“What are the signs of heat stroke, again? ” “At what temperature does your brain stop working?” “Where the heck is the windmill – I thought they said I should be able to see it from here . . .” These were some of the many thoughts slogging through my head by the last mile of the ninth annual Pecos Run N’ Gun in the Sun. Rather than the typical skis and winter wear accompanying participants in most biathlons, competitors dragged weapons and gear foot by plodding foot through the West Texas Desert – in August. Home of dung beetles, snakes, black widows, and the occasional mean-spirited bull, hospitality in the locale is at a bare minimum. Need water, food, or shelter? Better have brought it with you. If knee-high shrubs or fine caliche sand are what you’re after, however, this is the place for you. The Pecos Run N’ Gun promises that you will hate your life for at least 6.4 miles, the length of the event.
The sun had yet to show its face as we pulled into the Flying J Truck Stop at 0615 hours. The AZ crew consisting of Ed, Eugene, and I were barely awake thanks to the two hour time difference. Fortunately, the Pecos crowd wasn’t hard to find thanks to the large gathering of males, drab clothing, and trucks. After a quick explanation of where we were going – Nowhere, TX – we piled back in the vehicles and convoyed out in a scene reminiscent of any Operation Enduring Freedom war flick.
Driving on roads that made you question why anyone would bother paving them quickly gave way to the feeling that whoever did end up putting down the asphalt died years ago. After dodging the plethora of pot holes - though “pot hole” is too kind of a description - we made it onto a dirt back road that clearly was being held together strictly by gravity. The convoy raised so much dust that it was hard to see 10 ft, much less the vehicle in front of you. The sun attempting to pierce the plume only added to the difficulty. We eventually made it to the staging area, once again signaled by lots of trucks, unfashionable clothing, and a line of dudes pissing into what bushes they could find since the Flying J restroom had been closed earlier. I got my first “boots on ground” as I ran out to join them.
The safety brief commenced shortly after, followed by a description of the course of fire. Immediately obvious was just how different Run N’ Gun was from other shooting events when the descriptions of each stage included the words “somewhere over that hill” and “if you follow the pink markers into the distance there (pointing to a thin line of makeshift flags stretching out farther than the eye could see).” Everybody laughed, but no one thought it was funny.
Run order was determined by drawing from a full deck. Hearts ran first, followed by diamonds, while spades ran last. I was the unfortunate recipient of a 3 of spades while Ed ended up with an 8 of hearts and Eugene traded his way up to a hearts card as well. I won’t lie, I was envious. The earlier run time translated into cooler temps as the sun hadn’t got a chance to completely bake the earth yet. Oh well, fair is fair and I didn’t complain too much.
The first runner left the line around 0845 while the rest of us triple-checked our gear and found shade to wait our turn. A new participant was sent out every 10 minutes. Ed and Eugene ended up being the 7th and 8th runners, respectively, which left me to twiddle my thumbs and drink water in an attempt to at least start the run hydrated. I joked with them before they ran that I would still be waiting here when they crossed the finish line.
I wandered around for a bit, threw rocks, and took pictures of dung beetles to bide the time. The first participant crossed the line with an 1hr 35 minutes on the clock. That’s moving pretty good when you consider he was carrying his water, ammo, pack, weapon, and mags while stopping to shoot at five stations along the way. In my mind, that became the time to beat.
The first AZ runners showed up about an hour later. I was still there to greet them and take a few pics of stage five and the final foot to the finish line. While happy to see them finish, tired but in good spirits, I was ready to get moving.
At 1242 hours, with the temperature now over 100 F, I finally left the line, carrying a 16” AR-15 topped with a Trijicon TR24g, a Tactical Assault Gear "Rampage" plate carrier with SAPI plates, 6L of fluids (3L Gatorade, 3L water), IFAK, cleaning rod, 150 rds of 5.56, 39 rds of .45, along with a Springfield Armory XD-45C in a Safariland 6004 dropleg.
