When my buddy Ken Hughes told me about the Field Target Southern Open to be held in Heflin, Alabama, my immediate answer was, count me in! Ken and the fine group of Field Target shooters from Atlanta planned the match with considerable emphasis toward including elements of a true European course. The plan was to include at least one day of true WFTF style shooting with two targets per lane and one shot per target. This is a clear deviation from the traditional USA Field Target courses which normally include two or three targets per lane and two shots per target. Once Ken and I discussed the match briefly, I was eagerly awaiting the date so I could block off time to attend.
The Southern Open was held on June 25-26, 2016 at the Heflin, Alabama Field Target grounds provided by the City of Heflin, Parks and Recreation Department. I think It is certainly appropriate now to express a BIG thank you to the City of Heflin, Mayor Rudy Rooks and Parks & Recreation Director Tammy Perry for their gracious provision of these fine shooting grounds! In my opinion, this is one of the premier venues for field target in the entire USA and perhaps the entire World. The venue includes restroom facilities, sight in ranges, many acres of field target courses complete with infrastructure including roads and even targets! What more could we as shooters ever ask for from a city government? As a brief background, this recreation area was the brainchild of Paul Oswalt, an avid air-gunner from the Heflin area. Paul teamed up with the City of Heflin several years ago and made this Field Target dream happen along with the assistance of Ken Hughes, Doug Vinson and others of the nearby Atlanta Field Target Club. Clearly, if you haven’t been to a shoot at the Heflin venue, you are missing something fantastic!
I arrived in Heflin late Friday afternoon at the sight in area and found several air-gunners already blasting away on a fully equipped sight in range. The range is fully functional with two covered pavilions and mens – women’s restrooms as well. The heat was pretty intimidating on Friday and the worst of it was yet to come. Once there, I spent a few minutes speaking to old friends and talking about the upcoming weekend. Everyone was eager to get started on the fantastic European style course that Ken had masterfully designed for Saturday. Several of the shooters had already walked the course area and I could tell they were very impressed by what they saw. Knowing Ken’s experience of more than 21 years in field target and his having competed in numerous World matches abroad, I was confident that we were in for a treat!
I spent an hour or so at the sight in range checking out my gear and was fully soaked with sweat by the time I had finished. As usual, I brought my trusty old Steyr LG110HR, with Leupold Competition 35x scope for the match. The rifle is set up to shoot JSB Express pellets at about 810 fps or about 11.5 ft pounds of energy. I compete in the WFTF division and this rig meets all of the necessary requirements. I have been shooting this rifle since 2013 and I am well pleased with how it performs. It’s just too bad I can’t always compete up to the level of the rifle! At least it’s somewhat comforting to know that the rifle is reliable and rarely needs any attention to perform at a top level.
Finally the big day arrived on Saturday June 25th. Everyone started arriving at the sight in range around 7:00 AM. It was already hot and very humid when I arrived. The weather forecast wasn’t good from a shooters perspective either. I had checked several times just to see what we were up against and the weatherman was reporting a high near 100 degree F, with an extremely high heat index of 110 F or more!
Once I sat down and took a few shots over the sight in range, it was evident that the heat was already reeking havoc on my gear. My point of impact, which rarely changes was about 1/2 to 3/4” high. I checked my zero point of 30 yards, then another shot or two at 50 and 55 yards. Sure enough, something wasn’t quite right. So I pulled out my Combro Chronograph and attached it the barrel. Bingo, my velocity was high! I had not adjusted my velocity in months since I keep my rifle in the house where it stays cool and rarely shoot for very long outside when it’s really hot. So it’s not really surprising that I had not noticed the change until my rifle had a chance to sit there and adjust to the abnormally hot temperature. After a quick adjustment of the velocity all was good and my rifle was back to shooting an average of 810 fps. I was pleased at what I saw on the sight in range, so I changed my air tank and packed everything up for the match.
Ken announced the shooters meeting around 8:30 AM and we all met to go over the rules around 8:45 AM. He carefully emphasized the European Style course, clearly explained to competitors to “follow the numbers” as each target is shot in numerical sequence. Ken also drove home the point that anyone shooting a target out of order would lose the point. That of course isn’t just a WFTF rule, it’s also a long standing AAFTA rule that we follow for all of our matches. It was still good to emphasize as the ever changing position of targets on a WFTF type course can be confusing for those used to shooting “near to far” or “left to right”, etc. The shooters meeting went by efficiently and we were all off to our lanes by 9:00 AM.
I was squadded up with my Buddy Rob Seiden from Atlanta and man was I in for a treat! Rob is a character of no small proportions and I always enjoy his colorful narrations, and contributions. I’ve got to say, it is sometimes difficult to shoot with the gut splitting laughter one encounters when Rob is in full spirit, but I somehow survived day one of the Southern Open. Rob and I got started in a dark area of the course with some moderately difficult targets. My rifle was shooting well and I didn’t miss any shots until we got to the first offhand lane, which was a story in and of itself! However, even from the first lane, the heat was just killing me! I felt uneasy inside and my hands trembled slightly. That is one of the worst things a field target shooter can experience during a match and unfortunately I was stuck with it because it wasn’t getting any cooler.
