Anne Shoots, too!

As a competitive marksman (woman?), I draw heavily upon my own experiences and expertise for my main character, Hank, who is the unit’s female sniper and firearms expert. This page will be devoted to my exploits as a marksman.

October 24, 2021

Last weekend, I was in Phoenix, AZ earning another three medals for my trophy case while shooting lever action metallic silhouette. Today, I was in a local match shooting .22LR bullseye pistol with this gun: a Hammer 215 equipped with a Larry’s Gun optic mount and an UltraDot IV red dot sight.

I’ve been the defending woman’s champion for many years in a row at this point, and today was no exception. No trophies were handed out—just some little match winner pins. The word is that Covid got the group that sponsors the match a little behind the power curve.

Still, with the exception of yesterday, I hadn’t shot this gun for two years. So I’m proud that I was able to pull a rabbit out of a hat, even though this is a case of big fish, small pond.

hope to be able to put a bit more range time into shooting this gun. I’m pretty sure if I had competed against the seniors (all men, and sadly I qualify as a senior), I’d have taken second or third place. Maybe next time, and with a bit more practice a first within the senior division.

September 23, 2020  · 


It sure seems like it!

After competing in the Sooner Classic at the Oklahoma City Gun Club, it’s about two weeks till I leave again—this time for the Texas State Lever Action Championships in Austin, TX. In the meantime, it’s finish my taxes (they’re complicated) and make more ammo for my Marlin 336XLR.

For those who might be curious, I placed second in the AA Pistol Cartridge match, third in the AAA Smallbore match, and High Woman in the Pistol Cartridge match. They had also mistakenly awarded me High Woman in the Smallbore match, but as I sat relaxing after dinner that night, I recalled overhearing another woman say she was happy with her 32—a higher score than mine. So I notified the Match Director, who double-checked and confirmed that the other woman should have gotten that award. I was happy to return it so she could have the award she rightfully earned. Three medals is plenty. 

If you think you’re a good shot, silhouette can make you humble. Especially the lever action category, as it requires shooting off-hand with a largely unmodified gun using simple aperture sights out to distances of 200 meters. If you’ve never seen it, see if there’s a match local to you and go out to watch. Better yet, give it a try!

I’m still working on Book 15: The Hanged Man as well. I hope you’ll like the interesting twist I intend to write into this one! It’s currently just under 32,000 words. Hank has just mysteriously baffled Amigo by dumping a double handful of ammunition cases into a bin, tossing in three more, and declaring it to be exactly 100 cases. And it is. Can Amigo figure out how she did it?

Sep. 12, 2020

The space I use for reloading ammunition


My apologies for the notable sparse visits to the group. It’s a busy time for me right now, between writing, editing, publishing… But not by any means least of all, preparing for two upcoming state-level competitions: the annual Sooner Classic Lever Action Championships in Oklahoma City, OK and the Texas State Lever Action Championships in Austin, TX. The latter was supposed to take place in March, but got rescheduled due to Covid.

It’s been a lot of time at the range, especially as I took the leap this year into producing my own ammunition. This has entailed setting up a reloading area and trying to find everything needed to reload. I’ll still be using factory ammo for the pistol cartridge rifle and was fortunate to find some! But for the rifle cartridge, it’s been a lot of work loading 30-30 Winchester rounds and taking them to the range to see how well they work.

For those who’ve never done it, this is the line-up of things that have to be done to reload ammunition:

