Pecos Run-n-Gun Disappointment

As I’m sure you saw from my preview post an video, I was really excited to participate in this year’s Pecos Run and Gun in the Sun match…and it turned into a huge disappointment. Cancelled at quite literally the last minute.

I left Arizona Friday morning (along with a companion who would be filming the whole thing), and after an 8-hour drive we got into Pecos TX that evening, grabbed dinner, and retired to a hotel for the evening. The ranch where the match is held is about 25 miles out from Pecos proper, and the organizers have a guide for the convoy of shooters, which leaves Pecos at 6:30 am, sharp. I got up at 4 (2am, Arizona time), grabbed breakfast, packed out of the hotel, and got to the assembly point with plenty of time to spare. The convoy leader was there with his very cool 1967 right-hand-drive Land Rover. I was in my 4×4 Toyota pickup, as the whole southwest has become rather muddy with the remnants of a couple tropical storms coming up north from Mexico.

Pecos Run-n-Gun convoy ready to go
Pecos Run-n-Gun 2014 convoy ready to go

At 6:30 we were lined up, engines idling, and ready to go, and our convoy leader got on the phone for one last conversation with the match organizer – and then walked down the line of vehicles to tell us all that the whole thing had been cancelled. The road to the site had been overrun by a running wash of whitewater intensity. The landowner had decided it was too dangerous to have people crossing, and the whole event was dead. I stuck around for a little while in case anyone had some alternative plan, but eventually had to accept it and proceeded to make the 550-mile drive back home to Arizona. Seriously disappointing.

Was the weather the fault of the match organizers? No, of course not – and crossing flooded washes is how you get your vehicle destroyed, and occasionally lose your life. I recognize that – it’s a fact of life in the desert, and I’m not at all saying that I would have driven through if I’d had the opportunity to. What I find unfortunate it that the organizers, having known about the rain for at least a week in advance (they posted several warnings about mud ahead of time), decided to both wait until the last minute to make a decision and not make any sort of alternate plan. That gave them the best possibility of having the match take place if the road was passable by the morning of the match (and nobody would been the wiser), rather than cancel a day or two ahead and maybe have the weather clear at the last minute. That course of action, though, put all the risk on the competitors, many of whom had driven as far or farther than me to get there. If you’re going to do that, at least have some sort of alternative plan. I can understand a last-minute freak disaster cancelling an event, but this rain was a known factor for a week or more. Even a half-baked alternative of some sort would have been preferable to simply turning around and driving home. That just plain sucked.

There has not been a replacement date posted as of this writing, and given the logistical issues involved in many of the competitors making the trip, I doubt many would be able to attend a rescheduled event anyway. The implication when we were told of the cancellation was that there would be no alternate date; the event was simply not happening this year.

Hopefully the planning next year will be better, and will include some sort of backup plan. Regardless, I suspect I will choose to do something else instead.

Updated to Add 9/22:

One of the match ROs send me a handful of photos of the course and the road in (taken either Friday or Saturday – I presume Saturday). It is some truly impressive flooding (click to enlarge)!

Further Updated 9/22:

The match organizer, Smokey, sent out an email this evening explaining the timeline of events, in light of which the last-moment decision does look much more reasonable:

My thoughts on the matter began with: Competitors have already made their plans, taken off work, reserved hotels, etc…. A chance of rain does not warrant a cancellation a week in advance.

We have handled very heavy rain before, without a problem.
What we are not prepared for, and can’t prepare for, is a 50-year flood, which this is.

We drove out to the range Thursday night to double check. We were good to go. This was the last moment to cancel the event before people started driving if they were coming any real distance. The local forecast was for a 50 percent chance of rain. The forecasters was not advising the building of arcs.  I’m not going to cancel an event on a 50 percent chance of rain.

Friday morning it rained and then stopped, and we had no problems when we brought the RO convoy out to the range.

As of 1:30 pm we were on schedule, running the ROs through the course, and the sun was shining. Several unwary folks (one of my daughters included) managed a sun burn. It was muddy, but we were making it work. The draw had a couple of inches of water in it at the deepest point, except for the ditch at the bottom, which you can jump across, or almost.
So, at 1:30 there was no reason to cancel.

