YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT…

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT…

It took my brother Steve years to establish a rifle team at the high school where he taught physics. One of the strongest arguments offered by his opponent on the Board of Education was emotional: the danger of kids and firearms. He was able to eventually squelch the argument by pointing out that, nationwide, between 1982 and 2011 there were 115 fatalities in high school football but just one in organized scholastic competitive shooting. He further noted that that single incident was the only one ever recorded. His perseverance paid off with a successful program.

This is not to say that competitive marksmanship, at all levels, is not without its dangers to health. However, those dangers have been long recognized and there have been aggressive steps taken to insure student athletes involved in the shooting sports are well shielded from danger.

The first and most obvious is vision and hearing protection. Most ranges now require safety glasses and ear plugs. My club even provides free disposable earplugs to all from a gumball machine type dispenser mounted on the range wall.

Perhaps the biggest concern is ingestion of heavy metal, volatile liquid fumes, and gunpowder dust. 

In the shooting world lead is the dirtiest of the four-letter words. Clubs, especially those with junior programs, follow stringent hygiene plans to insure the cleanest and safest range environments. My club’s plan requires a semi-annual washing of the range with a special soap, periodic rinses with water and vacuuming with a HEPA vacuum , all brass is pushed forward of the firing line to be picked up the by the range committee, no juniors are allowed forward of the firing line, eating drinking and gum chewing are prohibited in the range, special soap is provided to wash hands and face after shooting, a sticky floor mat is installed at the range door, air flow is tested, protective gloves and booties are provided for work parties, and all work is required to be logged.

Most rifle cleaning solvents are classified as volatile fluids, a liquid with the tendency to become vapor, and are often petroleum based. You don’t want to breath too much of the vapor and using rubber gloves when cleaning is not a bad idea.

The touch stone of cleaning fluid is Hoppes #9 As a member of the Cult of Hoppes I ascribe to the mantra, “It’s okay if you don’t start with Hoppes, but you’ll probably end up with it.” It’s banana like smell evokes the nostalgia of the carefree shooting days of my youth. They make an odorless version of the venerable elixir, but one wonders why.  

The final leg of our danger triad is gunpowder dust. For those who are serious reloaders, both black powder and IMR types, when dealing with kegs and caddies of powder there is the inevitable dust kicked up as it is transferred to small container or the reloading press. This poses two dangers, loose powder which might ignite from a spark or static electricity and lung issues.

This problem is best solved by keeping a clean reloading station, sweeping-never vacuuming-the floor regularly to avoid spilled powder build up, and wearing a surgical mask when transferring powder.

This all was brought home to me by an incident that involved an old and venerated member of my club, Chris Beebe. When I first meet Chris, he was in his late 70s and long retired. I inevitably would find him on the first bench of the high-power range. A bit arthritic, he pulled his car right up to the line to ease his loading and unloading of a myriad of gun cases, tool boxes, and a portable loading bench. It was a no parking zone but Chris’ status as a respected and beloved elder statesman of  the club rendered the sign moot. He was held in such affectionate high esteem that one of the wives of a fellow bench raster made him a special jacket with an extended back flap so when he bent over the bench in cold weather his lower back would be covered and kept toasty warm.

Chris would usually be testing some esoteric load, perhaps a .22 PPC6mm PPC, 338-06 A-Square, .35 Whelen or the 6.5mm Grendel cartridge. at 50, 100, or 200 yards as he prepared for some bench rest event or another. He was a fastidious reloader with eye that was as accurate as the well-worn Brown and Sharpe spindle micrometer tucked into his shirt pocket.   He was a friendly old fellow who loved to yarn and was also a wealth of information. We all enjoyed spending time with him and usually went away in a better mood and wiser in the way of reloading

As a member of the Range Hygiene Committee I hoped to learn something of his safety and hygiene procedures which might help us. I started by asking him how he managed his work space and the state of his health. For more than a half century he had been inhaling gun petroleum-based cleaning solvent fumes like a rock start snorting coke and ingesting gun powder like a kid at the circus attacking a cone of cotton candy. He replied, “Hap, I am nearly eighty years old and that am doing OK even though I have probably sniffed a barrel of Hoppes and swallowed enough gun powder to keep you in cartridges for a year.”

And he was right in so many ways. When he passed away at the age of 95 he left a wife, three children, nine grandchildren, 27 great grandchildren and a 15-foot crater where the crematorium used to be.       

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A Distinguished Scout…

 

A Distinguished Scout…

I enlisted in the Connecticut National Guard to shoot on the rifle team and actual military duties were the furthest thing from my mind. Assigned to Company C, First Battalion, 169th Infantry based in Middletown, Connecticut, a unit of the 43rd Brigade, part of the fabled 26th Yankee Division, I drew my gear and rarely saw the armory after that. With Viet Nam in the rearview mirror the Guard was hemorrhaging personnel as the enlistments of the summer soldiers and the sunshine patriots expired. To fill out its meager muster roll the rifle team was assigned to “Middletown Charlie” whose troops never saw us but enjoyed the extra rations they drew on our names.

The 169th has a long and storied history. It began as a militia unit in 1672 during the early days of the Connecticut colony, it fought in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, Spanish–American War, chased Villa on the Mexican border, World War I, the Pacific in World War II, occupied Japan, and was activated and served in Germany during the Korean Police Action.

While I was in there was another unit in the 26th YD’s Connecticut Table of Organization with a shorter but, perhaps, a more colorful and interesting history. It was C Troop, 26th Cavalry Regiment, the linear descendant of the 26th Cavalry Regiment (Philippine Scouts) (26th CAV (PS)).

