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The 2023 West Virginia Gun Run: The Retrospective

Okay, here we go. Preparing for this event, and others like it, has been a big topic so far this year. I signed up for a ticket to the West Virginia Gun Run as soon as they went on sale about a month before, and I ran an eight-week physical training prep plan running up to the event that a few readers like you also downloaded for themselves.

While updating my gear write-ups, I even put together a specific load bearing harness just for events like this.

So how did it all end up shaking out? I brain dumped a lot of my thoughts in the Discord server a couple of hours after I finished, and now I’m doing the full after action review. This covers both how things actually went for me, which was honestly a mixed bag, but also what kind of changes I’ll make for running the event again in the future.

Overall, I finished #31 out of 93. My run time was #13 but my shooting score fell in the middle of the pack. I took a huge hit against my shooting points because I completely (and accidentally) ran past a stage and didn’t shoot it at all.

My performance on the remaining stages was still good enough to rank in in the top third, though.

The Gun Run [vs. WTF]

Right off the bat, I want to highlight that the tactical biathlon event I did in West Virginia with The Gun Run was quite a bit different than I expected it to be. Different match directors and philosophies behind them, and I didn’t really have a way to know that until running it for myself.

Compared to what I learned from some of our community members about the Waco Tactical Fitness (WTF) events, this session of The Gun Run seemed physically less demanding of strength and focuses more on the running. At my event, held at Shadow Hawk Defense in Hedgesville, WV (great facility, by the way), there were no walls to climb over, trees to scale, or mud holes to crawl through. Even though photos of other Gun Run events in other locations included things like holding cinder blocks overhead and dragging sandbags through tunnels, this one didn’t have it. The course consisted of six stages spread over a distance of about 3 miles, and the focus was squarely on running and navigating terrain quickly.

Your final score was a combination of 50% your completion time and 50% your shooting score.

The standard par time for every stage was 90 seconds, with some notable exceptions that I’m sure Ellis (the match director) wouldn’t want me to talk about- but I’m going there anyway!

Ellis, the match director

Ellis says that he was inspired by similar tactical biathlon event around the country, and he wanted an environment where armed citizens had a chance to test out there equipment, fitness, and marksmanship in a way that most shooting matches simply do not. It’s a very Everyday Marksmen-oriented idea, so of course I’m all over it.

Individual Philosophies

That said, the first thing I’ll point out is that not everyone who showed up to the race has the same idea of shaking out their gear and skills. Of the people running in the first half of the day, which is mostly the “faster” people, I was one of the only runs actually using a full on LBE harness. I saw plenty of plate carriers (without plates) and a few chest rigs, but nobody rocking a full “minuteman” kit.

The very fastest guys I saw were in it to win it. They were very fit, wore shorts, trail running shoes, lightweight all-elastic chest rigs (like a Spiritus “Bank Robber”) with only elastic pockets for retention, and carried just barely over the recommended ammo count. No first aid kits, water, or anything extraneous. It showed in their times, too, as they were finishing the course in 42-43 minutes.

I respect that, and good on them. On the flip side, I looked at it as a chance to test my load bearing equipment out and see how well it performs in semi-realistic conditions. I wore “tactical” clothing, carried more ammunition than required, a full first aid kit, TQ, and some admin items.

Given the cool and wet weather conditions, I elected to not carry my water supply, which saved me 4-6 lbs of weight.

Just remember that there is no right answer here. You can treat it like a hyper-competitive event and go for the win, or treat it as a chance to see where you, your equipment, and marksmanship are at. The race is for you to run for yourself. Unlike PRS and USPSA matches, there isn’t some crazy expensive prize table or sponsorship deals waiting at the end of the day, so train and race accordingly.

The Retrospective

I’m breaking this into two parts. The first is my big takeaways and lessons learned about my performance- including how I would prepare differently the next time around.  Then I’ll do a few notes on specific stages to keep in mind for the future.

Big Rocks

The “big rocks” represent the most impactful lessons that would provide direct improvements for the next go around. I break these into things that went well and I need to continue doing, the “sustains,” and things that would be most beneficial to fix before the next go around, the “improves.”


