‘Run-And-Gun’ Shooting Sport Surges In Pennsylvania
You yank up your suspenders and come out firing.
Phill Groff, a Manheim Borough policeman, went through that scenario in a simulated handgun shooting match in New York state, firing his Glock 9mm pistol on the move at cardboard targets the shape of a torso.
Welcome to the surging world of defensive pistol shooting.
Also known as action or practical shooting – or “run and gun’’ to be catchy – the competitive sport blends speed and accuracy for shooters who test their skills while moving.
Though it has several branches and can involve a range of weapons including shotguns and rifles, action shooting generally involves testing the skills of shooting pistols or revolvers for selfdefense.
It’s a far cry from the early days of the sport back in the 1950s when the nation’s fascination with Westerns spawned quick-draw “leather slap’’ competitions. Nor is it about standing and taking your time to shoot at stationary bull’s-eyes.
Now, today’s real-world, scenario-based competitions test defense-based shooting skills and equipment.
“The courses are limited only by imagination,’’ notes Groff, captain of the Lancaster based Team Direct Action Tactical.
Groff, 33, and his 11 teammates have fired from swinging bridges, through pickup truck windows, from simulated moving elevators or a subway car with closing doors. All the while, they have to draw from a holster – or perhaps retrieve a handgun from a briefcase – reloading and firing at small targets that may or may not be moving.
“It’s a lot more of a mental game than a physical game,’’ says Groff.
“When you can negotiate a course of fire safely with high speed and subconscious movements, the rush can’t be described,’’ says fellow team Mike Alexander, 46, a high school multi-sport athlete from Chester County.
“You have to be on the ‘edge’ to be good – I guess like a fighter pilot must fly his plane on the edge to get maximum performance.’’
The International Defensive Pistol Association requires the use of handguns truly suitable for self-defense use.
Naturally, it’s popular with law enforcement and military types, but the background of many practitioners is all over the map. It’s billed as a safe, even family, sport.
For example, Team DAT includes a deputy coroner, a carpenter, an information technology specialist, a pharmaceutical equipment salesman, an engineer and two computer programmers.
“The truth of the matter is, it’s a blast,’’ says Groff.
The team was formed by Direct Action Tactical Consultants LLC, a 3-year-old company that offers firearms and self-defense training. The company opened a new 6,800-square-foot training center at Granite Run Corporate Center in September.
It provides mobile firearms training to law enforcement, the military and civilians. It’s self-defense training includes Krav Maga, women’s self defense and fitness/ combative programs.
The shooting team was formed as a marketing tool. As such, they are earning their money with plenty of recognition.
At the recent IDPA Pennsylvania championship competition in the Poconos, which drew 150 shooters from the northeastern U.S., Groff became the state champion in the stock service pistol division. He also recorded the best score among law enforcement shooters.
Josh Lentz was the stock service revolver state champion. Mike Alexander of Valley Forge won first in custom defensive pistol as well as best industry score. Scott Shalter of Lower Providence, Montgomery County, took second in custom defensive pistol and was also high senior shooter. Ken Ortbach was first in stock services revolver. Jon Unruh won first in enhanced service pistol.
“We’ve been doing well and having a good time,’’ says Groff, who teaches firearms and defense tactics at DAT. He got interested in shooting in the Marines, where he was on an anti-terrorism unit. He also trains and serves on Lancaster County’s Special Emergency Response Team.
On top of that team tour de force, Cindy Bowser of York County, one of two women on the team, is the fourth-ranked female shooter in the nation in IDPA.
A 49-year-old computer analyst, Bowser started shooting air rifles and shotguns with her older brothers when she was around 10. Later, as an adult, she was looking for something to occupy her when golf was not in season.
A dealer at a gun show told her about the sport. She looked up a local sanctioned gun club on a website, went to a practice night and has been hooked ever since. She’s now a certified safety officer in the sport.
She likes going head to head with other shooters and loves that shooting scenarios are constantly different.
“You might be shooting on the move, shooting at things that are moving while you’re moving, shooting around, under and over things,’’ she says. “You’re shooting for a low score – accuracy plus speed – and need to know when to go flat out and when to feather the throttle a bit. Your goal is an 8-inch circle that sometimes is very, very elusive.’’
Asked if all that shooting gives her more security as a woman, Bowser notes she also has taken multi-day defense classes.
“I have much more confidence in that than someone who purchases a firearm for self-defense and never puts some time and practice into using it safely.
“The most important thing is not to get yourself in a situation in the first place,’’ she stresses. “Awareness of your surroundings is key to personal safety.’’
The team has competed in matches in 16 states in this, its first year, and about six members are shooting in matches each weekend. In addition to IDPA, the team competes in matches run by the U.S. Practical Shooting Association.
Groff figures he shot about 22,000 rounds in 2009.