For 2023 the USPSA Nationals were broken down into three separate matches, with the first being Carry Optics in June at the Cardinal Center in Marengo, Ohio. That match was followed by the Open and Pistol-Caliber Carbine Nationals back at the CMP Talladega Marksmanship Park in Talladega, Alabama.
Both of those matches were sold out, and each had a long waitlist. The original plan was that the remaining five divisions, all iron-sighted firearms, would be held together and close the year out for 2023 USPSA Nationals, with the match in October at the Cardinal Center. Single Stack, Production, Limited, L10 and Revolver were combined, and the registration for that match opened in May 2023 for slot holders with open registration in June. The match capacity was 432 on the regular shooting days. Of the slots issued, there was only a 34 percent return for pre-registration, and by the end of July 2023, the match was less than three-quarters full. There were plenty of open slots for it. The cost to put on a USPSA National Championship far exceeds the entry fee income that is generated, and that cost doesn’t change, whether the match is sold out or not.
Back in May 2023, Limited Optics was officially recognized as a USPSA provisional division and was already getting more reported activity than Single Stack, Revolver and L10 combined, and was on a path to take over Production activity for the year. It was decided that, based on the amount of open slots, the cost to run Nationals and the popularity of Limited Optics, USPSA should offer it as a sixth division in the last Nationals of the year, creating the Handgun Nationals instead of the Iron Sight Nationals as planned. Within a day, the match was sold out. Whether you agree with the decision or not, the decision allowed the event to be sold out and not be a total financial burden for the organization.
The other thing that should be pointed out is that the planning for the match, the stages and match flow had already been going on well before the addition of Limited Optics into the match. Many of the stages were submitted by a competitor right after the USPSA Carry Optics Nationals, and the rest of them had been developed before Carry Optics, adjusted based on the learning process from that match. As the Match Director, I was shooting Limited, an iron sight division the whole time, as well as my co-Match Director, Walt Paegel. The match was not built to test Limited Optics, it was built to test the best competition in all six of those divisions. Was it a hard match? Yes, it was. There were a few stages where the target presentation was going to cause even the best of the best some difficulties. Nationals should be difficult, and should challenge not only how fast you can shoot, but how accurate and how well you can manage your stage planning over the three days of competition.
The 478 competitors were going to face the challenging 21 stages October 6-8, and the staff would shoot through on October 4-5. The match would require 430 rounds to complete. The Friday through Sunday competition was broken up in two flights, either a.m./p.m./a.m. or p.m./a.m./ p.m., and the squads of 12 competitors each would shoot six stops per day. The Cardinal Shooting Center bays were broken up into three zones and each of the six stops represented a bay. In each of the zones there would be bays that had doubled-up stages in them to make up the mix of Long, Medium, Short, Standards and Speed Shoots that were presented for the competitors.
The six divisions that were recognized were broken down into 136 competitors in Limited, three hearty souls in L10, 104 in Production division, and there were 29 that stuck to their Revolvers for this one. Single Stack had 61 competitors and Limited Optics filled up with 140 competitors. Single Stack’s 61 competitors were shooting both major and minor with 37 shooting major and 24 scoring minor. Were those two extra rounds going to help this year? There were also 18 shooters in Limited who were scored minor.
The stages were going to have a mix of everything in them, including Stage 5, A Bill Drill—yep, six rounds from surrender at seven yards. The furthest target, no matter what you read on the internet, was 35 yards. There were 42 poppers that were used, almost all mini-poppers. Of those 42, there were three of them at 30 yards on one stage. There were nine activated targets that were either swingers or bobbers, and only one of them was a disappearing drop turner. The Standards Stage, a Fixed Time one with three strings, also had three turning targets. There were only two unloaded starts, one holstered and one on a table. There was only one other table start that had the only seated start position, but here, the gun was loaded. There were three stages that were six to 12 rounds, seven that were 13 to 19, six that were 20 to 26 and then five that were 27 to 32 rounds. There were a lot of hardcover targets used instead of using no-shoots throughout all of the stages. If you just picked up your “side” division gun to come shoot this USPSA Nationals with little prep, yes, you were going to get out of it what your preparation was going in.
There were several defending USPSA National Champions who were back, and we would see who was going to walk away with the first Limited Optics title after the last piece of brass landed on the ground. Besides being a challenging shooting match, the weather was going to play an issue. All during the setup, the Ohio skies were clear and sunny with a nice, almost utopian 72 degrees—but then, a cold front moved in, dropping temps down into the 40s and low 50s with a little bit of drizzle each day, just enough to make some of the days just slightly miserable, with an overcast sky that kept the sun away.
