Run Through The Jungle: Competing At The First Gun Maker’s Match
On the second weekend of June the Inaugural GFEN Makers Match commenced in St. Augustine Florida. Billed as “The first official shooting competition exclusively for individuals who make their own guns!” it’s purpose was to provide a place for enthusiasts to come together and test out their designs, as well as demonstrate a ‘practical’ purpose for printed guns beyond just the political statements made with them. I was lucky enough to experience this event in person, and recount my experiences leading up to and during the match.
Through my contacts within the underground art movement I was aware of the maker’s match at the start of this year and was able to secure a spot. As I myself dabble in the scene I registered to compete in February. On paper the details were hazy, and even seemed too good to be true. The sponsor list was full of big companies that to me seemed like they had neither the time nor the stomach to be associated with such a niche element of the shooting world. Appearances were going to be made by high profile names, some of which in my mind seemed too far removed from the specific discipline of printed guns to turn up at the match. The prize pool was enormous for an event that seemed to have just appeared out of the ether, well over $5,000 in prizes were up for grabs (in reality I estimate this figure was closer to $10,000). The cherry on top was the website, which looked like it was whipped up by a bored middle schooler playing with a website generator instead of doing his work. I was hesitant at first because I’d never heard of the event organizers other than my aforementioned artist buddies. Guns For Everyone National? That’s a suspiciously cheesy name for an organization. And who the hell is Rob Pincus? Some online gun world personality? It seemed like a recipe for disaster, but the benefits outweighed the potential downsides. Worst case scenario I would wind up dead or in jail, but I also could be walking away with a free .50 BMG rifle and that was a risk I was willing to take.
I looked through the various divisions to compete in, there were two distinct classes. Printed and Kit Build, and then within those classes there were three divisions, PCC/Braced Pistol, Pistol, and Rifle. The way I interpreted the description was that the printed class was more for guns with printed frames or receivers and the kit class was for 80% receivers or metal builds. There seemed to be a little overlap with what could possibly be construed to fit in either category but I figured there would be a little leniency given the nature of the event, so I enrolled in printed rifle. I gave the aforementioned website my 50 dollar registration fee expecting to never see that money again and began making preparations for June.
I had about 6 months fair warning to get everything sorted for the match. I myself was planning on competing with a pretty ambitious project that was nowhere near completion at the time of my registration. I was worried from the point I registered that I might not make it in time. So naturally I figured it was a problem for future me to deal with and half heartedly worked on it every once in a while when I had some time to kill. Around March my work schedule picked up significantly and it didn’t taper off until late April. Right around the time things started to slow down I had made little progress since February and began to panic, cursing the past me for being so irresponsible. With a little under two months left I got serious about finishing my projects and put just about every non working moment I had into some aspect of getting prepared for the competition.
I was still mostly in the dark about the actual details of the match, but at this point I was communicating with the staff. I couldn’t weasel out any actual details about the competition other than the maximum range would be about 75 yards. Just to be safe I put a little effort into practicing reloads, drawing mags from pouches, weapons handling, added some sprinting into my regular workout routine.
On top of that I finally got the gun feeding reliably enough at the start of May to feel a little better about meeting the deadline, a few iterations later to improve some durability issues and it was the beginning of June. I had 10 days to make any final adjustments and I had to make them quick too, because one receiver took 3 days to print.
The day before I had to drive down to St. Augustine I took my competition gun and a backup gun with an identical receiver and experimental barrel configuration to the range so I could zero and do any last minute calibrations. I zeroed my rifles at about 30 yards with 5 dollar pinty optics and prayed to god they would hold for the match. When I was happy with everything I drove home and packed for the trip. I brought with me my competition rifle, my backup rifle, an 80% AR15 build in case both rifles failed miserably, my carry gun, and some other projects in varying stages of completion for show and tell. In addition to the guns I loaded up; well over 1,000 rounds of varying ammunition, web gear, spare parts, spare tools, basic shooting PPE, an IFAK with trauma gear, some personal effects, and a bedroll just in case my sleeping arrangement fell through (my backup plan was to sleep on the beach). With everything packed up I set my alarm for early the next morning and went to sleep.
