Web Extra: Lessons From A Backup Gun


This American Handgunner extra is also a Web Blast for
the cover article J! S&W’s Most Popular Handgun

Lessons from the Backup Gun Championship

of the World — And the Known Galaxy

Shoot What You Carry…And What Better Way Could You Assess
Your Skills Than To Shoot That Same Gun In Competition?

By Massad Ayoob

lessons 1

Deon Martin, left, is congratulated on his first place-winning
accuracy and speed by match director Lance Biddle, right.

You turn around in the dim light, and find yourself looking down an alley. There’s only one guy there, and he doesn’t seem hostile, and you can see that his hands are empty. As you walk in his direction, though, another man drops down from above, and he’s holding something. GUN!

You move back to cover as you draw that little gun you carry on “light days,” and fire on the move. You see two bullets hit your antagonist in the chest, and realize he’s done. But if the tunnel vision got you, you didn’t notice that the first guy’s hands were empty, but now he’s pointing a gun at you. If you don’t nail him, you’re toast … and because you were carrying the little gun, you have only three shots left to do it with, since it only had five rounds in it to start…

Lesson 2

Third overall, Jon Strayer was top wheelgunner and laser man,
using a J-frame S&W with CTC LaserGrips.

Back-Up Nirvana

You’ve just had a taste of the fiendishly clever course design that is the trademark of Lance Biddle, the director of this particular match and the Florida area coordinator for IDPA, the International Defensive Pistol Association. He agrees with a concept that our editor Roy Huntington has been crusading after for some time: people who carry small guns should shoot those guns, at least sometimes, and the more stressful and challenging the conditions under which they shoot, the better they’ll be with those wee weapons if and when they’re needed for their intended, life-saving purpose.

Huntington is happy to see that Floridians are taking his advice to heart. Famous for heat and humidity, the Sunshine State often drives its many armed citizens to small guns that fit a wardrobe that’s frequently shorts and a tee-shirt. J-frame snubbies. Small autos. That sort of thing.

Local IDPA clubs have gotten into the act, more enthusiastically than in most other parts of the country. I’ve seen BUG (Back-Up Gun) stages at National IDPA Championships, but they’re particularly popular in Florida. For instance, the excellent club that shoots out of the Gateway range complex in Jacksonville (www.firstcoastidpa.com) has multiple matches a year that are all BUG, and there’s an optional BUG stage at about half of the rest of their popular monthly shoots.

Biddle, who runs monthly shoots out of the modern indoor ranges at The Gun Shop in Leesburg, not far from Orlando, took a slightly different approach.

lesson 3

Practicing what he preaches, Lance Biddle competes with his “baby”
Glock 27 and the fanny pack in which he carries it.

lessons 4

Not just at this match, but always, Mack Rudisill
shoots IDPA with his carry gun, this S&W 649 five-shot…

lessons 5

…refilled with speedloader as here, or with Speed Strips…

lessons 6

…and as you can see, he’s accurate with it as well as fast.

The Shoot and the Rules

With more whimsy than anything else, Biddle titled the match “The Second Annual Back-Up Gun Championship of the World.” Shooters signing up got into the spirit, and by match day it was “The Second Annual Back-Up Gun Championship of the World, the Known Galaxy, Or At Least, Leesburg, Florida.” It drew 28 shooters, roughly double the attendance of monthly matches at The Gun Shop IDPA Club (www.gunrange.com). I don’t think any of them came because they thought they had a shot at becoming a real world champ. They came for the same reasons Biddle and Huntington endorse the concept: they wanted to see how well they could do with the little guns they actually carried.

I came for another reason: this match was carefully billed as non-IDPA-approved, because even though it used IDPA scoring, it allowed some rules to bend. The BUG definitions of IDPA remained: revolver with barrel no longer than 3″, and auto with no longer than 3.8″ barrel, neither loaded with more than five rounds at any one time.

However, IDPA does not allow guns to be drawn from ankle rigs, pocket holsters, cross-draws or fanny packs in approved matches. In the spirit of “the guns we carry, the way we carry them,” all those holsters were allowed at this match, and all saw use there.

Most BUG matches in sanctioned events consist of five-shot strings. Here, just as in real life, some of the tests ran to more rounds. Shooters were given the option of reloading or going to second weapons, the long-proven New York Reload. It’s a rare match of any kind that allows this, and it gave those who shot at Leesburg a useful test-bed for comparison in reloading strategies.

Finally, lasers are normally banned in almost every competitive discipline from bulls-eye to standard IDPA. Some shooters told Lance, “The guns we carry are J-frames with LaserGrips,” and the match director relented, allowing them to be used, but scored in a separate category. The laser sight is at its best with guns that come with sights which are hard to see: the J-frame snub, of course, but also the increasingly popular mini-380s such as the Ruger LCP, and the Kel-Tec P3AT. See John Taffin’s article “The Red Light District” on page 34 of the March ’09 issue of our sister magazine Guns.

lessons 7

Chris Christian’s laser dot and 3″ GP-100 are centered on this target.
So are his shots: he finished in top 5.

lessons 9

Chris Christian bypasses “friendly” target signified by empty hands, right,
and focuses on picture target with weapon at left. Laser dot is on target, as are his bullets…

lesson 8

…but as Bad Guy falls, so does good guy at right, revealing armed bad
guy behind him. Chris gets deeper into cover and engages: note laser dot.