During the withdrawal to Corregidor, in the waning days of the Philippine Campaign, the 26th’s First Lieutenant Edwin P. Ramsey led the last mounted cavalry charge in American military history on January 16, 1942.

The action brought a rare smile to the dour visage of Major General Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright IV, commander of the Philippine Department. The successful horse action was a brief reprieve for ‘Skinny’ Wainwright, an old cavalryman, who had little to smile about as he stubbornly resisted the advancing Japanese in a futile attempt hold the Philippines.

The Philippine Scouts were part of the United States Army from 1901 until the end of World War II. Fierce fighters, many refused to surrender and became the core of the guerilla resistance to the Japanese. The Scouts were disbanded in 1948, when the Philippines became an independent nation, and many Scouts elected to remain in the US Army eventually serving in Korea and Viet Nam.

One such Scout was Dominador ‘Don’ Figuracion who claims a trio of trivia tidbits, two involving shooting. As a 21 year old private he had been soldiering less than a year, following in the footsteps of his father, Juan, who served in the Scouts at the same time.

When the first Japanese landing parties stormed ashore in the Philippines on December 8, 1941 they were met by the 26th Cavalry. The Scouts, the first Filipino unit to be issued the new M1 Garand rifle, which mounted troops stowed in saddle scabbards, were one of the first United States Army ground forces to be involved in combat during World War II. Even though the Army was fully equipped with the M1 early in 1941 this engagement marked the first time it was used in combat and Figuracion was there and claims he was among the first, if not the first, to fire the rifle in anger.

He was aboard his mount Santango when Ramsey had his men draw their .45s before ordering that final wild cavalry charge against an advancing Japanese infantry unit. Surprised by the boldness of the charge and the thundering of the fast moving horses, the Japanese troops broke and ran.

All the hard fighting and privation was to no avail and Figuracion became a prisoner when Bataan surrendered and suffered the horrors of the infamous “Bataan Death March.” Figuracion spent a year behind the wire in Camp O’Donnell before escaping into the jungle and joining a Philippine guerilla group. While with the guerillas he met his wife of 72 years, Ely.

Figuracion survived the war and remained in the Army where he was awarded the Aircraft Crewman Badge which topped his ribbon rack replete with a Bronze Star, Army Commendation Ribbon, Prisoner of War Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Asia Pacific Medal, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary medal, Viet Nam Service Medal, Philippine Defense Medal, and the Philippine Liberation Medal.

In the years following he became a United States citizen and served in Viet Nam before retiring a sergeant first class.

To occupy some of his time he took up pistol shooting while in the Army and in 1960 earned his Distinguished Pistol Badge.

So, other than the remarkable fact that he was married to the same women for 72 years, what are his three claims to trivia fame? First, he rode in the last cavalry charge in US Army history. Second, he was among the first, if not the first, to fire the M1 rifle in anger. Third, he is the only survivor of the Bataan Death March to hold the Distinguished Pistol Badge.

 

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640 hits or 36 Hitless, Sort Of The Same Thing…

640 hits or 36 Hitless, Sort Of The Same Thing…

The 26th of May was a sunny start to the Memorial Day Weekend and I was wielding my power washer while adhering to, depending on your literary bent, either Voltaire or Ben Parker, Spider Man’s uncle, who it is said once remarked that with great power comes great responsibility which is why I had set the machine for 1500 PSI and carefully attached a 15º nozzle to the washer’s wand. I wanted my siding cleaned, not sliced up like a side of bacon.  

My home is surrounded by a stand of oaks and the acidity of the leaves and the shade means that I have a poor excuse for a lawn and the yearly task of ridding my siding of a haze of gray mildew. To both entertain myself and protect my hearing from the electric hum of the power washer I had donned a headset fitted with speakers attached to a portable radio. Tuned to WEEI, the local sports station, I was listening to Joe Castiglione and Tim Neverett bringing me all the action of a Red Sox/Atlanta Braves game. I am not a fan of interleague play, but this game was sort of nostalgic.

From 1915 to 1952 the Braves were the Boston Braves. They decamped to Milwaukee for the 1953 season, selling their ballpark to Boston University, where my brother slaved in the groves of academe. BU eventually named it after MIT alumni and BU Trustee, William Emery Nickerson, the designer of the machinery used by King Gillette to manufacture the euphoniously named razor and blades. After 13 years of imbibing the produce of Milwaukee’s many famous breweries the Braves again moved, this time south to Atlanta, where they could now get their fill of another ballpark staple, peanuts.

Baseball announcers and color men have a lot of time to fill during the three to four hours it takes to play a ballgame. Any one worth his salt can come up with an unending litany of esoteric statistics, recollections, and trivia to fill the time between pitches. This being a Braves game, and the 26th of May, Castiglione found the time to discuss no hitters and perfect games and the fate that befell Pittsburgh Pirate pitcher Harvey Haddix in a game against the Braves on the same date in 1959.

A shut out in baseball is a game where a team does not score and is like a 1600 in prone shooting. A no-hitter, of which there have been 299, is a game in which a team does not record a hit, but a batsman reaches base. It is a 3200 in shooting. A perfect game is recorded when no opposing player reaches base, “27 up and 27 down,” there have been 23 ‘Perfectos” in baseball history, the equivalent of a 6400 prone.

Haddix threw a perfect game through 12 innings, retiring the first 36 batters he faced. It is a feat almost inconceivable in modern baseball where pitch counts rule and most starters going seven innings are praised for endurance.  

In the top of the 13th inning Pirates third-baseman Don Hoak committed an error which allowed Felix Mantilla reach first. Eddie Mathews advanced Mantilla with a sacrifice bunt and  Hank Aaron was intentionally walked. Haddix lost the game, When Joe Adcock hit a walk off home run. Despite the loss Haddix’s 12 2/3-inning, one-hit complete game is considered by many to be the best pitching performance in major league history.

