Over the years, there have been many attempts to organize shooting competitions that approximate real-life tactical training. Some of the leading ones-including IPSC in its various incarnations and IDPA-began with some very specific reality-based rules regarding guns, ammunition, carry rigs and match scenarios.
Some of these shooting programs and advanced pistolcraft schools still adhere to that approach, but the schools can be expensive if you want to reinforce the muscle memory every month, and advanced specialty competitions, such as the National Tactical Invitational, are not available to everyone.
The intention of the founders of many of these competitions always has been to link shooting competitions to the limitations imposed by practical concealed carry in tactical situations a gunowner might encounter in real life, with the idea of frequently repeating the training through regular match schedules. Thus, interested competitors would learn to respond effectively to most of the threats they might encounter.
Unfortunately, over time, and frequently at the request of the competitors involved, the guns have been tricked out and customized for winning competitions, not for winning life-threatening encounters. The match scenarios have often become unrealistic, and some even turned into athletic events. Not all of the competition programs are as practical and realistic as they should be.
So people like Gary Hellmers, his wife, Barbara, and many of their fellow shooters decided to try again, setting up Tactical Defense International (TDI). Hellmers is more than a seasoned competitor in the IPSC and IDPA disciplines. He is also a veteran police officer in Vestal, NY-in the Binghamton area-a certified police firearms instructor, as well as a former deputy sheriff.
‘They Will Come’
The message in Kevin Costner’s movie “Field of Dreams” apparently applies to shooting as well: “If you build it, they will come.” When the Hellmers and friends first started shooting the TDI program at the Tioga County Sportsmen’s Association range, they immediately started to attract regular competitors from New York state, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Now, the shooters come from even farther away. They have created a growing and exciting shooting sport with a heavy emphasis on no-nonsense, real-life training.
Tactical Defense International allows the shooter a safe field for responsible learning and competition. The basic philosophy of firearms and equipment is simple: TDI allows the competitor to use any handgun and holster, including a fanny pack, that would normally be worn in daily concealed carry, or as a duty rig. Competition-only equipment is not allowed.
The range officers and/or match directors at any TDI competition have the final say regarding what qualifies as “street” equipment.
In addition, while movement is required in almost every match scenario-especially to get behind cover where all reloads must take place, that movement is usually confined to a small area, approximating such locales as a home, office, store, backyard, movie ticket line, bank deposit area, etc. As part of the real-life approach, TDI requires that a minimum of 75% of a shooter’s body and head must be behind cover to any threat target until that target has been disabled.
When we visited the Dan Wesson Invitational shoot at the Tioga County club range in July, we saw the competitors in action on five outdoor pits and two, low-light indoor situations. The excellent berm layout at the Tioga County club allowed four match situations to be set up simultaneously on adjoining pits, while another was set up to simulate an attack at a woodsy camp site. The match scenarios in the open pits included one in which multiple threats are encountered while the competitor is making a cash drop at an after-hours bank depository, one in which threats appear in a store setting, and another where the competitor starts aboard a riding mower.
The variations are endless in TDI, but limited by the relationship to real-life threat encounters. The targets are usually cardboard silhouettes or steel disks, some stationary while others move. There are also “no shoot” friendlies, or by-standers, in the target arrays the competitor encounters, and the friendly and threat targets can be rearranged for each competitor by changing colored hats or shirt-color drapes.
Practically all situations require reloading at least once, but a few are limited to the number of shots, particularly in the Pocket Pistol division, which would include such handguns as the S&W Sigma .380.
Divisions in TDI include: Combat Handguns (1911 style 10mm or .45 single stacks); Factory Handgun (mostly double-action, safe-action factory service pistols with no custom work allowed); Custom Handgun; Factory Revolver, and the previously mentioned Pocket Pistol.
There is also a Fanny/Waist Pack division, which allows any of the previously mentioned handgun categories to be drawn from a zipper, Velcro or other closure type fanny pack rather than the holster. For competition purposes, the Pocket Pistol division requires drawing from a holster or fanny pack.
