I was at the Michigan subgun match because I wanted to do something with my registered fullauto Uzi more interesting than “busting dirt” at the local gravel pit. A submachine gun competition sounded like the challenge I needed.
ALTHOUGH I WAS NEW to the sport, the sport itself is not new. Organized submachine gun competitions have been around since at least the 1980s. The events, while never as well known as other “run and gun” sports such as IPSC, have maintained a mix of die-hard supporters and new blood. The basic requirement is for a fullauto-capable gun that ﬁres a pistol-caliber cartridge.
The longest continuously running SMG match in existence is the Knob Creek Range National Subgun Competition held in West Point, Ky., each April and October. The match is part of a larger event at the Knob Creek Range that includes a machine gun shoot, huge gun show, and other competitions. Shooters from all over the country compete in what has become the defacto national title match for subgun shooters.
The KCR match has evolved over the years: The early match format featured a single long stage where shooters moved along a predesignated path while engaging targets along the way. Over time the match changed to a more efficient multistage format that allowed match directors to work in different challenges, while also being quicker to reset. The original format still survives as the “Jungle Walk” side match.
The match has also changed to keep up with technology. The advent of “slow ﬁre” kits for the MAC series of SMGs offered advantages to seasoned shooters and also made it easier for new shooters to get into the game by making those less expensive guns competitive. These changes are reﬂected by alterations in course design, rules, and how guns are classiﬁed for the match.
THE MATCH FORMAT will seem familiar to anyone who has shot in an IPSC or 3-gun competition. Most matches are multistage with three to ﬁve shooting positions in each stage. The targets are a mix of steel, other reactive targets such as bowling pins, and paper targets. Obstacles, barricades, and “no shoot” targets are used to round out the course. The round count can be as low as 150 rounds for a good shooter, and up to over 500 rounds for those of us who miss a lot.
One difference is that most matches require that the gun be ﬁred only in full-auto mode for the whole match. This rewards those shooters with good trigger manipulation skills who can ﬁre short bursts or even single shots on demand. Although this is the best way to shoot most targets, the shooter might be instructed that certain target arrays can only be shot with a single long burst. This beneﬁts those who are also good at keeping the gun on target while ﬁring a long burst or even a full mag dump.
Scoring is based on the shooter’s time and modiﬁed by penalties for things such as missed targets, insufficient hits on paper targets, lower scoring hits on paper targets, and hits on “no shoot” targets.
Many matches feature scenarios or an overriding theme. One scenario at a recent KCR match required competitors to try to rescue a downed pilot in enemy territory and included a stage with a large helicopter mock-up as a shooting position.
At the KCR match, guns are divided into classes based on their method of operation and sighting system. The classes are Open Bolt/Iron Sights for guns like the Uzi or MAC with stock sights, Open Bolt/Optics for those same guns if they mount any type of optical sight, Closed Bolt/Iron Sights for guns like the MP-5 or 9mm M-16 and Closed Bolt/Optics, for those guns when they mount optics.
Other matches may use an older system that divides guns up by date of design (pre- or post-1945), open or closed bolt, sight system (irons or optics), or rate of fire (below or above 900 rounds per minute) or they may use a different classification system altogether.
Safety is paramount at all matches. Any shooter who has an accidental discharge or breaks the 180-degree rule, pointing the barrel in an unsafe direction, is immediately disqualiﬁed. One special rule commonly used is that shooters are not allowed to backtrack once they have moved even a single step forward. This is to reduce the chance of a shooter tripping while holding a loaded full-auto ﬁrearm.
THE BEST WAY TO GET STARTED with subgun matches is to enter a competition like the Jungle Walk side match at Knob Creek. This is because the range will actually rent you a submachine gun for the match. For only $40 you get a Uzi or 9mm M-16 and 50 rounds of ammo. You then get to take a nice walk in the woods while looking for 18 swinging steel targets that are usually rusty and hard to spot. A range officer follows you the whole time and once you’ve completed the course he’ll help you safe the gun, tell you how many targets you hit and your time. The winner each day is the shooter who hit the most targets (usually all 18) in the fastest time.
