In 2015 the Airsoft Surgeon Championship moved to a huge indoor venue and, once again, Nige was there throughout the event. This is his report from Airsoft Action.
3rd Airsoft Surgeon European Championship
Who would have thought that a simple conversation at IWA a few years ago, would lead to the creation of the biggest practical shooting tournament in Europe? It was my first trip to the annual extravaganza that is “IWA OutdoorClassics – the world-leading fair for hunting guns and outdoor equipment” and, if this is the first time you’ve ever heard of it, you may well be thinking “What was Nige doing there?”
IWA (as it is known) has become one of the biggest and best showcases for airsoft in the World, not even the SHOT Show in Las Vegas boasts as many airsoft exhibitors and it was there that Airsoft Surgeon, Clarence Lai and I got into a conversation about practical shooting. I had been introduced to Clarence at the previous year’s Airsoft Arms Fair at The Grange and where he was conducting a series of (sold out) training sessions. The following day The Grange was hosting an AIPSC (Airsoft International Practical Shooting Confederation) event and Clarence did a couple of demo runs. I had seen Mark Hurding shoot IPAS at The East Barnet Shooting Club but this was pretty much the first time I had seen practical shooting in action and I have to say that I was very, very impressed (actually, the truth is that I was completely stunned by the combination of speed and accuracy on display). When I met Clarence on the RedWolf Airsoft stand at IWA the following March, we got talking about the possibility of holding an airsoft practical pistol championship in the UK and maybe, if enough shooters were interested, making it a European-wide event.
That was in March 2013 and the 1st Airsoft Surgeon European Practical Airsoft Shooting Championship took place in October of the same year, hosted by The Grange and followed in 2014 with an equally successful, 2nd event. The only down-side was the weather, which seemed hell-bent on causing problems with wind or rain – and sometimes both together! So for 2015 a new location was sought and, after a couple of others were rejected, one was found not much more than a bb’s trajectory away from RedWolf Airsoft’s UK HQ – StrikeForce CQB in Gloucester. (If you are into CQB and have not yet tried StrikeForce, you should… You really, really should!)
StrikeForce CQB is a massive 52,000 square feet (bar a few pillars) that has been turned into a labyrinth of rooms, corridors, dark areas and open spaces by Paul Bibby and the guys from Swindon Airsoft. With a concrete floor, glass-panelled roof and lack of wind or rain, it also makes an ideal location for practical shooting and provided Clarence with the opportunity to design Courses of Fire (or “stages”) without having to worry about poppers being blown over, or paper targets becoming water-logged – and it was an opportunity he took full advantage of!
I wandered in on the Tuesday before the event to see if I could grab a preview of what was in store and was impressed by the size of some of the stages and although there was no “Wheel of Death” and fewer swinging targets, there was more than enough complexity to challenge even the best shooters.
I have written about IPSC before but just for the sake of completeness and for any new readers, or those of you simply wondering what “Practical Shooting” is, it is a discipline that tests your ability to shoot both rapidly and accurately with a handgun, rifle or shotgun with roots back to “quick draw” competitions in the USA, where contestants would emulate “wild west” gunslingers. This lead to the formation of the International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) in 1984 and since then it has grown into (what many believe it to be) the fastest-growing international target shooting discipline.
The 1997 Firearms (Amendment)(N0.2) Act banned the private ownership of pistols in the UK and effectively destroyed a very active part of our shooting heritage – that of competitive pistol shooting. However, as the quality and range has improved, an ever-growing number of shooters are using airsoft pistols instead.
In competitions the majority of targets are normally IPSC-type “Action Air Targets”, with three scoring zones (A, C and D) surrounded by a 3mm wide non-scoring zone. Other targets may include metal “Poppers”, which fall backwards when shot, or more complex targets that require shooter interaction to open doors, release swinging targets or even (as in a recent match) a “rollercoaster car” in which the shooter was sitting! There are also “No-Shoot” targets which must be avoided and attract penalties if hit. Scoring is fairly simple to explain but takes a computer to work out, so I’ll try to keep it simple…
The time it takes a shooter to complete a stage is recorded by a timer which signals the start and detects the sound of the shooter’s shots, with the final shot being the recorded time for the stage. The points gained by hitting the targets are counted and any penalties (yes, there are those too) are subtracted. The points total is then divided by the time to give each shooter a “Hit Factor” for that stage. The shooter with the highest Hit Factor wins the stage and is awarded the full Stage Points applicable. The rest of the shooters are awarded points according to their own Hit Factor compared to the winner. (Did I say it was “fairly simple” to explain??? Maybe not!) Anyway, once each stage has been calculated for every shooter, the individual scores are totalled and the shooter with most points wins… simple!
Shooters can choose which “Division” they wish to contest:
In “Open Division”, apart from a relaxed limit on the amount of rounds per magazine, pretty much anything else can be added to the gun, including sights, compensators, suppressors etc. These are the “Race Guns”, fully tricked up, looking awesome and with the ability to knock a large hole in your Bank balance.
