What do thousands of cops, guns, fly fishing, tactical clothing and Montana all have in common? The 5.11 Challenge, a shooting competition for cops. The Challenge is the brainchild of Dan Costa, CEO of 5.11 Tactical, a tactical clothing company. Costa thought that by getting cops together in a friendly competition, communication and cooperation between agencies might improve. "We get law enforcement officers together from all across the country and across all agencies. They spend three days together and forge friendships that will improve inter-agency communication," Costa says.
Law Officer is a proud sponsor of this event, and I had a chance to go up to the 5.11 lodge, site of the Challenge, as part of a recent sponsor event. Like many who participate in the Challenge, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I'll give away the end of the story right now: I was very impressed.
As sponsors, we were treated to a first-hand look and run-through of the entire shooting course, courtesy of Bill Berry, the 5.11 Challenge executive director. A genuine and forthright guy with more than 30 years in law enforcement, Berry agreed when Costa asked him to develop and oversee the Challenge.
How does the Challenge work? First, you have to be chosen. You put your name in and hope that somehow the lottery odds are in your favor because thousands of other cops do the same thing. After organizers draw names and notify winners, the fun begins. Over the course of several weeks, a total of 32 teams come to the Montana lodge for a three-day stay, during which they compete in a shooting course designed to test their skills and thought processes. But they also experience something else that no other shooting competition I know of includes the hospitality of the people from 5.11. Costa personally serves each excellent meal, and the lodge itself is like something right out of Field & Stream. Speaking of the outdoors, the lodge sits right on the Big Horn River, one of the top trout fishing rivers in the whole country. When teams are not wrapped up in the competition, they float the river with a guide trying to outsmart some of the biggest trout you'll find anywhere.
The shooting course, designed by Berry, has undergone slight modifications each year in an effort to provide a challenging and fun course. True to real life, participants have to shoot with handguns, shotguns and assault rifles. The targets are special metal knockdown targets provided by Blackwater Target Systems. This type of target gives instant visual and auditory feedback, and is a lot more fun to shoot than paper targets. This year there's a new type of knockdown target called the Triple Tap. True to its name, the Triple Tap requires an officer to place two rounds center mass and one to the head. You have to see it to fully understand it, and I saw some really skilled shooters do a double take on the Triple Tap. It makes you think.
What's it like to shoot the Challenge? Well, the course itself is downright fun, and, since I didn't have the pressure of the clock or competition, I can say most competent shooters have a chance if they can balance their shooting skills with good decision making and timing. Scoring is set up so that missed rounds and extra time work against your hits, so to have even a chance of winning, you must find a rhythm that maximizes hits while minimizing time and misses.
Four teams shoot each week and are scored by NRA officials on their speed and accuracy. After all 32 teams have shot, the three highest-scoring teams get invited back for a finals competition in August. The first-place team ends up with $100,000 in gear for its department, and the second and third-place teams receive $50,000 and $25,000 in equipment. The Challenge covers participants' expenses. Last year's first and second-place winners from the Tucson (Ariz.) Police Department and U.S. Probation, respectively, donated their winnings to agencies ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Berry and his wife, Kathy, made a sweeping tour through the Gulf area, handing out much-needed gear to officers.
Check out the latest results on the Web at www.511challenge.com.
You can watch a Webcast of the finals from Aug. 25 27. By the way, if you haven't signed up for the Challenge, now's the time to throw your name in the hopper if you want to be considered for next year.