Aside from the Jungle Walk, or a really good friend who will loan you his gun, the other way to get started in submachine competition is to jump in with both feet and buy your own gun.
While all the details of how to legally buy a submachine gun are beyond the scope of this article, machine gun ownership is legal in most states, and the required ATF paperwork and procedures are really not that difficult to complete.
The bad news is that the guns aren’t cheap. That is because private citizens can only own those machine guns that were manufactured and registered with the ATF before May 19, 1986. Since this limits the available supply, the law of supply and demand has kicked in over the past 30-plus years, and prices have steadily risen in that time.
Although the initial expense may shock you, an entry level but still competitive SMG can be obtained for just a bit more than what it would take to purchase a complete three-gun setup. By the time you add up the costs of a quality AR, optics, an auto-loading shotgun, a handgun, slings, mag pouches, and other gear, you aren’t that far off from the price of a MAC series SMG and a slow ﬁre conversion kit.
Of course, if you have the cash, other guns such as the Uzi, MP-5, Sterling, Thompson, etc., are out there and are suitable for competition. Aside from the gun, all you really need are extra magazines, mag pouches, and lots and lots of ammo! ASJ
Editor’s note: The author wants to thank Paul Winters and Todd L. for their help with this article.
The innovative LCR design has been a hit with shooters since the original Ruger LCR .38 Special +P was released in 2009. That design was optimized for concealed carry with a ﬁve-round cylinder, 1.875-inch barrel and hammerless, double-action-only trigger. Since that time Ruger (ruger.com) has expanded the line by chambering the gun in new calibers and adding new features. The LCRx model added single-action capability by introducing an exposed hammer to the available options but retained the short barrel length.
In late 2014 Ruger released the LCRx with a 3-inch barrel. This variant is again chambered in .38 Special +P with an exposed hammer that allows both double-action and single-action activation. The 3-inch tube has a full-length rib and fulllength underlug. The black rear sight is adjustable for both elevation and windage. The serrated front sight features a white square to aid in sight acquisition. The sight is pinned to the barrel and can be easily removed and replaced with one of the other front sight options available from Ruger. The package is completed with the installation of a full-size Hogue Tamer grip in place of the shorter grips on the previous models.
The rest of the gun follows the general LCR pattern: The two main structural components are the aerospace-grade aluminum frame mated to a polymer ﬁre control housing. The lock work includes a patented friction-reducing cam that eliminates stacking and reduces the perceived trigger weight. The stainless-steel cylinder is heavily ﬂuted for weight savings with a durable black Ionbond Diamondblack ﬁnish. The push-button cylinder release is in the normal Ruger location on the left side of the frame behind the cylinder.
THE BARREL UTILIZES a stainless-steel liner and aluminum shroud with a polished muzzle. The ejector rod is the same length as on the 2-inch barreled models. The one-piece grip ﬁts onto a shorter grip peg molded as part of the ﬁre control housing. The grip can be removed and replaced by unscrewing a single screw in the butt.
The ﬁrst thing I noticed about my review model was the size. While the LCR heritage is evident, this is no pocket gun. The extra inch of barrel, full-length rib, and larger sized Hogue grip add enough to the physical envelope to push it into the small side of the medium-frame revolver category.
The 3-inch barrel increased the overall length to 7.5 inches, while the full-length rib and larger Hogue grip make it taller at 5.8 inches. The LCRx 3-inch weighs 15.7 ounces. For comparison, the standard 2-inch-barreled .38 Special LCR is 6.5 inches long, 4.5 inches high, and weighs 13.5 ounces.
I had my gunsmith measure the trigger pull with a Lyman digital gauge when I picked up the revolver. This revealed a pull weight of 11.5 pounds for double-action and 7.0 pounds for single-action.
I tested the gun with a variety of .38 Special loads provided by Hornady Ammunition. This included their Critical Defense Lite 90-grain FTX load, their Critical Defense 110-grain FTX standard and +P loads, their 125-grain XTP load, and their 158-grain XTP load.
