By Mike Keleher
The undead returned to Grand Island NE this June, defeating both biological plague and COVID. Hornady (headquartered in Grand Island) has long been the yearly sponsor of the Zombies in the Heartland three gun match but had to take last year off due to COVID 19. Something about Zombies being unable to maintain 6 feet of social distance and a complete refusal to wear one or more face masks… and you try and explain all of the conflicting science about vaccinations to a brain dead zombie.
Well, when the call went out early this spring via Facebook and Practiscore, over 300 diligent competitors and Z slayers answered and responded to this major match and to protect the Nebraskans. My pal Shifty and I went out to help stop the murderous herd. I mean, hey, better to fight them over there on the other side of the Mississippi river, or the next thing you know they are hopping the river on Casino boats and grain barges in the Quad Cities.
The Zombies in the Heartland match is my absolute favorite three gun match of the year. I have attended many times, and it is made up of great stages of fire, cool Zombie targets and a generous prize table! It is competition, but man is it fun!
With ammunition in short supply and exorbitant price this year, the match directors cut back on the overall number of rounds sent down range. Instead of double tapping head shots, a single rifle hit above the neck would neutralize the target. No sense wasting extra ammo on the nefarious undead. In other years there were some pistol-based shots to the body or torso-but not this year. All pistol shots were head shots too. The match staff take a year to design the stages and a month to build and test them. They are an absolute blast.
At the last minute before the shamblers hit the edge of town, the match directors announced Hornady, the major sponsor of the match for 11 years, had really gone the extra mile here to ensure the ammo shortage did not stop the match. Hornady set aside some of their production run of ammunition for each shooter to purchase at deep discount. We were stunned to find we could buy 75 rounds of Hornady .223 -$75 worth of bullets at 2021 prices for a total of only $26.25. Two boxes of 9mm (current value up to $50 each) were $15 each and two boxes of 12-gauge shells, currently retailing at $15-$20 if you can find them, were only $7.99 a box. Where else in America are you going to be treated this way at a competition and fun match?
At the end of every shooting season, I take stock on things to change or improve, and last year I bought a new Weber Tactical ratchet gun belt, tore down my rifle and put new lighter weight handguard, stock and buffer system in to include a K-shot hydraulic buffer. (With less available ammo this year, I tested that new rifle config only once before going to this major match to ensure it still functioned. Oh and I only used up about 20 bullets doing it. Yeah, don’t try this at home kids, I am a professional.) Shifty, in true competition style almost dumped his rifle in favor of a different rifle mere hours before leaving home. It happens to all of us.
I also condensed my accessory gear and went with a clear vinyl backpack for most immediate shooting needs- down from two small buckets-which started out as two five gallon buckets a few years ago. Well smaller and lighter is a great thing-my organization skills however are not so great, and I arrived in Nebraska without a Velcro liner belt, first aid gear, knee pads and several other “necessary” pieces of gear I forgot to move over to the clear bags. Oh, and by the way, that novel idea for clear bags you can see through? You can just see all your junk smushed together. If you want to find anything you still must dig through it like a bag of garbage.
I shoot a Frankenstein level AR-15 (It is a bit of a monster that got out of control years ago. It lives in the basement and I just feed it ammo and money), with a Rock River 18″ barrel, MST stock, Wilson Combat Trigger, and a Vortex 1-8x tactical scope. My pistol is a full sized Sig Sauer 320 9mm with Gray Guns trigger, and the “buy once, cry once” shotgun is a Benelli M2 with an 18 inch barrel that has been modified a bunch internally, and currently has a 10 shot magazine extending far beyond the barrel length. The Benelli is old like the owner, and the profile is far behind current trends for competition shotguns, but it is darn near infallible. My Weber Tactical belt sports two pistol mag holders, two rifle mag holders, Blade Tech platforms to slip a bunch of Tac Com shotgun shell holders on and off, and a Weber Tactical Kydex holster with a push button release strap over the top (three gun running and climbing and jumping can be too much for many open top holsters-those flying pistols are always a fascinating sight to see before they hit the ground and the owner is disqualified) and a Cap’n America Shield like pattern on the outside of the holster.
So Shifty and I roared up to the range in a cloud of gravel dust with about half my stuff, and announced to the volunteers “We are here to help!” We were checked in, given our Zombie Killer match t-shirts and a swag bag with hats, stickers, catalogs and other fun items then pointed towards the range where we were expected to do our part with the undead.