Then it started to rain again about 4pm.
At 6pm the rain stopped. Would the water in the draw rise significantly? We didn’t know, but if you were driving any distance, you were already in Pecos.  Why cancel then if there is a hope that the draw won’t rise too much, or if it does, it will be back down by morning, and we’ll be in business in the morning? Competitors already made the drive if it was significant. We waited. The water had come up and dropped some by 6am, but not enough, and I called it — one for safety reasons, and 2) because the same draw that cuts our course cuts the road back into town. If it was running heavy where we were, then fording the county road would be hazardous.

Final Update

When I eventually got a refund of my entry fee, it was accompanied by these letters from the owner of the ranch where the competition is held:

Pecos Run-n-Gun letter
I don’t think they want me back again.

32 Comments

  1. Ian;
    Having known that a washout was a distinct possibility, the organizers should have cancelled with at least one day’s notice, as you said. This will no doubt affect future attendance to any event planned by this ranch. They might have considered holding this event at a different time of the year in the first place since tropical storms are not unusual right now. This is a real shame for all involved, especially those like yourself who had to travel long distances to get to the match.

  2. That really sucks. as has been said this will deter people from attending any future event there, especially given the traffic you get on this site.
    Better luck on the next long distance roadtrip.

  3. I was there the day before; and it wasn’t a simple matter of just the paved road being impassable. All roads going in and out were flooded. In fact a local oilfield worker was swept away, and died from the weather system.

    Additionally, the main caliche road going in and out was bogged to the point that some four wheel drives had a dicey time getting off the property. The Pecos river dam burst from the rain upstream threatening stranding everyone indefinably.

    Assuming that a competitor did make it to the run site; none of the RO’s were able to get to their stations due to the draw which splits the property in two turning into a a turbulent river. It would have been a swim/run/ shoot triathlon.

    I understand your rankor toward the event organizers, but this really was a once in a decade act of God. There has never been a cancelled RAG as far as I know of. I’m sure the decision was not made lightly.

    • This actually sounds fairly significant, to the point I’m surprised to be the first one to reply to this specific comment, if what your saying is the case, and I have no way of verifying your statement, I am less inclined to agree with Ian and the rest of the commentators on writing this group off, though in truth, it would be a longer drive for me than most, so I was never really considering going. However from what you said it does sounds like they knew about the rain, and guessed it would be fine, then you mentioned the damn bursting, which is not the kind of thing a civilian should be planning to have happen. if this is the case then the only blame I can level on the organizers is not informing people of the severity of what had happened, some people mentioned an alternative site, but that is one hell of an undertaking, especially from what I have been informed of about this event, even today I had an informal shoot with my girlfriend and a few friends, and at the last minute we had to change venue, it very nearly turned into a complete shit-show, and that was with four people showing up, not the hundred or so this event would attract, let alone the amount of work necessary to set up the course twice, in two different areas, and then hoping that whatever closed the original site missed the alternative site.
      Then there’s the re-scheduling date, you also mention flooding that cut the property in two, in which case, they won’t know whether the event is still feasible at that site until the water stops

      but as I say I am trusting what you say to be true, but from what you say, I am not inclined to write this group off

    • John, do the organizers not have access to weather reports? I know, for a fact, that there was flash flood warnings specifically for that region several days in advance and it was obvious there was the potential for serious trouble even before that. We’re talking about a confluence of huge quantities of moisture from the gulf, that they’ve been dealing with for most of the past three months, combined with the remnants of a hurricane. That equals a lot of rain.

      This isn’t the era of Ian’s guns- we have satellites and fairly advanced forecasting of storm systems like the one that ended up cancelling the event. Yeah, the organizers might not know until 48 hours before that things are going to get crazy, but at that point they were obligated to inform everyone of what was expected to happen. Not after they’d satisfied themselves that there wasn’t even a tiny chance of the event.

  4. That sucks the event was canceled like that, I won’t point out the things that have already been said.

    As far as alternate plans that’s something you could have done too. Maybe there were interesting gun museums (or vintage 4×4 places, living off grid places) along or near the 550 mile track back home. Or gun shops that specialize in C and R stuff.

    Google maps has White Sands missile museum 22 minutes off what might have been your route near Las Cruces, NM Or 6 hours round trip to the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque.

  5. Wow, what a bummer. I can imagine how disappointing that would have been. Too bad there was no-one with a bit of land nearby, then at least an impromptu shoot could have been held since those people had already traveled all the way there.

