By Mike “Well Known Zombie Shooter” Keleher

Oh yeah. It is time again to shoot the undead in Grand Island, NE where all targets are zombies, and headshots are heavily encouraged, because…well, you know.

This is the seventh year the Zombies in the Heartland match is being held at the Parkland Public Shooting Park (yes you heard it right, it is a public “park” just for shooting, managed by the city.) I have attended each year and despite it being a long way from my house and not much to see across Iowa and Nebraska unless you are a big fan of corn, I can unequivocally state this is the most fun match I shoot each year.

The match is a full bore three-day competition, but has always been whimsical in nature, and originated during the height of the “Walking Dead”/Z-Nation/I-Zombie TV show peak. Grand Island is also the home of Hornady, the originator of Z-Max, anti-zombie bullets, and Steve Hornady and his son have been the heavy sponsors for the match from it’s inception. They like to have fun.

300 zombie hunters from 25 different states have descended once again to stop the zombie hordes on ten stages. You get a shooters bag when you check in to the match with stickers, hats, magazines, Hoppes Cleaner and a half pound of "Sonic Boom" brand binary exploding target kind of magic dust.Imagine giving away all that exploding target compound to shooters who can't wait to take it home and use it. The welcome bag or "bug out bag" is pretty much  a “Welcome Zombie Hunter, we’re glad you are here” bag. Sets a nice tone for the entire event.

Even though the whole zombie socialo media bit has waned, this event remains a sellout each year. Shooting legend Jerry Miculek is here again this year, as are pro-shooters Doug Koening, the effervescent Corinne Mosher, and Rob Cyra. Shooting USA television show is on the ground filming the shooters and doing interviews for later broadcast. 

 Last year addressing the crowd about 300 shooters, Steve Hornaday asked if they should drop the zombie slant and the crowd resoundingly said “No!” Apparently, all those people feel the need to practice their zombie shooting abilities at least one more year in hopes of saving humanity if the need arises, as well as collect their loot at the end from the largest 3 Gun match prize table in the world.

Fun and Competition don’t always go together in the same sentence but are conjoined twins here. How can you not have a blast while pistol shooting clay bird sized brain shots out of metal zombie heads? Or running through a faux cemetery shot gunning packs of knock down steel hell-hounds with a high capactity shotgun or headshotting targets at a dead run with a rifle?

The pace is casual. You shoot four stages in a half day on Friday, four stages in a half day on Saturday and two stages and the prize table on Sunday. Plenty of time for lounging around, comparing stories and shooting side matches like shooting a full auto M-4 for free-and yes the ammo is free too.

Most of the stages incorporate all three guns, rifle, pistol and shotgun along the way.

Rifle targets consist of paper, steel plates and clay birds from zombie close quarters battle distance out to 200 yards. Handgun is from 1-15 yards and shotgun from 15-20 yards….all on a 120 second timer of course. Speed plus accuracy wins the day.

(Zero to 50 yard rifle targets-and don't miss the brain shot!)

Have you ever been to a match that also had a zombie killer costume contest running alongside? (You were allowed to remove costume during actual shooting.) In years past, I have seen Alice from “Evil Dead” , Lara Croft from “Tomb Raider”, guys in MOPP gear, a Roman Centurion and even a guy all decked out in giant foam Nebraska Cornhusker cowboy hat and fan gear (including ears of corn on his gun belt) who “was at a Nebraska football game and rushed right over to combat the zombies.”


The match directors put a lot of effort into each year's ten fiendish courses of fire engaging the undead hordes. Stage props include things like cemeteries, roof tops, survivalist armored buses and trucks, engaging 100 yard targets from a porch swing, a helicopter body-complete with an Arnold figure announcing “Get to the Choppa!”, shotgunning from the seat of a tractor, and a Jon boat and platforms suspended off the ground by four chains where you get to get in touch with your Kung Fu balance while trying to shoot.

How about an all shotgun stage running across the pasture ground to engage 32 drop steel targets in 120 seconds? I had nearly two complete boxes of 12-gauge shells mounted on my belt while running this one down this year, running, panting and reloading while shooting around, over and behind rolled hay bales.

One of my particular favorite stages last year, started with holding a rubber duckie while seated in a bathtub, listening to “Tiny Bubbles” while a bubble machine pumped out bubbles. Upon the start signal, you exited the tub and retrieved your pistol from inside a toilet tank to engage zombies and moved on to a house façade where you picked up and fired additional weapons and spare magazines stashed on window sills….yes that kind of fun.

Shooters compete in three divisions. Tactical Division- magnified scope allowed on rifle, no scope or speed loaders on shotgun and no scope on pistol. Open Division- multiple optics allowed on rifles, optics and multi-round magazines or tube speed loaders allowed on shotguns and scopes or red dot sights allowed on pistols. Amateur Division-run what ya brung, it doesn’t matter. In Amateur you don’t get ranked for score like the other two divisions and you just get random draw at the prize table in your division. I saw a FN FAL Carbine and a Steyr Aug this year and stray AK-47’s and SKS may show up and at least one Garand came by last year, but everyone pretty much shows up in all divisions with their own vision and version of America’s rifle, the AR-15 platform with tactical scopes or red dot sights.

Pistols are shooters preference, with a wide variety of USPSA favorites like CZ's and 2011's seen as well as Glocks, Sig's and S&W M&P's and even some 1911's for those who like to reload alot! 9mm is the most popular caliber since there is no power factor rating in 3 gun. You have higher magazine capacity and less recoil than larger calibers. 12 Gauge shot guns are dominated by Benelli M2's, Jerry Miculek Series Mossbergs, Remington Versa Max and a variety of magazine fed AK style autoloading shotguns. 

The weather is always an extra factor in Nebraska. Friday’s high was just shy of the projected 97 degrees…but it came with a nearly constant 20mph wind…because, you know-it's Nebraska. After six hours in the bright sun, high heat and dry wind I looked like a piece of beef jerky…with only two more days to go! The obligitory Tornado Watch kicked in Friday night, followed by heavy rains and thundrestorms until Saturday morning…nothing new here. Every three gunner packs rain gear and is comfy in the mud, it's just part of the fun.

You also always have wind in Nebraska to figure in for long shots or waving targets around and even blowing steel targets over. One year, a rain storm with wind gusts blew in when only two of us were left to shoot. Clay bird targets hanging from nylon twine had to be engaged from 35-50 yards away on that stage and by the time I got up to shoot they were dancing around in the wind like, well, like a metaphor. Needless to say, my time on that stage was a bit longer than normal. But no matter, the oh-so sympathetic Range Officer said “Well that sucks for you. Too bad you didn’t shoot earlier.” Yeah too bad.

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(A normal Nebraska alley full of short Zombies and Hellhounds)

The match organizers feed you lunch every day, and then they have an entire tent set aside on the last day for prizes….and I do mean prizes. They routinely give away $250,000 in donated prizes. Most are given by random draw, so you don’t have to be good to win big!

If this all sounds like your cup o’ brains…err tea rather, check them out at https://www.zombiesintheheartland.com/ or via Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ZombiesInTheHeartland/ to get out there next year. #zombiesintheheartland, #corinnemosher, #robcyra.