All of the formal firearms training I’ve done in the past 3 years—handgun, rifle and shotgun—has revolved around using firearms defensively, against threats. While it’s all be incredibly useful information and fun, it is all very different from the world of sport shooting. I had the opportunity to sample the world of competitive shooting this past weekend at the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s inaugural Shooting Sports Fantasy Camp at the spectacular Clark County Shooting Complex near Las Vegas.

I can’t recommend it enough.

Last summer, I was one of the speakers at the NSSF Industry Summit in Savannah, Georgia. During the event, Chris Dolnack, the NSSF’s Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer, told me that he wanted to talk to me about something, but that I’d have to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) first. As NDAs typically hide good things early in the planning stages, I jumped at the chance. We soon had the NDA in place, and he filled me in the idea for a shooting sports fantasy camp modeled on those for enthusiasts of NASCAR and baseball and other sports. I told him that I thought it was a wonderful idea, and that I thought it would be a huge hit.

At the time, of course, I had no idea how well the NSSF would pull it off.

Thursday evening I was picked up by private car at the Las Vegas airport and transported to the Aliante Hotel and Casino, which was to be our base of operations for the event.  30 campers and 6 media showed up for registration, where we were presented with gear bags full of swag, including hats, stickers, range gear, holsters, cleaning kits, etc. We also each received two custom shooting shirts just like the pros wear with our names on them, and met our coaching staff.

Our coaches were Jerry and Kay Miculek, Dianna and Ryan Muller, Julie Golob, Jessie Duff, and KC Eusebio. If you aren’t into shooting sports all of these names may not ring a bell, but they are all professional shooters who excel in various disciplines. After of evening of socializing and getting to meet one another, we retired to our rooms and prepared for our first day of shooting.

Buses picked us up after a first-rate buffet breakfast at the Ailante Friday morning, and we were transported to what is arguably the finest shooting complex in the nation, the 5,000 acre, 5-star Clark County Shooting Complex.

The NSSF's Tisma Juett briefed the shooters prior to the first day's events.
The NSSF’s Tisma Juett briefed the shooters prior to the first day’s events.

After a welcome by the NSSF staff and safety briefing by Kay Miculek and KC Eusebio, we were split up into squads of six and then sent to one of six stations.

Each station was based loosely upon the Steel Challenge. Each station was composed of four white-painted steel plates in various sizes, and a red-painted steel stop plate.

Let’s have 3-gun shooter and Fantasy Camp coach Ryan Muller show us how it’s done.

As we rotated from station to station, each coach worked with us to show a a different aspect of competition shooting, which was very different that the defensive shooting I’d trained for previously. I won’t bore you with the details, but I will note that over the course of the day I changed my footwork four different times, my upper body positioning three times, and my basic grip twice, all in an effort to try out what worked for the individual coaches. Each of the coaches was quick to point out how they did something, and would help us attempt those positions, but emphasized that everyone’s individual body type was different, and that their way worked for them, but that there was no One True Way.

During lunch both days, we also had a side match from event sponsor FIME Group, and their REX zero 1, a Sig Sauer P-series-based pistol.

After a wonderful day of shooting (and a delicious onsite lunch), we headed back to the Aliante Hotel, showered, and went to dinner, where we then had team drafts.

I was drafted by Julie Golob.

Unfortunately, Julie had to leave to attend a funeral, but she left us in great hands as Ryan Miller stepped up to coach our team.

Team Julie Golob/Ryan Muller.
Team Julie Golob/Ryan Muller

Our team was composed of (left to right, above):

  • John, a doctor who rocked a competition double-stack 1911
  • coach Ryan Muller (and in spirit, coach Julie Golob)
  • myself, running my CZ P07 carry gun
  • gunsmith David, who was running a M&P
  • incredibly bubbly massage therapist and life coach Elizabeth running one of her four HK VP9s
  • construction contractor Tai running Smith & wesson 627-5 (yes, we had a revolver shooter!)
  • publishing industry IT executive Deb running a Beretta 92

Like other teams we had a wide range of experience. John and Tai were very experienced competition shooters, and Elizabeth has been shooting competitively for a little over a year. David and I both were defensive shooters. Deb had never drawn and fired from the holster before Friday.

We had a great day of shooting.

We each made four runs, and the worst score on each was thrown out. My times ranged from my first sub six-second run to completely blowing the stage on my very last run where I ran my gun dry (and incurred a 30-second penalty).

It was awesome to watch really solid shooters work, but the most inspirational shooter (in our group, at least) was clearly Deb. She threw herself into the proverbial deep end of the pool. She’d never drawn a gun from a holster before Fantasy Camp, and was learning to shoot from some of the best pro shooters in the world. She progressed an incredibly long way in a very short amount of time, shooting small targets at a decent distance (10-15 yards) in front of professionals and other students under time pressure.

New shooter Deb shoots a stage at the NSSF Fantasy Camp with professional 3-gun shooter & coach Ryan Miller at her side.

After a wonderful day of shooting, we went back to the Aliante, showered, and went to the awards dinner.

While we didn’t win (Jerry Miculek’s team came in first in the team competition), each camper won something from a bountiful prize table, which included guns by sponsors Arex (whom we’ll be talking about more in a minute), LWRC, Ruger, Sig Sauer, and gift cards from other sponsors.

One of the most poignant moments of the entire event also happened during the NSSF Fantasy Camp awards dinner.

REX zero 1 pistol (image via FIME Group)
REX zero 1 pistol (image via FIME Group)

One of the campers, Edward, who lives in New York City, was awarded a REX zero 1 (for being the most improved shooter, if my memory serves more correctly). Unfortunately, he could not accept the pistol thanks to New York City’s absurd gun laws, which keep good Americans like Edward all but defenseless.

Edward gave an impassioned and impromptu speech about the importance of fighting for our gun rights, so that others would not share his fate. It was a reminder that we can never allow the totalitarians among us an opening to strip us of our constitutional rights. New York City’s anti-gun “progressives” would not have the last laugh, however. FIME Group’s representative Walter English made an on-the-spot decision to instead provide Edward with a $500 K-VAR gift certificate towards another firearm.

I had to hop a red-eye back to the East Coast shortly after the awards dinner, but not before seeing a ton of smiling faces from happy campers.

The NSSF knocked it out of the park with their first Shooting Sports Fantasy Camp, an event that sold-out in just nine days.

The event was such a hit that future camps are all but assured. If you’d be interested in attending one of these NSS Shooting Sports Fantasy Camps yourself, you can sign-up for email updates.

I know that I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Team selfie shamelessly stolen from Julie Golob.
Team selfie shamelessly stolen from Julie Golob.

Update: It was so blindingly obvious to me that I missed commenting on it, but one of the other competitors (and one of my ten new Facebook friends) pointed out that this experience created a lot of new friendships, many of which will last long into the future.