#LORO: Ladies Only at Rifles Only

The ladies of  #LORO: Ursula, Jaci, Steph, Lisa, Regina, Jessie, Marie, and Melissa (L to R)
The ladies of #LORO: Ursula, Jaci, Steph, Lisa, Regina, Jessie, Marie, and Melissa (L to R)

This past August, in the heat of the sticky, humid summer, a group of seven women headed to Rifles Only to join Lisa Bynum for private instruction from Jacob Bynum and Lindy Sisk. I’d talked with Jacob and Lisa about a training course geared towards women, but more specifically for ladies who were competitive shooters in the precision rifle community. These conversations went back and forth over the course of a couple of years. Now I’m like the official queen of “squirrel” moments so the idea was placed on the back burner for a while for me while I prepped for matches last year. To be honest, I don’t think any of us were really sure how many women would be interested in a course for just the ladies. I guess it’s true though: if you build it, they will come.

That's a lot of luggage to stuff in a rental... and that's not even all of it!
That’s a lot of luggage to stuff in a rental… and that’s not even all of it!

We’d all envisioned a course where female shooters wouldn’t feel intimidated and would feel confident asking questions or working out problems for themselves. In case you didn’t know, women are incredibly teachable. Ladies may have played video games and cops & robbers as kids, but we recognize when we don’t have all the answers and actively seek out someone who can help. Plus, we want to succeed just as much as the guys!

the inaugural class of #LORO
the inaugural class of #LORO

I started asking around in February of this year to gauge interest. The responses were overwhelming! The dates for the class were picked based off when Rifles Only would have a lull in their training schedule. We even came up with our own hashtag! #LORO. It was our own little shorthand for Ladies Only at Rifles Only. I’ll totally take the blame for forgetting that south Texas in August is miserable. Then again, I’m from Arizona, so heat is not exactly foreign to me! Some of the ladies asked were sponsored precision rifle shooters, some were from 3 Gun, and others were pistol shooters.

Melissa trying to stay cool in the sweltering heat!
Melissa trying to stay cool in the sweltering heat!

At any rate, seven of us showed up to Rifles Only on a Thursday afternoon. I actually brought along two rifles for two different reasons. One was my .308 factory Remington 700 to use for all of the training drills. I also brought my brand new 6XC with a Defiance Deviant that had just come back to me from Spartan Precision Rifles. Hey, I had a match the following weekend and needed to get some rounds through the new Hawk Hill barrel. Both are in Manners T4A stocks and have Timney LH flat triggers in them. They also both have Vortex Razor Gen II’s with the EBR-2C reticle, so it was easy for me to transition between the two.

11863234_498244070337807_4370220061599916997_nThe eight of us met with Jacob that night and went through our expectations over dinner. The ladies who made it to south Texas were: Jessie Dussart, Melissa Gilliland, Steph Bostwick, Marie Roberts, Ursula Williams, Jaci Janes, myself, and of course, Lisa Bynum but she runs the place! All of our “please teach me” lists were close to identical: wind reading, barricades, rooftops, positional, and how the heck do you shoot a mover (except Lisa – she’s a rockstar on a mover)!? I had an inkling that these topics would all be covered because they’re pretty common topics among precision rifle shooters as areas where they’d like to improve.

11036626_10153603474642577_9135090493732773857_nAnyway, our summer camp was just getting started! The bunk house was reserved for us, and let me tell ya, we took over. There were some items discovered in the bunk house that made many of us laugh. I won’t go into detail there, but let’s just say the men who stayed in the house in the past were very well protected. I’m almost positive the bunk house has never smelled so good or had as much purple draped everywhere. I imagine guys probably have an entirely different diet than we did… Marie brought enough delicious food to keep all of us fed for the entire weekend including a very much talked about wheel of brie that was devoured the first night.
On Friday morning, we met in the classroom with Jacob and Lindy who would be our instructors for the course. Jacob reminded us all of inherent dangers with firearms: their intended purpose is to kill and that is something none of should ever forget.

Being critiqued. I kept thinking, "don't screw up, don't screw up." LOL!
Being critiqued. I kept thinking, “don’t screw up, don’t screw up.” LOL!