Once he got started Rob began having some velocity issues with his high power Steyr which consistently caused him to miss shots high on the targets. Rob was shooting the AAFTA Open Division with his rifle set near the 20 ft pound limit. This was clearly frustrating for Rob because he is a very good shooter and he had no way to check his velocity at that point in the match. Rob was able to track his issues and make incremental adjustments during the match until he had pellets finding the paddles more times than not.
After several lanes, Rob and I reached our first offhand lane. It was in a dark area of the course, with uneven ground for footing and two difficult targets positioned downhill. Rob did a good job of taking down the targets. I slipped on my shooting jacket, stepped up to the lane and immediately noted the continued trimmer and shaking I was experiencing from the heat. It was nearing the mid 90’s with a heat index well over 100 degrees F by this point. The humidity was probably over 80% which made breathing even difficult at times. I took a look through my scope at the first target and could see the steady bouncing of the reticle up and down. To make things worse, this was one of those uneven footing areas where one basically has to take the shots on one foot as the targets are positioned steeply downhill. These have always been difficult in my book, but the added shakes really put things over the top! Although I attempted to slow my breathing and control my shots, it wasn’t to be. I missed both offhand shots because I just couldn’t control things in that heat. Oh well, that’s all part of the game.
We continued through the course and again I ran into the same feeling on the kneeling lane. However, I managed to only miss one of those for what it’s worth. Even still, matches are won and lost on those forced position shots and this one was no exception. Over the course of the 50 shot match I missed only one seated shot. However, I missed 5 of my forced position shots which put me 4 points behind the leader on day one and in 4th place overall at the end of the day with 44/50. I was pleased with my seated shooting, but sorely disappointed with my offhand and kneelers.
The course was excellent. I found it to be very representative of what I have shot in Europe in the past. There were lots of long shots beyond 50 yards. There were lots of tricky shots across draws, down in low areas, across open fields and high up in trees. There was variety of every sort to challenge even the most seasoned of shooters. I though Ken and the guys from Atlanta had really done a spectacular job of planning and execution on this course! I do wish they were all like the Southern Open course.
As day one progressed and everyone was about finished up, two shooters really stood out from the crowd. That was Doug Vinson shooting WFTF with his Ripley / March scope combination and Charles Garvey shooting his MFR in Hunter Division. These guys each finished day one with an astounding 48/50 only dropping two shots all day! Given the heat index of 114 degrees by the end of the day and course difficulty, I thought both Doug and Charles did a fantastic job pulling in those scores.
Fortunately, day two had a bit of relief in store for us all. Although we still had a potential for brutal heat, we were welcomed with less humidity and a mostly overcast day to temper our way. I arrived again around 7:30 AM and immediately hit the sight in area to check my gear. After taking a few shots it was clear that everything was A-OK and I was ready to get started! Ken Hughes called the shooters meeting and we all met up at the entrance of the course to hear the rules of the day. The second day was to be a traditional AAFTA match under USA rules with two targets per lane and two shots per target with 15 lanes and sixty shots total for the day. This is of course easier on the match director and club as they don’t have to set out as many targets for this type course.
Based on the previous days scores, I was squadded up with my buddy Tyler Patner. Tyler and I were both shooting Steyr’s with identical internal parts. I know this because I built both guns from old 10 meter guns. Mine has the newer LG110 chassis, but the barrel, regulator, striker mechanism, etc is the same as Tyler’s gun. I also knew that Tyler’s gun is very accurate and he has been shooting it very well this season! Case in point, Tyler had shot very well on day one finishing one point ahead of me with a 45/50 on the challenging European Course. I was certainly anxious to see what day two had in store given our excellent equipment! (shameless plug, I know…)
As we began day two, we started higher up on the course in an open pipeline area. The first two targets were 40 yards, give or take and beyond 50 yards if I recall correctly. It was a good place to start as we had a decent amount of light, fresh targets and could easily see where our shots were going. There was a bit of wind from left to right and Tyler was first up, by choice, not prescription. He easily took down the two targets and left me hoping I could replicate his skill. Luckily I was successful as well and the second day was under way with a smile.
We moved on into a dark wooded area with some downhill shots and then over to a cool target that was somewhat hidden in the side of an embankment. It was a foot or two into the hillside, so it was very dark and very difficult to range find for some shooters. This was especially true for the guys using 12x scopes in the Hunter division. Tyler and I didn’t have any issues with the target and it went down for us both. The next target however, proved to be a problem for me. I took it down on the first shot, but let the wind catch me on the second. It was a relatively small target, around an inch reduced kz at somewhere around 37 yards, give or take a bit. I could see the wind pushing to the right, and made the proper adjustment on the first shot. However, my second shot was just shy of making it into the kz. So, I had scored my first dink of the day and the next lane up was the dreaded offhand.
