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Finnish Brutality 2023: A Run and Gun Match in the Spiritual Homeland of Death Metal



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Photos by Toni Suokas

No sh*t, there I was, basically living Starship Troopers. 

After a long day of five shooting events on the range, plus another five physical challenges on the “Field of Glory,” I was sitting naked in a sauna and eventually showering off with fellow competitors and range staff, both men and women alike. We just didn’t kill any bugs, and I’m pretty sure Buenos Aires is still on the map …

Well, I guess I should back up a step. I’m ultimately talking about Finnish Brutality, a shooting competition put on by the Finnish gear company of Varusteleka. A competition held once a year, just south of the Arctic circle that’s a melding of two-gun shooting and physical challenges, loosely centered around the term “combat.” Basically, if you didn’t know the Tactical Games was just Crossfit mixed with shooting low probability targets in the form of geometric shapes on paper, and I said to you, “I’m going to go compete in the Tactical Games,” then this is what you’d probably envision.

Before we dive into the competition, though, let’s start with the people and country. Finland is a pretty young country, much like the U.S. However, their independence is even more recent, as well as going through some rough times in the not-so-distant past. Think Russia, Germany, and World War II. Because of this, the people are of the same mind: never again. 

As a result, young citizens are conscripted into military service (or civil service), in which you’ll serve your time and following that, stay in the reserves for a number of years afterward. This not only instills national pride, but translates into a hugely capable country, should their population be called upon to defend itself. This, in part, leads to a love of shooting sports.

There are a number of shooting disciplines and events held all year there. Serving not only as a fun opportunity to get together and share a passion, but a very real chance to work on legitimate skills that may be called upon in the future. Because of this, firearms ownership is normalized, but still different than in the U.S., with our history of rugged individualism.

Physical challenges mixed with shooting is the name of the game, with competitors having to solve problems with an elevated heart rate.

I thought about our experience and use of firearms and the 2nd Amendment in contrast to Finland, and as a way to explain it, kind of landed on this. Firearms ownership in America is about the individual’s right to freedom and to combat the potential tyranny of our government, while firearms ownership in Finland is about their national right to freedom and to combat potential tyranny from abroad. Just my two cents, probably wildly inaccurate and I’m open to correction.

So, how did I end up at the competition? Well, I met the guys from Varusteleka back in 2020 while at the Desert Brutality competition in Arizona, put on by InRange TV. We hit it off and kept in contact. Eventually, at SHOT Show 2023, we ran into each other again and I said, “I want to come compete over in Finland. It looks amazing.” And so it came to pass.

I was fortunate to get a media slot for the competition. I say fortunate, because the match sells out in less than 30 seconds from when the tickets go on sale, drawing people from everywhere — not only competitors from Finland, but Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia, and the rest of Europe.

The match is held at a large outdoor range facility near Loppi, north of Helsinki, which is a pretty extensive setup with a number of different length bays, a big lodge-type clubhouse, and surrounded by beautiful forests. And speaking of the lodge, that’s where the international competitors and range staff crashed out, like a middle school slumber party with automatic weapons, and haphazardly arrayed sleeping pads and bags all over the place come bedtime.

The match itself took place over the course of the weekend — technically Friday too, if you count the staff match. The chance for Range Officers to shoot all of the stages in one day allowed them to work out any kinks in the stages, and while the staff match ran a little late, the main match for everyone attending ran amazingly well. 

And when I say amazingly well, I mean on time — which for some reason is a high bar in the run and gun shooting world, stateside.

While there are a number of different divisions, based around equipment, yours truly shot in the Armored Division. In this class, you’re required to wear a plate carrier, have a med kit on you, start all stages with three loaded rifle magazines and two loaded pistol magazines, 1 liter of water, and a over 4-inch fixed-blade knife. In addition, all of your gear had to meet a certain weight requirement, which was easily met, especially when you factor in water.

Flying into Finland, I arrived with street clothes and my camera. 

So I got fully outfitted for the match down in Helsinki at the Varusteleka store. Wearing their Sarma TST combat pants (with CPE knee pad Inserts) and combat shirt, PC18 Plate Carrier with low-vis mag shingle, TST shooters belt, dump pouch, pistol mag pouches, rifle mag pouch, 5.5-inch fixed blade, and GP pouch for medical supplies, as well as a Safariland ALS holster I borrowed from another competitor. As you might have figured out from the gear list, the Finns are a welcoming and generous people.