As a result, Haddix had a no hitter on his resume, that is until 1991 when Major League Baseball changed the definition to “a game in which a pitcher or pitchers complete a game of nine innings or more without allowing a hit.” Despite his having thrown more perfect innings than anyone in a single game, Haddix’s game was erased from the list of no hitters, Haddix’s response was “It’s O.K. I know what I did.”

A sort of similar situation nearly occurred to Steve Angeli. Over four days on the Palmyra Pennsylvania Sportsman’s Association firing line during the 2015 Mid Atlantic 6400. Angeli reached a level of perfection that only two other riflemen have achieved when he shot 640 tens and Xs for a perfect 6400X6400.

California dentist Tom Whitaker was the first to accomplish the near impossible with a 6400-574X, at the Western Wildcats in 1975. Lones Wigger, not to be outdone, upped the X count to 588 at Fort Benning in 1977.

Angeli, however, did something that neither Whitaker or Wigger did. Traditionally half of the double Critchfield Course is fired with metallic sights and the other with any sights, meaning a telescopic sight. While the rest of the field opted for telescopic sights during the any sight phase Angeli was comfortable and confident with irons and stayed with them.

His confidence paid off and he shot a 6400. However, his remarkable accomplishment seemed doomed to anonymity. His score equaled Whittaker and Wigger but his X count did not top Wigger’s open or Whitaker’s civilian record X counts. His 6400-561X seemed doomed to obscurity, like Haddix, until saved by NRA Smallbore Rule 2.2.1. Angeli turned 60 in 2015 making him a senior and so his name now fills that line in the record book. Had it not been for his age, Angeli’s remarkable performance, arguably the best in smallbore prone history, would have suffered the same fate of Haddix’s perfect 12 innings: obscurity.

It says something about their sports where both Haddix and Angeli were lauded, one for 36 misses and the other for 640 hits.

 

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RANDLE’S RHODE ISLANDRIFLE RANGE RELATIONSHIP…

 

RANDLE’S RHODE ISLANDRIFLE RANGE RELATIONSHIP…

Rhode Island is a small state, to be absolutely accurate it is more than just a small state, it is the smallest state. Despite its diminutive size, it is but 48 miles from north to south and only 37 miles east to west, the Ocean State boasts 400 miles of coastline. It ranks 20th in the nation in that category, far ahead the state that is 47 times larger and ranks 20th in geographic size, Oklahoma. With so much of its land bordering on the ocean it is no surprise that Rhode Island has enjoyed a close relationship with the sea and particularly the United States Navy.

The Naval relationship started with Rhode Island-native Esek Hopkins, the Commander in Chief of the Continental Navy. Following him were the Perry brothers, Oliver Hazard Perry, the Hero of Lake Erie and namesake for Camp Perry, and his younger brother Commodore Matthew Cailbraith Perry, who was largely responsible for opening Japan to the west. Both were born in Rhode Island and are buried in Newport within sight of the Naval War College.

Three young Navy officers, and future presidents, received training at various Rhode Island naval facilities. John Kennedy trained in PT boats at the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center Melville on the East Passage of Narragansett Bay, Richard Nixon took officer indoctrination at Naval Operating Base Newport, and George H.W. Bush flew out of Naval Air Station Quonset and Naval Auxiliary Air Station Charlestown.

The Naval Construction Training Center Davisville, home of the Seabees and site of the development of the ubiquitous Quonset Hut, the Naval Torpedo Station Goat Island, which produced nearly one-third of the approximately 62,000 torpedoes manufactured for the Navy during World War II, and the Naval Net Depot Portsmouth, which fabricated tons of anti-submarine netting and booms for ports up and down the east coast, and trained the sailors in the installation and handling of harbor defense nets, are but a few more of the naval facilities that called Rhode Island home.

In the aftermath of World War II, and recent recommendations by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, much of the land occupied by the Navy in its centuries long association with Rhode Island has become public lands given over to historical and recreational use.

Of interest to riflemen is the Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge located on a spit of land that juts out into the mouth of the Sakonnet River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. The 242 acre refuge is one of five national wildlife refuges in Rhode Island and best known for its saltwater fishing and the largest winter population of harlequin ducks on the East Coast. It earliest history records that it was used for sheep farming and horse racing.

As war threatened the Coast Artillery Corps used Sachuest as the site for a fire control station for the defense of Narragansett Bay. Three buildings, camouflaged as a farmhouse, barn, and silo, were built to direct the fire of batteries of 16 inch guns.

When the Navy expanded its Newport training facilities to meet the rush of recruits immediately following The Day of Infamy, it acquired land on the point for use as a fleet recreation area. The idea was to provide a healthy entertaining outlet for the excess energy of the horde of randy young and vulnerable sailors, It was hoped that baseball and volleyball would keep them out of the fleshpots of Newport, Providence, and Boston, thereby preserving their virtue and health for Navy and the contents of their wallets for allotments to be sent home to help support families still smarting from the Depression.

The Navy also used the site as a small arms training center, constructing eight 200-yard rifle ranges, a 500-yard rifle range, two 50-foot rifle ranges, and a pistol range along with necessary workshops, barracks, and ammunition bunkers.

With a facility to man the Navy looked to the National Rifle Association for help in finding expert staff for the new ranges and selected well known smallbore competitor and Association Vice President Thurman Randle to lead the effort. He was commissioned a lieutenant commander and quickly set about the task of with organizing, standardizing, and putting into operation the entire U.S. Navy small arms training program.