After the initial classroom portion, we headed out to the Carbine Pit so our instructors could diagnose our form. The first errors shooters tend to make come from improper body positioning and sight alignment. We were each asked to find an aiming point on our numbered target and shoot 5 rounds. Back to classroom with us after the targets were pulled. Jacob then reviewed each lady’s shot group with the group. From the shot placement, he was able to see areas where we could improve. You have no idea how much effect breathing has on your group size until you realize what you’re doing! Not being properly aligned behind the rifle means you won’t have consistent shot placement. What your trigger finger is doing (or not doing) can also have an effect on your shot placement. All of these mistakes are magnified when you start shooting further distances, so it was important to find out what could be tweaked before we went any further in the instruction.

All the ladies on the line
All the ladies on the line

The rest of the morning was spent on the short range. We all had the opportunity to check our zeros. Once that part was out of the way, we each took our time getting a good group at 100 yards. Then we moved to the barricades. There is almost a science to shooting off a barricade. Obviously the more stable you are, the better your shots will be down range. But how do you get stable? Personally, I prefer to use a sling (a Rifles Only Gear carbine sling) for added stability but I’ve seen plenty of people clean barricade stages with no additional gear at all. Jacob has worked with me before on slung positions, and I routinely practice with them to get better. I learned that I still wasn’t quite doing everything correctly. A few more tweaks correcting my body alignment to the target and I was hitting my shoot-n-c every time. Marie blew us all away though! She had a tiny little group about an inch big where all of her shots landed.

Fresh watermelon from the pasture helped to cool us all off.
Fresh watermelon from the pasture helped to cool us all off.

We stopped each day just a little early due to the heat. The humidity was up around 100% and with the temperatures hovering between 105-107 degrees, it made the heat index somewhere in the range of 117+/-. In other words, we were melting. I have no idea how much water we each drank over the course of the weekend, but it was a lot. When we weren’t behind our rifles, each of us was drinking water. We broke for lunch each day, more to have the chance to cool off than anything else I think.

Stayed tuned for part 2 next week!

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My Semi-Famous “Christmas Crack”

The finished product, sitting innocently on the counter top waiting for hungry candy fiends
The finished product, sitting innocently on the counter top waiting for hungry candy fiends

While a majority of my posts will without a doubt involve shooting, this one does not. This is about candy. Yes, candy. The title might’ve made you think of something different, but this is totally legal. Technically it has its roots in shooting, as I started making this candy as a way to supplement funds for more reloading components only to find out my friends and family ate a majority of the profits up. Hands down, this is my most asked for recipe. It’s also the easiest thing in the world to make, yet somehow people screw it up. Don’t ask me how folks do that because you’re going to read the four ingredients and think this is the simplest, most uber-tasty treat you’ve ever eaten.

When my husband Tim and I were dating he brought over a pint of Breyer’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and a bag of Ruffles potato chips. If you’ve never tried those together, get to the store now and acquire some! Salty & sweet is a flavor combination that just can’t be beat. If you’ve ever dipped your Wendy’s fries into a Frosty, then you already get why it’s so gooooood. This candy hits all of those craveable salty/sweet notes.

Where it all starts. These ingredients might not look like much but when they're combined, watch out for your fingers!
Where it all starts. These ingredients might not look like much but when they’re combined, watch out for your fingers!

I’m a bit of a “foodie” for lack of a better word. I love to cook, bake, create, and eat. While there those folks who find a great novel exciting, I routinely stock up on cookbooks from all over the globe. I read a lot of other books too, but cookbooks are my grown-up version of a child’s picture book. My husband has been my best taste tester and has tried every recipe I’ve come up with and lived! Especially the sweet ones I make around holidays since I’m a type-1 diabetic, or as Wilford Brimley would say, “I have the diabeetus”. One of Tim’s favorite treats is my Semi-Famous Christmas Crack.

