range rifle targets.  If that’s all you shoot, you will never really develop your rifle shooting skills.  In an hour of practice time, you can develop your rifle skills more than one year’s worth of match shooting.  Practice allows you to isolate and develop specific skills.  There really is no substitute.

How does one prepare for a national level match if they do not have any local matches to shoot?

I’ve been blessed by shooting in the Phoenix area.  There are local matches all over the place and they all have good even great shooters competing in them regularly so I’m probably not the one to ask this question of!  Getting ready for a national level event without shooting against others would be tough.  As I said before practice is essential to build skills but you also have to shoot under pressure. But if I were in a locale where I didn’t get to compete a lot, I would be on youtube etc seeing what the better shooters in the sport are up to.

What skill do you wish was tested more in 3 Gun?

I think shotgun loading is tested too much!  Way out of proportion to it’s practical usage.  I like mid to long range rifle shooting but that requires a lot of investment in targets and obviously ranges with more than just pistol bays.  If there was one skill that I don’t think is tested enough, it’s shotgun shooting on aerial targets.  I’d like to see more action “sporting clays” so that we could really push our shotgun shooting skills to the limit.  I know that doesn’t sound “tactical” but shooting sporting clays is more of a challenge than mowing down static pepper poppers and then stuffing shells into a shotgun.

You’ve been working with some renowned Tactical/Military/LE instructors in recent years.  How do match shooting skills translate to the tactical realm in your opinion?

I have been able to train with some pretty renowned tactical guys: Kyle Lamb, Mike Pannone, Pat McNamara, Bennie Cooley, and Sig’s Robby Johnson.  One thing they all share in common is that they were or are pretty high level competitors in their own right.  We all really come from the same shooting culture and speak the same language. I also used to be somewhat heavily involved with the tactical side when I was the legal advisor to a SWAT team so I have some perspective on this topic. I wouldn’t say that a tactical shooter has to be a competitor and most aren’t. That being said, most agencies simply train their people to pass a certain standard and call it good. Competitive shooting has a totally different mindset. We’re about driving the gun and ourselves to the outer limit, totally different than passing a qual. That’s what you will get out of a Pannone, Lamb, Mac class: the best of the competition side run through the mill of the real world. 

What do you think Tactical shooters can learn from match shooters?

 Most tactical guys who don’t compete tend to be fairly squared away with the operation of their gear but shooting to an arbitrary standard never gives them an appreciate of time.  Action Competition definitely pushes shooters to shoot, manipulate, move, and process information at a level beyond which most tactical guys get out of their training. Plus competitors tend to shoot a whole lot more which just means a higher mastery of shooting skill. That being said, competitive shooters don’t have to operate in kit, worry about meds, know tactics, communicate,  operate as a team or worry about bullets coming the other way. But the speed and accuracy requirements of shot are what they are regardless of whether the target is steel, paper, a quail, an elk or someone shooting at you.

I’ve been told that high level operators lose about half of their accuracy and shooting ability when they’re on the 2 way range UNLESS they compete a lot, then they lose only lose about a quarter. 

What can match shooters learn from Tactical shooters?

Tactical shooters have it tougher in that the consequences of their shots (even in training) mean a lot more. Shooting a No Shoot target in match simply adds a (too small) penalty. Do it in the real world and your career can be ended, you could be held criminally or civilly liable not to mention the psychological impacts. So accuracy is paramount. 

 I give a lot of credit to Kyle Lamb and Mike Pannone for bringing some real world stuff to the competitive side. I never had to shoot a rifle sideway until I shot at Kyle’s old match in North Carolina. And he even put a no shoot behind it! Shooting at odd angles and mastering support side shooting really came from the tactical side. I never really learned how to REALLY deal with AR15 malfunctions until those guys taught me. 

Some sport guys look down their noses at tactical guys and vice versa. This is a huge mistake in my opinion. I like my action shooting matches to have at least some practical real world basis and application.  Likewise many of the shooting techniques used in the tactical side come from the sport side.

 If you’re interested in taking a course from Kelly or seeing what he’s been up to on the range you can contact him through his facebook page here.

 

 

 

 

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