There as anticipated, we found all targets are Zombie targets, and all rifle and pistol shots were brain shots, because, well, you know…Zombies.
The best head shot targets, were pistol only steel Zombie heads with clay birds in the forehead for entry to the brain box. They are generally grouped several together, and it is quite satisfying to see those clay birds shatter one after another. Rifle targets in mockup Z invasion bays this year were all white plastic targets that peaked out from behind logs, barrels and torched vehicles from three to fifty yards. One shot in the head would neutralize them- except for the pesky hybrid zombies which had a clay bird in the chest, and you had to rifle shoot the bird then tap the head to put ‘em back in the dust.
One of the most unique targets, was a serious twist on the standard plate rack, where five or six plates are lined up side by side and mowed down with pistols and shotguns. Well not at the Z Shoot. They had a large green Zombie head with a 10-inch hole in the forehead and five falling plates arranged all in a row behind the hole. You had to shoot through the hole to knock each plate down and of course as you progressed each plate was further back than the last. Get your head down on your sights and keep making good trigger pulls for two- or three-seconds ought to do it.
There were some medium distance steel targets for rifles on a couple of stages out to 100 and 200 yards. Major matches now currently have targets out to 600 yards so 200 yards isn’t that far away. You always hear from non-shooters “When I was in the Boy Scouts/Metro Bus Drivers/Merchant Marine/School Hall Monitors etc. we used to qualify out to 600 yards!” Well, this game is done on a timer, and you can’t lie around on a static range. In three gun, you have to shoot and move and work through different obstacles as well as different weapon platforms all while the clock is ticking. So those 100- and 200-yard targets were just the beginning of the stage. No lying around patting yourself on the back-you still had more guns to shoot before the final beep on the timer.
One of my favorite stages started with you engaging three 100 yard plates off hand with rifle and then transition to your pistol and shoot some heads at close range. Doesn’t sound too tough, does it? Well to engage them you, and your rifle have to do it seated on a Harley which is hanging suspended off the ground by four chains. Can you say wiggle-jiggle? Try and find a stable shooting position on that bike. Yoga core strength might help. I have way more donut core strength.
The long-range bay next to the motorcycle stage has the strangest long-range targets I have ever seen. There is about a 100-yard berm in front of you, and then large tubes go through the berm, and you have shoot through the tubes to hit steel targets another 100 yards behind the berm with your rifle. The fiendish stage designers gave us a piece of irrigation machine to lean on to start-it is arched and curved and you had to shoot through three tubes at different spots along the way while kneeling, crouching, splay legged or any other way you could line up to shoot through the tube and when you hit your 200 yarders. Then you had to safely ground your rifle, grab your shotgun and run up through three shooting boxes in a simulated corn field to smite about a dozen steel pepper popper and shambling Z’s. Oh and you have 120 seconds to do it. Match winner and recent high school graduate Jon Wiedell did it in 25 seconds. Multi world record holder Jerry Miculek did it in 29 seconds. Your time may vary.
With ten total stages to shoot at this match you saw a ton of different presentations, moving, shooting in, on, around and under stage props. On a rooftop, around an armored assault bus, running through a chest high tube, from inside a pickup truck cab that moved the scenery around when you turned the wheel, and other fun ideas using one, two or all three weapons… or some combination thereof.
Everyone I know looks forward to this match over all others, and there are a lot of happy faces in evidence. The whole Zombie, Walking Dead thing has long passed as a fun fad, but these shooters still love to knock some pretend bio- threats down. The match directors and RO’s go above and beyond to make sure people have a good time, and they toss in lunch three days in a row, iced water delivered to the stages, sprayed water on the roads and range to keep dust down, and on Sunday afternoon passed out trophies and set the largest and most expensive prize table in America.
I got to shake hands with Steve Hornady “The Zombfather” and thank him for all his company does to put this match on year after year. Steve said they would keep having the match as long as people wanted to shoot it. If you are interested in shooting this match next year, get on the Zombies in the Heartland Facebook page, website, and Practiscore-they don’t post often, but around March they will announce the dates and how to sign up.
It was a burden for us of course to go all that way and shoot all those Z’s and have all that fun, but Shifty and I felt it was the right thing to do- defending those of us who still have active brains and all. We are good that way.