Randle recruited some 600 members of the NRA who served as commissioned officers or enlisted instructors and taught over two million sailors how to shoot. His men were scattered across the nation while he was headquartered at Sachuest. There he supervised a week of marksmanship training for every sailor entering the ships pool at the Newport Receiving Station.

The Navy is long gone from Sachuest and so the rattle of musketry does not disturb the quite solitude enjoyed by birders, walkers, and fishermen. But after three quarters of a century Thurman Randle’s shooting domain exists in more than memory. It was recently noted on a Rhode Island fishermen’s website that fishing at Sachuest required a fishing/parking pass, sturdy shoes, and caution on the slippery rocks. The angler also needed to be prepared for a long hike to the fishing grounds that was uphill both ways and a real tripping hazard when walking through the overgrown and crumbling remnants of the abandoned shooting ranges.

After the war Randle served as NRA president and donated, in 1952, a large sterling cup to be awarded to the winning team in the Women’s International Smallbore Rifle Postal Team Match sponsored by the NRA. The trophy is now known as the Randle Cup and the match as the Randle Women’s International Team Match and therein lies the Randle Rhode Island rifle range relationship.

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HAP, JAKE, TOMMY, AND MALCOLM…

 

HAP, JAKE, TOMMY, AND MALCOLM…

During the 2017 Roberts Trophy Match we took a side trip to visit a few of the historical spots that dot the bucolic English country side. Heading west from Bisley we soon arrived at Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument in Wiltshire. My brother Steve had been involved in the first computer study of the site under the direction of Dr. Gerald Hawkins, a noted astronomer, under whom he studied at Boston University. Hawkins was a pioneer in Astroarchaeology. In one of the first uses of computer technology in the field he plotted the location of the standing stones and the celestial bodies and ran the numbers. From the data derived he concluded that Stonehenge was an astronomical observatory used to predict the movement of the sun and stars. It was kind of neat to have that kind of family connection to this World Heritage Site.

As imposing and historic as the ring of standing stones are a smaller monument caught my eye as we walked towards the visitors’ center. It was a small stone cross standing on a three-step pyramid that was set on a rectangle of flat stone. Inscribed on the grey rock are the words “To the memory of Captain Loraine and Staff-Sergeant Wilson who whilst flying on duty, met with a fatal accident near this spot on July 5, 1912. Erected by their comrades.”

As a pilot this memorial was intriguing. After asking about I found that Loraine and Wilson’s memorial was commonly called ‘The Airmen’s Cross.” It memorializes the first Royal Flying Corps personnel to die in an aircraft crash while in the line of duty. Six years later the RFC, the air arm of the British Army, was no more when it was merged with the Royal Naval Air Service to become the Royal Air Force.

I was mulling over this discovery after we returned to our hotel when I recalled that Sir Tommy Sopwith, an early British aviation pioneer, had established the Sopwith Aviation Company a short distance from Bisley in 1912. I took a dive into the pool of useless information that clogs my mind to surface with yet another association that combined my passions of shooting and flying.

Early aircraft were fragile. Their thin spruce frames were covered with Irish linen which was drawn tight, stitched in place, and then covered with a paint like liquid called dope. As the dope dried it tightened and stiffened the fabric making an airtight and weatherproof covering. However, early dope was a two-edged sword as it was made with nitrocellulose, a highly flammable component. Nitrocellulose, commonly known as guncotton, is a prime component in modern gunpowder. One of the many hypotheses put forward in the aftermath of the fiery destruction of the German zeppelin Hindenburg has that static electric charges ignited the heavily doped skin of the aerial behemoth.

The Aeronautical Division of the US Army Signal Corps was interested in arming aircraft and needed to determine if they were robust enough to withstand the recoil of rifle fire. Civilian pilot and aircraft manufacturer Glenn Curtis and Army Second Lieutenant Jake Fickle were assigned the task. A photograph of the test flight shows Curtis at the controls in suit and tie with a newsboy’s soft cap pulled over his head. Fickle, in full military uniform, riding boots, choker collar blouse, and campaign hat, sat on his left with a United States Rifle, Caliber.30-06, Model 1903 cradled in his arms and a pocket full of ball ammunition.

They took to the air from the Sheepshead Bay Race Course, located in southeastern Brooklyn, New York, on July 20, 1910. After Curtiss piloted the ship to an altitude of 100 feet over the race track, Fickle took careful aim at a 3X5 foot target set upon the ground and fired off two rounds. Those two shots planted the seeds for the development of aerial gunnery and proved that firearms could be discharged from an airplane in flight without causing fatal structural damage.

While Fickle fired the first airborne shots the first recorded aerial combat took place on November 30, 1913 during the Mexican Revolution. Two American pilots, soldier of fortune Dean Ivan Lamb in a Curtiss D Pusher flying for the Carranzistas, and filibuster Phil Rader, piloting a Cristofferson Pusher for General Huerta, encountered each other over the Mexican village of Naco on the Senora/Arizona line. The two pilots, old drinking buddies, recognized each other on sight, but that didn’t stop Rader from pulling out his pistol and taking a few pot shots at Lamb, who replied in kind.

A year after the test Fickle found himself again holding an ’03 in an airplane. This time his old Army pal Second Lieutenant Henry Harley Arnold was at the controls. Flying over Long Island’s Nassau Boulevard airfield, this time at 200 feet, Fickle fired off five rounds of ‘ought six,’ pulled out a stripper clip, recharged the magazine, and again blasted away again. When he was done there were six holes in a dinner plate which served as the target.