I rolled into Jacksonville around 5 o’clock in the afternoon. I hadn’t had any cell service since the Georgia line and I’d run out of nicotine far before that. I was sweaty and bored and under constant threat of being turned into ground beef by Floridians who can’t drive in the rain. 45 minutes later I was pulling into our Airbnb in St.Augustine. It was located about 5 minutes from the beach and was in a neighborhood that was a strange mix of 10 acre ranch houses with cattle and horses out front, dilapidated mobile homes draped in rebel flags, and cramped housing developments so close together you could spit on the adjacent house. You’d be hard pressed to come up with a better description of North Florida.
After discretely loading most of my stuff into the house so as not to alarm the neighbors, I got settled in and started to put some of the online names to faces. Most of the guys there had already been at the house for a day helping to set up the range and were just getting back in. About an hour or so later most everyone arrived and we went out to dinner together. When we got back everyone that was going to compete in the morning was making last minute adjustments to their builds. These last minute adjustments took hours to complete due partially to the fact that there was just too much activity going on in the house to focus on anything for more than 5 minutes. Our guests left around 8:30PM and most of the people staying turned in around 11:00PM, unfortunately the habitually distracted among us didn’t get to sleep until 3:00AM or so in the morning, myself falling into this group.
I woke up around 6:00AM, as I was sleeping on the floor next to a pile of shoes and someone mistook my head for their boots. These people were acting as staff at the match and had to leave before the competitors. I was in no hurry to get up and dozed for another hour before I started to pull myself out of my woobie. We’d slept about 30 minutes more than we should have and started scrambling to get everything loaded into the truck. Only 4 competitors were left at the house, everyone else was already at the range. Three of us loaded the truck in record time and were underway before any of us were really awake. The fourth guy drove in a separate car and opted to sleep in for a little longer (he ended up sleeping through most of the match).
Ancient City Shooting Range
The entrance to the range was on the same road as a police training academy. A big sign loomed about 100 yards past the range turn off declaring it a felony to go any further. Caravans of police vehicles would sporadically come in and out throughout the day. We made the turn on the range driveway and headed about 75 yards down a gravel road. To the left was a long covered shooting pavilion that ran at least 200 yards, in the center of this stretch was a trailer being used as an office. Parking ran parallel to the pavilion along a 2 rail fence. Most people were parked in between the office and the road. We ended up being about 20 minutes late and the parking spaces had filled up far before our arrival. We wound up on the other side of the office. After we parked we got to work getting equipment we needed out of the cab and into the bed in an organized manner. Some of our working housemates stopped by and chatted while we unloaded.
Despite the fact that we were late for the target time we were in no rush. Most of the people there were still in the process of registering or checking in their firearms. I walked over to the sign-in area and was quickly sent back to the truck with instructions on how to sign up for the scoring system. I sat on the tailgate for a moment and used my phone to register with practiscore, a requirement that was conveyed to us via email a week before that match. I thought it was optional until I was at the registration table. After signing up online I walked back and completed the in-person sign in procedure, signed a waiver, and was handed a walmart bag with two tshirts, a set of p80 front and rear rails, P80 billet glock floorplate, Print your 2A FDMA rails, and a JSD supply 80% SIG P320 modular chasis, along with some various other items like stickers and Rob Pincus literature. There was well over 75$ worth of stuff there that you got just for showing up.
I walked back over to the truck and stowed my gear, then took my rifle to the weapon inspection table. The table was tucked in between the office and a grassy berm. You could hardly fit a picnic table in there, let alone all the people crowded around watching new builds flow in and out. I took my place in line and talked with the people standing around. Some were recognizable by their builds, others required a little more detective work to figure out who they were. I got up to the table and handed my case over to the inspector. He returned it within 30 seconds with an all clear, and I had passed the first hurdle of the day. After this was taken care of I had nothing to do but wait until the match started. I went back to the truck and made sure my gear was in order. I wasn’t sure how the RSOs wanted us to handle equipment and guns so I opted to leave my gun in the case and keep magazines unloaded until I had a better idea of what was going on.