  1. Remove the spent primer from the case. This I do by hand, as it doesn’t make a lot of sense to lubricate the case at this point to keep it from sticking in a reloading die. I’ve “decapped” about 2,000 cases in the past month between 30-30 and 38SPL+P cases (which I’ll be reloading next, after the present competitions are done).
  2. Clean the cases. I do this by a wet method, using steel pins. And because I do very large batches, I use a cement mixer for this. Yes, you heard me right: a cement mixer.
  3. Rinse and dry the cases. The steel pins are removed with a magnetic wand, the soap used with the steel pins is rinsed clean, and a final rinse with a rinse agent is used. Then, after assuring all the steel pins are out of the cases, they’re arranged in a dehydrator to dry.
  4. Prep the primer pockets. I like to ensure they’re clean and all cut to the same depth, which I do on a case prep station.
  5. Lube and size the cases. The lubricant helps avoid having the case stick in the resizing die. Then they’re put through the resizing die.
  6. Trim and deburr the case neck. This brings the cases to a uniform length and ensures they’re within SAAMI specifications (Small Arms Ammunition Manufacturing Institute). This will, in turn, assure that the final produced ammo will chamber properly. Deburring assures that the neck won’t stick in the chamber, and that the bullet will seat properly. This is a two-step procedure, as both the inside and outside of the case neck need deburring. Another step done on a case prep station.
  7. Seat new primers. I do mine by hand, as sometimes too much pressure will set one off!
  8. Charge the cases with new propellant (smokeless powder). I have an electronic dispenser for this, but it’s not totally accurate, so I undercharge the case and then bring it to the exact charge manually on a second, very accurate scale.
  9. Seat new bullets. This is the easiest step in my book. I then check a representative number of the completed rounds to make sure the overall length (OAL) is within SAAMI standards.
  10. Take some to the range and check them for accuracy in my gun. This is a continuous process, as is checking to see what variables will make the ammunition more accurate. You can use different cases, different primers, different powders, different charges, and different bullets. I think most competitive marksmen are constantly trying to see if they can make their ammunition more accurate, and I’m no exception.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to!

August 24, 2020  · 


One of the critical items for a marksman is the accuracy of their ammunition. This is something I’ve been working on lately in preparation for a couple of upcoming competitions.

There are an incredible number of variables, which makes me wish I still had access to a lab I worked in where we had access to a supercomputer and could run multivariable analyses.

Let’s take components. There are different primers, different powders, different cases, different bullets. Let’s say there are 4 different primers you can use, 4 different kinds of brass cases, 6 different powders, and 16 different kinds of bullets. No, you don’t multiply 4x4x6x16 to get the number of combinations you could make—you multiply (4!)x(4!)x(6!)x(16!) to get the number. The ! indicates “factorial,” which = n x (n-1)… etc until you get to one. So 4! = 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 or 24. 6! = 720. 16! equals over 2.09 x 10^13, or if written out, 20,900,000,000,000. Now, multiply those four numbers together and realize I have no intention of trying all those different combos! And I forgot that there are different amounts of powder to consider as well.

But I will try some of them, which I did today. Five different amounts of powder, which gave me three different powder loads (the amount of powder that goes into the case) that give me good results, as measured by group size—how close the shots are together.

I found what I consider to be a good load for the 30-30 Winchester-chambered rifle that will give me better accuracy than factory-made ammunition without beating me to death and still being able to knock over the 55-pound ram target that’s set at 200 meters from the firing line. I’ll shoot this ammunition—which I make myself by reloading brass cases I’ve fired before—for the next two competitions, then play with some additional combos to see if I can make even better ammunition for next year’s competitions.

If you have read the second book of The Unit series, you’ll see a scene where Hank, Luigi, and Amigo are doing a very careful job of loading ammunition for the mission they’re about to undertake. It can give you an idea of the factors that go into making an accurate shot with regard to the ammunition used. Most competitive marksmen do as I’ve just done: make their own. The formally-trained scientist in me loves this stuff.

August 20, 2020

The silhouette range at Ben Avery used for lever action competitions

Yet another day for your author to practice for upcoming competitions.

I had mentioned recently to some friends that in a year, it isn’t atypical for me to fire 35,000 rounds of ammunition or more during practices on the firing range. I go five days a week and will practice for an hour or more.

I also mentioned that the shooting sports are represented in both Summer and Winter Olympics. Yes, shooting is a true sport. What does it take? Dedication, hard work, and constant refinement of skills.

There are six fundamentals of shooting: stance, grip, sight picture, breath control, trigger control, and follow-through. For each of those fundamentals, there are dozens of errors. If you are into shooting competitively, you chase those errors around. One I’ve been working on recently is a trigger control plus follow-through error. Fire the shot, but don’t release the trigger until you see the target hit, Anne.