That is not the end of the story. Arnold and Fickle were contestants in what was probably the first aerial shooting contest. Their opposition was a British team featuring Tommy Sopwith, aviation pioneer, motor sports enthusiast and yachtsman, and Malcolm Campbell, pilot, motoring journalist, and world speed record holder on both land a sea. The two future knights of the realm did not do as well and lost to two future US Army Air Forces generals.

A few days later, more than a century after the shootout over Brooklyn, where I was born, the US team assembled on Century Range for the 2017 Roberts Match against the British. As Adjutant I couldn’t help but reflect on my fellow airmen, pilot Arnold, with whom I share a nickname, and rifleman Fickle, and hope that the outcome of our present day match would reflect the outcome of their historical one. It did.

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ITS TOMMY THIS AND TOMMY THAT…..

ITS TOMMY THIS AND TOMMY THAT…..

Life, like a busy main street, is full of intersections. Outside of my family, shooting and aviation are my main preoccupations, with Red Sox baseball and America’s Cup yacht racing following. Recently three of these advocational interests crossed in a pleasant way.

The Roberts and the Pershing Trophy matches are the major shoulder to shoulder conventional prone matches shot between the United States and Great Britain. The matches, a metallic sight Dewar course shot on the host nation’s targets, are fired at eight-year intervals. When in England the prize is the Lord Roberts Trophy and when in the United States the contest is for the John J. Pershing Trophy.

It has been my pleasure, privilege, and honor to be appointed by the National Rifle Association as the Adjutant to the 2009 and 2017 US Roberts Team and the 2013 and 2021 US Pershing Team. The hospitality and good sportsmanship of our hosts overwhelmed us when we arrived in England in 2009. However, the great Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Leroy Satchel Paige warned,” Go very lightly on vices such as carrying on in society. The social ramble ain’t restful.”

It was impossible advice to follow as we were inundated with a long list of meet and greets, banquets, and dinner invitations that would have been boorish to refuse. Whether the shooting social ramble had an impact on the eventual outcome in 2009 is impossible to say, but the United States was beaten like a rented mule by the British at Bisley in 2009. It was only the fourth loss suffered by the US in the nearly ninety-year history of the series. The loss stung me, but I smiled and bore it publicly as gracefully as I could.

As I licked my wounds I was reminded of two great British sportsmen, who shared similar interests with me and who also had endured losing a major international sporting event. In their cases it was not shooting but The America’s Cup.

The first to come to mind was fellow aviator Sir Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith. Tommy Sopwith first came to fame and fortune as an aircraft designer and manufacturer whose most famous creation was Snoopy’s aerial steed, the Sopwith Camel, first test flown at Brooklands, just a few miles east of Bisley.

Sopwith challenged for the America’s Cup with a pair of majestic J-Class yachts. Endeavour won the first two races in 1934 but eventually lost to railway magnate Harold Vanderbilt’s Rainbow. Lack of an experienced crew and poor tactics cost Sopwith the Cup. Three years later he again lost in Endeavour II to Vanderbilt’s Ranger.

Sopwith’s yachting adventure recalls another aviation/America’s Cup intersection. Goodyear blimps were a common sight over Newport Rhode Island’s America’s Cup race course during the 12 Meter Era from 1958 until the Australia broke the US grip on the Cup in 1983. Goodyears’s CEO Paul W. Litchfield viewed the company’s airships as yachts in the sky and so the first 13 Goodyear blimps were named after US America’s Cup defenders: Puritan, Reliance, Defender, Volunteer, Resolute, Vigilant, Mayflower, Ranger, Rainbow,Enterprise, Columbia, America, and Stars and Stripes.

Sir Thomas Johnstone Lipton rose from the slums of Glasgow to the heights of society by developing a chain of grocery markets and the eponymously named tea company. A friend of both King Edward VII and KingGeorge V, with whom he a shared an interest in yachting, Lipton challenged for the America’s Cup five times between 1899 and 1930.

His yachts were named Shamrock through Shamrock V. They seem oddly Irish names for a proud Scot-one would have thought they should be named Thistle. But then again, Lipton parents, with whom he was very close, were born in Ireland. Having been blackballed by the Royal Yacht Squadron, for being only a grocer and tea merchant, he challenged for the Cup representing Ireland’s Royal Ulster Yacht Club.

Lipton failed to wrest the Cup from the New York Yacht Club, but his gentlemanly grace and sportsmanship made him popular in the United States. A public subscription raised $16,000 for a Tiffney 18 caret gold loving cup engraved “In the name of hundreds and thousands of Americans and well-wishers of Sir Thomas Johnstone Lipton, Bart, K.C.V.O”. Through his Cup exposure his tea became well known in the United States which allowed him to recoup some of the enormous amount money used in financing his challenges.

We greeted the British in 2012 with a no holds barred socializing campaign to repay them for their kindness four years earlier. Whether the shooting social ramble had an impact on the eventual outcome in 2013 is impossible to say, but it was the British turn to be beaten like a rented mule and the United States’ undefeated record on home soil remained intact. I was pleased to be on the winning side of the ledger and now stood 1-1.

Four years later, after partaking in the social ramble with some discretion, I found myself lying between Shawn Wells and Kerry Spurgin trying to read the wind through driving rain and hail as thunder rumbled above and lighting lit up the gray sky at Bisley. We survived both the terrible shooting conditions and the wonderful British hospitality to win. I was now pleased to be 2-1 against the British.

As we dried off, warmed up, and celebrated our victory I couldn’t help thinking of Sopwith and Lipton. But most of all I recalled that Lipton once said that the greatest lesson in life he learned was, “… to win with pleasure and lose with a smile.” It is a thought I heartily second.

