One Reason For This Season
Sodden autumnal leaves clung underfoot as the early morning chill stung my eyeballs when I stepped out into the day. The conditions could not have been more perfect. Animals where brought to their feet while the cold sweat of hardened steel crept slowly into each finger driving that mortal sensation through my bones.
From previous practise when the wind and rain lashed from the heavens you would be thinking to yourself ‘are you right in the head’ out shooting in this weather. Well yes this is what we do; Silhouette Shooting is an everyday affair and not one to coward away when the first signs of summer leave our shores. The seasonal change not only brings wind, rain, cold and mischievous grey skies to our range but it also brings the National Smallbore Rifle Silhouette Championships to BRC Shooting Club.
Whispering ‘Annie’ Calls The Shots
While the engine was stoked and the heat of the hearth was fresh on my cheeks I decided that an early morning shift on the Front Line was for me. Five abreast we stood tall at the point. The Fire Command sounded and I was out of the blocks. My inner voice was in tune with my ‘Annie’. It whispered and she replied. Chicken number one suddenly developed a sharp pain in his chest as his contorted carcass vanished into the hardened frost bitten soil. His number was definitely up. He was soon to be in fine company as every report from my ‘Annie’ delivered chicken after chicken to a similar shallow grave.
This was no epidemic, just straight confident shooting. All ten chickens had fallen.
Building on that confidence I got started into the Pigs, I had an appetite for back bacon. Clearing the deck with a white wash of five Pigs, I was on fire. Suddenly my clean run was muddied as I drove a shot high and over the shoulder of lucky Pig number seven. Every other swine fell gracefully with no shyness to 40 grains of lead. A deep exhale and drop of the shoulders reset my mental trigger for those Teasing Turkeys. My magazine charged with Lapua’s finest Centre X, it was time to rumble on the range. Let’s do this, lets carve this turkey.
The effort was quite rewarding although not shot for shot perfect. Two Turkeys escaped my sights as those shots passed by the breast, raising no signs of a flutter from either bird. Their eight corn fed buddies met a different fate as my expectations off dropping the army of ten were softened by the recoil of my ‘Annie’.
The Shooting Stick Done Good
Keeping my eyes to myself I did not scan the banks of fellow shooters. I knew they were shooting, I knew they were hitting but as for numbers I was oblivious. I had my focus solely on my own shooting.
Rams populated the 100 Metres making it look like a Wednesday morning at the Mart. It was time to trim some fat of those testosterone fueled mutton chops. My Leupold’s dot reticle was resting nicely on Ram number one when I squeezed back on the trigger. The shot released into no man’s land, it was beyond retreat. Puzzled at the outcome, I found that distant Ram still in my sights as I popped the bolt open to eject the spent case. I had missed. Knowing I had a good sight picture before the lead escaped my shooting stick I could only conclude that I was shooting a little high. For number two I dropped my point of aim just a smidgen and with a controlled release of the shot I was rewarded with the most distinguishable clatter of them all as Mr Ovis Canadensis was cast into the shadowy sands below. It was a hit. In seconds I had the next Ram lined up and I drilled the Centre X through my ‘Annie’ with smooth precision delivering a fatal blow to each of the remaining beasts.
With the final breathe of cordite funnelling through the muzzle of my bore I thanked my shooting stick for helping me produce a very healthy opening match score of 33/40.
The tranquility of shooting ended all too soon as I made my rifle safe and handed in my score card. My only anticipation was Match 2.
A Brace of 33’s
With no time to catch a breath, a reset of fallen targets was called and Match 2 was underway. I was fired up inside but somehow appearing calm and ready to go with back to back matches.
Some shooters prefer not to shoot back to back, but me, I don’t mind it, especially when I was coming off a score that I was very happy with.
Match 2 felt very familiar. One animal lost here was gained there. This give and take, miss and hit, toing and froing call it what you like, continued all the way to those Righteous Rams. Unfortunately I dropped two identical shots on side by side Rams but recovered the final two shots to bring me back into the game. As the final shots echoed down range, I tallied my card and it showed that I managed to produce a brace of 33/40 on Day 1. I was happy with this result as every miss on those final Rams ate into a very healthy score line.
There was nothing more I could do now except wrap my hands around a wee mug of green tea to bring some blood back to the boil and have a natter to a few others indoors.
A Superstitious Eye From Afar
In all honesty I don’t know of anyone who competes in any sport and doesn’t get a little nervous as the scores of fellow competitors are multiplying at every turn. We all tend to get a little superstitious in our own way. Some shooters don’t want to see the scoreboard, some don’t want to watch their direct competition before their own match and some prefer to sit alone with their own thoughts or just talk about something else other than what’s coming up.
Personally I don’t mind too much about seeing the scoreboard or chatting about the match but hell yes I always feel a little nervous in both the build up to the competition and during it. I can’t change my scores so I tend not to dwell on scores to0 long especially those shots that found an alternative target in the backstop or sand. I like to keep an interest in everything that is going on, from who is on the line shooting, how a shooter is performing, how they interact with others and what do they do to unwind and relax; as long as it does not impede on my own focus and match preparation.
I’m not into the ‘mind games‘ because I believe in myself. If I am on form and focused then I will shoot the best I can on the day.
Sipping down some tea while keeping an eye on the game I was witness to some very fine shooting, especially from Sean one of the up and coming lads. A few more thousand rounds down his CZ 452 shooting stick and the competition will most definitely be hot on my heels, as if it isn’t already closing in on me. The more mature (I mean experienced) guys such as Dave and John looked to have their match well under control as they tallied up scores of 32 and 30 in their respective matches. The victory speech would most definitely be put on hold. This Championship was still too close to call with only a point or two between 1st, 2nd and 3rd place.