In my rifle sport of lever action metallic silhouette (I also shoot bullseye pistol), the sport is performed free-standing: no sling, no support, no specialized equipment. The rifle also may not be greatly modified from how it comes out of the box when first purchased. You can cut the butt of the stock to length so it fits you (yes, rifles must fit properly), you can do a “trigger job” to make the action work smoother and lighten up the amount of effort it takes to pull the trigger (most trigger “weights” are around six pounds coming from the manufacturer; I have mine adjusted to two pounds), and you can put on aperture sights, but not Olympic-style aperture sights. You can put on a leather cheek piece to get a better “cheek weld” on the crest of the stock. You stand with the rifle held only in your two hands and against your shoulder and shoot at silhouettes of animals (chickens, pigs, turkeys, and rams) set at distances anywhere from 40 meters to 200 meters, depending upon which rifle you’re shooting at the time (we shoot three different ones).

Even the range has to be done in a particular way. Marksmen must stand a particular distance apart. They cannot be shielded in any way, neither from each other nor from the wind. Yes, you will sometimes get hit by another person’s ejected brass. You are allowed only a certain amount of ammunition in front of you on the shooting stand.

It was windy today when I went to the range, but I went anyway. Why? Because this is what you hear from the tower where the match director is calling the range commands when the weather turns bad: “RELAY TO THE LINE!” I have, in 16 years of shooting at national silhouette competitions, ONCE seen the match delayed—and that was because a thunderstorm was directly over the range. So naturally, you don’t want the competitors handling steel lightning rods. I have shot in wind, rain, hail, snow, freezing fog (almost impossible to see the targets through the fog!), and typically in this area, triple-digit heat. One national match found so much wind that the heavy steel targets would not stay on their stands and we ended up shooting the match on the practice targets (“swingers”) that were on the range.

Sounds miserable, right? Naaahhhhh! It’s a ton of fun, and I always enjoy meeting up with all the marksmen that I’ve shared the ranges with during competitions over the years.

The Oklahoma Regional Sooner Classic is coming up in one month; the Texas State Lever Action Championships two weeks after that. I’ll be at the range five days a week until the Texas match is over, then come home after practice and spend my time writing Book 15 of The Unit series: The Hanged Man.

July 30, 2020  · 

You all know that I love the challenge of competitive marksmanship. Toward that end, here’s what I’m getting next:

Yes, this is a rifle chambered in .22LR: the CZ457 Varmint. It’s turning out to be the darling in a new sport: NRL22. What’s the challenge? Hitting something the size of a rat set out at 300 yards.

This gun won’t be complete without a scope, but otherwise is good to go right from the box. I’m looking forward to its arrival!

Often, people have a misconception of the kind of people who are firearms enthusiasts. We aren’t all crazed will-one-day-be killers. We aren’t all afraid that the end of the world is upon us. As a matter of fact, very few firearms owners are that way, or any other “odd” way. And competitive marksmen are, if I do say so myself, some of the nicest and calmest people you could ever meet.

Here’s why: You cannot be a good marksman and not be in control of your emotions. Anything that leads to unwanted movement of the gun will result in a poor shot – and that includes even your heartbeat. Definitely your breathing. Get yourself keyed up so your heart is going 100 miles an hour, and you will not hit that tiny target you’re aiming for. Because if you want to win, the smaller the target you can hit, the better. Accuracy is the name of the game in any shooting sport. Time is also important, but accuracy is the most important thing in marksmanship. Will you lose points on time? Yes. But you lose more on inaccurate shots.

I had the pleasure recently to be allowed the use of a CZ457 chambered for .17HMR. We have a gentleman (Nathan) who comes all the way from San Antonio to El Paso just to shoot on Fort Bliss Rod and Gun Club’s 1000-yard range. He not only allowed me the use of his gun, but also gave me 50 rounds of ammunition to play with, along with another 150 rounds of ammunition I use in competition, given it’s scarce at the moment.

He had hung a 10” circular target out at 200 meters, which once I had the elevation figured out (a combination of some calculations and a couple of shots to ensure the calculations were correct), soon became rather unchallenging to hit. With the range having additional rectangular targets set out at 300 meters, 400 meters and so on out to 1000 meters, it was time to up the game. These are fairly large targets, being 12” x 24”, but once again things got predictable at 300 meters, so I took it out to 400 meters. There I was hitting below the target into the berm, but I didn’t want to crank up the elevation any higher, given I’d already gone once around with his scope’s elevation turret plus 3 MOA and didn’t know how much thread the turret had. With limited ammunition left, I couldn’t quite get on target by “holding off”: where the crosshair is held in the direction required to bring the round on target (in this case, up).