The two indoor situations that were part of the Dan Wesson Invitational that our writers attended required the use of a small tactical light to identify and engage targets in a darkened range from behind barricade cover. The Simunitions for the indoor scenarios did not arrive on time for the Dan Wesson Invitational, so all competitors were required to fire the same Model 41 in .22 caliber, using the same tactical light. Perhaps that was a good example of TDI improvising on the spot, while keeping the playing field as even as possible. Competitors compete only against people in the same classification, based on previous competition experience. Newcomers without a classification from other tactical shooting sports begin as novices.
Support and prizes were provided by Dan Wesson Firearms (Dept. GWK, 119 Kemper Lane, Norwich, NY 13815, 607-336-1174 www.dan-wesson.com).
The Dan Wesson people, who have been making a splash themselves with high quality, practically priced Government and Commander-sized 1911-style pistols in addition to their famous revolver line, were so enthused by the concept behind TDI competition that they elected to become major sponsors of a TDI tournament. Based on the company’s decision to encourage more participation in such an event, the Dan Wesson Invitational was born.
Over 50 shooters came from as far away as Ontario in the North and from New Jersey and Connecticut in the East, according to TDI’s Hellmers, who not only coordinated the match, but came out on top as the Grand Master for Combat Handgun. This, despite a knee brace on his right leg, due to an injury, but it did not seem to slow him down.
Hellmers was using a Dan Wesson .45 ACP caliber M1911 pistol, which we were fortunate to shoot during a break in the action.
Going home with prize guns were Frank Palka of Connecticut (First Place), Fran Carlin from New York (Second Place), and Chris Grube from Pennsylvania (Third Place). Also going home with firearms were Bernard Martinage from New Jersey, who won a .22-caliber Dan Wesson rifle, and Mary Sheehan, who went away with a Dan Wesson revolver.
The complete scoring results are posted on the TDI website.
Hellmer’s gun, through which he claims to have already put 16,000 rounds, was a joy to handle. Like the other Dan Wesson pistols we examined, this one was very tight, with adjustable rear sight and sharp sight picture, crisp trigger break at 3_ pounds, flat mainspring housing, and smooth cycling. Rail-to-rail fit was terrific, and when Dave Workman ran through a few rounds, it shot to point of aim, even in fast double taps.
Called the Pointman, this 1911 single-action semi-auto is anything but basic. It’s got a high-ride beavertail grip safety with memory bump, dovetail sights front and rear, flared ejection port for faster magazine loading, chromed barrel, Nowlin match trigger, skeletonized hammer, checkered wood grips and more. Many of the components are made by Chip McCormick, according to Dan Wesson President Bob Serva.
Dan Wesson is offering both full Government-length and Commander-length 1911s, either deeply blued or in two-tone models, primarily in .45 ACP, although there is one model available now in .40 S&W. More new guns and chamberings are on the way.
Also new from Dan Wesson is a series of rimfire rifles, called the Coyote line. These bolt-action repeaters are offered in either .22 Long Rifle or .22 Magnum. In addition, the company has a new varmint rifle in .22-250 and .223 Rem, with scope and bipod available through their custom shop.
Of course, the Dan Wesson label was associated from the late 1960s with revolvers that featured an interchangeable barrel system. The company’s wheelguns have long been mainstays at International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association (IHMSA) events and other long-range handgun competition.
The revolvers are back in the Dan Wesson line in a number of different series, starting with the New Generation Small Frame series and running up to the SuperMag and SuperRam series.
Not every chambering is available in each of these series, but you will be able to shoot .22 LR on up. And, in addition to the .45 Colt, .41 mag,.44 mag, and .414 and .445 SuperMags, you’ll find guns chambered for the .45 Auto Rim, .45 Super, .45 Winchester Magnum and .460 Rowland.
Naturally, the Dan Wesson revolvers are available individually in different barrel lengths, or in Pistol or Hunter Packs that include additional length interchangeable barrels.