For guns, I shot a borrowed Glock 17 with Holosun 509T and SureFire X300 Ultra. And my rifle was an AR built off of the KE Arms KP-15 Lower Receiver and topped with a Primary Arms SLx 1-6. While you can, and people did, ship firearms to Finland, it’s not a cheap endeavor and guns don’t really matter to me. Let’s be honest, as long as it runs, “It’s the Indian, not the arrow.”

The stages of Finnish Brutality were awesome. Not only fun shooting, with almost every target steel (so minimal reset time) and with the inclusion of some pistol and rifle spinners, but great overall stage design. Most stages incorporated fun props and a story that all tied back to being combat-related. Whether it was starting in the back of an APC, manning the .50-cal that just went down, necessitating you to engage some closer targets with pistol before exiting the vehicle with your rifle, or moving under barbed wire or over obstacles with a 90-pound pack and shooting from nonstandard positions.

One of the coolest stages involved tourniquet application. I’ve always wanted to see this incorporated in a competition, but the metric is hard. For example, if the task is to put a tourniquet on your arm or leg, did you do it right? Or did you just half-ass it? Varusteleka roped in some dedicated role-players with an amazing prosthetic leg and someone running an arterial pump. If you didn’t stop the bleeding, then you didn’t stop the bleeding.

Unlike in the U.S., wearing camo at matches is encouraged, as it’s part of the individual’s issued kit as either active duty or reservist.

Or how about a stage that involved a Kim’s Game coupled with a burned out, still-flaming car? Rad …

While I competed in the Armored Division, which centered around equipment, I also participated in the “Breacher” Division. Think of it as Rx+. Basically, it’s a second competition involving physical challenges that take place on the so-called Field of Glory, in between each of your shooting stages. So, rather than taking that well-deserved hour rest in-between stages over the course of the day, you do your Breacher event and then head back to the next shooting stage.

These varied greatly but all tied back to military tasks, ranging from simple things like how big or deep of a fighting hole you can dig in 10 minutes, to max pushups in 3 minutes. Or how fast can you “breach the door” (i.e., pound through a piece of dimensional lumber). 

All of them relatively short and fun, and none of them were soul crushing, unless you just chose to turn it up to 11.

Over the course of two days, participants completed a total of 10 shooting stages, and if you opted for Breacher Division, an additional 10 physical challenges. Suffice to say, by the end of it, I was pretty smoked — but not too smoked to make my way to the prize table.

One of the really fun things about Finnish Brutality, and in part why it draws such a great group, is the prize table. Why is this? Because it’s random. While the selection of goodies was quite spectacular — suppressors, tactical kit, knives, med gear, and all kinds of gun stuff — it’s awarded by lottery. Everyone’s name in the competition is randomized, and people come up in the order their name is called. 

In a sport where too often winning is everything, it was refreshing on a couple of levels. One, who doesn’t like cool prizes? And by the end of it, there was still stuff on the table — literally everyone got something. And since prizes aren’t awarded based on standing, you know who didn’t show up? Sponsored shooters. Not a jersey to be seen anywhere. 

Not to knock “professionals” but the crowd that Finnish Brutality draws isn’t the crowd that’s going to whine to the ROs or game the stage to the point of ridiculousness. Dump a mag to claim you engaged all the targets and take the time penalties? See ya — the parking lot is over there, GTFO. 

Having said all that, if you win in your division, you’ll be recognized. First, second, and third place were recognized in all of the divisions and awarded patches, not to mention praise and high fives from their peers, consisting of a solid group from all over Europe (and the U.S.) that came together to share in an incredible event. 

For my own part, I came in 10th overall in the match out of about 150 shooters. And, in Breacher, I came in fourth out of the 32 who signed up for extra pain and suffering. It was an amazing two days of shooting and sweating, both on the Field of Glory and in the sauna. 

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. If you’re looking to meet an incredible bunch of people and compete in one of the best shooting competitions out there, I’d encourage you to keep your eye out for the next Finnish Brutality. It’s less than a year away … 

BRUTALITY USA

While Finnish Brutality is run by a different group of people, the origin story starts in the USA. Brutality matches are still hosted in the US by InRangeTV. If you're interested, be sure to take a look at their 2024 calendar!

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