I milled around the office trailer and watched the VICE news journalists swarm around the range getting B roll for their mini doc. Eventually the flow of new arrivals tapered off and things started to get underway. Rob Pincus, one of the event organizers, and probably one of the most vocal people about the match pulled a chopped up FJ Cruiser into a strip of grass between the parking lot and the shooting pavilion. Rob stood in the back and began to go over his brief, there were about 60 people gathered around as Rob talked about the nature of the match and then went over safety protocols, and staging. He finished by reading off names and assigning numbers to the person called. This was your squad. I thought that squads were going to be assigned based on which division you were competing in, but it turned out to be more of a mix. I got assigned to a squad with printed rifles and printed PCCs/Braced Pistols as well as some regular pistol shooters. After the brief there was a lull as the various stages were set up.
I went back to the truck and loaded my magazines up, 19 rounds of Barnaul steel case ammunition per magazine, 4 magazines and 1 IFAK in my German surplus web gear, 1 magazine to start in the rifle. I gathered up my shooting gear, glasses, ear protection, and a long sleeve shirt mandated to be worn when shooting and headed out to the firing line.
My squad was located just past a surprisingly clean and pleasantly equipped out house. Most people were standing around chatting while we waited on the stragglers to filter in. I placed my rifle case on the firing line and joined the group. Most of my squad mates were firing braced pistols. There were a few Mac upper variants, MOD9s, as well as the elusive Cobra 9. The other rifles in the squad were two AR15s built on printed lowers, one was obviously a low cost beater build, the other was a gucci 300 BLK SBR printed on a quarter million dollar Stratasys printer equipped with two different suppressors. The whole setup probably came close to my entire net worth.
After a short time our rather sweaty RSO began explaining the stage. We were to start in a box and engage four paper targets to our left at 7 yards, we then moved to another box 20 yards away and were to engage steel targets 30 yards downrange from behind a barrier. The barrier had three windows and we were to shoot out of each window at least once. After we made hits on the steel we were to turn to the right and engage more paper in the same manner as the starting position.
The PCCs started first. I watched Derwood shoot the stage with his top secret delayed blowback Cobra 9 (I tried to sweet talk him into explaining how it worked multiple times throughout the day to no avail). After Derwood shot, we went up and patched targets while the RSO recorded scores and prepared the next shooter. One of the guys I had been chatting with went up to shoot with his SVTR. He forgot to turn his optic on and shot the paper without any sights before hastily switching it on during the transition to the next box. When he came back under the pavilion I joked about it with him. I was glad he went before me so I knew to make sure I turned my optic on. After this the guy with the beater AR went up. He had problems with his rifle and wasn’t able to get any of the rounds to fire. He forfeited that stage and went off to the free range to debug his rifle. Next up was the guy with the gucci AR. He engaged the targets with such precision that it was a little unnerving, and then casually walked to the next box. When he finished the stage he dumped the rest of the mag while still on the timer. He was only concerned with having fun.
I was one of the last people to shoot in our squad. So I stepped into the shooting box and loaded my rifle. Behind me the RSO asked if I was ready. I replied with something along the lines of ‘I hope so’ and the timer went off. Flicking off the safety, I leveled my rifle at the first cardboard silhouette. Wait, where was my dot at? I forgot to turn it on and spent maybe a tenth of a second trying to understand how I could have forgotten my dot after explicitly saying I would turn it on in wake of the previous shooter. Then I remembered I was on a timer and I started to panic. I put one round into each target about where I thought the dot was supposed to be. After I got the fourth round off I had calmed down a bit and realized that unaimed fire was not going to work. I took a precious moment to turn my dot on and put one more round into each silhouette, as to bring myself to the round count requirement. I hope I hadn’t missed any earlier. Putting the safety back on, I started to jog to the next position. On the way there I figured I’d top off while I had a chance. I dropped the current mag in the rifle leaving a round in the chamber and began to open the flap on my mag pouch. I stopped in the next box in front of the window barrier and finished my reload, giving my fresh mag a swift tap to ensure proper engagement. Safety off. Swing up. Acquire target. Exhale. Squeeze. I popped the first steel plate on the first shot. The zero seemed to be holding for now. I cleared the window requirement first and then finished the steel off from the last window. Then pulled my rifle back and turned to face the remaining paper targets. I put two rounds in each of those in half the time it took me to do the starting targets. I was quickly becoming acclimated to shooting under the timer.
