Veteran Nick Thayer on the move-and-shoot games that changed his life … and might change yours.
By Brent Hannify | May 11, 2022
When Nick Thayer showed up at The Tactical Games for the first time, he’d owned his pistol less than two weeks.
It was a 9mm Sig Sauer P320 XFIVE, a highly rated shooting pistol with a skeletonized flat trigger for reduced pull weight. But as he looked around at the other competitors at that month’s game, Nick started to feel slightly underequipped. He was surrounded by fully kitted out people with all varieties of ARs slung over their tactical vests.
A veteran of the US Coast Guard, Nick had a baseline understanding of weaponry and tactics. “But my entire military career was spent doing technical things like fixing radars and computers,” he mentions. After he left active duty, Nick spent a decade working in the defense industry, putting his skills to work in cybersecurity and other self-proclaimed “nerdy” endeavors.
Seeking the next stage of his post-military life, he moved to Florida to start a new job. He soon found himself in a rut. Spending too much time on the couch, his interest in physical fitness dimming, Nick realized he needed a change.
Through his contacts in the tactical world, he was invited to check out THE TACTICAL GAMES in nearby Georgia, home of a competition series held nationwide that welcomes tactical athletes and shooters of all proficiency levels and puts their skills to the test.
“I’ve always had an interest in fitness and leading a healthy lifestyle, and this caught my interest at a time when my motivation was plummeting,” he said. Invigorated to rediscover his passion, he spent some time researching weapons, bought himself the Sig, and headed down to the games.
And after just one day spent shooting and training with the men and women working the courses at the Tactical Games, Nick knew he’d have to buy an AR to go along with his shiny new Sig Sauer. “From day one, I was hooked.”
The games turned into a professional opportunity for Nick. A skilled photographer with a flair for marketing, Nick started to devote himself to spreading the word about the Tactical Games to an enthusiastic crowd eager for their unique combination of gunplay and athletics.
The games have an open-door policy: Everyone from the most elite military operators in the world to civilian gun enthusiasts are allowed to compete. It’s a venue for all shooters and athletes to participate in grueling challenges that blend strength, endurance, and tactical movements and accuracy into one unforgettable game.
Most participants use ARs. The event encourages and welcomes creative builds but with a few limitations: No compensators. No muzzle brakes. No calibers other than .223, 5.56, or .300 Blackout. Suppressors are permitted but must stay on the weapon throughout the entire event.
Most of the drills require shooters to hit targets with sidearms, so participants are also encouraged to bring their own handguns. Acceptable calibers include 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP.
A typical Tactical Games course combines a variety of strength and cardio drills with target shooting. A shooter might be required to pull a 75-pound sled 100 yards to the firing line, then score pistol hits on a target 15 yards away. Another challenge might require lugging a Husafell stone (it’s an Icelandic strongman thing) a distance of 50 yards, drop the stone, pull your rifle up and hit targets, then carry the stone another 15 yards to a rope climb.
Repeat this five times, as fast as you can, and as accurately as you can. Or at least faster and more accurately than the guy behind you.
As you might expect, getting a tight grouping after lugging a giant weight 250 yards for the fifth time isn’t the easiest thing to achieve. But that’s the point. The games are meant to flood your system with adrenaline and endorphins, essentially simulating what the body goes through in a real high-threat scenario. It’s why the Tactical Games have developed a strong following in the military, law enforcement, and 2A communities.
“My goal when spreading the word about the Tactical Games is to get people off the couch,” says Nick. “Our military, our veterans, our first responders and police officers … it’s vital for these folks to stay focused on their physical readiness, and this kind of training aligns with what they’re already doing.”
“You don’t need to be a trained shooter to participate in the Tactical Games. That’s like saying you need to find God before going to church.”
It’s also a fun, comprehensive way to test out your gear. People bring their own rifle slings, holsters, and plate carriers to the games to determine their effectiveness in the field. “Maybe you just got a new sling and you’re excited about it, but the moment you need to bring your rifle up at your most fatigued, your sling sticks or catches on your clothes. Better that happens at the games instead of in a real-world situation.”
Some people believe you need to be a trained shooter to enjoy the games. Nick laughs at the idea: “That’s like saying you have to find God before going to church.” Shooters of all skill levels are welcome—even no skill level at all. The Tactical Games University offers a beginner’s level class with introductory lessons for weapon maintenance, assembly, and safety. Participants learn how to mount and zero optics, then perform dry fire drills on the firing line to build confidence before moving to live rounds.
It doesn’t take long for people to catch the bug. Especially for people who already have training. One of the main reasons for the Tactical Games’ popularity comes from how natural it is to be curious about your own tactical and athletic ability. If you spend your professional life shooting and training, suddenly the opportunity to quantify your skills in a competitive challenge becomes enticing. People look at the Tactical Games and think “Huh … I wonder how I’d do at that?”
As for Nick, the Tactical Games became way more than just a hobby. After achieving his marketing goals, the owner of the company eventually asked him if he wanted to take on a larger role. A much larger role. Nick Thayer is now the president of the Tactical Games.
And as you’d expect for someone who holds that title, Nick has since given more thought to his arsenal. For his AR, he competes with a Ballistic Advantage build, a custom firearm builder based outside of Orlando. His pistol is a 9mm Titan through Atlas Gunworks, a small-batch manufacturer for shooters seriously concerned with quality.
The guns are a mighty step above the Sig Sauer he first brought to the games all those years ago. Collecting guns and modifying your rifle becomes a natural hobby among most competitors at the Games. But for many, the games become more than just an excuse to tinker with your build. For many competitors, and especially for Nick Thayer, they become a way of life.