Superstition Mountain Mystery 3-Gun 2016

My squad. Complete with some notable characters...

My squad. Complete with some notable characters...

I was fortunate enough to get an invite to the Superstition Mountain Mystery 3-Gun, in its 20th year, from Russell Phagen at KE Arms. I got to run the match with staff and other media the two days preceding the full competition. It was a little more relaxed of an experience and we ran through quite a bit faster (with less waiting between stages) as their were fewer squads.

Scoring

Overall scoring was calculated separately for each equipment division and was awarded to participants according to their stage time relative to the fastest time on that stage. Specifically it was the fastest overall time divided by the participant’s time then multiplied by 100. The highest overall score winning the division. It was done this way to balance out scoring for stages which were much faster (like #11, which was a speed shotgun stage). If it was just based on total overall time, stage #11 would have been pretty irrelevant.

Stages

This year there were eleven stages that utilized the standard rifles, pistols and shotguns, but also incorporated things like a Milkor grenade launcher and tripwire “IEDs”. Each stage had a theme and backstory which made it that much more enjoyable (as some of them had an element on humor involved).

Stage 1

Stage 1 was the “Pool Pugilist” and required the shooter to first knock down a dummy with a pugil stick (while standing on a board over a “pool”) before drawing their pistol and engaging targets. After neutrailizing the pistol targets, the participant then retrieved a shotgun and shot a number of falling steel targets with buckshot.

Yep, started out with knocking down a dummy with a pugil stick

Yep, started out with knocking down a dummy with a pugil stick

Stage 2

Stage 2 was “Flying Third Class” which involved lobbing a grenade (chalk) through a window (using a Milkor) to engage the first set of targets. Next the participant picked up their rifle and shot both paper targets and steel gongs, before transitioning to shotgun and/or pistol to engage a number of falling steel targets.

Start with hands on the minigun...

Start with hands on the minigun…

Thwump, thwump (rather than pew pew)

Thwump, thwump (rather than pew pew)

Stage 3

Stage 3 was the “Parchin Meltdown” a semi-surprise stage where you could not walk the stage from the shooting lane (thus denying the ability to plan effectively). The shooter started with rifle and engaged a number of paper targets while moving through a “contaminated” zone. After neutralizing all of the paper, the shooter transitioned to pistol, with a requirement of retrieving an ammo can from the ground. Once picked up the ammo can had to be carried for all pistol shots (at risk of penalties) against some cardboard targets (including some automated ones activated by a tripwire) and falling steel.

Entering the contamination zone...

Entering the contamination zone…

Radiological materials retrieved, better not put them down...

Radiological materials retrieved, better not put them down…

Stage 4

Stage 4 was “Inside the OODA Loop”, a rifle only stage. It consisted of 22 rifle targets randomly set to shoot/no shoot for each participant. After engaging all of the paper, the shooter had to mount the bed of a truck and engage some targets out at 350 yards.

Fun, fast stage

Fun, fast stage

Stage 5

Stage 5 was a shotgun only target named “Siege of Firebase Sarah” and was a semi-surprise stage. The shooter had to enter through a heavy steel door and shoot a number of falling steel targets and a few clays (some of which were no-shoots based on how they were oriented). After running the lane, the last three targets were out at 50 yards and required engagement with slugs.

Starting through a heavy door...

Starting through a heavy door…

Only engage the "claymores" pointed at the enemy...

Only engage the “claymores” pointed at the enemy…

Stage 6

Stage 6 was “Act of Valor” and utilized shotgun and rifle. The shooter first engaged a number of falling steel targets from either side of a car using the shotgun. The final shot engaged a target that activated a “Rube Goldberg”-like contraption (complete with bowling ball), causing three of the automated rifle targets to activate. The shooter had to quickly transition to rifle, engage all of the targets (one of which had a single 1 second presentation) before mounting the bed of a pickup truck and engaging some steel targets out at 280 yards.

Awkward shooting positions 101

Awkward shooting positions 101

Stage 7

Stage 7 was a “Breach Gone Bad”. Using a shotgun the shooter had to knock down a number of falling steel targets while carrying a slung rifle. After grounding the shotgun in a barrel, the shooter then had to climb an extension ladder up to the top of a scaffold and shoot some paper targets down below with their rifle. After neutralizing the papers, the shooter had to engage a bunch of steel targets at varying ranges from 90 yards out to 250 yards.

Don't hit the pink ones...

Don’t hit the pink ones…

Rifle from atop the tower.

Rifle from atop the tower.

Stage 8

Stage 8 was a pistol only stage called “Holiday in Hue”, which was one of the more fun stages, in my opinion. It was a semi-surprise stage set up with six walled corridors with targets at the end of each. Randomly placed on three of the corridors were tripwires attached to “IEDs”. If the shooter activated a tripwire, first time they lost use of support hand, second time was end of stage.

You start off enjoying some nice smooches with your "date" when things go bad...

You start off enjoying some nice smooches with your “date” when things go bad…

If you hit a tripwire you lose an arm...