I unloaded and showed the RSO I was clear. The range went cold and I walked back to the pavilion amidst a barrage of applause. Everyone got that treatment no matter how you did. Everyone of us that went out on that range was putting the results of months (if not years) of effort out in the open for the world to see. As far as I was concerned every one of the competitors had already come out on top, so all that remained to be seen was who could shoot better.
Stage 2 and 3
After this stage was completed we shifted over one bay. The next stage was composed of 4 steel targets about 75 yards downrange. There were 4 55-gallon drums at the firing line. You were to engage the steel from the corresponding barrel and then move to the next barrel to engage the next target. Once you hit all four plates twice you were finished. Everyone shot in the same order, and by this stage most of the kinks were worked out. The guy with the AR fixed whatever issue he was having and joined us on this stage. Everyone had their optics turned on this time. I started pretty well and hit the first plate on my second or third shot. By the time I got to the third plate my shots were all over the place. I wasn’t taking my time to line up shots and on top of that I was flinching in anticipation of recoil., something I hadn’t been able to train for near enough due to the ammo shortage. The optic seemed to be holding zero though. Eventually I made my hit and transitioned to the fourth and final barrel. I missed the first couple rounds and ran out of ammo. I did a quick reload and calmed myself down a little bit, then brought the rifle up and rang the plate once, missed, then hit it again. I left that stage disappointed in my performance. I could have performed way better and the fault fell firmly on my shoulders. But I completed the stage and my gun hadn’t exploded yet so I had nothing to complain about.
After the second stage we went to another area around the side of the pavilion. It was starting to drizzle and my shooting glasses were fogging up. We stood under a tent while the RSO gave us a rundown of the stage. About 10 yards in front of us there was a line of about 8 pop up targets, behind one there was a no shoot hostage target. They were human sized silhouettes made of some sort of rubber sheet. They were mounted on boxes that contained a mechanism to flip them up and down. When they were up they presented a shootable target, when they were down they were flat and weren’t shootable. The box also registered how many times a target was struck and had a random number of shots required to ‘kill’ a target. It was a neat concept but we weren’t allowed to shoot rifles so I had to sit out. Everyone else that had a pistol caliber gun got to blast away without me.
When we finished up with the popup targets we went back to the main pavilion. While we were away our lunch arrived, everyone that was competing or paid to spectate got a barbecue sandwich and a bowl of green beans. I thought it was pretty good, if not a little small portion wise. Most of the squad wandered off to find a place to sit down. I quickly ate and walked back to the truck to top off my mags. We ended up sitting around for about half an hour while things slowed down for lunch. During that time our squad went to another stall and the only person in our group shooting a pistol ran a handgun stage.
When he had finished we went to the third and final rifle stage. It was pretty similar to the first stage, engage three paper targets 5 yards to your right, move around a barrier and from there engage steel about 25 yards downrange, then move to another shooting position on the opposite side of the bay and hit the remaining steel. At this point it was close to two in the afternoon, everyone was hot and tired. Couple that with the now very wet and muddy shooting bays and you could tell it was starting to slow people down. Most of my squadmates had given up sprinting and were content to briskly walk between shooting positions. I still had the second stage on my mind while I was waiting to shoot, I was going to finish off strong or die trying. When it was my turn to shoot I uncased my rifle and stepped into the shooting box. I made sure my optic was still on (I decided not to turn it off after the second stage). The RO asked if I was ready. I was indeed. The buzzer went off and I quickly flicked the safety off and brought the rifle to bear. With my sights on I had no problem confidently double tapping the paper targets in front of me. Then I quickly made my way around the barrier to the second shooting position. I cleared the steel with one miss, from pulling the shot a little too soon, but once I got on I placed the rest of my shots right where I wanted. Then I sprinted to the far position and cleared the rest of the steel with no problems. My time for that stage was 20 seconds. I crushed that stage and ended that day pleasantly surprised things had gone as good as they had.
