Calling The Line

"Attention! Attention on the line! Your three minute preparation time begins ... NOW!"

And so begins another relay.

At the recent Desert Mid-Winter competition in Phoenix, I took turns with Tony Silva calling the line. The Conventional Pistol portion spanned three and a half days starting with a Service Pistol 900 and just under 80 shooters. We ran two relays with an individual 900 and then team, EIC (Leg Match) or DR (Distinguished Revolver) matches almost every day.

For competitors who shoot all events and compete in teams as well, that’s about 150 rounds, more or less, each day.

When not shooting, there’s plenty of time to talk shop, get some lunch and clean guns.

But for those running the match, it’s a different story.

As I discovered, when you “call the line”, you become the person everyone goes to for answers.

"When are the scores going to be posted?"
"The Men's room is out of toilet paper."
"Where can I get some good Thai food?"
"What time is 45 Team today?"

It behooves you, therefore, to not only have a copy of the match bulletin immediately at hand, but also to have a couple of runners who can be directed to take care of the unexpected requests.

The Desert Mid-Winter competition is known to be well-run and we try to make it, as least for the line-calling portion, as much like Camp Perry as we reasonably can. In a sense, we view the competition as a training ground for those who will be making their first trip to Perry five months later in July.

So, to make sure I was “calling it straight”, I reviewed the official rules and prepared a script. Hopefully it sounded very much like the one that will be used in the Nationals shortly after Independence Day.

But there are exceptions such as range alerts that need to be announced. Late last year, for example, a Mohave Rattlesnake was discovered underneath the firing line bench where Jason, a local shooter, was sitting. The snake was apparently a juvenile and, if you look it up, you’ll find out this is one of the most dangerous rattlesnakes there is.

So this year we included a “rattlesnake alert” in range announcements. (None were seen nor heard during Desert Mid-Winter, thank goodness.)

But Desert Mid-Winter isn’t Camp Perry. It’s smaller, more friendly, and because we don’t have the crush of competitors that Ohio will see, we can take a less hectic approach.

"Attention shooters. When we ask, 'Is the line ready?', raise your hand and holler if you are not. We will stop and give you the time needed. There's no hurry."

During one of the matches this year, for example, we had a gun that refused to function. We stopped to allow the shooter to change guns. Not having a spare, he was in a dilemma until his neighbor offered a spare. And while he was being briefed on how the sights were set, the Air Reserve gunsmith standing nearby took the disabled one to see if it could be repaired. Two targets later the original gun was back, repaired and ready to go back into competition. (Thank you, Dan!)

Calling the line also means keeping track of re-fires, when they are or are not allowed for a specific shooter within a match and how many total shots are to be scored (whether or not that many were actually fired). Of course, the individual shooters could also keep track of this but, in the interest of following the rules as closely as possible to be consistent with the Perry competition, the line caller takes on this responsibility.

"Shooters, if you have a malfunction and want an alibi, do not clear the malfunction. Instead, continue to hold your firearm with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and raise your hand. Someone will come and inspect your firearm and tell you what to do.

Range officers then assist by inspecting alibi claims before they are cleared, determining if the alibi is allowed or not. (For example, if the shooter forgets to click off the safety, no alibi is allowed.)

But above all, safety is the first and last concern.

Someone always checks the range to verify that it is clear.

"The range is clear. You may handle your firearms."

When someone shouts, “Not ready,” the line caller repeats it, tells everyone to keep their firearms pointed in a safe direction but to otherwise “Stand easy.” And then tells the shooter with a problem, “Take your time and solve the problem safely. Take as much time as you need.”

And before going downrange, there’s the well-known, “Let’s make the line safe. Magazines out. Cylinders open and empty. Slides back. Empty Chamber Indicators in place. Guns on the table.”

This year we added, “When your firearms are safe, step back from the table.” And then we watch and wait until everyone has moved back. (Sometimes it takes a reminder or two.)

Nonetheless, mishaps still happen.

Someone shot a hole in the firing line table but – good for them – they were following the safety rules and had the gun pointed in a safe direction, downrange. (Gary plugged and painted it and then did his normal job of refacing all targets before competition resumed the next morning. Thank you, Gary!)

And an early shot was fired, long before the Rapid Fire targets turned to face. Again, the gun was pointed in a safe direction so no damage was done.

Perhaps most alarming was a shot during a three minute preparation period.

"I thought I was dry-firing!"

Yes dear reader, you are absolutely right: That gun should not have been loaded!

But that’s the very case the safety rules are designed to handle. That’s why the rules are what they are. That is the kind of accident – some will say “negligent discharge” – that is most likely to happen. And because the shooter was otherwise following the rules and had his firearm pointed in a safe direction, no one was hurt.

Here are the NRA’s rules:

  1. ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction;
  2. ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot; and
  3. ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.

There’s a reason #1 is #1.

The line caller’s primary job, and that of every shooter on the line, is safety.

"Attention shooters. Anyone, I mean anyone, may call 'Cease Fire' at any time if there is an immediate danger."

I’ve been shooting Bullseye for several years in Phoenix and in various clubs around the US during my business and vacation travel. I’ve spoken with shooters who’ve been engaged in this sport for decades, and some who’ve been doing so for more than half a century and I’ve yet to hear of a single injury from a bullet*.

I hesitate to point it out lest I bring down a curse, but the fact remains that Bullseye, in spite of what the public might otherwise expect given the nature of what we do, is a remarkably safe sport.

"Shooters to the line. This will be the Timed Fire portion of the National Match Course, two strings of five rounds, twenty seconds per string.
"For your first string of Timed Fire, with five rounds ... Load!"

Note: I have witnessed injuries not from being shot but from a red dot that broke away from a 1911. It smacked the shooter’s forehead. And I have heard of hand injuries from explosions presumably from reloading issues such as a double-charge, or a normal round fired after a squib (which plugs the barrel).

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