 

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Sherlock And The Soldiers Three…

The Old Man, the family black sheep, left high school and a comfortable home, to bum about the country during the Great Depression. On the other hand, my mother dutifully completed her secondary education at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, New York. Bustling about from class to class it is conceivable that she may have bumped into contemporary Lincoln alumni a young future cinema and television actor John Forsyth or a teenager who became playwright Arthur Miller-perhaps more famous for his wife Marilyn Monroe than Death of a Salesman.

Despite their differing secondary educations reading was always a high priority for them in the home they created for my brother, my sister, and me. One of my fondest childhood memories is of a narrow bookshelf that fit neatly into an alcove next to my father’s favorite chair in our living room. It contained several matched sets of literary classics, one bound in leather and the other a more traditional hardbound collection.

One leathern bound volume was a collection of Rudyard Kipling poems and stories which spent many an hour with me, flashlight in hand, concealed under the bedcovers, reading well past my elementary school bedtime. The hardbound anthology of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories received the same attention.

To the detriment of my grades pleasure reading and rifle shooting occupied much of my time during high school. And, oddly enough, those two British authors had an interesting relationship to both of my distracting pastimes.

Kipling and Doyle were mutual admirers and casual friends, Doyle having been a house guest of Kipling. Early in 1900 at the start of the Boer War they both headed to Field Marshal Lord Frederick Sleigh Roberts’s headquarters in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Kipling spent six weeks working on the staff of The Bloemfontein Friend, a military newspaper. The two missed each other as Kipling left a day before Doyle, a physician, arrived to work at the Langman Hospital.

The British public was aghast at the poor standard of marksmanship of the army compared to that of the Boers. It was much like the evaluation of the US Army’s poor marksmanship following the Civil War which prompted George Wood Wingate and William Conant Church to found the National Rifle Association of America.

Kipling and Doyle returned home from South Africa just as British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury took steps to bolster Tommy Atkins’ skill, or lack thereof, with the rifle. Salisbury called for the formation of civilian rifle clubs and within a year ninety-two were formed, among them Kipling`s club at Rottingdean and Doyle`s Undershaw Rifle Club. Because the two men had differing philosophies on marksmanship training Rottingdean was a full 1,000 yards, reflecting Kipling’s support of military style shooting training. Doyle more pragmatic, and perhaps more land poor, built Undershaw out to only 100 yards and dedicated it to training with the miniature rifle, what we call today smallbore.

Putting their pens where their mouths were, both men featured marksmanship in their writings. In the Sherlock Holmes adventure, The Musgrave Ritual Dr. John Watson observed that his flat-mate,”in one of his queer humours, would sit in an arm-chair with his hair-trigger and a hundred Boxer cartridges, and proceed to adorn the opposite wall with a patriotic V. R. done in bullet-pocks”. Watson dryly comments that he had always held that pistol practice should be distinctly an open-air pastime and felt strongly that neither the atmosphere nor the appearance of the room was improved by it. Who are we to disagree?

Kipling’s vignette about an adventure of his Privates Three relates that,

Ortheris suddenly rose to his knees, his rifle at his shoulder, and peered at the valley in the clear afternoon light. His chin cuddled the stock, and there was a twitching of the muscles of the right cheek as he sighted; Private Stanley Ortheris was engaged on his business. A speck of white crawled up the watercourse.

See that beggar? Got ’im.’

Seven hundred yards away, and a full two hundred down the hillside, the deserter of the Aurangabadis pitched forward, rolled down a red rock, and lay very still, with his face in a clump of blue gentians, while a big raven flapped out of the pine wood to make investigation.

That’s a clean shot, little man,’ said Mulvaney.

Learoyd thoughtfully watched the smoke clear away.

Ortheris did not reply. He was staring across the valley, with the smile of the artist who looks on the completed work.

As you can see, I have a relationship, of sorts, with Kipling and Doyle, and Kipling and Doyle had a relationship with Lord Roberts, but my entanglement with literature and marksmanship does not end there. For, when Noted British rifleman Colonel Thomas Sutton donated The Field Marshall Earl Roberts Trophy, in 1964, for international shoulder to shoulder smallbore prone competition between the United states and Great Britain, he formed yet another link among us.

The Roberts Trophy recognizes Lord Roberts contribution to the shooting sports and the match in his honor is contested at eight year intervals. We are joined because I have had the honor and privilege to be twice part of the United States Roberts Team.

 

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LIKE A FIDDLER ON THE ROOF…

 

LIKE A FIDDLER ON THE ROOF…

Few sports are more traditional than the shooting sports. We have been doing things the same way for a long time and the traditional way of doing things borders on sacred to many. Then there are others who look upon shooting as a bit stodgy, feeling that it is better described as some 150 years of tradition uninhibited by progress. No matter how you look at we all know that the secret to good shooting is consistency and that may be why the sport has changed so little, as consistency is ingrained in a shooter’s psyche.

Tradition is the glue that holds our game together.Perhaps a look back on the origins of some of our traditional ways of doing things will put them into perspective and in a better light for the more impatient of us.

When I was a wet behind the ears kid, just starting out shooting .22 in the gallery the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice heavily supported civilian shooting at all levels. Junior programs received an allotment of ammunition for each qualifying shooter and for every ten rounds of ammunition they also issued one “6920-00-557-4606 Target, Smallbore Rifle”, the venerable eleven bull A-17 target. This most ubiquitous bull’s eye for indoor training and competition was standardized in the early 1930s. There is probably not a competitive shooting in the United States who has not shot at the five ring fifty foot target. Despite the rise in popularity of international three position shooting and its more demanding target, which has gone through three changes since the early 1950s, the old A-17 hangs on unchanged.