But it was a hoot to send a small, rimfire round 300 meters downrange and hit a target, given the bullet drop at that point is 12 MOA down from a 100 meter zero and the round is likely going transonic at that point and thus starting to do odd things. So I got the itch, and now I’m going to get my own rifle for meeting this kind of challenge.

If you don’t think this is fun, you really need to try it.

July 1, 2020  · 


Above, you’ll get a hint in the picture.

Knocking on wood, crossing my fingers, wishing on falling stars, and doing anything else I can think of in the hopes that the Oklahoma Sooner Classic will go off as planned in mid-September.

Every year, I try to do the NRA National Lever Action Silhouette Championships as well as the Sooner Classic – both of which have been run by some people I truly respect in the shooting sports. This year, though, because of Covid-19, the NRA cancelled all NRA-sanctioned matches until today. All of the Nationals were out-and-out cancelled.

I hadn’t planned on going to the Nationals this year anyway because they were moved to Ridgway, PA. I’ve shot at Ridgway before. They have a wonderful range. But there are no nearby hotels, eateries, RV parks, etc. The last time I went, it was a 14-day round trip and cost in excess of $3,000. And I had to put up with only 3 hours of sleep due to the loud, obnoxious, and drunken guests of the hotel I was staying in. NO, thank you.

So, this year I had planned (given I wasn’t going to the Nationals) to go to four state/regional matches. From the looks of it, three of the four have been permanently cancelled, but the Sooner looks like it will be a go.

So, it’s range time, made doubly necessary by the fact that earlier this year I slipped on the runner while getting into my truck and tore up BOTH knees. Yeah, there’s wing walk tape on that runner now. Why? Because hindsight is 20/20, that’s why.

This gun, for those unfamiliar, is a Marlin 39A lever action .22LR. In 2012, your author won the National Women’s title shooting this gun in the Smallbore championship. Lever action shoots three guns: a rifle cartridge gun (usually chambered for 30-30 Winchester), a pistol cartridge gun (split about evenly between .22 Win mag and .357), and a .22LR smallbore gun. That makes three separate championships, all shot usually over a span of three to four days, and with an overall champion being declared as well by adding up the six scores achieved over the three championships (two matches are held for each gun for a total of six matches, with two matches per championship).

I was lucky to get this gun when I did. It’s a “JM” gun, meaning it was made when Marlin was still an autonomous manufacturer and before it was taken over by Remington, who most of us who shoot this sport agree has done the 39A no favors (sorry, Remington – but the truth is the truth). It’s been a very good and accurate gun for me, though it is a bit fussy about what ammo it will shoot. It doesn’t like too much lubricant, so highly lubed cases will stick every. single. time.

So, this is what I’ve been doing every day: taking one of the three guns to the range and doing some practice shooting in order to determine which gun and which animal (silhouette shoots banks of metal animal silhouettes set at four different distances) needs the most practice. This is complicated currently by a lack of ammunition, so I have to meter out the ammunition I have (Covid-19 has resulted in an ammo shortage in most common calibers). Hopefully, I’ll get both my shooting and my knees in shape to take on a three-day match by mid-September.

April 18, 2020 •


What you likely don’t also know about your author is that I’m a Range Technical Team Advisor for the NRA. Part of that job is to identify safety issues on ranges.

This is a pretty good example of a safety issue.

For those who might not have caught the entire sequence, even when the footage was slowed down, the man in the gray hoodie fires his handgun. The case (which is HOT, folks—and I’ve got a scar that proves how hot it is) bounces off the top of the partition between him and the booth to his right and then drops down the back of his shirt.


In his attempt to remove the hot piece of brass, he neglects putting his handgun down on the bench in front of him first, and ALSO doesn’t take his finger off the trigger.

The man behind him is range staff, sweeping up spent brass—which is smart on the range’s part because the brass is a tripping hazard and can cause a patron to fall and be injured. He is obviously, though, not watching the people he’s passing behind, otherwise he’d see the fellow dangerously waving his gun.

