2 for the Show

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Tracy (l.) and Lanny Barnes, former Olympians, have jumped in with both feet into the sport of 3-Gun.

By Tracy Barnes

In 3-Gun, as in life, things seldom go as planned.

Lately I can’t help but think about the odd similarity between a 3-Gun stage and life. For the most part, we get to practice some at home, we usually get to walk the stages, giving us a fighting chance in a difficult and complex sport. It’s like studying for a final exam. How prepared you are going into it is up to you. Maybe you were blessed with unbelievable talent, or maybe you’ve worked your tail off to get to where you are, or maybe still you compete on weekends to give you that much needed break from the grind of what real life throws your way. Either way, we all toe the line, we all stand at the ready, waiting for that buzzer to go off.

“Shooter ready? …”

“Stand by …”


The buzzer goes off, and sometimes, no matter the amount of prep, no matter how talented we are or how hard we’ve worked, all hell breaks loose and suddenly our meticulous planning, our hours and days of preparation are thrown out the window. From here, if you’re lucky, experience will kick in and you’ll be able to fight your way through it, but sometimes life throws a wrench in your plan and you just lean into the wind and keep pulling the trigger, because that’s all you can really do. We’ve all been at that point where we finish a stage and just have to laugh and shake our head, because that was not how we planned to do it.

Lanny Barnes practices in the rain before her strong showing in the 3GN Pro Series at VIR. 

Each part of your life can be defined by something. This year my twin sister and I have been training for the 3-Gun Nation Pro Series. We were lucky enough to draw a start in June, giving us much needed time to practice for the stages (and competitors) we would face. Fairly recently I started calling this part of my life “The Death Star.”

Looming in the forefront of your mind, the Death Star is something that can define a stage. Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to shoot it before in practice, although finding a range that has one of these contraptions is difficult at best. Likely the only time you face it is during a match. I can hear my 6th grade science teacher’s voice in my head after I surprisingly failed a test, “prepare much?” her snarly voice asks. “Nope,” I think to myself. There’s no preparing for this, no practice. This Death Star, this is not unlike life—unpredictable, erratic, and sometimes daunting. You don’t practice it, you just do it. You’re half way through a solid stage shooting a few knock down targets with your pistol, going one-for-one, and then BAM! You have to stop and face the Death Star. Momentum stalled.

If you take the time to think about it though, it’s not as formidable as you originally imagined. Of course when you first watched it on YouTube or watch a pro shoot it on the 3GN circuit it looked impossible, but as with anything in life, it’s how you look at it. Perception is key to almost anything. Sure the Death Star can be unpredictable, moving one way, and then spinning another way. But you’re the one who causes that. So, if you look at it, you control the Death Star. You are the one who shoots the activator to get the target moving, you are the one who shoots a certain plate that makes it spin. Control the Death Star or it will control you, right?

Easy enough, but sometimes you don’t do a good job of controlling it. This is the point in my life I not only call the Death Star, but “Obamacare.” Faced with some daunting medical bills from the “affordable health care act” I found I had to pull out of the 3GN Pro Series. This threw off my shot, my stage was over and I would be, for the second time in my life, watching from the sidelines. Lanny, my twin sister, would be going to represent the Barnes duo in the 3-Gun Nation Pro Series.

The Barnes twins, with Tracy seen here in competition, are no stranger to training and high pressure.

So, how does this story end? Lanny steps up to face the death star on June 22. I go back to the practice range after my self-inflicted DQ and do the only thing I know how…work hard until my next shot.

Several years ago I faced another defining stage in my life. My twin sister, Lanny, and I were training for the 2014 Olympics in the sport of biathlon. We had, up until this point, only done maybe one or two 3-Gun matches. We had spent the last 15 years of our life training for and competing in biathlon, a sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship. We were lucky enough to represent our country in several Olympics and usually spent every winter competing on the World Cup and IBU Cup all over Europe, Scandinavia and Russia. The stage leading up to the 2014 Olympics was the part of my life I called “Long distance rifle.”

