Back in the saddle again! Or maybe…Back on the bum bag again! I was super pleased to be able to get away for a weekend and take in the Southern Open. In the small town of Heflin, Alabama is one of the best FT courses you will find in the continental U.S. And on top of that, the match is run by some of the greatest people that you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting. The match is held jointly between the Airgunning Atlanta club and the Mount Cheaha Airgun Club. There’s a wealth of experience that makes for an awesome event and a challenging course that you can’t help but appreciate.
For me, the trip started on Thursday the 18th. Jeff Paddock and I made the long 12 hour drive from Cleveland to the Anniston/Oxford, Alabama area. Thankfully the drive was smooth and we made it down safely. Jeff was shooting in the WFTF Piston class this time around, after having spent the last few seasons shooting solely PCP. This was his first GP match shooting piston since we’ve been shooting together. Not sure why he made the change, but I’m glad he did….one less person in the field for me to worry about! I was shooting WFTF PCP with my Steyr LG100. I haven’t changed my gun since last season as it has been rock solid for me. I did however change something I have said I was going to for the last two seasons….I got my own FT pistol, sort of.
Jeff and I spent the winter months getting the parts and pieces together to make a kick-ass FT pistol. It’s a Crosman 1701p pistol with a regulated bottle set up at 1600 psi. We changed out the barrel to an old .177 career barrel that really likes the JSB 8.4 Premium pellets. And topped it off with a fixed 10x Hawke Sidewinder. And Jeff made a fantastic stock for it that has a few different grip positions, it’s a work of art. We plan to share the pistol going forward, and the Southern Open was our first opportunity to try it out on a real course.
Friday we arrived at the range and introduced our guns to the 90 degree temps of Alabama. Not only was it hot, but super humid….thankfully, not as hot as the 100+ temps we experienced last year. This was especially important because Sunday looked like rain, so match director Ken Hughes made the decision to shoot both courses on Saturday for a total of 104 shots. This would be quite a feat, but one that everyone was committed to accomplishing, as the forecast also showed rain for Saturday evening and no one wanted to get wet! After making sure my Steyr was still on point, I packed it away and grabbed the new pistol. I’ve dubbed it the “Padockinator” as it’s a mash of our last names and it’s going to dominate the Limited Pistol class this season. Or at least I hope it is! After verifying the scope was still zeroed, I passed the gun to Jeff so he could get some shots with it before the pistol match started. Then we headed out to the lanes after a short briefing from Ken. The pistol caught a lot of attention, largely because of it’s “oversized” features while still having a short barrel and also because it’s super loud. Pistol is fun for me, I don’t take it very seriously which is probably why I tend to do well, I’m still trying to figure out how to apply that to the rifle side of things.
All of (or at least most of) the pistol targets were provided by Paul Porch which included some really cool stuff including a stork which was really fun to watch fall through the scope. Jeff and I made our way around the course and things were going well. Once we got to the front half of the course things began to change. The course was mostly flat on the back half, but the front half of the course was completely downhill. At such an angle that I couldn’t see most of the targets from my sitting position. Thankfully, using both mine and Jeff’s bum bag I was able to elevate myself enough to get good shots on them. When all was said and done, I finished with a score of 35/40 and Jeff turned in a 28. My score was good enough for the Limited Pistol class title and Jeff finished tied for 3rd. Not too bad for the first match out for the Padockinator. Mike Niksch took home the Hunter Pistol class title with an impressive 37/40. Good shooting to Mike and a big thanks to Paul Porch and Bob Dye for convincing Ken and the guys to hold a pistol match. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it.
We adjourned for the evening and got a good night’s rest to prepare for the long day of shooting to come on Saturday. When the morning came, we were greeted with sunny skies and temps around 90 degrees. I noticed immediately that my scope was ranging a bit off as it normally under-ranges in the warmer weather. Not too big of a deal, just add a yard or two here and there when range finding targets. While this works, it’s not ideal and causes you to second guess yourself when you’re out on the course. And the last thing that you want to be without on an FT course is confidence. I was squadded with my good friend Rob Seiden. I always enjoy shooting with friends as it takes some of the pressure I put on myself off and helps keep me loose. There were two distinct differences between the two courses, the Green course had more downhill shots and the Red course was largely uphill. We started on the green, and there was a slight breeze that would come through intermittently. Things started pretty well, as I only dropped a shot or two on the first half of the course. Some of the longer shots required pretty substantial hold offs for even slight breezes, which indicates that there was more wind than I could see or feel. As we made our way around the course, we were enjoying the nice weather and the challenging course.
