Knockdown Power | Gunsite Stories

knockdown power gunsite stories

I am poised in sinister position next to a heavily armed man at the bottom of a deep desert wash. My right shoe is planted inside an old tire lying on the sandy ground. His left foot is similarly constrained parallel to mine. The anticipation is palpable. Our peers watch expectantly as we wait for the command to begin.

I squint my eyes to counter the sharp glare of the Arizona sun. My Glock 45 9mm pistol stands ready on my belt. I square my hips to the first target, a small steel plate, and stare directly at the center. Ignore the rest of the array for now. I have a plan in the back of my head, but I will only address the other targets as they become imminently relevant.

“Ready on the right? Ready on the left? Standby… Fire!” Rangemaster Erick Gelhaus gives us the go signal.

I have lost track of how many presentations I have done with my sidearm this week. It has to be hundreds. We are coming toward the end of the Gunsite 350 class shoot off, and the competition is fierce. The skill level of the intermediate class leaves no room for error.

My battered palm hits the familiar contour of the polymer backstrap, followed by an urgently smooth drawstroke. My hands come together near natural clap position as the muzzle rises up on target. The red dot of the Holosun 509T optic is where I need it and I press off a good shot. “Ping!” Move the eyes, move the hips, and find the next piece of steel. “Ping!” Now down to the Pepper popper. “Ping!” A solid hit puts the popper on the ground. 

Drop the mag for a speed load and grab a fresh supply of ammo from my belt. Old and new pass in the air before I slam home the full magazine with the heel of my hand. I am vaguely aware of my opponent knocking down his own steel targets in rapid succession to my right. I reacquire a two handed grip and come back up on the final target. No dot!? Don’t panic, tighten your support hand and it will appear. There it is. “Ping!” 


“Winner left!” Gelhaus declares.

After holstering my pistol I retrieve my discarded magazine and try to blow the talcum powder-like dust from the remaining bullets. I take a step to the right, into the position of my recently vanquished foe. My next adversary steps up on the left.

In through the nose, out through the mouth. 

Here we go again.

“Ready on the right? Ready on the left? Standby…Fire!” Gelhaus commands.

I get my first hit without issue and move swiftly toward number two. Another solid hit and both plates are down. I shift focus down to the Pepper popper and connect with my third shot. Don’t forget to reload! I perform my required mag change and then drill my half of the central split popper, thus ending our brief duel.


I drop my weapon triumphantly back into its sheath and turn to console my opponent on his failed attempt to best me.

“Winner left!” Gelhaus proclaims.


It takes me a second to register what happened. And then I see it, the little Pepper popper on my side is still standing. I can see a splash of lead where the 124 grain 9mm round struck it, but the son of a bitch didn’t fall.

My grip involuntarily twitches for the forty-five caliber Colt 1911 in my range bag at the top of the hill. And I swear I feel a distant rumbling in the ground beneath my feet. The tectonic disturbance no doubt originating from the Arizona Pioneers Home Cemetery in Prescott, where Col. Cooper is currently rotating violently in his grave. 

“…Large numbers of people – especially those in public office – seem to have lost track of the idea that any firearm must strike a blow sufficient for the task. They seem to feel that as long as a hit is achieved the results of that hit are unimportant… The “V” in DVC stands for vis, which is power. If you do not strike with sufficient power, neither speed nor precision will do you any good.” – Jeff Cooper’s Commentaries Vol. 5, No. 5

Forgive me ‘Guru’ for I have sinned.

While ballistic technology has advanced significantly since the early 90s, and I do have complete faith in the penetration and expansion of my modern 9mm duty ammo, I also have to admit that a 230 grain FMJ would have been the perfect medicine for that stubborn steel in the Dozier pit. Going forward all Pepper poppers at Gunsite will receive a hammer pair just for insurance.

Although I did not earn a silver raven in my 350 class shoot off that day, I did deeply engrain an invaluable lesson: Always confirm that your target is truly out of the fight before commencing the victory celebration.

1 Comment

  1. I was in the shoot-off for 350 at Gunsite. Lady next to me had some kind of Walther in 9mm we got to the last run both having won one round a piece next round determines the winner. We are running through the steel and make our magazine changes and both hit the last fall down at the same time. My 230 grain 45acp drives the popper down way faster than her 9mm ball load. Jeff Hall calls me winner on the right. This lady starts pleading that she did the same speed of run as me should be a tie breaker. Instructors say tie goes to the harder hitting caliber. Winner Winner chicken dinner

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