After a couple of minutes in the microwave, the hard blocks of chocolate turn into a gooey mess
After a couple of minutes in the microwave, the hard blocks of chocolate turn into a gooey mess

Christmas Crack is sort of incorrectly named. I just happened to pick the weeks before Christmas to make the first batch. Tim named it, “Trees Down on Rocky Road” as the base came from a recipe for rocky road candy. I took some to work and left it on a desk for all to enjoy. I wanted to see if this was something I could send to family members in a holiday treat box.

First coworker: “Who left this on the desk? It’s delicious!! I mean, this stuff is GOOD!”

Second coworker: “Errmygerd!! Who brought this stuff in? It’s like CRACK! I can’t stop eating it!”

Once it's completely melted, it's new state is similar molten lava
Once it’s completely melted, it’s new state is similar molten lava

First coworker: You are totally right about that! Who brought in this tasty treat from heaven. That is so obviously evil… because I’m on a diet…. Okay, just one more piece.”

Me: “It’s called ‘Trees Down on Rocky Road’ and it’s a new recipe I’m trying out.”

First coworker: “Well that’s a mouthful. It’s obviously laced with crack and deserves a much better name.”

Second coworker: “I vote for ‘Christmas Crack’. So just call it that from now on, okay? And seriously, you should sell this stuff!”

I might have condensed the comments a bit there. The plate of candy that I put out was gone within 30 minutes though, proving that this recipe was a winner. I believe someone said something about wanting to pour milk over the crumbs and eat it for breakfast. I know when I make a big batch the remnants are scraped up off the parchment paper and saved in a ziplock bag to be used as a topping over ice cream or yogurt.

Toss in some broken up pretzel pieces and nuts and you're almost ready to party
Toss in some broken up pretzel pieces and nuts and you’re almost ready to party

We even took some on an elk hunt a couple of years ago. I sent up two one-gallon ziplock bags of the stuff with Tim. By the time I got to the campsite twelve hours later all that was left were crumbs. Yeah. It’s that good. I send packages out to framily (friends who are family) almost every year. Inevitably one of them will call after eating half a container. If you didn’t know before, people can talk surprisingly fast when hopped up on sugar!

Mmmmm... almost done
Mmmmm… almost done

I should probably add that I’ve never measured out ingredients for this recipe. I just eyeball it. Feel free to do that same. So, without further ado, my semi-famous recipe for my Semi-Famous Christmas Crack:

Ingredients: 

  • 2-24oz packages of chocolate Almond Bark
  • 5-7 ounces of mini-marshmallows
  • 12 ounces of mini-pretzels (smashed – not crushed, smashed)
  • 1 lb chopped walnuts, pecans, or cashews (more or less to taste and texture)

Follow the package instructions for melting the chocolate. Once the chocolate is completely melted, fold in the pretzels.

Once the pretzels are combined, fold in the nuts. Then, and only then, fold the marshmallows into the mixture. If you put the marshmallows in too soon they’ll melt. Trust me on this little fact.

IMG_6122So now you’ve got a Good Grief sized glob of chocolate/pretzel/nut/marshmallow tastiness. Don’t eat it yet. Or do. No one is looking and if they are, who are they to judge? Take some parchment paper and line a counter top or a baking sheet if you prefer. This recipe constitutes a double batch for me, because, well, go big or go home. It’s not like it won’t be gobbled up as soon as it’s cooled down enough to harden up.

Spread the chocolatey goodness on the parchment paper to the thickness your little heart desires. Let it cool completely; usually about an hour or so. Once the candy has completely cooled, you can break it into pieces or cut it into pieces or just shove handfuls into your mouth before anyone knows you’ve made some.

I make this stuff year round now, but the name stuck so it will forever be known as Christmas Crack. The first year people requested it round Thanksgiving. The next year the requests started coming in around Halloween. By the third year I started getting requests at Easter. I also make a sister version named “Snow Crack”. It’s similar to Texas Trash, but with my spin on it. Of course, I expect my holiday Christmas Crack sales to plummet now that I’m giving away my not-so-secret secret recipe. On the off chance you’re one of the folks who screw up the recipe or just want to try some of the original Semi-Famous Christmas Crack, I’ll be selling some starting sometime after Thanksgiving for $20 a tin + shipping. Hey, it happens. I won’t judge.