We came to the kneeling lane and that is where the wheels began to fall off for me. The long kneeler was about 35 yards away, not a terribly long shot, but the downhill angle created difficulty for me. Combine that with a little bit of wind and my two shots on that target never found the kill zone. From there it was a slow bleed through the rest of the course. By that, I mean I would drop a shot here or there and slowly lose shots. It’s like a death by 1,000 papercuts….kind of annoying. After the first round was done, I had dropped 10 shots for a total of 42/52. I knew this wouldn’t be enough to get me into the hunt, but I also knew there was still another 52 shots to take in the afternoon. Danny Ayers turned in the top score on the Green course, only dropping 4 shots! Harold Rushton, Ken Hughes and a few others were only a few shots behind him. On the Red course, we got word that Brad Troyer (who I now firmly believe is an alien or being from a planet) only dropped 4 shots shooting WFTF Piston. 4 shots with a freaking spring gun….that man and his TX200 never cease to make us all feel like ants standing next to a giant. If we could only get him overseas for a Worlds match, I’d love to see what might happen!
We ate lunch which consisted of beef brisket, shrimp and grits and a smattering of sides. Ken and the guys always do it up right when it comes to food and this was no different. I’m just sad I couldn’t eat more. For those that don’t know, eating and then shooting FT is a real hardship, not to mention that a belly full of food in that weather makes Tyler a sleepy boy. Ken’s wife, Deb, got the squads all set for the afternoon and we set out onto the Red course. This is my favorite part of the property at Heflin because it features some serious incline shots which I prefer to downhill shooting. I was shooting with Keith Knoblauch and we added Jeff to our squad when his lane partner had to leave suddenly. I always enjoy shooting with Jeff, and Keith is another good friend. We had a great time bantering around the course, heckling each other and cheering each other on. This is one of the best parts of FT for me, it’s the fun in between the shooting that makes the experience more memorable.
I made a concerted effort to be a bit more patient on the positional lanes and it paid off. I cleaned both standing and kneeling in the afternoon which was a nice improvement over the morning. About half way through the course though, the slow bleed began again. Thankfully, I didn’t double dink any targets for the entire day, but dropping one shot per lane is quite frustrating for me. The wind was shifting a bit but I was picking up on the changes pretty well. The last two lanes of the day were kneeling and one of the trickiest seated lanes on the course. Both lanes were in an opening between wooded sections, where the wind could really wreak havoc on your pellet. First up was the kneeling which I cleaned. The last lane of the day featured a 1.5” target at 48 yards but back in the shadows, under a tree. The other target was also 1.5” but right in the middle of the open field at about 52 yards. Range finding a target in the shadows often causes issues for most because it is hard to see the definition of the target in the dark. I ranged the target correctly but didn’t call the wind right on the first shot. For the last target, ranging was much easier since it was out in the open, but the wind was a much bigger consideration because of the slight angle change between the two targets. The wind was now quartering from my left, across my body (and the flight path of the pellet) to my right. Quartering winds are always tricky because you don’t know exactly how they are going to divert your pellet. Thankfully, I made the right call and dropped the target both times to end the day on a good note. I ended on a 45/52, dropping 7 shots.
It was great to get down to the Southern Open to shake the rust off from the long Ohio winter. Thanks to Airgunning Atlanta and the Mount Cheaha club for making the best of some bad weather. Shortly after the afternoon session ended, the rain started and the awards ceremony got underway. When all was said and done, Ken Hughes took home the WFTF PCP title with a 95. Also on 95 was Brad Troyer in WFTF Piston and Will Piatt in Open PCP. Two things are important to note here…for the high score to be shared among 3 classes is pretty rare, and quite impressive. And, for Brad Troyer to shoot that kind of score with a Piston gun is other-worldly. And Rod Bradley was just two shots back on 93. It is truly humbling to see these guys in action and watch them put on these kinds of performances. Bravo! Phil Eakley came all the way down from Illinois to claim the Hunter class crown with a 91. Good shooting Phil! And Gabe Sallusti took the Hunter Piston crown.
The Southern Open is definitely on my short list again for must attend matches in 2018. You just don’t find topography like they have in Heflin and you’d be hard pressed to find a better group of people to shoot with. Thanks for the hospitality and the excellent shooting, it was a pleasure as always. I’ve got a lot of work to do before my next Grand Prix match this year, but I am looking forward to getting back out there again soon. I will be at the Crosman All American FT Championships in New York in July, and hope to see many of you there.
As always, shoot safe and see you on the lanes.