Fully Printed Stage
After everyone competing was done we gathered around for the ‘fully 3D printed’ match, this was for a class of guns that were fully printed with the exception of some specified components, the name was a little misleading, The main competitors were FGC9s, MOD9s, and Cobras, Jeffrod also put his single shot 3D printed shotgun into the competition. This stage was a modification of the last rifle stage and simply had an additional shooting position in the center of the stall, as well as numbered steel targets that had to be hit in order. This was the most fun stage to watch. It was the main event. These were the guns that really mattered from a practical perspective and they were about to go head to head. The v2 MOD9s fared the worst, simply because they were also the most numerous type of gun competing. Some were very unreliable simply due to their owners not having tuned them yet. I’m sure most of those guns were made just for this match. Other v2s ran fine and it was obvious they already had plenty of rounds through them. There was one FGC9 competing and it performed reliably, however it along with the v2s (which share the same lineage) had the same problems when it came to clearing after the stage was complete. Since there was no built in extractor the user had to hold the bolt back and the gun vertical and slap the butt on a hard surface, or use a knife to pry the case out. (After the match I was talking with some designers and they now consider extractors to be a necessity after running extractor-less guns in competition) The v3 MOD9s had extractors and did not run into any clearing problems. They also didn’t have any malfunctions as they’re a fairly new design and the only people that built them were hardcore enthusiasts that had already debugged and put rounds downrange months in advance. Derwood shot the Cobra, and we finished off with Jeffrod shooting the stage with his pipe shotgun.
After that the shooting for the day was done. Guns were cleared and laid out on tables for show and tell, while the ROs convened to tally scores. After 20 minutes we all gathered back where we started the day for a group photo, then winners were announced. The top three shooters for each class within both divisions were given printed trophies, a scaled down AR15 lower on a plaque with place and class laser engraved into the plastic. The best performers overall were given wrestling belts in addition to their trophies. Once the awards were passed out anyone that wanted to try for the people’s choice award was to come up and display their gun. About 12 people did. At first everyone gave a brief description of their build and the audience clapped to show who they thought deserved the award. The group was halved and the gauntlet run again, until there were two people left. Derwood with his Cobra, facing off against theOtherSig’s Sumac by proxy. This late in the contest the crowd was going wild for both guns, but Derwood was probably the single most respected designer in attendance, and I threw in a few extra rebel yells to push him over the edge. Derwood was crowned JSD Supply People’s Choice winner and received his belt while he lit up a celebratory cigarette.
When the excitement finally died down tickets were passed out for the raffle. There was a RN-50, a ghost gunner, a zurad machine, a Brownells BRN-180 upper, a stack of P80s, glock slides, LPKS, a GOA lifetime membership, amongst many other things. Stubs were drawn from a hat and any of the prizes were fair game as long as they hadn’t been picked yet. The ghost gunner went first. Jeffrod was called and he walked away with the .50 . I was lucky enough to get picked before all the P80s were pilfered and walked away with one. Everyone that got a ticket got a prize.
A Return to Normalcy
After the match was over we all went to a nearby brewery to relax and talk over a few drinks. It was an incredible feeling to be surrounded by people that understood everything you had to say. We spent about an hour discussing the match, politics, ideas for future builds and anything else we needed to get off our chests. Then people started to slip away, back to their hotel rooms, back to the airport, back to real life. It was over far too soon. Me and the guys I was with paid our tab and left after most of the shooters were gone. There were a few stubborn folks staying behind as we pulled out and headed back to our house.
Despite the controversy surrounding some elements of the match, it was one of the best experiences I’ve had when it comes to shooting competitions and meeting up with fellow enthusiasts. It was absolutely amazing to come together with all these incredible people for the weekend and celebrate our rights and hobby together. I look forward to the next match and expect it’ll be even better than the last.