  6. A lot of groups are local, and don’t think too much about people coming in from more than half an hour away. Something happens, no big deal. 550 mile drive… oops.

    I now know to ask if a group has an alternate site available if there’s a problem with the first one.

  7. Oh, man that sucks. You spent weeks getting ready for that thing.

    Nobody controls the weather, but they had to know people were coming from far away. Can’t see an excuse for waiting so long to cancel.

  8. I arrived onsite Friday morning with the RO crew. John is correct in his description. It simply was not safe for Saturdays competitors to run the course. There was a flooded wash running a pretty fast 75-100 yds wide and probably 4-5ft deep that the competitors would have to cross TWICE to finish the course.

    I think it’s doubtful anyone could have predicted this would have happened since such flooding rarely happens in this part of Texas.

    My understanding is that it was not the match directors that decided to cancel Saturday’s event, it was instead the land owner, due to liability issues.

    It was quite the adventure getting back to civilization on Saturday. Is there a forum where people are posting pics that were there? I’ve got some pretty good ones.

    • Yep, I’m not taking any issue with the cancellation, and obviously I’m glad all the staff and crew were able to get out. My complaint is the utter lack of any backup plan in conjunction with the decision to wait until literally the last minute to make the decision. That’s understandable for a small local event, but it’s a lot less cool when a significant number of the competitors take vacation time from jobs to attend and drive many hundreds of miles to get there. This weather was highly abnormal, but predicted well in advance – the tropical storm systems hitting Mexico were easy to track. I live in a place where my road access is crossed by several washes that flood during heavy rain, and I would never have run an event like this at my place in these conditions without having at least one backup plan. It wouldn’t have to have been the full match…even running 1-mile laps some place and shooting at a couple static targets would have been better than just turning around and driving home.

  9. How many matches do you know of that only cost about $100, encompass such a large area AND have a backup plan? What does that even mean? A whole separate course set up? A spare ranch, with a second Run and Gun series of stages and Porta Johns? I’m having trouble taking that seriously.

    I understand your disappointment – two of us drove a distance and incurred hotel expenses, as well. We followed the lead guy back out toward the event site after the no-go was issued and couldn’t pass over a flooded crossing outside Toyah. The staff that were on site spent the rest of the day pulling people out to the highway.

    The Lake Tahoe Ironman (a much larger event) was just cancelled in the same last-minute fashion, due to smoke from wildfires that had been in the region for days. You don’t cancel an event that takes months to prep because Mother Nature MIGHT not cooperate.

    I’ve been to the Pecos event the last 3 years in a row. Last year it rained before amd during the match and was muddy – several people got stuck, but it wasn’t bad enough to stop the show. Considering the terrain, it was entirely possible that the water would subside this year and the event could go on, even up to the morning of the shoot. You don’t cancel a match a week ahead of time because it might be muddy. The Match Director and staff have always thrown an efficient, challenging and safe shoot. I know that pulling the plug this year was a tough, but responsible call.

    I can’t wait for next year!

  10. Mr. McCollum,

    It is most definitely unfortunate that the RNG activities for Saturday were canceled. The following is not meant to be read as sarcastic or disrespectful, but as something to consider.

    I was one of the range officers on 9-19-14 and will echo what John and Brett have stated. One thing you should consider is that a majority of the range officers also drove many hundreds of miles and used vacation time. Most likely all were paying attention to the weather forecast. It sounds like you were also paying attention to possibilities of what the weather could bring. That makes me think you drove all that distance on the same hope that many others did, the hope that the match would continue without incident. As far as a backup plan, I do not think you grasp the logistics involved in coordinating an event like this. Not to mention the enormous area that was covered with a huge and rare amount of rain. Given the circumstances, what possible backup plan could have been implemented? All of the range officers were on site and unable to leave, all targets were at the ranges that were inaccessible, and no other dry place to hold the event(even running 1 mile laps) without driving hundreds of more miles.

    • I knew it would be muddy – that’s not a problem. Heck, a muddy slog would have been even better looking on video than “just” a dry desert run. Having never participated before, I had no way of knowing the exact topography of the site – like the fact that access involved crossing a drainage arroyo. We were warned to bring 4×4 vehicles and tow strap, in case the drive in required some vehicle recovery. That is fine – and it implies that the drive in will be possible but tricky. Again, fine. I’ve driven on ash/clay snot, and I understand how it can be. But there was absolutely no hint that the entire event was in any sort of jeopardy, and that was something that only the event management would have been in a position to alert people to. It seems reasonable to me to make the assumption that if there was a reasonable chance of having access to the match cut off, Smokey would have at least mentioned it in passing – just like the possibility that the roads might be nasty enough to require shovels.