Talking about tradition, while the A-17 has notable longevity the outdoor fifty and 100 yard smallbore rifle targets, which were derived from English targets in 1919 are still official targets: the A-23 and A-25.

How about the term “Maggie’s Drawers” for a miss in high power? When target shooting first became formalized few people had spotting scopes and so target boys would hunker down in a hole dug in front of a large flat steel plate with a target painted upon it. When a massive .45-70 lead slug clanged up against it they marked the location and value of the hit with a long stick which had a disc on its end, called a paddle, and then daubed a bit of paint over the chipped paint caused by the hit with a paint brush attached to a long stick. If it were a miss they waved a red flag across the target. A ribald ballad of the time entitled The Old Red Flannel Drawers That Maggie Woreled to the scoring flag’s name. Marking shots with paddles and flags is long gone but Maggie’s Drawers live on.

By the way, the place where targets were marked in those days of yore was a simple pit in the ground, another traditional term which has hung on.

The marking paddles’ large disc was usually painted red on one side and white on the other making them readily visible to the scorer and shooter. This device led to two terms, which hang on today and have cause much anguish on the firing line when they are confused: redisc and mark. If a scorer missed a shot being scored he would call for a redisc and the pit crew would simply repeat the signal. Woe be the competitor or scorer who gets confused and asks for a ‘mark.” In that case the target is pulled, pasted, and run up. As there was no shot hole it comes up a miss and has to be recorded as such on the score card.

Combat style shooting has become very popular recently and allows a two hand hold while the older more formal three gun 2700 pistol course of fire dictates a one hand hold. The reason for the difference rests in the origin of the pistol as a military arm. Mounted troops needed to be able to shoot at the enemy while controlling a madly dashing steed. The cavalryman’s carbine, a short shoulder arm, was not suitable for mounted use as it required two hands and so the horse pistol came into being. As it required just one hand to employ in combat its training reflected that and, in time, so did competition.

And what of formal strings of fire? Why five shots for pistol and two and eight for service rifle?

When the US Army adopted the ‘New Model Army Metallic Cartridge Revolving Pistol’, popularly known as the Colt Single Action Army Revolver, in 1873, it was found that if a soldier loaded all six chambers and the gun was dropped on its hammer it would often discharge, wasting ammunition and likely wounding the owner. To avoid calamity, it was decreed that the pistol would be loaded with only five rounds with the hammer resting on the empty chamber, a procedure known as “five beans in the wheel.” Like the one hand hold this loading procedure transferred to training and then competition.

Two and eight seems obvious. The semiautomatic M1 Garand, the service rifle for two decades, starting in 1937, loaded with an en blocclip of eight rounds. When the M1 was first introduced there was discussion about going to a 16 shot string in competition. But as only the Army had the M1, the Marines, Navy, Coast Guard, and civilians still used the M1903 which loaded from five round stripper clips. In the interest of fair play it was agreed that the semiautomatic rifle would be loaded two and eight while the bolt gun continued with its five and five. The traditional loading pattern has hung on through the era of the 20 shot box magazine fed M-14 and M-16.

Tradition is a way of honoring those of the sport who came before us and of welcoming new shooters. Observing and preserving tradition, and teaching it to new shooters means that it will last beyond our own time.Tradition plays a great role in our sport. It links us to the past. It is how we keep our balance. To paraphrase Tevye the Milkman, “Without our traditions, our sport would be as shaky as… as… as a fiddler on the roof!

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Monophthongs, Diphthongs, And Firearm Terminology…

Monophthongs, Diphthongs, And Firearm Terminology

 

My daughters, like most of their contemporaries, are avid Harry Potter fans. At one time the English edition was published in advance of the United States edition. Before the practice stopped I ordered English editions which arrived on our doorstep about a week ahead of the US release, giving my girls great status among their circle of friends.

The first volume of J.K. Rowling’s immensely successful series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in the United States as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because a common language separates the two nations. It is not unusual for British books to have different titles in the United States as some words of the King’s English do not translate well to American English. For example, I am a big fan of C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels the first of which was titled The Happy Return in England and Beat to Quarters in the United States.

That being said, I took the girls to see the film version of the book and was forced to stand in a long line with them, and their costumed contemporaries, at the local theater. I enjoyed the movie and was transported to the more familiar world of shooting by a scene in which Herminie Granger corrects Ron Weasley’s pronunciation of a word in an incantation “It’s Wingardium LevioSA, not LevioSAR.”

I was taken back to Camp Perry where new tower talker at Perry, unfamiliar with the smallbore discipline, announced the third match of the day, calling us to the line to shoot the “De War Match.”  We cringed at the phonetical mangling of Dewar which is correctly pronounced “Dew-Er.”

That brought up memories of new shooters trying to buy ammunition on Commercial Row. They might ask for Eli when they meant Eley. My shooting crony Kevin Nevius shoots for Team Lapua, commonly called La-Pu-Ah when its correct Finnish pronunciation is La-Pwa. We never had pronunciationproblems with domestic Winchester, Remington, Federal, or CCI. In retrospect no matter what the match ammunition’s name it is it can always be pronounced at X-Pen-Sive.

What of the carbine? It was originally a lighter, shortened rifle developed for the cavalry. The name apparently derives from its first users, French cavalry troopers called carabiniers. The most famous of these short rifles are the Spencer Carbine, the Germanshortened version of the Kar 98 the Karabiner 98k, the British modification of SMLE, the Rifle, No. 5 Mk I, “Jungle Carbine”, and the United States Carbine, Caliber .30, M1.

But, how is it pronounced? Is it Car-Bean or Car-Bine? It appears that the sociolinguistics experts come down on the side of the former.

