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Showdown in Big Sky Country

There were no losers in the 5.11 Challenge law enforcement shooting competition.

November 01, 2004  |  by - Also by this author

Officers scored in most of the stages by hitting the targets with the fewest number of rounds and in the quickest time measured in seconds. For example, in the handgun stages, each target knocked down counted 10 points, each unused round counted 10 points, and one point was deducted for each second that expired before the officer shot all of his rounds or knocked over all the targets.

Berry says the most important aspect of the competition’s rules from the standpoint of officer training was the scoring for unused rounds. “Law enforcement officers are accountable for every round that we shoot,” he says. “We need to know where every round is going, and we don’t want to shoot an innocent civilian. The pressure of having the officers turn in their unused bullets created that accountability for the competition.”

The Finals

The finals of the 5.11 Challenge were held on the afternoon of Sept. 11 (The significance of the date didn’t escape any of the participants.)

Three teams of two officers each competed for the championship: the Dallas team, Sgt. Joseph Maines and Senior Cpl. Mark Paghi of the Dallas Police Department; the Maine team, Dep. Rod Merritt of the Washington County Sheriff’s Department and Sgt. Jason Scott of the Machias Police Department; and the North Carolina team, Officer David McDonald of the Raleigh Police Department and Sgt. Robert Windsor of the Wake County Sheriff’s Department.

After winning the Montana equivalent of a coin toss, Maine shot first. Merritt, who had recorded the highest score on the range in the preliminary competitions, stumbled out of the gate, missing his first two shots on the initial stage of the pistol course, but he recovered well, with 12 straight hits and an elapsed time of 46 seconds. Merritt’s partner, Scott, did not fare better, and the Maine team found itself trailing both the North Carolina and Dallas teams by a substantial margin.

Dallas shot first on the second stage of the pistol course. Maines shot well, hitting 18 targets with only three misses. However, Paghi had trouble with his aim on the first rack of targets, missing with four shots before he could knock down all six. With coaching and encouragement from Maines, Paghi settled down to finish off the remaining 12 targets with only one bad shot. Maine gained a little ground on Dallas in this stage, but North Carolina had another strong showing and widened its overall lead.

North Carolina led off the shotgun course with a strong performance by McDonald. He scored all eight targets in 19.55 seconds with no misses. McDonald’s partner, Windsor, was almost as quick, hitting eight targets in 22 seconds with no misses. Maine’s Scott was equally impressive, dusting all eight targets in 21 seconds without a miss. His partner Rod Merritt also tallied a perfect score on this stage, but in a much more deliberate shooting style that yielded a time of 30 seconds. The Dallas team was faster overall but less accurate with one miss per officer.

5.11 Challenge organizer Bill Berry sights in an M4 carbine during the setup of the course of fire. Berry recently retired from his post as chief of the California Park Police.

Trap shooting was the next event in the competition. And it was clearly the most difficult for all of the officers involved. Maine led off with Merritt missing a total of four shots. Scott then dusted 10 straight clay pigeons and 17 total, giving Maine the best score for the stage.

Going into the final stage, North Carolina had a total score of 1,228 points; Dallas, 1,070; and Maine, 1,053. It was clear that, barring disaster on the rifle course, North Carolina would win, but second place was really too close to call.

Dallas’ Maines shot first and, by the time he handed the smoking M4 to the NRA rangemaster supervising the competition, the Dallas team had pretty much locked up second place. Maines knocked down all 11 of the targets without a miss, something that no other competitor had accomplished in eight weeks of the preliminaries. Then to seal second place, Paghi cleaned the targets with only one miss. Dallas’ total score on the rifle course was 302 points, Maine scored 245 points, and North Carolina brought up the rear with 232 points in the final stage.

But it was North Carolina’s day. McDonald and Windsor outscored the Dallas team by 88 points to take first place.

At a banquet that evening at the lodge, North Carolina was declared the winner. For their performance, the North Carolina team secured 200 sets of gear, equipment, apparel, and footwear to be divided among their agencies. In addition, the Raleigh PD, the agency of record on the entry form, received a new Remington 7615 pump-action .223 caliber patrol rifle. Remington also awarded every other agency involved in the finals a Remington 870 pump shotgun. Second-place Dallas took home 100 sets of gear, apparel, equipment, and footwear, and third-place Maine walked away with 50 sets, enough for almost every officer on both the Machias PD and Washington County Sheriff’s Department.

In addition to the agency awards, the individual finalists also won a variety of products from the sponsors. Each finalist was given a Glock pistol of his choice and Bianchi duty gear and holsters, Merritt won an engraved Strider folding knife for his best overall performance, and Paghi took home the Aimpoint sight used in the competition after winning a post-competition rifle shoot.

The inaugural 5.11 Challenge was such a success that 5.11’s Costa says officers can expect the program to continue. And this year’s winners would encourage officers to enter.

“This has been the experience of a lifetime,” says Windsor. “At the finals, the sponsors paid to have our families join us in Montana.”

McDonald adds, “We enjoyed some great competition, especially from the Maine and Dallas guys in the finals, and we got to know officers from other departments. We are grateful to all the sponsors for making all this happen and treating us so well.”

Sponsors for the 2004 5.11 Challenge included 5.11 Tactical, Aimpoint, American Police Beat, Bianchi, Blackhawk Products Group, Blackwater USA, Glock, Law and Order magazine, Lycra, Magnum Boots, NRA Law Enforcement, POLICE magazine,, Remington Law Enforcement, Strider-Buck Knives, SureFire, and Tactical Response magazine.

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