The run began with a false sense of hope as I trotted down the slope into a wash about 250m wide. Crossing the plain of grass clumps I kept an ear out for rattlesnakes. Probably wouldn’t have been able to see one, but at least I could stop and assess. Reaching the other side, a 30 degree slope met me but it was only 50m or so to get up on top.
Things weren’t so bad. As I jogged through the desert on a gentle upslope, the one advantage of going later in the day became evident. While the land was fairly open, there were clumps of waist-high vegetation to navigate. Rather than having to search for a way through, I was able to follow the footpaths of earlier participants and avoid most of the larger bushes. Around the one mile mark, I started to get tired, quick. The three other people I encountered on their way back from stage one solidified just how much longer I had to go. Ughh. Finally getting to the crest of a small hill, I spotted stage 1 at my 11, 200m away.
The runner sent out ten minutes before me had just arrived at the stage, so I got put on standby while he shot. I gladly complied and started my watch to track my wait time (which would be deducted from my final run time).
Stage 1 consisted of 2 plates (12”x18” as all plates in the match) at 250m or so, though I suspect it was closer. Each plate had to be hit once before moving to the next position. A total of four positions must be occupied, each one about 10m closer to the target. You shot until you hit the targets and had one mandatory reload.
This ended up being more difficult than I thought. The brush was too high to use prone so I used one knee for support to fire from a high kneeling position. I missed more than I should of, but made decent time, well underneath the four minute limit.
There was a sinking feeling in my stomach when the RO said, “good job, head back the way you came and branch off to stage 2 when you reach the ravine.” Shoot, it was a long ways to stage 1 and I didn’t particularly feel like running back.
“Man it’s hot.” The gear was starting to get to me. The plate carrier breathed much better than an interceptor vest with plates, but the plates still retained most of the heat radiating from me. Sucking down water and powerade in earnest now, I slowed down my run and started to trot. I knew where stage 2 was, but had to follow the flags back to get to the intercept. I passed one gentleman who encouraged me on and then two others heading to stage one. Felt good to know I had one station under my belt.
Reaching the ravine bottom, I started to walk. Realizing that I was starting to overheat, I needed to reduce my exertion - I was going to finish this thing. Passing out before I was even half way through would be embarrassing. Running through the brush, I lost the foot trail and managed to run into a good size spider web. Eugene had just finished telling me not an hour earlier of a giant black widow hanging in a web around this area, so I naturally assumed I was screwed. Whatever arachnid lived there was apparently as freaked out as I was since I didn’t get bit or even see anything with 8 legs.
As I walked quickly up to wash edge towards stage 2, Ed was there to take pictures. Well, so much for getting pics of me running in the “Run N’ Gun”, but I wasn’t about to move any faster. Stage two wasn’t much farther.
I was a bit surprised as a younger girl took down my name to record my score. While I certainly appreciate her enthusiasm in volunteering, she just struck me as out of place at the time. Ten bucks says she’ll be running a gun here in a few years and probably be doing quite well if this is the crowd she hangs around. Anyhow, I had to first engage four popper targets at a range of 15 m. Easy, right? Should be, but it wasn’t until I missed a few times and started to think about fundamentals that they went down in rapid succession.
Per the RO’s instructions, I had staged my rifle on a mat directly in front of me. Slapping in a magazine, I pulled and released the charging handle, noticing that it caught a piece of my sling as it slid into battery. This wouldn’t have happened if I had the sling around my body where it belonged. I aimed, pulled the trigger, and . . . nothing. Going into my immediate action drills, I slapped the magazine and pulled on the charging handle, but the bolt wouldn’t release. Fun. Knowing that I had probably blown my chance for a good score on this stage, I collapsed the buttstock, removed the mag and mortared the crud out of the weapon. The round came out, I reinserted the mag, and shot at the single steel plate about 200 m out.
Proceeding down a dirt road, I begin to alternate between jogging to one marker and then walking the next. It’s amazing what the mind starts saying to you, but little goals like the next marker started to become important to me. Every piece of colored tape that I arrived at was a small accomplishment. More importantly, it kept me moving at a decent pace.