All done. Cut it up and attack! But seriously, watch your fingers. Some folks get a little crazy when candy is around.
All done. Cut it up and attack! But seriously, watch your fingers. Some folks get a little crazy when this candy is around.

In The Beginning, There Was a .223 Named Lyudmila

“What is it like being a female in a predominately male sport?”

Man, I’m asked that question a lot. Every interview, every dinner party, at a new job, a business conference, and even by my hairdresser! Perhaps I just had a really supportive local club when I started out because I’ve never noticed that there was a difference. I’ll admit that the first club match I shot was pretty nerve wracking. I was super new, had zero experience with firearms and a rifle I’d only learned the basics of how to use the day before. I will say that my inexperience ended up being more of a blessing than a curse for me because I had no knowledge of how intimidating this sport could be to some. This is probably where I should share a little of my back-story for those of you who haven’t heard it 100 times already?

In February 2009, the Arizona Long Range Precision Rifle Shooters (my local club) held a national level match in Phoenix. My brother-in-law, Scott, was the match director. This match would later be known as the Tactical Precision Rifle Challenge (TPRC). I’d watched my husband shoot competitively in several other shooting sports (3Gun, IPSC, IDPA, etc.) and had balked any time he mentioned getting me involved in competing. “Too fast,” I said. “And there are too many things to be proficient at.” So he let it go.

Me & my .223 that I named Lyudmila about 10 seconds after my hands were on her.
Me & my .223 that I named Lyudmila about 10 seconds after my hands were on her.

Anyway, I’d broken my right wrist a few weeks before TPRC, so I was planning on being a spectator when I decided to go watch this “sniper rifle match” (hey, I was new to shooting! I had no idea about the nomenclature at the time). Tim threw me on a scoreboard and told me to write down any hits that were called out. Okay. Simple enough, right? Until someone had to go to the bathroom and they threw me on a spotting scope. Remember I said I was really new, right? I didn’t exactly know what I was supposed to be looking for through the scope. Tim pointed out the steel target set up on the side of the hillside. I looked through the spotting scope at the target that I could barely see with my naked eye and it looked huge. I mean, HUGE. I looked over the top of the scope, back into the scope, back over the top and asked Tim, “waaaaay over there???”

He laughed at me and said, “well, yeah. It’s not that far. It’s only about 400 yards.” I was floored. I couldn’t believe these guys could possibly hit something four whole football fields away. I find my naiveté amusing now, but I sure do remember how impressed I was that these guys were shooting targets that far and hitting them!

My newness shows in this picture! My seated shooting has improved considerably since 2010.
My newness shows in this picture! My seated shooting has improved considerably since 2010.

It took another 8 months before we bought my first rifle; a used left-handed .223 Remington 700 in an HS Precision stock. Tim put a spare scope on it, took me to the range, talked me through getting a zero (which really means he did the work and I tried to understand what he was talking about), and then ran me through a few drills to work on basics. After about 4 hours, he told me I was going to shoot the club’s monthly match the next morning. Say WHAT!?!?!

So, I’ve basically been in competitions since I started shooting. November 2009 was my first match and I think I finished in 5th or 6th place. However, all I had to do at that first match was point the rifle at the target and pull the trigger because Tim dialed the scope for me and told me what to do on every stage. It’s good to have a great coach like that when you’re learning something so new and completely outside of your comfort zone. Especially when all the information sort of sounds like it’s coming from Charlie Brown’s teacher!

So excited to be shooting my first match!
So excited to be shooting my first match!

At the next monthly match, all the same guys from the month before showed up to compete, but something weird happened. A couple of the guys I’d somehow beaten walked up to the line with their rifles and gear, saw me, and decided they just wanted to spot and help out instead of shoot. The month after that, those guys quit showing up. Thankfully a majority of the guys in the club weren’t scared of being beat by a woman once in a while and they’ve become my own little dysfunctional extended family. They used to watch their language and sarcasm around me too. That totally doesn’t happen anymore!

Noob!
Noob!