As we made our way uphill and over to the offhand lane, I couldn’t help but remember my lousy performance on those the day before. It was my worst showing on offhand targets in a couple of years, but this was a new day. I felt pretty good and had taken a few offhand shots on the practice range just to see how things were feeling before the match. Those had worked out fine and my confidence was much better given that I wasn’t shaking from the heat as the previous day. Tyler was first up and took careful aim on the first target. As I expected, he dispatched both the close and far targets with four solid hits. I took my turn and likewise was successful on both. I did find the offhand to be challenging as the first was of moderate difficulty and the second was around 36 plus yards and was nearing the limits of most shooters comfort levels. I think we were both happy to move past that lane with success and continue on our merry little way.
The next few lanes were pretty cool with targets up in trees, across hillsides and down in dark forested areas. We both were doing well, but the occasional gust did manage to catch us both. As we neared the end of the course, Tyler and I were tied up overall as he had dropped one more shot than I had on day two. As always, I suspect the dreaded shoot off was in both our minds. Tyler held solid on his last lane though and finished strong with another clean lane and a day two final score of 56/60. I managed to also hold it together with a solid 57/60 for day two. Even though I was somewhat disappointed with my day one performance, especially on the offhand lanes, I was happy to finish a course of the quality that we shot day two having only dropped three shots. It is very hard to “clean” a course, especially at a big match, with a course of that difficulty. So, no doubt Tyler and I had done a respectable job on day two finishing with solid top scores.
Once it was all said and done, Tyler and I were tied for second place overall with a score of 101 for the match. Ken Hughes had done a fantastic job on day two also tying my high score of 57/60. That earned Ken the win with a total aggregate score of 103/110 for the match. Doug Vinson had fallen a bit behind on day two coming in with a score of 52 but finishing with a fine match total of 100/110 which secured the fourth place WFTF position for him.
Tyler and I got our gear out after a bit of lunch and proceeded to Ken and Doug’s masterfully executed shoot off at the sight in range. They had placed two targets, one around 25 yards and one around 50 yards in the open field. I somehow was chosen to go first. It was a simple task really, just knock down both targets, then see if the other guy would miss. Well, my first round went as planned. I ranged the first target, took aim and easily took it down. The wind was pretty steady from right to left, so I was cautious on the second target. I carefully ranged it, found that it was around 49-50 yards, give or take a few inches and watched my wind flag. It was holding steady from the right, so I held right edge and took the shot. I saw the impact of the pellet through my scope, a near perfect center hit! Tyler casually took aim on his first target and down she went. Same for the second target, it was dispatched with confidence and he was eagerly awaiting instructions for round two.
Round two was more of the same, except different. This time Doug instructed us to shoot the same targets, but to do it from the kneeling position. Yeah, I figured that seated gravy train was coming to an end… So, once again I was up first. I set up my kneeling position, ranged by first target, checked the wind and down she went. Once again, I found the second target in my scope, double checked the range, and checked the wind. As I observed the grass and my wind flag I could see a very distinct change over from the last time I shot this target. This time the wind was left to right. I waited momentarily, thought things were stable and held left to compensate for the wind. Unfortunately, the wind made an abrupt switch and my pellet went into never, never land…not the kz! It was a miss! Tyler was up and looking solid as a rock. He set up his kneeling position, lined up the first target and down it went. Without hesitation, as if he could not wait to finish me off, he lined up and took the second kneeler at the far target. Down it went and second place was decided! Tyler had prevailed and I was proud to see his success. Tyler has improved dramatically over the past two years and continues to grow in the sport of field target. My hat is off to Tyler for a job well done and I look forward to great victories from him in the future.
When it was all said and done, no one left disappointed. The courses were fantastic, the food was awesome both days and the fellowship was second to none. I think a lot of shooters got to experience something different with the European style course. Most probably found it to be grueling with the heat index of 114 F, but it was an experience not many in the USA get to enjoy. Those of us that travel to World WFTF matches each year are well acquainted with the long days, challenging courses and lots of long open shots. I hope the shooters that were at the Southern Open and experienced this for the first hand will have a new appreciation for the difficulties we sometimes face as WFTF shooters when we travel overseas to shoot a match. I can’t thank Ken, Doug, Rob and the whole gang from Atlanta and Heflin enough for their imagination and hard work on the courses. It was truly a top notch event! I sincerely hope that we see another Southern Open next season. If so, I highly encourage all field target shooters to take time to attend. You will definitely leave with a smile on your face!
The match ended up with the following shooters taking first in their divisions. Congrats to all that participated and especially the division winners! Ken Hughes was the overall match winner with 103 and first place WFTF PCP shooter. Brad Troyer finished first in WFTF piston not far behind with an incredible 95. Charles Garvey took the top Hunter PCP Division score with 99. Gabriel Sallusti finished first in Hunter Piston with 37. Will Piatt from NC finished first in Open PCP with 95. Mark Wulfecotte finished first in Unlimited with 74.