There was a lot of shooting action last year at the CMP Talladega Marksmanship Park, as the venue for the Steel Challenge World Speed Shooting Championship, USPSA LOCAP Nationals, 2-Gun Nationals and the HICAP Back to Back event that took place October 14-24, 2021. The action shooting bays at the park saw more than 1,600 competitors during these events, firing more than 2.5 million rounds of ammunition.
In this article, we will focus on the 2021 USPSA Carry Optics and PCC National Championships.
The 2021 Carry Optics and PCC Nationals had 418 competitors who took on the challenges the stage designers came up with. The field was stacked in both divisions, and everyone was watching to see if both Max Michel and Max Leograndis were up to the challenge of defending their titles as the only two winners in Carry Optics for Michel and PCC for Leograndis. Could the Maxes do it again?
The PCC competition boasted big names like Froelich, DeSautel, Greene, Jarrett, McClain, Miculek, Williams, Harrington and Garcia, all trying to keep Leograndis from his fifth consecutive National title. Carry Optics has been dominated by Max Michel since the first Nationals in 2016; he has won five consecutive titles, but was going to be up against several new challengers as the popularity of the division has grown. Was it time for Mason Lane, Nils Jonasson, Hwansik Kim or J.J. Racaza to keep him from his sixth title?
Zone A with its five stages required 134 rounds with 670 points up for grabs. Designer Walt Paegel’s stages were all Comstock, with three long courses and one medium course. Stage 1 “I Forgot You Were There” required 29 rounds for the 11 IPSC cardboard targets and seven poppers, one that activated a fast-moving swinger. With its downrange start, competitors had many options on how they would work their way back uprange, engaging the arrays that had tight shots with no-shoots and hard cover mixed in. The PCC Super Squad would start on this stage to kick things off. Zack Smith and Scott Greene had the fastest times of 21.79 and 21.78, but it was Justine Williams who took the stage win, shooting 141 of the available 145 points in 22.74 seconds.
Shannon Smith with his new SIG P320 Legion would take the stage win in Carry Optics with a 22.94 second run only two Cs over Phil Strader.
Stage 2 “There’s Just Life” was worth 150 points, requiring 30 rounds for the 14 USPSA targets and two poppers, one activating a max trap. With a muzzle touching the mark start on the uprange center wall section for PCC, or hands-on marks for Carrry Optics, competitors had to decide which way flowed better for them. There was a tricky port that would require a hard lean for a tight target on the left, and several targets that were available from multiple positions that would allow the choice of shooting on the move, or posting up and taking the shots. Max Michel’s 16.46 time in Carry Optics was a second-and-a-half faster for his first stage win. Leograndis also grabbed his first stage win, burning through this stage with the fastest time of 16.37 seconds and 138 of the points ahead of Todd Jarrett’s 17.74-second run in PCC.
Competitors would be faced with some longer shots at Stage 3 “You May Go Now.” It had an “outside the shooting area” start to the right side of the bay, which gave shooters the choice to head to the far-left side, shooting into position and then taking either a required target to the left side of the far-left vision barrier and the target at 35 yards downrange. If they decided to not take the far target, they could pick it up in the middle section but it was a tougher shot. The middle had three required targets before breaking to the right to an array and then a hard transition to the left through the port. There was another port downrange that some decided to stay back and take the longer shots; others moved forward, closing the distance with easier shots. There was a mix of long shots, hardcover and no-shoots, but that didn’t slow Max Leograndis down much, as he took the stage win here over Jason Clark. In Carry Optics, J.J. Racaza ran his newly optic-sighted Beretta here in 16.75 seconds, taking his first stage win.
Stages 4 and 5 shared a bay and were both fast-shooting stages, but where points could easily be lost with minor scoring. Stage 4 “That’s the Rumor” was a 20-round stage with 10 IPSC targets with a shooting area laid out in a backwards “L” shape. There was nothing tricky about this stage, but you could get sucked into going too fast, shooting on the move as you headed into the downrange shooting area on four open targets. However, IPSC targets with their smaller A zone can really soak up some C hits. Zack Smith’s 9.21-second run wasn’t the fastest, but he had 94 of the available 100 points for his first stage win. Nils Jonasson grabbed a stage win here in CO with a 9.76-second run over J.J.Racaza.
Stage 5 “Too High Strung” was a 24-round Comstock stage worth 120 points, with three separate eight-round arrays of targets in a 16x12-foot shooting area with three wall sections. The array to the right and center had no-shoots mixed in and the far-left array was four wide open targets. This was a down and dirty, fast paced, grip and rip style of stage that Brian Harrington ran in 6.89 seconds shooting only three Cs for a stage win. Carry Optics guns’ capacity made this an interesting stage. Depending on how you set your magazines up you can get 23+1 for 24 rounds, which would eliminate the reload, but it would also leave you with no make-up shots if you needed them. Risk worth reward? Max Michel took the stage win here over Jonasson—Nils was clean with 24 As, but Michel’s 7.12-second run and two Cs was just fast enough.