The tactical precision rifle sport has grown tremendously in the last few years. Much like other shooting sports and firearms in general, it’s grown where ladies are concerned. When I started shooting there were only a handful of women actively competing, and I was one of two who consistently shot national level events rather than just local club level matches. Now there are somewhere around 25 ladies shooting on national level circuits including the Precision Rifle Series.

Match directors won’t always recognize a top female at their event but our numbers haven’t exactly supported having a specific award just for us… yet. Personally, I don’t really care about a top female award. Don’t get me wrong; I’ll take the High/Top Lady awards any chance I get, but that ain’t my goal. I want another top five, or even better: a 1st place trophy! Perhaps I haven’t noticed a difference because other competitors and match staff have always treated me like I’m one of them: a competitor. I can’t remember a single time when anyone at a match treated me differently than they treated each other. So what’s it like being a female in a predominately male sport? My answer is this: it’s not any different than I suppose it would be for a guy.

A Break from the Big Guns

As we all have to start somewhere, I’ve decided to kick this blog off with talk of a match. Shocking, I know. Eventually I’ll get into some of the back-story of how I ended up becoming interested in tactical precision rifle shooting. I might even discuss a bit about what I do to practice/train before matches. I’ll definitely talk about food though because I have a short attention span and like to eat.

Yesterday our club, AZ Long Range Precision Rifle Shooters (AZ LRPRS),  tried something a little different. We invited our club members to meet us at the range for a precision rifle match with a twist. We had stages that were very similar to what we normally do with centerfire rifles, so what was the twist? We asked everyone to bring their .22’s. There were targets set from 25 yards to 300 yards.

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I’d be the first to admit that the allure of shooting a .22LR was lost on me a while back. I had a used, not-nearly-as-accurate-as-it-should-be rifle so I struggled with making impacts. If I’m struggling, then I’m just not having as much fun as I should. All of that changed when my husband bought me a left-handed CZ452 American. Oh, how I love this rifle! I replaced the stock with a Manners Composite T4CZ so it would mirror my other rifles. I have a couple of modifications I’ll make in the future to the stock. My competition stocks are T4A’s and have all had the palm swell built out about an inch for a more comfortable trigger pull. I still need to do that to my .22 stock as well as add some flush cups so I can practice using my sling.

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I mounted a Vortex Optics Razor Gen II 4.5-27x scope on top and headed to the range to get it sighted in at 25 yards. I was able to focus on targets down to ¼” in size with zero issues. In fact, I had the rifle zeroed in 3 shots! There were a few jokes about my going overboard with a high power optic on a .22LR… right up until a gentleman showed up with a fixed 36x scope! To be completely honest, I left the magnification at 15x for a majority of the stages. The EBR-2C reticle made it ridiculously easy to utilize holdovers on a stage that required impacts at 100 yards, 200 yards, and 300 yards. My DOPE (data on previous engagement) was .8 mils (milliradian), 6.0 mils, and 11.7 mils. When I tried to dial I felt like one of those folks who still uses an MOA scope in this game! I ended up deciding to dial for the middle target and hold under the target at 100 yards and hold over the target at 300 yards.

Each stage gave the shooter 3 opportunities to shoot for score. Most folks don’t shoot their .22LR’s out to 300 yards, so the first run seemed to be where everyone was gathering their come-up’s. The best of the 3 runs was kept for the shooters overall total. So with 8 stages, the high score would be 80 points.

This match was obviously much more low-key than our normal centerfire precision rifle matches. We’re hoping to have more of these style matches so our regular club members will have the chance to bring their kids and spouses out to play. With half of the stages being prone, and half more along the lines of what we usually do (barricades, rooftops, shooting off rails), it was a great primer for new folks without the associated cost of a centerfire match.

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I had so much fun shooting that match yesterday! After the match was over, a few of us decided to challenge each other on the 300 yard target. One of the guys went 5 for 5 standing offhand! I was happy to hit that target 10 out of 10 prone prior to his display of positional prowess. So, not to be completely outdone, I went 5 for 5 kneeling at the same target.

I finished the match in 4th place with 74 points in case you were curious. Perhaps I’ll head to the range today to enjoy the beautiful weather… Sounds like a lot more fun that loading ammo!

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