In “Standard Division” the guns are much more controlled, in that they must conform to certain size constraints, cannot have sights and other additions, have restricted magazine capacity and must be holstered completely behind the hip line.
The third of the main Divisions is “Classic” and, as it sounds, this division is purely for guns based on a classic design, namely the 1911. With constraints on size, 10-round, single stack magazines and modifications prohibited this is the smallest division but also one that tests the shooter’s skill to the limit.
All of these Divisions were contested at this year’s Euro Championship, plus Ladies, Juniors and to bring the Championship in line with “real steel” events, two additional categories were added; “Senior” (for shooters aged over 50) and “Super Senior” (for those over 60).
Last year’s Championship attracted just over 80 shooters and this was well exceeded by the 104 who arrived at StrikeForce. I had previously asked Chris Kong of RedWolf what he hoped the attendance would be and he’d answered that he would be delighted with 100, so he had a big smile on his face as he stood up to do the introductions before the event kicked off. The Airsoft Surgeon and Chris Pun from RedWolf Hong Kong had arrived earlier in the week and with just a few left to arrive, by 11 o’clock the place was buzzing to the sound of old friends catching up, new friends being made and the general hubbub of chatter (and probably a small amount of excitement and nervousness).
Clarence got a huge round of applause but before he officially opened the event he asked for a minute’s silence in memory of Malcolm Dowding, who died earlier this year. Malcolm was a much-loved and well-respected shooter and Range Officer and I am certain his family and many friends will appreciate the gesture – and the fact that a Stage will be dedicated to his memory in every Championship from now on. You could have heard a pin drop but then it was down to business as Clarence and Chris gave an overview of the weekend. With the introductions over, shooters went through their final preparations and readied themselves for the 16 stages of competition they would be facing over the next two days.
As StrikeForce is so large, all the stages had been arranged either side of a “corridor” down the centre of the building, pointing towards the outside wall, meaning both shooters and spectators could move freely between the stages in safety. It also meant the chances of “shoot through” from another stage (where shots from one stage carry through to a different one) were largely mitigated. The stage was set for a cracking weekend’s shooting and it wasn’t long before the first scores were coming in, along with the first Disqualifications (or “DQ” as they are known).
In AIPSC there are essentially two types of penalty; “Procedural” and “Disqualification”. A Procedural penalty will gain the shooter minus points, while a Disqualification does exactly what it says, it disqualifies the shooter from the match. However, that doesn’t always they cannot continue to shoot and (on appeal) the competitor might be allowed to finish the match (depending on the severity of the penalty offence committed) but will score zero points. DQ penalties are all about safety and include obvious breaches such as accidental discharge, unsafe gun handling and unsportsmanlike conduct. Under “unsafe gun handling” are penalties for dropping a gun, pointing the muzzle uprange (or at any part at any part of their own body), or keeping the finger outside the trigger guard whilst moving – and it was this that seemed to be causing some new (AIPSC) shooters one or two problems.
In AIPSC the Range Officer must be able to clearly see that the trigger finger is outside of the trigger guard and most shooters will have trained themselves to “point” their finger away from the gun as they move. Now this might look odd but remember, the rules come from the world of real-steel shooting, where a negligent discharge could result in something far more serious than a bb-strike! Unfortunately, on the first day there were a number of competitors who simply did not make it clear enough that they had their finger off the trigger and were, therefore, disqualified.
This seemed to cause some consternation amongst some of the more experienced shooters, who were of the opinion that the rules should not have been so rigorously applied and that (obviously) new shooters should “educated” rather than penalised, especially if they are to be encouraged to continue shooting AIPSC. However, the counter-point was that the rules are there for a reason and all shooters have to follow them, regardless of their level of experience and, in any event, who would decide if a shooter is “experienced enough to know better”. To be fair, I can see both sides of the argument and maybe a simple solution would be for shooters to be reminded of the DQ penalties as part of each stage briefing? By the end of the weekend a total of sixteen shooters had fallen foul of a DQ offence.
StrikeForce is very close to Gloucester town centre and most shooters were staying in hotels close to the venue, which meant everyone was up and raring to go in plenty of time on Saturday and Sunday. This, coupled with the fact that neither wind nor rain had affected the event, meant that by Sunday lunchtime the majority of shooters had completed all sixteen courses and as the last squads finished, the final scores were already being feverishly worked out (I swear you could almost see sweat on the poor little laptop tasked with the job).
With the tempo winding down and shooters starting to relax, there was time for a raffle with prizes sponsored by Double Alpha and an extraordinary array of Airsoft Surgeon pistols, including gold-coloured 1911s and cerakoted Glocks – all of which were received with big smiles and a lot of “man hugs”! Then it was down the serious business of who the winners were, so I’ll hand over to Chris Kong of RedWolf Airsoft to announce the results and do the final “thank-yous”…