The national championships for 2015 were held in Ennice, NC and hosted by the Tarheel Airgun Club (THAGC). The match was hosted near the mountains on a lush piece of property owned by Will Piatt. Some of you may know Will as a tuner of big bore and Korean airguns. His property was graciously lent to the club as Will and his son Ammon are regular shooters at THAGC. My trip started Thursday evening at my good friend, Bill Rabbitt’s house. Bill, Jeff Paddock and I all drove down to Virginia where we were staying that night. We arrived around 4 AM Friday morning, but not before Bill and Jeff managed to get us lost. I was sleeping and they routed us to the wrong hotel, so I woke up while we were driving down some Virginia back roads that seemed to snake in impossible directions all at a 12* incline. It was a rough ride to say the least.
Friday morning we headed over to the range to sight in and mingle with the other shooters. Friday is a great opportunity to try new equipment, talk with competitors and get a peek at the course. After verifying my gun set up, I walked the course and caught up with old friends. My fellow team mates, Greg Sauve and Harold Rushton both looked to be in good form and Kevin Yee and Scott Hull also looked ready to go! Unlike years past, the Pistol FT match would be held Friday afternoon. I don’t normally shoot pistol but I like to when someone is willing to loan me their gun. I noticed Paul Plauche sighting in his familiar Crosman 1720T and I asked if he would be willing to let me shoot with him. If you remember, I shot with Paul’s gun at the Cajun Spring Classic earlier this year and ended up beating him in a shoot off. He told me he would let me use it if I promised not to do the same this time. I said “I can’t make any promises.” We were squared with the driving force behind the creation of Pistol Field Target, Ron Robinson. Ron is an excellent shooter and a true Texas Pistolero! Ron was shooting the Hunter class and was allowed to use a bipod or shooting sticks to help steady himself. Paul and I shot Open class which requires that the gun be totally supported by the shooters body. We had a ball and by the time things were over, I had only dropped 5 shots finishing with a 43/48. Paul dropped 9 finishing with a 39. I apologized for taking too much advantage of his generosity as we walked back to report our scores. As we came in, the scores were posted on a large projection screen (great idea by match director Scott Allen!) and I noticed the highest score was a 42 by Leo Duran. Much to my surprise, I was the winner of the match in Open class and was now a National Champion! As Leo jokingly heckled me, I came to the conclusion that it was time I buy a pistol of my own. Now it’s just a matter of what to get! On the Hunter side, Charles Garvey posted an awesome 46/48 to take the crown. What a great shooting display by Charles, simply awesome!
Friday came to a close and everyone began turning their attention to Saturday’s rifle match. The threat of rain was imminent and upon arriving at the sight in range Saturday morning, most shooters knew it was going to be a wet one. It was a light rain accompanied by some slight winds early in the morning, but as the day progressed, things got much, much worse. What started as 2-3 mph gusts turned into 15-20 mph blistering winds. And the light mist that dropped onto our guns turned into a full on rain storm. About 3 lanes in, the gun was soaked and so was I! I personally don’t mind the rain, but the cold wind that came with it was almost too much to handle. Not only was it causing shivering and difficulty loading pellets into guns, but it was also throwing shots as much as 3″ at 55 yards. I distinctly recall one long target by the pond that was at least 53 yards. On my first shot, the wind simply would not let up, so I broke the shot with my cross hairs about 2.5″ off to the left of the kill zone. I watched the pellet curve violently into the kill zone and drop the target. On the second shot, I was not so lucky. My shooting partners were fellow team mate Harold Rushton and travel companion Jeff Paddock. We all looked average against the stormy conditions. By the end of the match, I had lost my zero and was guessing that I was 5-6 clicks off from zero. This was very likely due to the excess water that invaded my rifle throughout the match. On top of all of that, we had to deal with serious fog rolling through. Often times, you would be able to adequately see the close targets, but many of the long targets were obscured by a thick fog that I imagine is only found at the higher elevations. At 2800 feet, some shooters had gun shifts while others just struggled to see through the dense fog. But this is field target, and everyone was in the same boat. Some shooters packed it in after a few lanes and abandoned the day, others like myself and my shooting partners suffered through the long day. Top scores were turned in by Paul Plauche (WFTF PCP) and Riz Marquez (Open PCP), both with 47/60. That is some truly impressive shooting in those conditions and my hat is off to both of them.
After the match concluded, we all dried off and gathered for lunch and the annual AAFTA meeting and auction. The auction is always a lot of fun. Many vendors donated products and gift cards for shooters to bid on. Some noteworthy items included a Gamo Coyote donated by Pyramyd Air, Field Targets made by Paul Porch, a Weihrauch HW 57 from AOA, and much more. We laughed, we bid and we had a good time. It’s all for a good cause as the funds go back to the hosting club and AAFTA. Following the auction was the AAFTA meeting. This is like the State of the Union address in US Field Target. Leo Duran, current AAFTA chairman, went over current funding, rules issues and handed out a special recognition award to Scott Hull for his effort and dedication to growing the sport and improving the game. They also gave Ron Carlson the meritorious achievement award, which recognizes those who have made significant contributions to the sport. Not only is Ron a former World Champion (he won in 2000) but he also served as the US representative to the World Field Target Federation and was integral in helping the sport move into the current era on an international stage. After the awards were handed out, Leo announced the new AAFTA Governors. The Board of Governors consists of a Chairman, Vice-Chairman, Secretary/Treasurer, and three (3) additional governors charged with being the voice of AAFTA providing a “buck stops here” position on all questions relating to organization and conduct. The governorships are voted on by all of the clubs and along with Leo’s re-election, I was elected to the board. I am looking forward to doing my part in helping the sport grow and progress over the next few years.