      Considering the amount of difficulty described in getting the range officers on-site on Friday, it seems to me like that would have been the time to cancel, if not earlier. You guys wound up in a dangerous position, and it seems to me like that was the result of someone taking a really long-shot chance that things would subside enough by Saturday morning to be passable. Getting to that point seems like a poor decision to me. Someone should have looked at that road and made the call a lot sooner than 6:30am Saturday.

      What might have been a backup plan? Well, it wouldn’t have needed to involve all that much land. I have 40 acres, and I can set up a ~1 mile running loop with a stop at a 400-yard shooting spot. Put up a pistol plate rack and say three rifle targets at 200, 300, and 400 yards and you have a serviceable backup plan. Sure, it would have been pretty dull compared to the designed match, but I think everyone would have understood. I certainly would have. Perhaps elsewhere on the ranch? I don’t know about that area, but where I am the “ranches” tend to be in the 50,000 acre+ range, and there are different access points to different parts of the spread. Or a different ranch. But none of that would even have been necessary if someone had been willing to make the judgement call and cancel before the absolute last minute.

  11. Directly from Smokey Briggs.

    “Folks,

    Just wanted to let everyone know we did not call the match off for
    “rain.” Still, my apologies to everyone who drove out here. As of Friday night, we thought we could pull it off, and everyone had already driven if they were driving from any distance away.

    This has been a 50-year-flood kind of event. For those who have not been to the Anchor-T Ranch where we run, Salt Draw (a usually dry arroyo) cuts our running course in half).
    Friday we were able to take range officers out to the shooting stations using the 4wd School Bus and snow chains for traction. It was the only vehicle that would cross the draw.
    Saturday morning, the water was up a couple more feet, and the Bus
    wasn’t going to make it either.
    And, the water was deep enough, and running hard enough, that it was truly dangerous to try and cross people on foot. Drowning someone with 25 pounds of gear on was a real possibility.
    And, the Salt draw cuts the main road in to the ranch from Toyah, as well. It was impassible Saturday morning.
    Getting everyone off the ranch (towing people threw the bad mud) took several hours and a lot of teamwork with 300 feet of tow ropes and chains linked together.
    Getting everyone across the Salt Draw closer to Toyah on the main road took another couple of hours. We started the convoy moving around 12 noon, with news that the Red Bluff Dam on the Pecos might give, and that would wipe out every bridge on the Pecos, cutting us off from the rest of Texas. I brought my crew into the house at 8pm. It was a long, long day.

    Range Officers – Good job yesterday folks getting everyone out with no injuries. You are a damn fine team.

    AND – remember to drain and refill your differentials. After that much fording, you probably sucked some water in, and it will chew up your diffs.

    I’m sure there will be some pictures and such up on the website before long.

    Smokey

  12. Wow!
    I will dispense with the pleasantries and inform you that your opinion on the situation is a heaping pile of bovine fecal matter.
    You are clueless and this event is not for you.

  13. Here is an idea. You put together a Gun Club, find a facility that is big enough and willing to host a 7 mile Run and Gun, gather ROs to man the stages, comms to keep it running, infrastructure for a couple hundred people, Tshirts, entries, updates, build targets and stage props, lay a marked track through virgin desert, etc. and then host a shoot for several years. Then get back to us on how quickly you would have canceled the event based on a potential weather pattern. Then give us an algorithm for calculating whether you are more likely to be castigated online by folks who’ve never filled those boots if you DO cancel ahead of time or if you wait til the last minute hoping the weather breaks. It’s easy to bark at the car. There was no way to know if the course would be passable until the morning of the shoot. I would venture to say that if the shoot had been canceled a week early “because it looks like rain” then you would be rambling about how little intestinal fortitude those Texas boys had for calling off a shoot over a little mud. In that case, and in this, your disappointment would be understandable – but your ire at the Match Director and the land owner is indicative of a lack of experience hosting an event and calling the shots. Hope you can make it next year. It’s a great match, by good people.