Rifle Marksmanship was not an issue whatsoever when I employed it. I spent a lot of dry fire time working positions, ladders, barricades, off shoulder, and more. Rifle marksmanship is also where I have the most experience overall, and I think it showed since I was in the top 15 every time the rifle came out. Frankly, none of the complicated stuff I was practicing actually happened. We really just needed the core basic positions, at least on the stages I shot. As mentioned, I accidentally skipped an entire rifle stage that would have involved positional shooting.

Two-handed and weak-handed pistol shooting. In general, my pistol shooting was OK. There were a few hiccups either due to unfamiliar equipment (which I’ll get to under “improves”) or the fact that I just flat out didn’t practice enough for “long” pistol shots at 40-50 yards. Up close, though, it went smoothly.

Recovery ability. Owing to the physical training plan, I was really well adapted to quickly recovering after physical exertion. In fact, I don’t think I had any instance where I was still sucking enough wind by the time the stage started to negatively impact marksmanship.

Tactical Gear Configuration. The General Purpose Run & Gun harness performed very well. Everything was where I needed it and easily accessible. This helped a lot when “administrating” ammunition between stages to keep a fresh mag in the “happy mag” position.


Packing checklist! This one hurts me to say. In my rush to pack the car up early in the morning (0530) before getting on the road, I completely forgot to grab my pistol case that was sitting just four feet away from my rifle cases (I brought a spare rifle). So I showed up to the race without a pistol. That’s kind of an issue at a two-gun event. Luckily, gun people are awesome and stepped up.

A great human being named Eric, who was running later in the afternoon, loaned me his CZ SP01 Tactical and Dara holster for my race. It was my first time ever using an SP01 at all, much less in competition and one tuned for someone else. Luckily, I’m familiar enough with CZ that it mostly worked out. My only fix here is to slow down and have an actual packing checklist for the car to complete before I drive off.

Strong-hand only pistol shooting. I could blame it on using an unfamiliar pistol and sight picture, but the reality is that my strong-hand only shooting was just weak. I noticed it days before the actual match during practice with my P07 and Mantis Laser Academy. For whatever reason, I just kept pull shots right even in single action.

Loaded running. Even though my training plan contained a good amount of cardio, I don’t think it was specific enough to how the Gun Run went. I’m admittedly not a fast runner to begin with, but I did build plenty of it into the training plan. I also did rucking, but the ruck sessions were longer (6 miles) with interspersed push ups and burpees. I generally don’t run with a ruck for joint safety reasons.

Yours truly on the final leg to the finish line

In hindsight, however, I think a better training method would have been shorter bits of loaded running of 1/4 to 1/2 mile at a time mixed with PT and dry fire. This better reflects how the actual event goes as you travel from one stage to the next. I’ll note that I didn’t actually run all the time, either, especially in the wooded areas with no trail to see and lots of wet mud, forest duff, and logs to stumble over. I’ll touch on that in the stage reviews.

Don’t Get Lost. I’m not sure how it happened, but I believe I completely ran past one stage entirely. Twice, actually. The first one I figured out quickly and backtracked to shoot it, but the second one I didn’t recover from. A lot of the course passed through wooded terrain without trails, so the only way you knew where to go were markers tied to trees. I’ll touch on this in the stage notes.

Little Rocks

The “little rocks” are notes on things that made a difference one way or another, but probably aren’t that impactful in the grand scheme of things.

The Guns

I ran my 16″ “recce” rifle configured with a fixed 4x Elcan and a piggybacked Trijicon SRO. I shot PMC X-TAC 55gr for ammo. The rifle ran great, and I was thankful for the magnification on one stage where the rifle targets were about 100 yards away and obscured by foliage. I never had a need to use the offset dot, so I can’t speak to how well it performed- but I was glad to have it.

With the rifle, I used my FTW Multipurpose Sling. it worked well, no complaints. Of note, though, was that I am glad that I had two sling attachment points on the handguard. One near the receiver and one out on the front. While moving from stage to stage, mounting to the front swivel made it way easier to move the rifle to my back and cinch it down. That freed up my hands until I was approaching the next stage, where I’d bring it back to the ready and re-attach to the aft swing swivel.

The SP01 Tactical ran fine for me. I was mostly familiar with operating it since the controls are exactly like the 75D PCR I routinely carry. The only hiccup I had was during Stage 3, when I meant to hit the decocker for reholstering, but my brain told my thumb to press the magazine release. Oops.