If you hit a tripwire you lose an arm…

Stage 9

“Location, Location, Location” was the 9th stage and was rifle only consisting of twelve steel gongs out around 200 yards and a few close in paper targets. The shooter had to engage the steel from one of two platforms in the prone position. Missing two shots required the shooter to go to the alternate platform. Missing another two meant a trip back to the first platform, so on and so forth until all of the steel was engaged. Then the shooter had to move to a final area to shoot the paper.

Probably one of my best stages (not me in the picture; orange is not my color)

Probably one of my best stages (not me in the picture; orange is not my color)

Stage 10

Stage 10 was “Standards of Fortune” and involved all three weapons, with a string for each. Each string had a 60 second par (you only had 60 seconds with each weapon) and three mandatory shooting positions (standing, kneeling, and prone). First was a number of paper targets at distance to engage with shotgun (slug or buckshot) with varying levels of overlapping coverage from no-shoot targets. Rifle was against steel targets. Pistol was also against steel targets. Oh, did I mention the mandatory reloads between each shooting position? This one was my least favorite.

Worst stage of the match, IMO. Russel Phagan (of KE Arms) did pretty well.

Worst stage of the match, IMO. Russel Phagan (of KE Arms) did pretty well.

Stage 11

The final stage was a speed shotgun stage. Eight reactive steel targets (one to each side and six dead center). The shooter had to start with hands up, and retrieve their shotgun from a table. Each shooter got three chances, and only the lowest score was kept.

"Hands up; Don't shoot." Or something like that,,,

“Hands up; Don’t shoot.” Or something like that,,,

Fastest stage in the match. I think fastest time was 3.77 seconds to clear it.

Fastest stage in the match. I think fastest time was 3.77 seconds to clear it.

Team Side Match

Clear all of the steel and then cut down a 2x4. Yes, that is a double star...

Clear all of the steel and then cut down a 2×4. Yes, that is a double star…

The competition even had a side match allowing three shooters from a team to work together (simultaneously shooting) to clear a set of falling steel targets and ending by cutting a 2×4 in half, all with pistol.

Observations

As you can imagine there are two main classes of competitors. Those that are there to have fun and a good time, and some that take it pretty seriously, arguing technical details to gain that minuscule advantage.

The stages were generally well thought out and each had pros and cons for different styles of shooters.

The match staff ran things super fairly (and safely), and were very personable and approachable.  I did not run into a single staff member that was not having a good time (and ensuring that participants were having fun).

It was interesting to see such a wide variety of gear and the sheer number of sponsored shooters, easily identifiable by their Nascar-like jerseys. Also, I’ve never seen so many freaking baby strollers in one place (sans babies of course).

Personally I was in the “have fun group”. My goal was to not come in last, which I definitely accomplished. I even placed in the top 300… Out of 355… 🙂

Despite coming in near the bottom, I ended up with a decent prize pack. No FFL stuff, but actually things I could use...

Despite coming in near the bottom, I ended up with a decent prize pack. No FFL stuff, but actually things I could use…

Conclusions

For my first actual competition, this was pretty fun. I was not sure what to expect and I didn’t really know anyone there. By the end of the match my squad and I were laughing and joking and ribbing each other like we had known each other for years.

Despite being a bit intimidating, going to a large match was definitely worth it. I highly recommend it if within your means.

[Disclosure: KE Arms did cover my entrance into the match and travel expenses.]



Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Prior to that he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he has embraced his inner “Warrior Hippie” and assaults 14er in his sandals and beard, or engages in rucking adventure challenges while consuming craft beer. To fund these adventures, he writes medical software and builds websites and mobile apps. His latest venture is as one of the founders of IronSights.com; a search engine for all things gun related. He hopes that his posts will help you find solid gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it–he is known (in certain circles) for his curse…ahem, ability…to find the breaking point of anything.


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  • ExurbanKevin

    I had the privilege of RO’ing that match for a half-dozen years, and it’s one of the best in practical shooting. The stage design is always fun (thanks, Richard!), the prize table is terrific (lil’ ol’ sucky me managed to come away with over a grand in prizes one year) and most importantly, the match directors treat the competitors as customers at a business and want them to have a fun, safe time at their match.

    If you ever get a chance to shoot it, go, you won’t regret it.

  • Nicholas C

    With regards to Stealth Division, it sounds a lot like the USPSA Carry Optics division. It provides people with a division to run in between Tac Optics and Open division. I think it is fine and is up to the match director to allow such a division. I shoot heavy optics but having a red dot on my pistol and shotgun does sound intriguing. I think it is fine to have this special division. I do not think adding red dots will make a shooter super fast. Stage planning and high capacity magazines helps a lot in open division. Also not missing is your best chance to be fast and score well.

  • Darhar M.

    How about a three gun using iron sights only?

    • Jwedel1231

      I think they have a division for that. Or at least they used to. Once you keep people from using red dots on rifles, they start losing interest.

    • Nicholas C

      Yep that is called Limited division. There are Tac Limited and Heavy Irons. Tac Limited just means you have to use iron sights. Or a red dot on an AR. No magnification. Heavy Irons aka Heavy Metal is similar but you have to shoot a pump shotgun and .45acp.

  • Edeco

    Stage 12: The Leningrad Ruse
    Stage 13: Turd in the Punchbowl
    Stage 14: The Citadel of Despair