Day one in PCC finished up with Josh Froelich ahead of Scott Greene by nine points and John McClain sitting in third place a single point behind Greene. Leograndis gave up about 60 points on Stage 5 with a malfunction that had him now sitting in fifth place behind Brian Harrington. In Carry Optics, Racaza was ahead of Michel by a little over four points, but would it hold up? The ladies were in a tight race with three stage wins going to Justine Williams. Lena Miculek would take the lead, winning stage 4 and 5 and Lynda Turnbull was sitting in third. A new name led after day one. Morgan Leonhardt was 20 points ahead of Ashley Rheuark, with Rachel Harper in third.
Day 2 would have the squads starting in Zone B with seven stages and 635 points on the line. Zone B, designed by Mike Howell, only had two long courses of fire; the other five were a mix of medium, short and speed shoots.
Stage 6 “I Stand Corrected” made use of a large bay for the mix of the 12 USPSA targets and two mini-poppers. Targets through the port on the far right uprange position were tight shots before you took some longer shots on the open targets, then a hard 15-yard sprint to the left that had an array with a hard lean before moving forward for the remaining shots. Zack Smith edged out Leograndis here, taking the first stage win of the day. In addition, John Vlieger grabbed a stage win with his 17.61-second run in Carry Optics over Michel.
Stages 7 and 8 shared the wide bay for the next two stages, a speed shoot and a medium course of fire. Stage 7 “Do What You Do” was worth 60 points and was an “engage cardboard or steel with a mandatory reload” stage. It seems simple enough, but when you are trying to win every point you can, simple enough can go very wrong with a fumbled reload or rushing, causing make-up shots on the steel. Leograndis won this stage, taking the needed 60 points. Phil Strader always seems to turn it on with stand-and-shoot stages like this, taking the stage win here with an impressive 5.74-second run.
“We Crossed” was also only worth 60 points with only six USPSA targets. A start in the middle with the muzzle on the mark and targets with either hard cover or no-shoots would require shooters to not just smash the trigger as they worked their way side to side. With a 6.04-second run, Brian Harrington picked up the stage win in PCC, while Max Michel would take the stage victory over Trace Decker with a 6.06-second run and all A hits.
The other long course in the zone was Stage 9 “Right Through the Middle.” The shooting area was laid out in a wide “Y” shape with a start on the uprange fault line and target arrays to the right and left. Competitors could also take some longer shots on the downrange far right targets from here before moving forward. It was required to hit the far left and center sections on this stage, but you could eliminate the far right if you took the longer shots from the start. With 14 USPSA targets and two poppers worth 150 points, the stage win went to Leograndis over Zack Smith. Adam Roper laid down the fastest run in Carrry Optics, 14.04 seconds for a stage win over Racaza.
Stage 10 “Around the Eyes” was a nasty little speed shoot with two tip-out targets and a bobber that were activated by two poppers. The left popper activated the left tip-out that would expose the entire target to the left of the steel vision barrier then tip back to the right, as well as activating the bobbing target in the center. The right popper would do the same, activate the tip-out and the bobber. The right and left tip-outs at rest exposed just the upper A zone on the target. A 4.83-second time took the stage win for John McClain in PCC, and Stephen Lutman grabbed himself a stage win with a 5.11-second run and only one C hit in Carry Optics.
In the same bay was “I am Rolling,” Stage 11, requiring 20 rounds on the nine USPSA targets and two steel poppers. PCC shooters had a hard lean to the left for the two poppers and one target on the left before transitioning to the right and moving forward for the remaining targets. The lean wasn’t as difficult in Carry Optics, so Matt Hemple ran this in 9.18 seconds for a stage win. Steel Challenge record holder Grant Kunkle grabbed the stage win here with a 9.29-second run, shooting 94 points in PCC.
Stage 12 “I Beg to Differ” would finish the day in this zone, worth 95 points on the nine USPSA targets and one popper that activated a swinger. There were three positions here to engage all the targets, with a low port in the center section for the popper and swinger. Marco Cabahug took the stage win over Zack Smith with a 12.04-second run, shooting 83 points, while Nils edged out Racaza in Carry Optics for a stage win.
Day 2 ended with Froelich still leading in PCC ahead of Greene in second place. Harrington was in third and Leograndis was now in fourth ahead of McClain. J.J. Racaza was still holding the top spot in Carry Optics, but there was a rumored dark horse that was turning heads. Dazhi Zhang was shooting in different zones than the Super Squad, having already completed Zone B and C. Max Michel, Mason Lane, John Vlieger and Nils Jonasson were all within seven points of each other.
In the ladies’ competitions, Miculek and Williams were trading stage wins back and forth on the second day with Turnbull keeping it close. A big win on Stage 9 followed by wins on Stages 11 and 12 would put Williams in the lead over Miculek. Leonhardt has stretched her lead out and Rachel Harper was about 26 points ahead of Rheuark.
Zone C is where Shannon Smith designed the stages and had a few tricks for the competitors as they went into their final day of competition. There would be some strong hand, weak hand, hard swingers and a prop that was facing the shooters trying to grab the 680 points available. Stage 13 “It’s Legal” was an 18-round stage with eight IPSC targets and two poppers, one activating a bobber in the center array of targets. The competitors were required to engage the last three targets weak hand/shoulder only. Harrington took another stage win here over Zack Smith. Max Michel ran this a half-second faster for a stage win, grabbing the needed 90 points.