Eric loaned me an accompanying Dara holster for the run. I also use Dara for my CZs, so this worked well. I asked if he had put thread locker on the screws, to which he told me he did not. Luckily, none of the main attachment screws loosened up on me, but one of the belt spacer ones had backed out. These spacers reduce the opening in the belt loop from 2″ to 1.75″ for a riggers belt. When I removed the holster, the little spacer fell out and the screw was lost. I noted this because while I put thread locker on the main screws of my holsters, I did not put it on these tiny screws holding the spacers in place.


It sounds odd to talk about clothes, but there’s always takeaways. Let’s go from the bottom-up.

For boots, I wore a pair of Salomon Forces Jungle Ultras that I’ve had since 2016 or so. I’ve used them for GoRuck challenges and many miles of rucking. They were great, and I particularly appreciated them in the mud. Along with the boots were a pair of Darn Tough wool socks- another win.

I wore an old pair of Triple Aught Design Recon AC pants. After the event, I have to retire them since I slipped early on and a rock tore a hole right through the knee and left some good sized cuts on my leg. These pants have been a long time favorite (even if they’re far too big now after loosing 25 lbs since November), but it’s time to go. I’ll probably get a pair of Recon pants in the ripstop fabric since it’s tougher.

My shirt was a Velocity Systems Boss rugby, it was great. On my head was a short brim boonie hat from Tyr Tactical that also did well, particularly in the wet weather. Ear pro was a set of Surefire EP-7 in-ear plugs. Gloves were SKD PIG, so pretty standard.

Lastly, my eye protection was a set of Revision Sawfly glasses that I’ve used for a long time. I have RX inserts in them for astigmatism. These are great glasses, but I ran into serious fogging issues by the later stages.

Everything did it’s job, except the pants, which probably weren’t designed to take the abuse they did.

Water Supply

Up until game day, I figured on carrying 3 liters of water in a bladder attached to my harness. As the day drew closer and the weather remained cool, I began thining that I would reduce it down to 1 or 2 liters to save weight. On the day of, after seeing the times that others were finishing and experiencing the weather, I decided to ditch my water supply all together for the run.

Were it 90+ degrees like the year before, that might have been different. But since it was 58 degrees, wet, and I was well-hydrated going in, I figured I could go without. I think this worked a bit in my favor.

Ammunition Supply

The official stated round count for the race was 40 rifle and 35 pistol. I was told most competitors bring double. Since I wanted to shake out my gear in more of a “minuteman” context, I went well in excess for rifle ammunition by carrying 5 mags (28 rounds each), for 140 rounds. For pistol ammo, I carried 65 rounds total.

Were I to game this in the future, I would probably stick to 3 rifle mags and 4 pistol mags to be as light as possible- though that wasn’t really the goal for me.

Something I probably need to address is my pistol magazine pouches. I’ve used the Tactical Tailor Magnas forever, but almost always in “open top” configuration. For this race, I ran them closed and that was a pain to retrieve magazines from. On top of that, their position at the front of the harness meant that the rifle and sling rested right on top of them while I was shooting with pistol, which further complicated reloads.

Stage Notes

Rather than go stage-by-stage, I’ll just cover a few highlights for training purposes. There were a few curve balls that I think threw some people off, but luckily worked in my favor since The Everyday Marksman is about a broader skillset than just shooting.

This video by the Appalachian Syndicate is a first person perspective of the entire match. Of note, the video maker was the next runner after me, so you see me finishing up both Stage 1 and Stage 2 as he arrives. However, since I skipped Stage 3, I jumped ahead of another runner and you won’t see me again.

Stage 1: Dummies and TQs

I made a bonehead mistake and actually ran past Stage 1 by accident. I had my eyes down looking at my footing and started following someone else. Unbeknownst to me, they had just finished the first stage and were en route to Stage 2. I arrived at Stage 2 with them, and then realized I screwed up. Then I backtracked and ran back to Stage 1.

Stage 1 was a pistol-only event, so I was able to stow the rifle off to the side. On “go,” I ran about 50 yards down range to a propped up wall. We had to draw, fire two hits on a target behind and to the right of the wall, then two hits on a target behind and to the left of the wall.