Our guy with the hot brass down his back now, in his further attempt to quit being burnt, negligently pulls the trigger, sending two rounds BEHIND him. The fellow sweeping up brass is a lucky, lucky guy because he didn’t get hit.

Solution for the range: extend partitions to a higher height. Second solution: have adequate range safety officers to correct this kind of incident. Tertiary solution: have all patrons required to take and pass a range safety course prior to use of the range. One of the ranges I’m permitted to use does just that, and I commended them for it—especially as the owner knows me and knows my credentials, and still said, “You, too, Anne.” No problem!

For what it’s worth, how I got my hot brass scar was during a bullseye pistol match. I was aimed in , ready to take my shot, and the competitor to my left sent a hot piece of .22LR brass in my direction. It landed on my neck and stuck there—that’s how hot it was. Being the “sniper type” that I am, I completed my shot, set my pistol down, and picked the brass off my neck. It left a nice second-degree burn. From then on, I have always worn a turtle neck to a gun match.

This also recalls a funny story told to me by a former corrections officer I know. While doing recurrent qualifying on the range, a woman to his left managed to catch a piece of hot brass down her neck, which ended up in her bra. After she holstered while squirming, a hand down the neck of her shirt, to retrieve the brass, Mr. Smart Ass turned and asked her, “Would you like me to help?” Her answer was an emphatic NO!

December 31, 2019  · 

Some videos that Hank loves. Me too.

NO, not the longest shot you’ll see!

A nice little challenge pitting two ~6mm rounds against each other. Just a note here: these rounds can be expected to go subsonic at around 1200 yards, meaning shots at that distance become erratic.

Round 2 of the above challenge. Notice the shimmer in the camera view on the left? That’s mirage, caused by the air near the ground being warmed by the heat of the sun. Watch this: as the distances get longer, the mirage builds as the day gets hotter. That mirage will raise hell with your ability to accurately aim. Plus, at the final distance of 1700 yards, those rounds must be getting a bit squirrelly.

And for the coup de grace: the longest recorded shot EVER. .416 Barrett through a MacMillan rifle, 3.4 miles. MILES. Just for the doubters. I’ll just let you savor the moment!

What does all this take? A very good gun with very good optics, shooting a very good round, operated by a very good marksman following very accurate ballistic calculations.


October 15, 2019


Currently, your author isn’t just writing. She’s spending daily range time. Well… except Saturdays and Sundays, as the range gets crowded and some patrons aren’t very safe.

For the past four years in a row, I’ve won the Ladies’ title for the range’s annual bullseye championship. After an abysmal showing at the OKC Gun Club’s Regional Silhouette Championship, it’s time for redemption.

Today, I went out with 90 rounds of CHEAP ammunition to put through my EXPENSIVE bullseye pistol. Basically, I didn’t want to burn up two bricks of Eley Edge at $16/50 rounds of .22LR ammunition during practice, so I took some bulk Federal AutoMatch instead. Surprise! My Hammerli seems to like AutoMatch better than Edge! You have to love a snob gun that likes cheap ammo. It would be like watching Donald Trump eat a hotdog. 

July 30, 2020


Much as I may be happy about at least one of the competitions I planned on attending this year actually happening, there is that all-too-necessary trigger time that has to be engaged in prior to the event.

Sometimes, you encounter something you hadn’t noticed before.

I shoot bullseye pistol and lever action silhouette when I’m not just out on the range with a sniper rifle or handgun having some serious fun. For lever action silhouette, we shoot three guns: one chambered in a rifle cartridge (usually 30-30), one chambered in a pistol cartridge (evenly split between .22 Win mag and .357; I shoot .357), and one chambered in .22LR (the smallbore gun).

This requires a lot of sighting in and determining which targets also need to be worked on, as silhouette shoots banks of ten or fifteen metallic animal targets set at four different distances. That’s where I am at the moment, so each day finds me at the range shooting one of the guns and determining my percentage of hits so I know which targets need to be worked on. I finished that yesterday, but in the process noticed something I’d not noticed before, but which turns out to be pretty critical. You see it in the picture above.

Both of these .22LR rounds are made by the same manufacturer (CCI/Speer). Both utilize a 40-grain bullet. Both have a muzzle velocity of 1235 feet per second. But you can see a critical difference that I had not noticed before, largely because I never had both of these on the range at the same time.