“No Bounds,” Stage 14, was a 140-point stage with 11 USPSA targets and six poppers. The steel was available from two locations—taking longer shots from the far right uprange position would eliminate an entire position, but with tougher shots, or you could take them from a forward position through a port 12 yards closer. From the far-right side were also some longer shots on two downrange targets before you moved to the far left and then forward. Hard cover and no-shoots were in play to force competitors to change up speeds. The stage win went to Leograndis with the fastest time of 13.40 seconds with only four C hits, while Vlieger took his second stage win in Carry Optics.
Stage 15 “You May Indeed” had two max traps activated by a stomp pad and four poppers. There was nothing tricky here, just get your timing and don’t tag a no-shoot, which is what John McClain did for the stage win. B.J. Norris dropped one C hit for a Carry Optics stage win with a 3.87-second run.
Stage 16 “If You Get Lucky” was a much talked-about stage before the match started—six USPSA targets, two strings, Virginia count with strong hand, weak hand and mandatory reloads. String 1 was six rounds strong hand, reload, six rounds strong hand. It was string two that had everyone up in arms. This was six rounds weak hand, reload, six rounds weak hand. People just couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea of shooting weak hand and requiring a reload back into weak hand. There was nothing requiring the reload to be done weak hand, just that a reload was required; weeks before the match, social media and forums had post after post about this one stage. People were sharing videos of them practicing the “weak hand reload” and arguing whether or not this was even safe. There are plenty of stages that have you shooting strong hand, doing a reload and transitioning to your weak hand. This was nothing more than one extra transition between hands for the reload, if you were staying up late at night practicing a weak hand reload. Mason Lane had three C hits in 19.68 seconds in Carry Optics for the stage win. PCC stage win here went to Scott Greene, picking up the 120 points. Up to this stage, Josh Froelich was leading the match in PCC with a nine-point lead over Leograndis, but unfortunately for Josh, during the second reload and clearing a malfunction he disqualified due to an accidental discharge.
Going into the final two stages, Leograndis was now leading Greene by five match points and third, fourth and fifth were separated by only 12 points between McClain, Smith and Harrington in PCC. Racaza was still in the lead but it was closer than he thought; since Zhang was in a different zone, he was only leading by 19 points. Vlieger was in third, Lane in fourth and Michel was back in fifth place.
Stage 17 “Don’t Think I Could Bear It” was the only 32-round, 160-point stage of the match. Many would argue that it was also the hardest stage as well. While some had practiced their weak-hand reload, that time might have been better spent shooting at 35-yard targets and swingers. Stage 17 was laid out in the widest bay in this zone with 14 IPSC targets and four poppers. There were two swingers on this stage that would cause many competitors lots of problems. An uprange start with several options on how to run this stage across the front allowed competitors the chance to eliminate positions and take longer shots, but also risking lost points on the IPSC targets. Leograndis was dialed in here, taking the stage win over Greene and holding the lead now by only 12 points. The top Carry Optics shooters struggled on this stage, dropping points and several with misses on the swingers. Riley Bowman took advantage and grabbed the stage win here.
Stage 18 “It’s a Reckoning” was another much-talked-about stage that Shannon Smith designed with 10 IPSC targets and six poppers worth 130 points. The most-talked-about part was the 22-pound ammunition can that was required to be used to activate the two swingers by dropping it on the stomp pad. This was after engaging the targets from the start and making your way 38 yards down to the stomp pad to deposit the ammo can. It was required to be held while shooting, just to activate the swingers. You could run down and drop it at the start, or move forward, shooting, and setting it down or carry it while shooting. Lots of thought went into how to game it; however, most people just carried and shot, dropping it to activate the swingers and switching back to both hands on the gun to finish out the stage with the swingers and poppers.
Max Michel was pushing hard here, but the stage win went to Lanes Gries. Racaza had a miss here, but was able to hold everyone off, winning his first Carry Optics Title and unseating Michel. Dazhi Zhang would take second place with John Vlieger in third and Max Michel would end up fourth. Winning this final stage, Leograndis took another PCC National Title, with Scott Greene coming in a close second and Zack Smith in third place.
Lena Miculek would win three of the last six stages, but wasn’t able to get the lead back from Justine Williams who secured the Ladies National Championship title. Lynda Turnbull finished third. Morgan Leonhardt only won two of the last six stages with Lena Miculek taking three wins, but it wasn’t enough and Leonhardt took her first Ladies National Champion title in Carry Optics, with Rachel Harper finishing third.
2021 USPSA Carry Optics Nationals Leaderboard
- National Champion: JJ Racaza
- 2nd Overall: Dazhi Zhang
- 3rd Overall: John Vlieger
- Ladies National Champion: Morgan Leonhardt
2021 USPSA Pistol Caliber Carbine Nationals Leaderboard
- National Champion: Max Leograndis
- 2nd Overall: Scott Greene
- 3rd Overall: Zack Smith
- Ladies National Champion: Justine Williams
Article from the January/February 2022 issue of USPSA’s magazine.