  14. What a shame. However, better safe than sorry, and the most important thing is that all of you were not subject to unnecessary risk. I do agree with the contention that the organizers should have made a firm go / no-go decision a little sooner instead of holding out until the eleventh hour in the vain hope that some last-minute change for the better might occur, especially since weather forecasting for major storm events and their consequences by NHC / NOAA ( who are responsible for the tracking and forecasting upon which most other parties’ reports are based ) has become so much more advanced and reliable in recent years, and despite federal funding cutbacks.

    On the other hand, I am sure the organizers did their best with what they had, and probably held out because they did not want to see all the effort that had gone into putting this event together go to waste as long as there was an outside chance that things might still work out. They took the chance, but Mother Nature decided otherwise.

  15. Ian (and others who are considering running this match next year),
    Jim Tom, Matt, Brett and Nick have described the situation both accurately and eloquently, so I will not re-hash that here.
    What I do wish to say is this: please don’t write off coming to the match- I have ran and been an RO now for the past four years, and it continues to be a test of man and machine, surrounded by safe, competent, like minded folks.
    Ian, I was looking forward to buying you a beer or three, perhaps next year….

    Jordan

  16. Sucks about the cancellation.

    In my experience guiding wilderness trips the best way to look at a precipitation percentage is not how most people think of it. A 50% chance of rain in practical terms does not mean it’s a flip of the coin, half and have chance that it will rain or not. It means that it will most likely rain half the time you are out there.

    I’ve had this conversation with people.

    Them – “There’s only a 10% chance of rain. I’m not going to bring rain gear. I’ll take my chances.”

    Me – “That means for 10% of the trip you will be soaked and the other 90% you will be damp.”

    Them later – “Hey, do you still have that emergency poncho in your survival kit?”

    Me – “What do you have to trade for it?”

  17. Face it Ian, you’re just not cool enough for Jim Tom Cardwell and friends. On the other hand, as this post will probably become the leading google entry on the event, maybe it won’t happen again.

    • In all likelihood it will happen again; there has been one every year for well over a decade.

      This was my fifth Pecos run, and the one common trait I’ve found among folks that do this sport is generosity. There are no shortage of people trying to feed you grilled steaks and hand out beers. Whether it’s Pecos, the Battleroad folks, or the OK runners, there are very few internet dirt shooters or trolls. Nobody fights. Almost everyone has a positive attitude.

      I’m sorry if this years event outcome has some folks crestfallen; but it really was a 50 year storm which was a disaster for the whole region. Just getting out caused over four grand of flood damage to my friends 4×4.

  18. Man, we have a lot more water here, but we keep it in the ocean and lakes where that stuff belongs. And fountains and stuff like that.

    On the other hand, a desert where the locals would rather shoot with me than at me would be interesting for a visit some time!

  19. Coulda’ wouda’ shoulda’ We in west Texas respect the weather mother nature provides us. We also respect the fact that she can kill you faster than a heart beat if you fail to provide her the respect due. And on the subject of respect… You need some serious remedial training. Just sayin’.

  20. Here’s my report on the 2014 Pecos Run & Gun complete with photos and three YouTube videos. I hope it addresses most of your concerns. Take care.

    http://tinyurl.com/m3lmh6v

    [note: Doug was an RO, and shot the match on Friday when the staff ran through the course]

  21. I ran this match in 2010 and 2011, and based on what I’ve seen for those two years, I think this is just a freak incident. I plan on running it next year since I’m moving to a location closer to the match!

  22. Ian –
    I’ve run in, and RO’d the Pecos RunNGun for the last several years. I thought it was such a great event, that a buddy and I started a similar event in Oklahoma. You are welcome to come up January 17th, 2015 and participate – not desert, but mostly grassland/thick woods.
    If you decide to put together an event in your home state, I’m sure there are many from Oklahoma and Texas that will come over to run it. I’m also sure it will be an aducational experience for all involved.

  23. I was at the previous shoots and I can tell you from experience these guys at Pecos are unprofessional and pretty much have no idea what they’re doing. For the record, here is a note written by these unorganized and unprepared slobs that was written by the organizers, and I think that everyone who runs across this post should have the opportunity see it: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-qiQ0DD5y8WU/VFvZpCGTafI/AAAAAAAAAHg/cJYP6Iqi26s/s1600/1460008_765854753476970_6198638417928374429_n.jpg

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