Remember the long-range rifle stage at the Florida Regional this year? Shotgun and rifle. Clarification … shotgun, 50-yard sprint and then offhand rifle? It was cold there and for me it was the first stage of the day. You start the stage with some really easy knockdown shotgun targets, maybe one quick quad-load and then you dump your shotgun and you’re off and running. You start the stage pulling the trigger, and then it’s off to the races. You’re frantically running towards your rifle that sits antagonizing you in a barrel half a football field away.  “Hurry up and get here” it seems to say. Your legs feel a bit like lead and you are somewhat aware of the fact that you can run faster, only you aren’t. The adrenaline of having only moments earlier started the stage, coupled with the awkward sprint towards your rifle, has your heart jumping around in your chest. You finally make it down to your rifle, fumble with it as you get it up and into position and then you stare through the scope at the target only to be conducting an orchestra with your crosshairs and not zeroing in on a target, but then you squeeze the trigger and the most wonderful sound in the world comes from behind you … “Hit,” yells the RO. Darn, your heart rate just went up a few more notches from the excitement of actually hitting the target. “Hit,” he yells again. Music to your ears! Now it seems fitting that you’re conducting a symphony with your crosshairs. It becomes one of those stages where you absolutely connected with your rifle. You became one with you scope. For me it was a lethal combination, a JP Enterprise Ultra lite rifle, a Trijicon Accupoint 1-6 and Fiocchi’s 69-grain bullet. Instruments making beautiful music.

This was my life in 2014 leading up to the Olympics. Things were starting to connect. Olympic trials are always like that awkwardly long run in a 3-Gun stage where your legs feel like lead and you know you could be moving faster, but you just can’t. Olympic trials are a difficult thing. You’ve spent the year competing against the best athletes in the country. You complete competition after competition, the field ever narrowing until the final trials.  Five women competing for 4 slots. One person goes home. One person. The others go to the Olympics. In your mind the what-if’s sneak their way in. What if I don’t perform as well as I can, what if I get sick, what if I fall on that downhill while skiing? Not unlike long-range rifle. You see the wind starting to pick up. You watch as others struggle with it before it’s your time to shoot. You’re confident in your zero, but you just don’t know. Or do you? I had a pretty good idea I was going to make the Olympic team going into the last race. I still needed a good race, but I was confident I could get it done. That day I had a clean race. I hit all my targets and skied to a top 10 overall finish in the international race. It was the same feeling I get when you hear that RO yell “Hit” behind you.  The wind was blowing, but it all came together.

As Olympians, the sisters were among the world's best. Now they are shooting for the top in 3-Gun. 

For Lanny it was a different story. She had one of those stages where you watch someone’s shooting just fall apart. Where they just keep shooting and shooting at one long distance rifle target, too stubborn to move on as the clock keeps ticking. It is gut wrenching to watch. Several days before the start of the final trials Lanny woke up sick. Asking your body to go all out skiing for 6 miles at the highest level of competition in the world when your body is not at it’s best get’s you no where. In fact, it buries you. You keep shooting at that target, even though moving on would have saved you much more time. We’ve all been there. We’ve all done it, and it’s not any fun. A long-distance rifle stage can be a match decider. It was for Lanny. She got too sick to even compete in the remaining races and thus her chance of making the Olympic team were over. It’s like finishing that stage with several empty mags, a horrendous time and getting nothing. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a koozie off the prize table.

So, you know that feeling when you’re watching someone shoot an entire mag at one target? You want to yell at them to move on, to hold a little left, or something, anything to help them. That’s the feeling I had watching Lanny as her Olympic dream seemed to disappear in an instant. She was a favorite to make the team. She had, up until that point, run a brilliant stage, but it all fell apart in the end. We’ve all been there, right?

Well, this was the point where I could do something to help her, I could yell “you’re missing right.” Or “move on” or at least give her another mag. And that’s what I did. They named the Olympic team and my name was on it. “HIT!!!” But then I watched as Lanny’s stage fell apart, it deflated me. I declined my spot on the team so that the last remaining spot would be free to name someone else. One out of the five go home. It would be me, I would be the one getting the koozie and going home. But darn it if I didn’t hit some targets on the way out!

And how like 3-Gun. You may have a disappointing result, but in the end you hit your slug targets, or finally hit your flying clays. It’s the little things that count anyways. Those targets are LITTLE!! But we still shoot for them, and keep shooting for them until we get a hit. 

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