Upon learning that the US Nationals would be held in Michigan in 2016, I was very excited. This meant a short drive, similar weather to Ohio and a new venue that very few had shot. As the year has progressed, there have been many questions surrounding the Nationals and the host club, Southern Michigan Gun Club (SMGC) Pneumatics. Being a relatively young club, with little big match experience, most of us were wondering how they would handle the pressure and the intensity of 100+ shooters bearing down on them. Nonetheless, new blood and new clubs are what drive this sport here in the U.S. and I felt it a smart move by the 2015 Board Of Governors to award the young club a crack at hosting Nationals.
Similar to last year, I traveled up to Michigan with clubmates Jeff Paddock, Bill Rabbitt and a newcomer, Mike MacPhail. Mike was brand new to the game but had been practicing with the three of us for the better part of two months leading up to Nationals. He was shooting Bill’s Air Arms EV2 and had become very familiar with it. When Friday morning rolled around, we headed to the club and greeted many old friends and met some new ones. After checking in and getting our swag bags, I went and found Chris Berry to see about getting a shot or two in with his Thomas FT Pistol before the match started. Like last year, I was borrowing a pistol and figured that Chris’ Thomas would be as good as any…And it was! Chris was shooting Hunter class, and I chose to shoot Open. The Thomas is a completely purpose built air gun. The trigger was single stage and only a few ounces of pressure sent the pellet on its way. Speaking with Chris (he has both the rifle version and pistol/carbine) about these guns told me what I already knew, they are arguably the most consistent PCP on the market and they are incredibly accurate. We started on the lanes with good success. The match consisted of 40 shots and had targets all the way out to 35 yards, except for one! About midway through the course, we encountered a long target, too long to be a legal target. It was a full size (1.5”) kill zone at about 42 yards by my guess. We were the 4th or 5th squad to shoot it but by this point, we knew this target would be awarded to everyone because it was over the distance limits for pistol. We chose to shoot it anyway. I guesstimated at the additional hold required to get the pellet into the kill zone, waited for the wind to settle and sent the first shot. With a smile on my face, I watched the target fall! I pulled it back up, took a quick look and saw that my pellet had just snuck into the kill zone low. I aimed a little higher and dropped it again! My squadmates were impressed, as to that point (and maybe for the rest of the match) no one had managed to knock it over. The Thomas was rock solid for the rest of the day and I managed to hold it together for a 37/40. Due to that extra long target being awarded to everyone, Riz Marquez was also sitting on a 37. We had tied for the overall match high and that certainly felt good. I was just pleased that for another year, I would have a chance at a title I didn’t even own a gun for! Thanks to Chris Berry for letting me fondle his pistol, it was a great opportunity to try out the Thomas platform and certainly has made me a believer. I spent some time talking to Mike Niksch about the guns and the various things he could do to the rifles. It’s in the back of my head now as a definite possibility for down the road.
Because of the tight scheduling, I only had about 30 minutes to take some shots with my Steyr before the sight in ranges closed for the day. Thankfully, there was no need to take too long as the gun was spot on! So we packed up and went off to dinner. When we arrived on Saturday morning, there was a nice chill on the air that definitely let us know it was Fall. It was about 45* but the forecast looked good and the sun was out. After a few sight in shots (three to be exact), we headed out to the course. A quick note on sighting in, there are many shooters that will take upwards of an hour on the sight in range. They will check every distance they can to make sure the gun is good to go. I can’t really knock this as FT is mostly a mental game, and if you need to take 50+ shots during sight in to get comfy, then that’s your deal. But I prefer to just know the gun is on and get to shooting the match. Three shots at 50 yards confirmed this for me. As my good friend Harold Rushton said (quoting 2015 World Champ Sergey Zubenko, so insert heavy Russian accent here), “You don’t learn Field Target on the sight in range.”
Anyway, we headed out to the lanes and I realized as I approached the starting lane that I was starting the day on the standing lane. Looking at the targets, the near one was about 18 yards and maybe 1”. The far target was full size but up in a tree, a very picturesque shot, but not one that inspires confidence to start the day. We were set up with a three man squad, but our third did not show, so it was just Tom Peretti and I. Tom is a good shooting buddy that I’ve known for a few years now. He and fellow Canadian Jeff Hemming came all the way from Toronto to shoot with us. So if nothing else, I had great company to spend the day with.
Much to my surprise, I managed to clear the standers and then the next three lanes. To that point, we could see the wind up in the high trees, but it was not affecting much for us down on the backside of the range. As we made the long walk to lane one, we emerged from the backside of the range to find the wind we heard whisping through the trees. Sitting down on lane one and feeling the wind push the gun to the left, and then to the right, was a very unwelcome surprise. I watched my windicator dance from left to right, all I could do was try and shoot when it seemed to steady itself in one direction. Coupled with the wind were some very tricky targets, in particular a lobster target with a ½” KZ at 23 yards or so. With the wind howling, I only managed to drop it once. I shed a few points through the next 5 lanes but I wasn’t alone in that. With each target I pulled up on, they began to look like they had been peppered by shotgun fire. Usually, you see most missed in one area, but if anything speaks to the difficulty of reading this wind, it was the misses on targets. I can recall many long targets where I had to hold to the left of the kill on the first shot, and then to the right on the next. Lanes 7 and 8 were the death of me though. Both in the open with limited brush to show what the wind was doing. I dropped 6 shots on these two lanes and there’s nothing more disheartening than going from 4 down to 10 down in the blink of an eye. The wind continued to take its toll on us all until, finally, the suffering was over. I finished on a 49/64, while teammate Greg Sauve delivered to top score on our course of a 58. Harold Rushton and Ken Hughes were both close behind and 54 and 56 respectively. On the upper course, we got word that an Open shooter had dropped just one shot. Mike Niksch, the maker of Thomas Air Rifles, had dropped a single shot and only because he forgot to load a pellet! Talk about an epic performance!