The big dogs and the top ladies were divided up into a Limited and a Production Super Squad. Revolver and Single Stack were combined into one squad, with the ladies together but shooting different divisions. These four squads were scheduled to shoot Friday p.m., Saturday a.m. and Sunday p.m. Nils Jonasson won Limited, Single Stack and Production in 2022; this year he chose to defend his Production title. Jalise Williams also had the trifecta of Ladies titles in those same divisions, and was back defending her Limited title. Six times Michael Poggie has walked away as the Revolver National Champion. That’s right—since 2017, it has been the Poggie show when it comes to wheelguns. Would he do it again? Over in Limited Optics, Justine Williams and Jessie Harrison were vying for the first championship title as were Max Leograndis, KC Eusebio, Trace Decker and Tom Castro. There was a lot of shooting, some tough stages and three long days before the winners of these battles would be decided.
The range at the Cardinal Shooting Center is broken up into three distinct sections. There are 12 bays that make up what they refer to as Range 2. These 12 bays are a little smaller and have sidewalls that restrict shooting; however, they have multiple bullet traps built that allow you to get creative with shooting positions. The first six of these bays made up Zone 1, with seven stages worth 640 points. This was the least number of points up for grabs. Stage 1 “What’s this lying around?” had one of the longer shots in the match, with one USPSA target only available at 30 yards. It was a 26-round stage with all cardboard targets. Stage 2 “What the hell are we supposed to do?” was submitted by Matt Hopkins and had the first activated target in the match, 19 rounds with seven USPSA targets and five poppers worth 95 points. “Dropped the big one” was the third stage in this zone, again a Hopkins stage, with 20 rounds total from two different shooting positions on nine IPSC targets and two poppers.
Stages 4 and 5 shared a bay. Stage 5 “Germans?” was actually shot first when the squads came through. This was the traditional Bill Drill, a single USPSA target at seven yards from surrender, six rounds only. When the shooters were done with this stage, they would unload and prepare for Stage 4. You started in the same shooting box as the Bill Drill with an unloaded and holstered handgun. Stage 4 “Did you say over?” was six IPSC targets and two poppers for 14 rounds; one popper activated a disappearing drop turner. Stage 6 “Nothing is over” had another activated target, plus eight other USPSA targets and the single popper activator. Stage 7 “Until we decide it is” was the last stage in this zone; it was the first table start, with the firearm unloaded. The start had you at the far left downrange position and required a retreat into a couple of tight spots on the left side before moving back up to the right. This one was 25 rounds on 12 USPSA targets and a popper.
In Limited, the first seven stages had Joey Sauerland with two stage wins, Scott Brown with two and Gianni Giordano with two. Jack Brown had the other stage win on Stage 3. Nils Jonasson grabbed up three stage wins in Production over Phil Strader with two and JJ Racaza with two. Michael Poggie won four of the first seven stages in Revolver. John Vlieger, Elias Frangoulis and Robert Cernigoj each had two stage wins, with Rich Alloway grabbing one in Single Stack. Both KC Eusebio and Max Leograndis had two stage wins and Trace Decker took one on Stage 6 in Limited Optics. Jessie Harrison in Limited Optics had six of the seven stage wins for the ladies.
he next zone would use the last two bays in Range 2, and would see the use of the turning targets in the large static firing line at Cardinal Shooting Center. The remaining three bays for this zone were in the new range that was built last year to be able to accommodate larger major matches. Stage 8 “Forget it he’s rolling” was another one from Hopkins, 15 rounds with an activated target. Stage 9 “And it ain’t over now” had seven USPSA targets and two poppers, one that activated a max trap target.
Fixed Time stages are always unique in some ways, especially here lately as they have gone from stand and shoots to more movement stages. The Cardinal Shooting Center has a 100 shooting position turning target system, and we were going to use it. If you had ever shot any of the USPSA Nationals while at PASA Park, then you understand what a Fixed Time Visual Start stage is; if you haven’t, then you are either lucky or missed out on the fun. Basically, it is exactly how it sounds, the targets turn to expose themselves for a fixed amount of time, and then turn back. The turn is the visual start. Stage 10 “When the going gets tough” was a 24-round Fixed Time stage, with three IPSC targets and three strings. String one was at 50 feet, two rounds each, perform a mandatory reload and re-engage each target with two rounds each. String 2 was from the same 50-feet position, but it was one round each, then reload and one round each strong-hand only. String 3 moved you up to 30 feet, one round each, reload and one round each weak-hand only. The Fixed Time was set at 4 seconds. The last time this was run at PASA, it was from 35 yards and 7.5 seconds. In my defense, we cut the distance in half and cut the time back to match. Watching it over and over again and air-gunning, the time seemed okay versus six seconds. After watching a few of the staff squads go through it, it should have been six seconds, but we were already off to the races.
