Where to begin…I suppose like all stories, I should start from the beginning. Since I started shooting Field Target about three years ago, a lot has changed. To be more exact, I have changed a lot in those three years. My motivations for shooting field target have changed, my goals have changed and my outlook on the game has changed. The single biggest force for that change was attending the World Championships in 2015 in Lithuania. The experience was so overwhelming that I couldn’t put it on paper at the time. The take-aways set in almost immediately upon returning to the US. I knew after returning my equipment had to change, that was a relatively easy one….unless you look at my bank account! But two other changes happened that I was not fully expecting. The first was my mentality and outlook on the sport. I had no concept of what it was like to only miss two shots per day (as Champion Sergey Zubenko did in 2015), I was hovering in the 8-10 shot range on the same courses. I had to relearn how to focus when the time to shoot came, and how to let the misses go and not get wrapped up in each one. The second change was my motivation. I attended the 2015 Worlds knowing I was not going to win, just wanting to take it all in. I did that and more, but in 2016, I knew I needed a more direct goal to aim for. So before the season started, I set a goal for myself for the 2016 Worlds in Lisbon, Portugal. I wanted a top 30 finish. That seemed attainable but I knew I would have to challenge myself to be better.
With my equipment sorted, and a goal set, I just needed to put in the time leading up to Worlds. The first affirmation that I was headed in the right direction was the Cajun Spring Classic back in March. Shooting to a tie with US Team members Paul Plauche and Harold Rushton told me that I could hang with the best in the US. The second was the Southern Open in Heflin, Alabama in June. Finishing second and doing so via shootoff with Harold was a massive boost for me. My gear was good, my preparation was solid and my head was in the right place when I left for Lisbon. Sadly, my travel buddy Keith came down with a bad case of poison ivy just a day prior to leaving, so I was out of a roommate for the trip. Thankfully, teammate Greg Sauve had an extra bed and was more than happy to let me bunk with him! After arriving in Lisbon and collecting my rifle, I met up with Greg and Harold at the hotel where most of the shooters were staying. We immediately went out and grabbed lunch by the ocean and got some amazing views of the water, a small castle and other architecture that was quite stunning. We did the tourist thing for the day and wrapped it up tired from both jet lag and all of the walking in the heat.
Shooters from all over the world began arriving, including my favorite bunch from Wales. The Welsh were the reigning World Champions and are incredible shooters, but they don’t take things too seriously off of the course. They are like gravity at an FT event, everyone is drawn to them. They’re always smiling, laughing and the banter (my favorite part) is second to none! I spent some time catching up with them that evening, particularly with my bet to win the title in 2016, Jack Harris. Jack and I are close in age, which gives us some common ground in a game where the average competitor is in their mid-40s. Many other great shooters began appearing, Andy Calpin from England, Dorian Falconer and Mark Bassett from Wales, Sergey Zubenko from Russia, Conor McFlynn from Northern Ireland and many others. We spent most of the evening catching up over some beers. If you ask me, that’s the way to do it. The best way to keep up international FT relations is over a cold beer! You can quote me on that.
The next two days were used for sighting in. WFTF President and organizer of this particular Worlds Sergio Rita did a fantastic job of allotting plenty of space and time for sight in. Basically, Tuesday and Wednesday were open entirely for sighting in. Shooters checked in, picked up their swag bags, and had an opportunity to ask the marshalls any questions they may have had about rules issues. I spent a good bit of time shooting and found my rifle about 16 clicks off to the right. Likely from a knock during the flight. It happens, no big deal. Upon returning to the range on Wednesday, the gun was still shooting a little to the right, but I chalked it up to wind at the time. Everyone else seemed to have their guns sorted out, so we headed back for the welcome dinner at the Corinthia Hotel. It was a gorgeous reception and the food was incredible. It was also a good opportunity to catch up with many of the other US shooters. Unlike many of the European countries that are smaller in size, we American’s only see each other a few times a year at the bigger matches. This is one of the few times where we actually get to hang out for more than two days, and that is something I enjoy thoroughly. But sadly, we had to call it a night somewhat early as the PCP shooters had to be up early for the morning session on the first day.