I made those four hits reasonably quick. Then we picked up a dummy (I’d guess about 20-30 lbs) and carried it back to the start point. Once the dummy was “behind cover” at the start, we picked up a training tourniquet from the ground and had to apply it one-handed to the strong side shooting arm. Once the TQ was applied, draw the pistol and fire two more shots at a target about 15 yards away with weak hand only to finish the stage.

My time was 55.97 seconds and ranked 16th for the stage. About a third of competitors were not able to finish the stage, and a common complaint was simply unfamiliarity with applying a TQ, much less one-handed.

Stage 2: Ringing Steel

After completing Stage 1, I got on the trail again and ran back to Stage 2 for the second time. This stage was simple. You had to stay behind a line of cones and place three hits each on three torso-sized steel targets placed an unspecified distance downrange. I’d estimate that they were about 200 yards away.

This stage was simple, as all it required was dropping to the prone and making hits. I finished at 59.8 and placed 12th overall, yet 53 competitors did not finish within the par time of 90 seconds.

From listening to some people talk, I believe a lot of people ran into an unexpected line of sight issue. The firing point was actually on a little bit of a slope downhill relative to the target. Several people dropped as low as they could  and then sent most of their shots into the gravel in front of them rather than down range. I made similar mistakes years ago at MVT while shooting over cover, where I had a good line of sight from my optic, but the actual path from the barrel was blocked by cover.

Aside from that, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people were just not good at shooting at distance and had poor fundamentals.

Stage 3: ???

This is where things go off the rails a bit. Once you left Stage 2, there was no more trail to follow. You now had to navigate through wooded terrain where the ground was covered in wet mud, forest duff, logs, and thorny shrubs. After slipping, which tore my pants and banged up my knee, I slowed from running and kept a motivated walking pace as much as I could due to terrain. The only indication of where to go was a series of pink marking ribbon tied to trees from time to time.

The catch is that these pink markers were not always obvious, and if you were focused on your footing due to the terrain, it was very easy to miss where the next marker was. One tip given to me was to never pass a marker until you’ve spotted the next one along the way. Unfortunately for me, I spotted a marker some ways away and I think it was intended for leading to Stage 4. So I veered off the path to Stage 3 and went to Stage 4 instead.

This was my first DNF of the match, and it cost me dearly points-wise. I placed 87th out of 93, so I probably wasn’t the only one to make this mistake. The stage would have required firing a rifle from behind tree in the standing, kneeling, and prone position.

Stage 4: Truck Trouble

In practice, I finished stage 4 in about 60 seconds, ending with a solid rifle performance against two steel plates hidden in the wood line about 100 yards away. Unfortunately, I still received a DNF for the stage due to a rule that wasn’t mentioned in the stage brief.

The stage started in the back of a pickup bed, facing away from the range. On “go,” you had to dismount from the truck, draw pistol, and place two hits on a steel target about 15 yards away. There was a marker on the ground that represented the closest you could be to the target.

Unfortunately there was a secondary par time of 5 seconds  from “go” to your first shot on the pistol target. So given the wet and muddy conditions, I took a little extra time to safely dismount from the truck, then ran to the marker to fire rather than firing as soon from where I hit the ground. This made me miss the 5 second par time and DNF the stage completely. I wasn’t the only one, as this put me at rank 56, so 37 other people likely made the same mistake. Frankly, I don’t think it was cool to have this as an unwritten rule given the weather conditions, and since I didn’t know the rule, I planned to make up my time for a slow dismount elsewhere.

Stage 5 & 6

Stages 5 and 6 were next to each other. Stage 5 was straightforward. On “go,” you had 15 seconds to draw and land 8 hits on a torso-sized steel target placed at 40-50 yards. I timed out after six hits, with many of my missed shots going high. That placed me at rank 24, meaning 69 other people also were unsuccessful.

This tells me that I should put a bit more time into targets at distances beyond 40 yards.

Stage 6 was a “bank robbery,” where you had to hit a series of targets while carrying a 30-40 lb bag in one hand. After the initial targets were hit (2x each), you had to carry the bag to a nearby SUV and then place one more hit on a target in front of a “no shoot,” I finished in 62.69, good enough for rank 43 on the stage.