Tired Heads & Sharp Shooting
Sunday morning came all too soon. Tired eyes struggled to stay alert while morning practise got underway. A low hovering silver dollar sun peered over the backstop and pierced our retinas. Day Two was about to kick off and there was not only a Title and Top Honours at stake but there was a ‘dog fight’ in the Classes from B through to AAA. Taking a Gold home in your ‘Class’ is just as rewarding as the Number 1 spot.
With a few changes on the squadding board I put my name down for back to back relays. It was an all or nothing risk. The thought of a morning shoot followed by a late afternoon shoot just looked to have so much dead time in-between; there is a limit to how many cups of tea I can drink.
On the up side of back to back matches you can carry your momentum of good form into match 2 but on the down side a bad match could destroy your following match as many negative thoughts can so easily creep into the mind.
Inspired by my chicken run on Day One my ‘Annie’ knew what to deliver as an opening shot. There wasn’t a breath of wind on the range. The grass did not twitch and the leaves sat dormant on their branch. ‘Annie’ was on form, clearing all 10 chickens. Pigs where no exception as they vanished quicker than a hot bacon butty smothered in HP sauce.
Turkeys broke my rhythm as the first of ten failed to respond to the accuracy of my Lapua. I may have just begun to believe in the myth ‘I can’t miss’. Ah yes that myth has been busted many a day on the range but still it persists to inhabit the mind. With seven giblets in the bag I could feel my eyes growing smaller as I stared those Rams down. Numbers began to crawl into my thoughts. My fingers suddenly looked like an abacus, every joint a multiplying bead. Stop It, Stop It. Focus on the Point Of Aim. See it in your mind. Breathe easy, breathe deep, breathe free and don’t forget to smile. I had to break that numerical train of thought.
The sounds of nature surrounded the range while distant traffic fleeted by on the road below. I could no longer hear the spoken word, just muffled vowels and consonants, Rams are where the destiny of this match rested.
Zipping up my jacket the command for ‘Shooters To The Line’ echoed by. A finger on the clock starts the countdown to Fire as we Make Ready. A charged magazine now in place as my obedient ‘Annie’ is fixed to the shoulder. Fire. With just 2 minutes 30 seconds on the clock I had all the time in the world. The first shot ran high. I missed. An identical start to the Turkeys. Exhaling I eject the empty and chamber a new round. This one finds the target. As I near the final Ram my pace is somewhat slower. Everything feels like it is moving in slow motion, everything but that ticking clock. The target dot finally comes to rest, it won’t get any better than this, don’t fight it. A shot breaks free and the final chime of my match rings out as the last Ram tumbles south. A broad rewarding smile suddenly found itself forming on my face. My best shooting of the season flourished at the Nationals. I could not have asked for more. “Congratulations Matthew, that’s great shooting”, said Sean as he signed of my score card. I had shot a 36/40.
My back to back Match 4 was just as eventful as those that had gone before. Yes the arms, eyes and more importantly the focus was beginning to grow weak but I managed to keep my score in the respectable zone of 30+. The valuable hits in the early stages of the match on Chickens and Pigs compensated for my desperate run on the Rams, allowing me to sneak in under the radar with a 31/40.
The Right Side Of 30
Keeping on the right side of 30 would not ensure a victory; that was out of my hands. I just knew that any result sub 30 would most definitely bring this house of cards crashing down as both Dave and John who were currently jostling neck and neck for 2nd and 3rd Place overall had the potential to walk all over a sub 30 to steal the lead. The Day was still young but my shooting was done. Anxious reflection and a hot mug of tea is what followed.
With the sun arcing across the shark grey sky, relay after relay passed through the Firing Point. Results continued to drip feed into stats which ended the restlessness of those waiting to discover their position. While I watched a few shooters perform some magical 5 in a row and 10 in a row shots and step off the line exhausted, the competition finally drew to a close. This is the moment tingling nerves scurried over my skin and the never ending questions raced around in my head. Had I done enough to secure both Smallbore Hunting Rifle and Smallbore Silhouette Rifle National Titles? Did my final match of 31/40 cost me dearly? I needed answers, but would I like what I heard?
The Chatter Of Medals
With the announcement that there were no shoot-offs to take place this meant only one thing; all the results had a placing. Was I on top of the leader board or had my loss of focus in the last match dropped me into 2nd or 3rd place. I pondered the outcome as those heartless steel animals were put to rest and we closed down the range. The final results would take a few minutes to be verified but the chatter of who came where was in full flow.
This ran deeper than medals and positions. It was a season long struggle of match practise, club shoots and national classification events condensed into a single weekend.
A Hard Fought Prize
Keeping it short, Dan said a few words and a thank you to our hosts BRC Shooting Club before the medal awards got underway. Starting in reverse order from Unclassified through B, A, AA, AAA and Master the scores, names, cheers and a bit of harmless banter followed each competitor as they collected their hard earned medal. Any medal is a delight to receive as there is always someone who will find themselves in that most unrewarding of places, 4th place.
As the score and name of third place was called I knew it had to be a Silver or Gold for me. When silver medal scores where announced it was now a certainty. I knew the colour of my medal. It was Gold. I had retained both National Titles and secured the National Championship. I was delighted. Handshakes, photos a text message and a tweet made it all the more real, not forgetting that my name would be inscribed on those trophies for eternity.