We gathered just outside of the courses, and had the shooters briefing presented by the marshalling team. After listening to them for just short of an hour, the match began. This was the only hiccup of the event for me, the briefing took FAR too long. After all, this is the World Championships, you shouldn’t have to go over every rule in detail. But we made our way to the lanes. I started on the black course, lane 17. 17 is my lucky number, so I was actually pretty happy about that. The one thing we had all noticed over the first few days was the wind! The area we shot in is part of the Jamor Sports facility which is one Portugal’s training centers for their Olympic athletes. It’s a gorgeous facility and the land that was used for the courses had great variation. Uphill, downhill, protected shots, open field where the winds really whipped through, it truly had all the marks of a great course and one that presented each shooter with as many challenges as possible. I was paired with David Williams from Wales and Victor Flores of Spain. Victor didn’t speak much English, but thankfully, I understood enough Spanish to be able to translate most of what he said. Lane 17 on the black course was a long one. Uphill and with the close target at 50 yards and the far target at 52 yards. I was told that the courses were going to be on the long side, it looked like that was very true. Thankfully, there was not much wind as the lane had high brush on both sides. Two shots later, and two targets were down. Unlike the US where we shoot two shots per target, at the Worlds, it’s one shot per target. 25 lanes total means you shoot 50 shots per day. I like this format better because it forces you to quickly refocus for each shot and lane, you don’t have time to dwell on misses.
Back to the shooting, I shot the first 10 targets clean. I did pull a few back up after I hit them to verify where my shots were landing while the targets were still relatively fresh. I noticed that my shots were going a little to the right, even when there was not enough wind to account for the movement. This told me that I still needed to adjust my scope further. Normally, I would just add a few clicks and move on, but being a big match, I decided that I would just hold for this since I couldn’t take a shot to verify how much adjustment was needed. On my next lane, we encountered our first reduced target. The WFTF has three kill zone sizes, 40mm, 25mm and 15mm. This was a 25mm kill at about 35 yards and since it was on the downhill side of the course, there was a fair bit of wind coming through. I held a little more than I had been but clipped the edge of the kill and the target stood tall. This is where not adjusting the scope bit me because I wasn’t sure how much of that miss was the scope being off and how much was wind. But I continued on after that and managed to hold things together until the first kneeling lane. I missed one there and another long target due to not giving it enough wind. Up to this point, the wind was tricky, but not strong. As we turned to the beginning of the course, everything changed. All of a sudden we were shooting into the sun, which created a very difficult mirage to range targets and the wind was whipping through this section with more intensity. From lanes 1 to 10, the name of the game was calling the wind. Particularly on lanes 6-10, these were entirely in the open with very little to indicate wind direction between you and the target. On lanes 1 to 10, I dropped another 6 shots. The wind was killer! It was so bad in some spots that not only was the pellet being pushed around, but so was my gun. It became a bit of a lottery, especially when all of the targets were over 40 yards. But that is what makes the game interesting. I managed to drop just a few more and hold together a respectable 39. I wasn’t very pleased with that until I found out the top score was a 45. Even the best had trouble in those conditions, so it made my score more tolerable. Both Harold and Greg turned in 41’s, which was very impressive in my eyes. Not to mention, we all ended up on the first page of the score sheet for the day. It was a good day!
Day two saw us shooting in the afternoon session. Over the last few days, most of us had noticed that the wind was hammering in the afternoons, this would make the day interesting. While the wind did come on strong at some points, it all depended on when you hit lanes 6-10 in the open. All three courses ran together, so every day you had to deal with similar circumstances as the shooters on other courses. The distances were slightly different of course, but the challenge was much the same. I started similarly to day one. First 10-12 targets cleared, then we came upon an offhand lane that was very cleanable. I’m not sure what happened but I just could not find the kill zones for long enough to get comfortable, and I missed both shots. That was a little disheartening, but I managed to recover well and cleared the rest of the positional shots for the day (there was one more offhand lane and two kneeling lanes). The only other shots I dropped were in the open section, and I ended on a 42 for the day. Greg and Harold again did well, both posting 45’s. Top score for the day was a 49, posted by 2011 World Champ Conor McFlynn. Conor had a pretty rough day on the first day, but his 49 put him back within striking distance of the top 10. Things were set at the top for Saturday with Sergey Zubenko leading the pack just in front of Jack Harris, Andy Calpin and a handful of others.
