FWB P44
Though I don’t compete anymore, my FWB P44 is fully capable of Olympic gold.

This report covers:

  • Why not 10-meter pistol?
  • Parents
  • The guns
  • Ammo
  • Serendipity
  • NRA national competition
  • So what?
  • What the beatnik said
  • The lesson

Today I will talk about competing and what it takes to win.

Back in the 1990s when I lived in Maryland I was a member of the Damascus chapter of the Izaac Walton League of America. I mentioned this recently when I talked about starting a field target club. Well, this chapter had formerly had a youth shooting program that was resurrected while I was there in the late 1990s. The chapter had several Daisy model 853 target rifles that, at the time, were the only game in town. All youth marksmen competed with them, though things were changing on that front. Daisy pretty much built the youth marksmanship program, in concert with the NRA. Daisy did most of the work and the NRA looked over their shoulder to make sure they were going in the right direction.

There already was an international 10-meter air rifle and 10-meter air pistol competition that had rules, targets, established scoring and so on, so rather than reinvent the wheel, Daisy adapted that for the youth. It was a three position event, where shooters shot offhand (standing), kneeling and prone. That’s as opposed to ISSF which is all offhand.

Why not 10-meter pistol?

Many people ask why Daisy didn’t also establish a 10-meter pistol event for the youth, as well. There are several good reasons for that. First, one of the principle goals of this program was teaching the kids how to shoot, with all the safety aspects thrown in. It is far easier to teach someone those things with a long gun than with a handgun. The sight radius is longer and they hold the gun with both hands. Get them to stand correctly and they almost can’t miss the target.

Next, even though there are lightweight 10-meter target pistols, the lightest of them is still too heavy for the majority of young people. In fact, when I teach full-grown men how to shoot target air pistols they quickly discover that their arms are not up to the task. After just a few shots they start wavering and have to stop, or they will possible throw their shots out of the target trap. This is where the hours of dry-firing come into play. The kids can’t do that unless they have a gun to train with all the time, and the club guns don’t leave the club — at least not until the shooter has proven himself or herself.

Finally, safety is the most important reason for using long guns with kids. I remember in the Army when I was range officer. I saw men shoot their 1911 .45 pistol and kick up dust 6 feet in front of them, when the target was at eye level 25 feet away. A handgun can be turned to point in the wrong direction too easily and too quickly for a new shooter to be safe. A long gun is more visible and has a longer barrel that the safety officer can grab when the shooter turns in the wrong direction.

For all these reasons, pistols were never considered for junior marksmen. They probably never will be.

Parents

I’m skipping past the training and covering things that seldom get spoken of. Let’s talk about parents. They range from fanatically interested to using the program as a babysitting service. What worked best was somewhere in-between. The kids needed parents who supported them (drove them to the training sessions and matches, etc.) but stopped short of pushing them where they didn’t want to go. Kids don’t know what they don’t know, so raising them is a special skill that includes psychology, motivational skills and a shunt for their feelings when things go south. Probably even more than that, but who said I was a good parent?

The guns

Our airguns were old and tired — just like our coaches. But they learned how to make the triggers better within the rules and how to get little 49-pound Janie to the point of pumping an 853 (it’s a single-stroke pneumatic that takes up to 20 pounds to pump — almost half her weight).

Old and tired they may have been, but those 853s could still shoot. As the kids warmed up to them we saw some surprising shots. And, as the training progressed, the kids started putting themselves into ranks. Before the first season was over we knew who the good shooters were. We also knew which guns were the most accurate and the coaches began reassigning the better ones to the better shooters. 

Ammo

Crosman and Daisy both donated free pellets to the team. They were fine for learning to shoot, but the coaches knew that as the shooters got better some additional points could be had with different pellets. The parents and coaches tried a wide variety of pellets from different sources, including Pyramyd Air.

Shop Benjamin Rifles

Serendipity

Oddly enough, at the same time that the junior marksmanship program was progressing, we started a Monday evening 10-meter pistol team to shoot between ourselves (the adult members of the chapter). At its height we had as many as 10 shooters. We progressed together over the months, and we tried different pellets, too.