I warmed up by shooting a few rounds at a plate rack at 15 yards to give me a general feel for the double-action and single-action trigger pulls. I then ﬁred for groups at 25 yards while seated at a table with my hands resting on the LCR’s zipper bag for padding. All ﬁring here was single-action.
The best group, measured from the furthest distances of the holes, was almost exactly 2½ inches.
Interestingly, it was almost exactly the same when measured from the top- to bottom-most holes as when measured from the furthest left to the furthest right. This was the standard-pressure 158-grain FTX load.
The second best group was from the Critical Defense 110-grain standard-pressure load that printed at just over 3 inches, from furthest edge to furthest edge, with pronounced left-to-right stringing.
Unfortunately, the deliberate single-action, slow-ﬁre shooting revealed a mechanical problem that I hadn’t noticed during the more casual ﬁring at the plate rack. The hammer was noticeably more difficult to cock on one of the chambers than the others. I later consulted with a gunsmith friend who said the likely cause was due to out-of-spec machining on the lobe of the star corresponding to that chamber. (I later cleaned the revolver and the problem was still there during dry ﬁre with the clean gun.) The one bad hammer pull made the precision testing more difficult. I only got the best two groups later in the test after I identiﬁed and compensated for the issue. At ﬁrst the heavier and grittier pull on that chamber both threw off my concentration and also caused me to break my grip. This also made it impossible to determine if any particular load was more accurate in the gun. A typical “bad” group was 5 inches or so, often with one ﬂyer that messed up an otherwise good group.
IN EXCHANGE FOR THE LARGER size and weight over the ﬂagship LCR, you get a revolver that is easier and more fun to shoot. The grip is large and comfortable, the hammer is easily accessible for single-action cocking, and the longer sight radius and more visible sights help practical accuracy. The extra weight over the standard .38 Special version helps make the gun more pleasant to shoot as well. While the +P rounds had some noticeable sting, they weren’t bad, and the polymer trigger housing and generous grip soaked up the recoil of the standard-pressure rounds nicely.
The only disappointment in the design was that the gun retained the short 2-inch ejector rod of the parent models. While it’s understandable that Ruger wouldn’t want to spend the money on a dedicated 3-inch ejector rod for this model, having that full ejector rod stroke would have been a nice touch. Note that I didn’t have any problems with the shorter ejection stroke; I just prefer the longer ejector rod when possible.
The Ruger LCRx 3-inch would make an excellent choice for a lightweight trail gun, as a concealed carry gun in a belt holster, or as a home defense gun. As with most revolvers, the limited ammo capacity is an issue, but if you want a lightweight revolver that shots like a medium-frame gun, this is one to get. ASJ
Once you’ve scheduled the trip, let the new shooter know what to expect. Discuss how to dress for the range, and why they should avoid low-cut tops and open-toed shoes. The “hot brass dance” is never amusing to the one getting burned, and trying to clear trapped brass with a ﬁrearm in hand can be dangerous.
Review the standard safety rules ahead of time so they can process them in a calm, quiet environment. You’ll reinforce the rules later at the range. I prefer the NRA’s “Three Rules of Gun Safety” but “Cooper’s Four Rules” also work.
Explain the importance of using eye and ear protection at the range, and make sure you have enough of both on hand for everyone. Have the new shooters “double up” hearing protection by wearing foam earplugs underneath ear muﬀs. This will reduce anxiety caused by the noise of shooting.
It’s not enough to recite the rules. You have to go over how they work in context by explaining what a “safe direction” is at the range, how keeping the ﬁnger oﬀ the trigger helps prevent accidental discharges, when the gun should be loaded or unloaded on the line, and why these rules still apply even to “unloaded” guns.
You should also explain that “Cease ﬁre” means “Stop shooting now!” and review other range commands if you’re using a supervised range.
Remember that the students will model their behavior oﬀ of the example you set, so make sure to follow the best safety practices yourself.