We enjoyed some delicious spaghetti and meatballs after the match and then took in the annual auction and AAFTA meeting. SMGC did a fantastic job of getting sponsor support and there were auction items for everyone to bid on. Thanks to all of the vendors who donated items, to the tune of over $7,000 retail value. It’s fantastic to see the outpouring of support from so many great vendors and manufacturers. The AAFTA meeting was rather uneventful as there were no rules proposals to vote on and two governor spots to announce. Greg Sauve will be returning to the BOG in 2017 to fill Harold’s vacancy and Doug Vinson will retain his spot for another term. Thanks to Harold for his service to the sport. I should also mention that Harold deserves a big congratulations for passing the BAR Exam! Way to go buddy, we all knew you could do it!
Sunday morning was much the same as Saturday, but without the wind! Again, three shots confirmed the gun was spot on. I was shooting with fellow PA FT Team member Scott Hull and Manuel Morales all the way from Puerto Rico. Early in the day, everything was solid. The wind steadily picked up, but not too much. Just enough to make you think twice about where you place your crosshairs, but I didn’t have to hold outside of the kill zones for any targets. I got nipped by what I thought was enough wind to hold on the edge of a ¾” target at about 30 yards, but watched the pellet land right where my crosshairs were sitting. I missed one other 50+ yard shot that seemed to have many shooters puzzled. There must have been some wind involved because the first shot went down, but I couldn’t find the second. Then came the kneeling lane from hell! There was a ½” kill zone (I think) at about 12 yards. I just could not get the crosshairs to settle for this one and missed both shots. From there, I was rock solid until arriving at the standing lane, which ironically enough, was our last lane for the day. I dropped the first two shots easily and then settled in for a 1.5” target at about 30 yards. Yet again, I could not get the crosshairs to settle long enough to get comfortable and drop the target. I missed that twice! Talk about bonehead mistakes. I dropped two seated shots, two kneeling shots and two offhand shots. All of those shots were makeable, but I still managed to turn in the third highest score of the day with a 58/64. I was pleased with the result of Sunday’s match, but sadly it wasn’t enough to climb into the top 5. Greg delivered a superhuman 61 to secure the top score for the entire match. Way to go Greg!
Also, I can’t forget to mention that our new shooter Mike managed to put in a HUGE 53 on Sunday. Sadly, Bill’s EV2 took a dive on Saturday so Mike had to use my brand new Ataman M2 FT Rifle and Hawke Sidewinder ED 10-50x on day two. I guess I did alright sighting it in because he knocked over a ton of targets and turned some heads doing it. I was really pleased he could show the rifle off and that it worked well for him. I’m looking forward to spending some more time with this gun as it shows some serious promise.
I almost forgot the pistol shoot off between Riz and I. They didn’t tell us until the Saturday morning match briefing that we would have to shoot the pistol shoot off directly after the rifle match. Riz had left his pistol back at the hotel, but I suggested we both just shoot Chris’ pistol. Riz agreed and we headed to the lane where the shoot off was held. There was a 1” kill zone at about 30 yards which proved to be a tough target as I could not drop it. Riz stepped in and nailed it to take the title. Well done Riz! I suppose I’ll be back next year, maybe with my own pistol this time. I know what you all are thinking…not likely!
We gathered for the shoot off’s and watched as the final placings were decided. Harold took out Ken Hughes in a shoot off for 2nd place. Phil Eakley topped Bob Dye for 4th place in Hunter PCP. And Mike Niksch took home the National Title in Open PCP over Jim Stanis. The most exciting shoot off was a three way shoot off between Vlad Berchanskiy, Will Piatt and Jim Whittlesey for 4th and 5th place. The three had to take on a 1” kill that started at about 40 yards and was steadily moved back. Jim was the first to falter, which put him in 6th place. Vlad and Will then proceeded to go back and forth, pushing the target all the way out to 52 yards before Vlad took the target down and Will could not match! It was an amazing showing from two outstanding shooters. Thank you both for the great show!
We gathered for the awards ceremony which saw two of my clubmates take home National Titles! Bill Rabbitt overcame some heavy competition to take the Hunter PCP crown! Way to go Bill, I couldn’t be more proud! And in Hunter Piston, Dan Putz dominated his competition winning the Hunter Piston title by 7 shots! Excellent shooting Dan. Undoubtedly, the tough courses at OAFTSA have honed both of their skills to bring them to the top of the game! The rest of the PA team did quite well, Scott Hull took home 5th place in WFTF Piston, Dottie Slade won High Lady, Harold secured 2nd place in WFTF PCP, I took 2nd in Open Pistol and Greg….well Greg won just about everything else. He took home 1st Place in WFTF PCP, Overall High score, High Senior AND his club team (BAGA) won the team title. Greg certainly left with lots of hardware…well done my friend! A great finish to a great year!
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Thanks to Chris Martin and his team over at SMGC for hosting. It’s a tough gig and they handled it well. Of course, there are always some hiccups, but these are the types of experiences you learn from and grow from. I myself am walking away from yet another year of improvement on the lanes. I feel good about how I’ve shot this year and I know what I need to work on to improve further for next season. Until then ladies and gents, we will see you on the lanes! Congrats to all of the National Champions crowned in 2016!
Shoot Safe and See you on the lanes.