Day three was back in the morning and as you would expect, there was a much more serious tone in the air. The top shooters were all on a separate section of the course from Dave, Victor and I, so we were just getting rumblings of how things were going. The wind was far more unforgiving this day. I had done well the first 10 targets again, but once I started dropping shots, they seemed to slowly bleed away. One here, one there….just enough to agitate me. And the scary part, I was making the shots my squadmates were missing. Some of the longer shots in the wind and a few of the tougher positional shots, I managed to nail them, but it seemed for every good shot, the next went awry. This is all part of the game though, some days you can’t miss and others, you suffer through the course and pray for it to end. This day ended somewhere in the middle. I was happy to be done, but unhappy because I ended dropping 13. While I managed to top both of my squadmates, I felt I lost focus and could have made a few of the shots that I missed. But the Worlds were over for me and I was excited to see if I attained my goal or not. Either way, I felt that I was close and definitely had improved over last year.
We headed for the banquet dinner. The dinner is fun because you end up trading your gear with folks from other countries, exchanging team pins, and getting to watch the award ceremony. By that point, we knew that Jack Harris had won it. Jack dropped 4 shots on the final day while Sergey dropped 9. Last year, their fates were reversed but this year, Jack prevailed by two shots for a total of 136/150. Congrats to Jack on the victory. I have a feeling we may be seeing Jack at the top again someday. On the springer side, USA’s Matt Brackett held the lead by just one shot going into day 3. But Lithuania’s Aleksas Jaunius managed to overcome Matt, winning the title. Matt ended up in 4th place. After last years runner up showing, I believe it is fair to say that Matt is one of the top piston shooters in the world…and now the whole world knows it! Well done my friend, you’ve done us all proud! And on top of Matt’s excellent performance, Ray Apelles also managed a top 10 showing, finishing 9th after a shootoff for 9/10th. After missing last year, I know Ray was really looking forward to Portugal and he also did exceptionally well. With a few more piston shooters up there, the USA could be a force within the piston FT world. And last but certainly not least, my roommate and PA teammate Greg Sauve regained the Veteran PCP class title! Basically, Grandpa Greg is the best old guy in the World! But only I get to call him Grandpa Greg…I better not hear anyone else calling him that, or you answer to me! It was Greg’s 4th Veteran class title, and I know it means a lot to him. He did exceptionally well, managing a 41 on the last day to give him a total of 127/150. Harold was just one shot back on 126. Both Greg and Harold earned their Master patches, which is a new title of sorts that goes to anyone who shoots 92.5% of the high score or better. Congrats to you both, that’s a phenomenal honor.
The Worlds are a crazy experience, it’s really one that can’t be summed up just by looking at the results. And pictures don’t do it justice. There is something special about it, seeing shooters from 30 countries converge on one place to share in a common competition is striking. Over 300 shooters total. I believe there were around 230 PCP shooters, and while I didn’t finish top 30, I was close and ended tied for 37th. So top 40, I can’t be mad at that, and I was still on the first page of the scores. But I sincerely hope that anyone interested in attending a Worlds gets the chance to, next year is in Wales. And it is sure to be a good time and a great match, although it will likely be a wet one. The teaser video that the Welsh boys showed at the closing dinner was excellent and left many itching for 2017 to get here just a bit faster!
Plenty of time for that though, coming up we have the Pyramyd Air Cup and then AAFTA Nationals. The season is quickly coming to a close, but I’m very excited for these last two matches. While I won’t be shooting at the Cup, we have a lot of fun things planned and I think the new layout for the second course will be a ton of fun.
Until next time, shoot safe and see you on the lanes.