Saturday night was full of long, hot showers to warm the body up and a few hours of gun cleaning. Having gone through my Steyr a time or two, I decided to simply dry the gun as best I could without taking it apart. While there may have been some water in the action, taking it apart often results in some kind of velocity shift in my experience and I was not sure I would have time to play with the chrony in the morning. After the gun was dry, we headed to dinner. Jeff, Bill and I joined Ken and Rob from Georgia along with Brad Troyer for some great company and food. We laughed, talked about the days events and discussed our thoughts on the match. Ken was sitting in second place in WFTF PCP with a 46, just one shot behind Paul. Ken has been shooting Field Target probably almost as long as I have been alive as he started when he was my age. He was an integral part in my development as a shooter and a great friend. He has been near the top at many of the big matches over the last two years or so and I knew he had his eye on the prize. Brad was also firmly at the top on the WFTF Piston side with a commanding lead. It helps to surround yourself with good shooters and good people, and these guys are some of the best of both!
Sunday morning arrived and we made our way to the sight in range. I started shooting on a 30 yard target and after adjusting I found I was 8 clicks off! That’s pretty big when you’re looking at some tiny kill zones. This explained my previous days struggles with the small reduced targets. I adjusted for the click difference and verified that the gun was on at some longer and shorter range targets and headed in to get my squad assignment for the day. I was paired with Chris Berry (THAGC member and marshall for the match) and Lukas Richter, a recent transplant from South Africa who has had a ton of experience on the international level. Chris is shooting his first season in WFTF but has been shooting Field Target in general for a few years now and is a good shooter. The day was bright, sunny and much warmer than the previous day. It was a welcome change and the smiles on shooters faces showed it.
Our first lane of the day was offhand, what a way to start the day! I had been practicing my offhand quite a bit in preparation for the match and cleaned the offhand targets on Saturday. Four shots later, I had cleaned the lane and started out on a great note! As we moved along, Lukas and I dropped one here and there while Chris struggled on his long shots early. The wind was still blowing pretty good with some 10 mph gusts coming through. The interesting thing about the course layout was that many of the targets were down low and since there was a lot of brush on the lanes, a good portion of the wind was blocked. This caused you to hold off more than you needed to, which results in dreaded misses that just leave you shaking your head. Once we settled into our groove, we began moving through the course quickly and plowing down targets. As the match came to a close, Lukas and I ended tied for the day with scores of 50/60. Chris suggested we have a fun shoot off between the two (not that either of us had placed) before heading in. Lukas suggested we shoot one of the kneeling targets from the standing position, I agreed. After going back and forth matching each other for a few rounds, I suggested we move to another lane with a reduced kill zone and take it standing. Lukas chuckled and agreed and off we went. After two rounds, Lukas nailed it and I could not match, it was a 1” kill zone at about 37 yards. We shared a laugh and a handshake and went to turn in the scores.
I preformed pretty well for the day, coming in just 3 shots down from the high score of 53 with a 50/60. Riz Marquez did not have as good of a day, but held on to take the Open PCP class. His 44 was not good enough to give him the overall high score though. That honor was taken by Ken Hughes. He came back to take the top spot from Paul by two shots, finishing with a 52. His day one score of 46, put him on a 98/120 and that was enough for the WFTF title and overall high score to be considered the National Champion! A big congrats to Ken, it was his first national championship on the PCP side and I cannot think of anyone more deserving. Ammon Piatt took home the Hunter PCP title with some phenomenal shooting. Brad Troyer stayed solid on day two to take the WFTF Piston title, it was his second national championship in the Piston class. Gerald Long won Hunter Piston by a commanding margin and Scott Hull won Open Piston for his third national title. What impresses me most about Scott is that he has won three national titles in three different classes. It seems he does amazingly well in whichever class he chooses and knowing Scott, that is because of lots of practice! Let that be a lesson, practice is everything in FT.
The 2015 Nationals was a great experience. The match itself was one of the most challenging I have ever shot. The tight kill zones at long ranges, the tricky terrain that blocked the wind (or didn’t but appeared to), and the tough conditions on Saturday made it a definite learning experience. At every match I shoot, I try and learn something that I can pick up and take with me to the next match. That was definitely achieved in North Carolina! The crew at THAGC did a fantastic job. The course was certainly a National level course and there were no target issues that I was made aware of. Scott Allen (match director) did a fantastic job of keeping shooters informed before the match and the members that assisted him (Chris Berry, Chris Corey, Paul Porch, Will Piatt, Ginger Piatt, and many more) were all integral in making this match run so smoothly even with the weather hurdles. My hat is off to you all and you have my thanks for putting on a terrific match! The 2016 Nationals will be held in Michigan at the Southern Michigan Gun Club in Mattawan, Michigan. This is right in my backyard and should be a great match. I will definitely be there!
The Nationals puts a wrap on the 2015 season. All in all, not a bad year. I was able to make four Grand Prix matches and the World Championships, so it was a busy one for me. My performance was not as good as I would have liked but I try to remember I am still learning and relatively new to the game. I love shooting Field Target, it’s a great sport and one of the hardest shooting disciplines out there. I attend these matches to shoot, of course. Most importantly though, I attend to see my friends and spend time with them. While we may live hundreds or thousands of miles apart, it’s like no time has passed at all when we meet up on the lanes. The camaraderie is like no other sport out there and you meet some of the most interesting people you’d ever hope to meet. Don’t forget that one can sample some of the finest food in the country depending on what region you’re in! The Carolina BBQ I had down in North Carolina was AMAZING! It’s all part of the experience, and there’s nothing else I know like it!
Until next time, shoot safe and see you on the lanes.