Somewhere about 2/3 of the way to stage 3, I couldn’t locate the next flag, which was absurd to me as I was on a dirt road. I could hear firing in the distance at about my 2 o’clock, so I started to veer towards it through the desert.
I hadn’t gone 100 ft. before I felt the all-too familiar sting of cholla cactus in my foot. I’m not sure how I found the single cholla in the area, but I did. Sucker was hidden by a bush. The porcupine-like ball of needles had gone through the side of my shoe and deep in the front left side of my right foot. Having grown up in Tucson, AZ, I was well trained in the art of cacti removal, so after a few seconds of grimacing and cursing under my breath, I was back on my way with minimal blood loss.
The pain must have cleared my head because I immediately saw the next marker on the road. I headed back to the now all-too-familiar pink-tape-on-a-stick, following the remaining flags through the desert to stage 3.
Two plates at 200m. Four barricades, hit each plate once from each position. Mandatory use of left-hand shooting position at second barricade; right-hand at the third position. Must make one magazine change during the course of fire. Easy instructions, right?
All I can say is I’m glad each barricade had the required shooting position scrawled in spraypaint across the back as my noggin’ was feeling a bit rusty. I was in my shooting groove by now, fortunately, and was scoring hits on most my shots. The barricades offered little in the way of support as all but the first was too short to see over the brush. I ended up shooting most shots standing and a few resting the rifle on the support poles of the barriers themselves. Just before my last shot, the RO reminded me about the mag change which certainly saved me some time. I was finally shooting adequately, which picked up my spirits a bit.
A pistol stage with 10 targets or so at 15 m greeted me. I had finally reached the point where I couldn’t stop sweat from draining into my eyes, which of course just made me tear up. Focusing on the front site was difficult, but trigger control won out. All but two shots hit their mark on the combination of poppers and round plates. I remember a time of 17 seconds. The RO mentioned that a lot of people hadn’t reloaded after stage 2 and ended up spending precious time slapping in a new mag to their pistols. Perhaps not a big deal for strict competition, keeping your weapon topped off was something drilled into my head back at the Academy. It paid off here. (Ed note: Congrats, you practice and lot and when crunch came, you were able to fall back to a high degree of practice)
Back on the road and finally heading back towards the start line, I strained to see the ramshackle barn and two windmills in the distance. “You can see them from all the way out there,” promised the land owner at the in-brief. Well, I didn’t see any windmills, but a long line of tape bushes preceded me along the road side.
And the markers went on . . . and on. . . and on. I caught up with two gents and gradually passed them. I think they had the right idea when they sat down on the roadside for a quick breather, but I was determined to keep moving for this entire event. I was feeling downright crappy now. Another competitor in front of me set the pace for awhile while I mustered up strength to resume my alternating run. It took awhile, though, and by that time I could finally see the promised windmills in the distance. Who knew windmills were a source of inspiration?
Name? Name? What’s your name?! The RO must have asked me 5 times before I responded, so befuddled was my jellied gray matter in its happiness to be almost finished. Looking back, it’s almost humorous to note my response to the RO asking for my name became slower at every station. I took progressively longer to recognize that they were asking me a question as the event progressed.
Laying prone, I carefully engaged each of the 5 targets, not even 10m apart from each other out at 300m. My 19 shots to score five hits felt like an eternity, but I actually ended up with just over a minute. I was convinced that at least three minutes had passed. Apparently I was running on adrenaline alone.
After Unloading and showing clear, I didn’t even bother stowing my rifle as I raced to the finish just a short distance away.
Of course I couldn’t just cross the line, ragged but victorious. Nope, I caught my rifle on my camelback nozzle, ripping it off and spilling what was left of my Gatorade all over rifle, gear, and pants. I was happy for the cooling.
I ended up with a run time of 1 hr, 30 minutes and some change. I was surprised to find out that I had the fastest run by a few minutes. That helped earn me 4th place out of 50 shooters, which I will happily take given the caliber of the competition there.