The Home Stretch

Once finishing Stage 6, it was back into the woods following the pink flags. Before I set off, the RO at stage six said to look for the conex box and then follow the markers. I assumed he was referencing a conex box at the end of the markers, so I kept my eyes out for one. He actually meant look for a conex box that marked the start of the trail. Eventually I followed enough pink markers that I saw a conex in the open and ran to it, but then there were no signs for where to go next. I wandered around for a little bit trying to figure out where to go until I saw a shooting stage down below, so I guessed that was my next station.

Knowing that I’d only actually shot 5 stages, since I’d accidentally ran past #3, I figured that this was the last one. By the time I got there, though, I realized it was actually Stage 2, and I had looped back around. The ROs directed me back up the hill and I realized that I had popped out of the wood line about 100 yards too early. From there it was a final uphill run to the finishing line.

Wrapping Up

There you have it, my complete after action review of my performance and the event itself. In all, I’d say these Run & Gun events are a heck of a good time and everyone should endeavor to check one out.

Keep in mind that these events are not as organized as something like PRS or USPSA. There’s less of a reason for anyone to turn into a “gamer” over it, and I think it’s far better to look at them as training opportunities. There aren’t many other times you’ll get the chance to see how you actually perform with your chosen Scenario-X loadout and equipment, and it might just be an eye opening experience for you.

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Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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Oldest First
Newest First

Well Matt thanks for being so honest! Sounds like you were both challenged and frustrated at the same time but you kept your perspective – it’s not the ‘Top Ranger’ competition! You tested a realistic loadout sans the water and were in shape and marksman enough to make-up errors – your fault or not! You went in blind but prepared and answered the challenge. Good job and thanks for sharing!

Replying to  Paul

This is more like what you were expecting and training for? This looks like a riot of fun!

Replying to  Matt

Well it’s summer time – maybe another will spring up in your area. It does look like the kind of experience that is as realistic as it can get for civilians utilizing ‘live fire’ action. Good test and motivation for fitness, loadout and marksmanship.

Phill Davis
Phill Davis
Replying to  Matt

At Ellis events, I have done rope climbing, sandbag carrying, crawling under obstacles. carrying dummies, stairs and ladders to high shooting points, water crossing, wading through a chest-high swamp, vehicles, CQB shooting galleries, and just about any shooting position you can think of. I have also been to events that were like this one, basically all running and shooting. So don’t base all RnG events off of this one. Every facility has different attributes and capabilities, the next one could be completely different. And weather may have affected things as well. I can tell you this: Ellis tends to stay… Read more »

Robert Hankins
Robert Hankins

Matt that sounds like alot of fun, wish I had known about it, I have a buddy that lives in Hedgesville even he didn’t know about it, so we will get ready for the next one and use all your advice and tips from this great article. Thanks 👍


That was a great write-up, thanks for sharing the lessons and experience. Good job out performing out there!


Matt – after watching the video made by the participant ‘behind you’ I can see why you missed the station! Moving quickly you could easily miss those trail markers and get off course! I’m sure many others did as well. Looks like course planners made an effort but could have been better – maybe use ‘spotters’ to keep people on track. For safety reasons you wouldn’t want lost participants wandering on a ‘live’ range!

Replying to  Matt

Right! ‘Safety First!’

Phill Davis
Phill Davis

I have been to several RnG events, most of them run by Ellis, and I have never experienced what you are reporting. They are always well-organized, well-planned, and treated as serious competition by many of the competitors there to compete at a high level. And I have never had any trouble following the markings indicating the path. So, I don’t quite know how to respond to what you say went down. I am particularly interested in knowing more about the “5 second” rule you spoke about. I have never heard of this at any competition, and I have never seen… Read more »

Edwin Lee
Edwin Lee

I started with WTF 2016. I was born 1950. Knees shot, I walk and keep pulse average over 85% for age. I carry as much pedialyte(a gallon) and ammunition as I can–that is what I learned in BCT 1973. I’m 40# overweight. I lost my strength when covid shut down my gym, and am out for few years with long covid, after covid June 2022. Last RnG was WTF Nov 2020, Too much loss of arm strength. I do stop and rest until pulse goes back down. Heat is my big concern. My LBE, ammo, mags, hydration, rifle, pistol, IFAK,… Read more »

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