There was a Chinese target pellet that Airgun Express sold for about $6 for a tin of 500. They were really good and in some of our pistols including mine they were the best. We loaned some to the youth team and they found them to be good, too.

Then we were contacted by an adult air pistol team in Virginia who wanted to compete with us. And they had a junior marksmanship team as well. We all got better and it was this Virginia team who registered many of us with the NRA, which is how I got my national ranking.

What I’m telling you is that, once started, both the junior marksmanship team and the adult pistol team grew on the strength of competition. Our kids were very good, and some even excelled, but there were no national-class shooters in the time I was associated. The adult Virginia pistol team had one shooter whose average was around 545 and above, and he was the guy to beat. No one ever did, but my own score in a 600-point match rose from 519 to 535 over about 6 months.

NRA national competition

One year I attended the NRA national air rifle competition and watched over 100 junior marksmanship kids from grade school up to high school seniors from all over the nation compete in 10-meter air rifle. College scholarships were awarded for winning scores. There were two classes — Precision for the older kids and Sporter for the ones who shot 853s.

Those Precision-class kids had the best equipment money could buy. They wore leather shooting jackets and pants that were custom-tailored and cost over a thousand dollars. They couldn’t gain more than five pounds or the apparel wouldn’t fit. Their airguns were the same as would be seen at the Olympics, and the top winners were invited to try out for the US Olympic team.

The Sporter class shot Daisy 853s exclusively, only they shot them like the Precision class. Remember — these were the top junior marksmen in the United States. And their guns were closely inspected by the judges. One ounce of trigger pull under the minimum and they were disqualified, and the inspection was done at the end of all shooting. As I recall, there was one case in which the trigger-pull was just at the minimum and the judges went over that rifle with a fine-toothed comb. I don’t remember if there was an upset over that incident, but the pucker-factor ran high among the sdhooters for about a half hour. Then the scores and awards were posted for all to see.

So what?

Is it an equipment race? The fact is — equipment doesn’t win. People win. If there is a master violinist, someone with money gets him an instrument worthy of his talent. But for the rest of us fiddle players, almost any old thing with strings will do. The neat thing about airguns is that for only about $3,000 a person can own a target rifle capable of winning the Olympics. And, if you’re on a budget, $600 or so will get you an FWB 300S that is almost as good and nearly as accurate. You can’t do that in most other sports, and you certainly can’t do it with violins! Owning a Stradivarius doesn’t make you Yahudi Menuhin.

What the beatnik said

There’s a joke from the 1960s about a violin player carrying his violin case and walking on the sidewalks of New York City. He’s lost, so he walks up to a beatnik and asks, “Can you please tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”

The beatnik looks the guy over before responding, “Practice, man. Practice.”

As silly as that sounds, it’s the best advice for improving you shooting. Guns, ammo, shooting jackets and the like won’t do a thing if you don’t put in the time.

Just before I stopped competing I was at the point when I knew whether I had just shot a 9 or a 10 without looking at the target. And I still occasionally threw an 8 from a tremor in my shooting hand. Ouch!

But in my last match, my CO2 gun ran out of gas during the match and I shot a 6 that should have been a 10. The pellet strick the target in line with the center of the bull but 1-1/2-inches low. I could tell by the report that the gas was gone, so I refilled the gun and finished the match. My score was a 532, as I remember, but it took the heart out of me to lose those 4 points. On the way home the transmission in my Chrysler Town and Country minivan went out on the freeway, and that just compounded the situation. Thank the Lord that cell phones were available and I had one!

There was no way I had the money at that time for even a used pneumatic target pistol, let alone a new one. So I just quit shooting. Had I continued I was about to move up to Expert class in the national ratings. It would have happened in a month or two. That is what the beatnik was talking about. This is the only time in my life that I have ever been so close to improving in a recognizeable way, and it is a lesson I never forgot.

The lesson

So, practice trumps the gun, the pellet and the equipment. I had a peek at what real champions know so well. Ironically, the good shooter from Virginia did move ahead from a 545 average to a 560 average. One more advance to 575 and he would be a national-class competitor. He knew it and, as far as I know, he made it.