I hear a lot on internet forums, about the “need to be ready,” but rarely do I see people who even take the time to stay in shape, much less learn how to run a gun. I don’t pretend to be an SF ninja, but I’ve learned that there is a difference between learning how to shoot a firearm and learning how to fight with one. The formal range is a great place to start, but at some point the body has to be challenged along with the mind. Pecos Run N’ Gun gives you a great chance to see how you will fair when tired or exhausted.
Lastly, as a quick note to those considering going next year (I promise I'll stop writing after this), here are a few things you might find helpful:
- Bring enough fluids. I drank 4L over the run in 1.5 hours and still didn’t urinate until 2200 hours that night after lots of water.
- A 4x scope seemed to be sufficient for the shooting going on. No close rifle targets to worry about, but nothing past 400m, either.
- Half of the stages were covered in high brush which didn’t allow going prone. A shooting stick might have helped.
- Some competitors mentioned they were wearing footwear that only had a few hours on it. Seriously? Take care of your feet or you’ll pay for it.
- Wear a rig that allows a lot of air circulation. I don’t recommend a plate carrier.
- Make sure you have run with all your gear several times. I ran 2-3 miles several times before I got my gear setup so that it was functional and didn’t give me rub spots.
- Have a goal. Mine was to keep moving the entire time and finish in the top 1/3. It helps motivate when you are in the middle of nowhere between stages.
- Know your zero and hold overs. You can get by with experimentation, but why waste the time?
- And, finally: this guy, Smokey's younger brother, won second place wearing this:
As everyone will inevitably ask, here are a few highlights on the gear I used:
o Trijicon TR-24G – Kelly H. was kind enough to lend me this scope for the event. Zero complaints and only praise for this scope. I found the 1-4x to be ideal for the shooting distances involved in this event. The superb glass and 4x really brought the plates close but allowed a much wider FOV compared to a higher powered tube. The green triangle reticle was great at the ranges encountered. At 300m, the tip could be used in precise holdovers while closer ranger simple required you to put the huge triangle on the target and pull the trigger to get a hit. Most impressive about the reticle is the fact that from 0~200m I can use it more like a red dot, focusing on the target rather than the triangle. Not such a big deal when you're talking about steel target plates, but guys on the front lines will certainly be happy to focus on the enemy rather than a front sight. In the end Kelly didn't save me any money – I'm getting one. (Ed Note: This was mounted in a LaRue Tactical scope mount, the LT-104. The LT104 is an AWESOME 'return to zero' mount for folks thinking about using the Trijicon series of scopes. If you're going to buy great glass, get a great mount to go with it)
o Springfield XD-45C – I have over 10K rounds throught this guy as well as being my daily carry piece. While it didn't get particularly dirty as Pecos doesn't involve alot of crawling or rolling around, all my gear still managed to attract a layer of fine caliche sand. I'm glad I decided to run it dry for that reason, though I'm sure it would have ran fine either way. Nothing exciting to report here: it went bang every time I pulled the trigger. Good pistols that are right on par with the other top guns.
o TAG Rampage – Did I mention plate carriers are hot? Try full armor chassis (interceptor, etc.) and then come back and complain. While I overheated, I'm convinced exhaustion would have happened faster if I had simply duct-tape the plates on. The carrier does allow for some air movement but there will always be trade offs when you are talking about making a human being bullet resistant. I don't have a ton of experience with plate carriers but I'm convinced the rampage is no worse on the heating department than anything else out there.
Overall, I was happy to be wearing the Rampage. The design definitely minimizes bouncing, which reduces overall effort in both walking and running while preventing rub spots. If I can go 6.4 miles with just a t-shirt under my gear and develop no hot spots or rashes, I call that a good day. If you are looking for a solid platform to hold the rest of your basic fighting load the Rampage is definitely worth checking out.
Susan at Trijicon
Julie at Tactical Assault Gear
Mark, James and everyone else at LaRue Tactical
Written by 2LT Reid I.
Photo credits to AShooter and Ed O where applicable. All other information is the intellectual property and copyright of TTELLC.net and may not be reproduced by any means,known or unknown without prior written authorization.