Stage 11 “The tough get going” was a 25-round stage in the new bays that would take up the whole depth of the bay and have some of the longer shots on paper. There was one popper that activated a fast moving swinger. Stage 12 “Who’s with me?” was a loaded table start from a seated position. The 12 IPSC targets we set up were all double stacked with a no-shoot separating them. The targets were at some tight angles and hard setups. Stage 13 “Where’s the spirit? Where’s the guts?” was another long field course with 10 IPSC targets and seven poppers.
Zone 2 was worth 655 points. Single Stack saw Jared Fox and Jeffrey Cawthon each take a stage win; however, Elias Frangoulis was racking up the points with three more stage wins on Day 2. Nils was also not letting up on the stage wins, taking of three of them. James McGinty had two stage wins on Day 2 in Revolver, but Poggie wasn’t backing down with three more stage wins, racking up the points. Scott Brown was pulling way ahead in Limited with four stage wins on Day 2. Leograndis was finding his stride on Day 2 as well, with three stage wins in Limited Optics.
The final day would be in Zone 3, which was worth the most points. There were eight stages in Zone 3, 170 rounds and 850 points to win. Two of the bays had double stages in them and the rest were all big long courses of fire. Stage 14 “This could be the greatest night of our lives” and Stage 15 “We might get in trouble” were both 12-round stages. Stage 16 “I’m not going to take this” was 27 rounds with five poppers, one that activated a swinger. Stage 17 “Psychotic, but absolutely right” had 12 IPSC targets and four poppers, one that activated a swinger.
Okay, Stage 18 “I think we have to go all out” was appropriately titled—we did go all out. There were some long hard shots, mini-poppers at 30 yards, targets at tight angles and tucked back; it was easy to forget some of them (ask me how I know). Too hard? Maybe a little bit. My co-Match Director and I were left unsupervised is all I am going to say.
Stage 19 “Really futile & stupid gesture” and Stage 20 “We’re just the guys to do it” shared a bay. Both were 16-rounders and fun fast stages, maybe my attempt to make up for the beating that 18 laid down on most of us. Stage 21 finished up the match with 13 USPSA targets and two poppers, one that activated a bobber. The match was winding down, as the wind and cold continued to pick up. The last shots were breaking and squads were clearing, waiting to see who was going to walk away as the champions this year.
Nils grabbed up three more stage wins and Mason Lane made a hard charge at the end to add two wins; but Nils walked away with an 82-point lead over JJ Racaza for his third USPSA Production National title in a row. Robert Cernigoj was going to make Elias Frangoulis work for it, as he took five of the eight stage wins, but Elias added two more that would give him his first USPSA Single Stack Championship over Robert by just 60 points. Scott Brown has been crushing Limited division this year and went into Day 3 not holding anything back, adding four more stage wins to take his first USPSA National Championship title over Joey Sauerland, who came in second. The two of them had traded back and forth wins all year.
Rich Wolfe made a hard push to knock off Poggie, as did James McGinty, but Poggie racked up four more stages to take his seventh USPSA Revolver National Title in a row. Leograndis and Eusebio were neck and neck on Day 3, but Leograndis grabbed the first USPSA Limited Optics title ahead of KC by just 26 points. Jessie Harrison would grab the first Ladies National title in Limited Optics and Jalise Williams would defend her Limited title, while Randi Rogers would walk away with the Ladies Single Stack title and Ashley Robinson grabbed another Production Ladies National title.
The 2023 USPSA Handgun Nationals were a success due to the dedication of the volunteer staff that continues to answer the call to work not just these matches but their club, section and area matches. We continue to add new staff each year, but the same folks raise their hands and show up, always asking where can I help, where do you need me, what can I do? I am blown away over and over again by the membership that gives up their weekends and in the case of the USPSA Nationals, their weeks of vacation time and time away from home to ensure that we have safe, fun and fair matches for everyone to enjoy. Without them, all the planning behind the scenes doesn’t get done on the ground.
For all the people that have shown up to help, thank you. You mean the world to me and to the members of USPSA.
Article from the January/February 2024 issue of USPSA’s magazine.