The round on the left is branded as “CCI MiniMag”. It’s a hotter round (has a higher muzzle velocity) than other CCI .22LR rounds, and also a heavier bullet. Other CCI .22LR rounds use a 36-grain bullet and/or have muzzle velocities of 1070 fps. The round on the right is branded as “CCI AR Tactical.” It, too, utilizes a bullet of 40 grains and has a muzzle velocity of 1235 fps, just like MiniMag. But the narrower profile of the AR Tactical bullet makes it fly higher and flatter than the MiniMag bullet. Significantly so! I actually had to drop my setting a full MOA lower to hit in the same location as the MiniMag bullet hits at 100 meters.

So, if you ever wonder why your DOPE (Data On Previous Engagements) doesn’t work for cartridges with identical grain weights for the bullet and identically-stated muzzle velocities, you might want to take a close look at the bullet profile. It can make all the difference in the world.

  · July 30, 2019  · 

Yes, that’s me with my Savage 112, chambered for .338 Lapua mag


Every two years, in order to retain my authorization to conduct Texas License to Carry classes, I have to do range qualification. Occasionally, they call us all in for a class as well, but this year there’s no class for the instructors. Instructors must shoot both a semi-auto and a revolver.

Scoring on the targets below is: anything within or touching the 8 ring = 5 points, within or touching the outer line of the 7 ring but not within the 8 ring = 4 points, and anything outside the 7 ring but within or touching the silhouette = 3 points. Nothing else counts.

My semi-auto pistol target is on the left, my revolver on the right. TX LTC instructors must use a 9mm or higher for the semi-auto; .38 caliber or higher for the revolver. My semi-auto is a Springfield Armory EMP chambered for 9mm, and my revolver a Ruger SP101 chambered for .38SPL/.357 mag. The EMP has a 3.75″ barrel; the Ruger is a 5-shot revolver with a 4.2″ barrel. The distances required to engage the targets span from 3 yards to 15 yards. I missed 1 point on the semi-auto, 2 on the revolver. The maximum score is 250; the minimum passing score for an instructor is 225; I shot 249 (semi-auto) and 248 (revolver). The “outliers” were shot at the 15 yard distance—my excuse for not putting those shots in the 5 zone.

I do my qualification each year with a good friend and fellow instructor who is a retired DEA agent. Yeah, I’m jealous—he didn’t drop a single point. But, to tell the truth, the DEA has perhaps the toughest pistol qualification out there, requiring accurate shots to 50 yards on the standard QIT-99 target, which is a smaller target than the B27 police qualification target shown above.

It’s always fun getting together with “Lefty” and doing a little shooting. Next time we go to the range, I’m going to introduce him to my new sniper rifle and its digital scope. “Reach out and touch someone” doesn’t refer to phone calls for me!

July 2, 2019

High Power Silhouette Range, NRA Whittington Center, Raton, NM


For those of you who have read Camp Chaos (The Unit Book 1), you know that the opening scene finds Kathryn Hanko lying prone on a firing line, taking shots at a white buffalo target mounted 1100 yards away on a hillside. Some of you might recognize this description as a real place—a place where I am right now!

The picture above shows you this place. If you look on the upper right side of the picture, you can see the white buffalo on the hillside. The black spot you see (it’s an aiming mark) is 16 inches in diameter. The buffalo itself is six feet high by ten feet long. When you hit it, it sounds like a church bell. When you take your shot, it takes quite a while for it to get to the white buffalo. While your bullet flies toward the buffalo, it makes a sound like sizzling as it passes through the air, which is basically the sound of the bullet as it breaks the sound barrier on its trajectory.

I have hit the buffalo exactly ONCE. But I did it with a lever action 30-30 equipped with aperture sights while standing and with the rifle supported only by my two hands and my shoulder. For a marksman, THAT IS A THRILLING EXPERIENCE!

By the way, the targets you see on the range are metal animal outlines. Those are the rams; they’re located 500 meters away from the firing line. All rifle silhouette is shot from a standing position with no slings nor any other support. High power, which is what this range is set up for, is shot with scoped rifles. It’s still a challenge to hit the target. The rams are the size of a large dog, about the size of a bulldog. You see why this sport is a challenge.

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