Twenty-five of the 28 attending shooters completed the seven-stage event. Round guns and square ones shot straight up against each other, not separated by the usual IDPA gun divisions. Three autos and two revolvers wound up in the top five.

Overall winner — both the fastest shooter and the most accurate — was Deon Martin, who a few months before had won the Stock Service Pistol title at the Florida IDPA State Championships in Clearwater. His choice for the BUG shoot was a Glock 26 subcompact 9mm, with out of the box factory sights. His time was 73.09 seconds, with only nine points down from a perfect hit value.

In second place was David Brackett with a 79.90 adjusted final time that included 23 points down. I didn’t get to see him in action, but was told he was shooting a Kimber Ultra CDP short barrel 1911 .45 auto, with conventional sights. Third overall was the high revolver shooter and high laser user, Jon Strayer. Jon had three J-frame Centennial lightweights about his person, all loaded with 158 grain .38 Special and equipped with CTC LaserGrips. Strayer went for gun exchange rather than reload every time, and finished with 80.23 seconds, 15 points down. I placed fourth, using a stock Springfield Armory EMP subcompact 9mm with factory night sights, ending up at 84.07 seconds and down 11 points. Rounding out the top five was outdoor writer and seasoned competitor Chris Christian. Chris used a 3″ Ruger GP-100 with Crimson Trace, and alternated between speedloading it with a Safariland Comp-III and backing it up with a little Ruger LCR .38 from the left side pocket of his jeans, and finished with a time of 87.35 seconds, 16 points down.

All the auto shooters I saw in action chose to reload rather than reach for a second gun. Top wheelgunner Strayer knows how to reload a cylinder: he’s won Florida State and Florida/Georgia Regional champion titles with the Enhanced Service Revolver. He’s one of the few Five-Gun Masters in the sport, and used HKS speedloaders and a single Model 642 J-frame to win the Snubby Summit match against belly gunners from all over the country back in ’05.

With one backup in a mirror image Don Hume belt holster on his left side and another on the inside of his left ankle, Jon — never needing more than two guns — simply found the gross motor movements of another draw to be quicker than the fine motor movements of putting five torpedoes in five launch tubes all at once, especially in dim light. Conclusion: as the NYPD Stakeout Squad found out for real so long ago, it’s simply faster to go to the second gun than to reload the first … with a revolver. With an auto and magazines where you can reach them, a simple speed reload may be slightly faster.

lessons 10

Top female Terri Strayer shoots below line of sight, trusting LaserGrip
on her S&W Model 60 to index her shots. It worked.


Laser versus conventional sights? Only three contestants went the laser route, but all three were good shooters. Two of the three, as noted, made it into the top five and the third, Terri Strayer, was high female using a Model 60 with CTC. Jon and Chris are Masters, and Terri is a former Florida State Woman’s Champion. While Jon used his sights mostly and only relied on the laser in the darkest stages, Terri shot below line of sight and was clearly aiming with that red dot downrange. She proved faster than her competition, current Florida Woman Champ Gail Pepin, who used iron sights on a 9mm XD Compact from Springfield Armory. For what it’s worth, the laser shooters averaged 103.83 seconds over the seven stages, and the iron sight folks averaged 122.92 seconds. However, the folks with the irons ran from Master to Novice, while the laser blazers were all top guns to start with.

It was noted that while the pocket holster beats everything else if you can surreptitiously slip your hand onto it and have it in a ready to draw position when the fight begins, that wasn’t allowed here. Hip holsters proved much faster whenever there was a “hands-off start.”

lessons 11

Devilish cleverness of match design is seen here. Bud Deese
drapes fall-off “I’m a good guy” hands on right target…

lessons 12

…shooter engages drop-down bad guy target on left in Blind
Stage “alley.” However, dropping down of that target…

lessons 13

…has pulled empty hands away from the first target,
revealing a gun that signifies armed attacker…

lessons 14

…who must now be engaged by shooter, who has been
backpedaling toward cover as he fires the whole time.

Bottom Line

Twenty-five people shooting seven scenarios do not constitute a comprehensive, ultimate-answer comparison test. However, there were lessons to be learned. It seems the carry of a second weapon, and the usefulness of laser sights, were both validated. The subcompact 9mm and .40 autos, had they been loaded to their ten- or eleven-shot capacity, would have swiftly outpaced the revolvers since they would have required no time lag for reloading or “New York Reloads.”

The shooter who impressed me most there was Mack Rudisill, who always shoots IDPA with his “always gun,” a stainless five-shot S&W Bodyguard backed by a single speedloader and/or a couple of Speed Strips. He’s the guy we were all emulating when Lance Biddle lived up to Roy Huntington’s advice and put on a test of skill with those little guns we all carry at least sometimes. Congratulations to all involved.

lessons 15

Author shot Springfield Armory Enhanced Micro Pistol in 9mm with night sights, came in 4th.

lessons 16

Instructor Jim Clark shot the course with this S&W Centennial with XS Big Dot sights.

lessons 17

Side pocket proved not to be fastest draw method if hand couldn’t
surreptitiously be on the gun at the start of the action.

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