WHILE SHOOTING CAN BE a fun social activity, it’s easy to be overwhelmed if you are overseeing too many new shooters. If you are teaching by yourself, try to limit the trip to one or two newbies, if possible. Even then, work with them one-on-one and have the person not shooting observe so they can be better prepared for their turn.
If you have a friend assisting, you should be able to handle additional new shooters if you split them between you. Remember you are there for them, not for your own shooting practice, so focus on giving them the best possible range experience.
Also, whenever possible, split up relationship-paired couples among diﬀerent mentors so each half of the couple focuses on what they are doing instead of trying to “help” the other.
A ﬁrst trip to the range isn’t the same as a full NRA Basic Pistol class. Keep your instruction focused speciﬁcally on what they need to know to safely handle and shoot the ﬁrearm and hit the target. Leave the more technical stuﬀ for later. Draw them a diagram of a sight picture and make sure they understand how the drawing corresponds to the front and rear sights on the ﬁrearm.
HAVE THEM PRACTICE HOLDING and dry ﬁring the unloaded gun, and correct any problems with their grip or stance. Enforce the “trigger oﬀ the ﬁnger until the sights are on target” rule with dryﬁre so they’ll get in the habit. Avoid using the term “trigger squeeze” as it can cause new shooters to tighten their entire grip as they ﬁre. Instead, explain that their grip should be ﬁrm and consistent the whole time, and that the trigger should be pulled
straight to the rear in a deliberate, smooth motion.
Since you’ll likely need to recock the ﬁrearm to reset the trigger during dry-ﬁre, make sure they understand that once the gun is loaded it will automatically reload and recock itself when they shoot for real. (This is obviously not the case for manually operated ﬁrearms such as bolt- or lever-action riﬂes).
The best ﬁrearm for new shooters is a .22LR, bar none. Whether it’s a riﬂe or pistol, the low recoil and relatively quiet report of the rimﬁre make it ideal as a ﬁrst-time gun. If you don’t have a .22LR available, go for the lowest recoiling ﬁrearm you do have. For handguns, a full-size gun ﬁring standard-pressure 9mm or .38 Special loads should be easy enough to manage. For riﬂes, a pistolcaliber carbine or a .223 AR are good choices. This goes double for ARs with adjustable stocks that can be resized for smaller statured shooters.
For aerial shotgun shooting use loads appropriate for the sport. If you are shooting stationary targets, use light loads or reduced recoil “tactical” loads. Whatever you do,
avoid the temptation to have a laugh at someone’s expense by giving them “too much gun.” It’s not fair to the new shooter, can turn them oﬀ the sport, and is actually unsafe.
The best targets are those that react to the hits. Nothing is more fun for new shooters than watching their targets explode, fall down, or spin around. Plate racks or portable swinging or spinning targets are good choices. Just make sure to keep to minimum safe distances when shooting steel.
You can also improvise with cans, plastic cups ﬁlled with water, clay birds set up down range, or anything else that is safe and doesn’t violate range rules. Even if you are limited to paper targets, many ranges will still allow you to tape small balloons to the targets or use the brightly colored Shoot-N-C targets.
TEACHING KIDS TO SHOOT has its own challenges and rewards. Some kids learn best from their parents, while others pay better attention to unrelated adults. If nothing else, a parent should always be present whenever a child is shooting. Make sure the ﬁrearms are suitable for the physical size of the child. I prefer using bolt-action or lever-action riﬂes over semiautos when working with kids so the shooter has to manually work the action to load the next round. Pay particular attention to their energy level, as their attention and safety consciousness can start to slip as they get tired. While it’s important to stay positive with any new shooter, that goes double for kids. Start and end critiques with positive statements and focus on the fun.
Now that you’ve learned some tips on taking new shooters to the range there is no better time to do so than right now. The NRA Mentor Program oﬀers additional resources to help you promote the shooting sports by taking new shooters to the program. Whether you are a NRA member or not, you can help grow our sport by mentoring a new shooter.
For more information about the program, visit nrapublications.org/mentor. ASJ