Then what of the United States Carbine, Caliber .30, M1’s big brother, the U.S. Rifle, Caliber 30, M1? It was the first general issue semiautomatic military rifle to be fielded giving the World War II United States Army and Marine Corps infantrymen a distinct advantage over the bolt rifle wielding members of the Wehrmacht and the Dai-Nippon Teikoku Rikugun.

Development of the M1 began at the Springfield Armory in 1927 when a French Canadian born US arms designer began work on a primer actuated blowback semiautomatic rifle. It finally saw adoption in 1937. By the end of production, 20 years later, some 5.4 million had been manufactured. The rifle quickly took on the surname name of its inventor, St. Jean le BaptisteCantius Garand.

But what is the correct pronunciation of Garand? No one really cared until the Civilian Marksmanship Program opened sales of surplus M1s and ammunition to the masses. Among the Cosmoline encrusted customers of the CMP M1 sales program the pronunciation question took on a status well out of proportion to its importance.

Bunkered down with their rarely, if ever, fired annual purchasesof 12 rifles and cached cases of Lake City or HPX .30-06 ammunition the correct pronunciation of the inventor’s name became yet another way to establish caste. Having a fanciful Garand related handle on the CMP Forum, at least a four-figure number of posts, a low numbered CMP Customer number, membership in the Garand Collectors Association-all vaingloriously noted at the bottom of one’s post, along with boasting of being able to pronounce Garand properly helped establish one as a Brahmin in the Celestial Cosmoline Cosmos.

As youngster I heard about the Grand Rifle and about the Garand Rifle. I soon learned that the most commonly acceptedpronunciation was the second, Guh-Rand. It turns out that the inventor pronounced his name differently. Garand was born in St. Rémi, Quebec, Canada, but, lived there less than two years. He was just beginning to walk and talk when his family moved to the insular little borough of Jewett City, Connecticut, where he grew up. The insolated little hamlet had a dialect all its ownand it’s likely that, sandwiched between a Québécois lilt and a Yankee twang, he learned how to pronounce his name.

The answer to the pronunciation conundrum lies at the bottom of the first page of General Julian Hatcher’s seminal work, The Book of the Garand. Its first footnote appears at the 25th word and states that the name was, “Pronounced with G as in go, and the stress on the first syllable, to rhyme with parent (except the final sound is d instead of t) by the inventor.” I, for one, am not going to argue with an authority the stature of Hatcher.

With the French influence on the word carbine and Garand’s French-Canadian heritage perhaps the musical My Fair Lady’s Professor Henry Higgins, sums it all up best when he sings, “In France every Frenchman knows his language from A to Zed. The French don’t care what they do, actually, if they pronounce it properly.”

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LIKE FRED AND GINGER, WE WERE CHEEK TO CHEEK…

LIKE FRED AND GINGER, WE WERE CHEEK TO CHEEK…

When I was a kid, growing up in the shank of the 1950s, there were two great debates that filled miles of column inches in New York City’sDaily Mirror, a tabloid that The Old Man, a Brooklyn native, favored reading. After he discarded it my brother and I pawed through the 17 by 11 inch paper looking for sensational grisly crime photos and lurid cheesecake photos that were the hallmarkof the genre. But let me get to the point.

The first was the ongoing debate between the inhabitants of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn as to who was New York’s superior centerfielder, Willie, Mickey, or The Duke: The Giants’ Willie Mays, Yankee Mickey Mantle, or Duke Snider of the Dodgers. All three were All Stars, won the World Series, and eventually entered Baseball’s Elysian Field, Cooperstown.

It was the Big Apple’s golden age of baseball with one of the three New York teams reigning as World Champions from 1949 through 1956. In its final three years as a three team town the Giants won in 1954, the Dodgers in 1955, and the Yankees in 1956. It would never happen again for in 1957 the Dodgers and Giants decamped for the West Coast.

That being said, even as the generations that watched the trio grace the greensward of the Polo Grounds, Old Yankee Stadium, and Ebbets Field ages and now fills seats in the Great Grandstand in the Sky, the debate over the better centerfielder will, unlike them, never die

The argument has even entered popular culture. Terry Cashman’s songTalkin’ Baseball (Willie, Mickey and The Duke)spins the tale of Major League Baseball ending each verse with the refrain, “Willie, Mickey and The Duke.” I unquestioningly supported The Duke as a young Dodge fan but, in the fullness of my years, I have come to believe that it was Willie who reigned supreme.

The second debate held no interest for a ten year old kid but was close to the heart of my mother, an avid movie goer and a high society/fashion aficionado. This discussion centered about who was the most intriguing, stylish, fashionable, and well-dressed man of her generation. The major players in this sartorial debate were the Duke of Windsor, Cary Grant, and Fred Astaire.

When the Duke of Windsorwas the Prince of Wales he was the most dashing, handsome, and eligible bachelor in the world. His very presence gave young ladies the vapors,set their hearts aflutter, made them light headed, and weak in the knees. So wildly popular was he that there was even a song entitledI’ve danced with a man, who’s danced with a girl, who’s danced with the Prince of Wales that reflected and affirmed his cult status.

But, as King Edward VIII of England, he felt that he could notto do his job as he would have wished without the support of the woman he lovedand so abdicated, giving up the title ofKing of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Empire and Emperor of India for that of the Duke of Windsor. He also was reduced frombeing an Admiral of the Fleet to, in Merchant Marine terms, the third mate on an American tramp as the women he loved was twice divorced American socialite Bessie Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson.

The elegant and suave actor Cary Grant, with never a hair out of place and immaculate manicured nails, had an ivory smile. He was tall, trim, tanned, impeccably tailored, and handsome. Hands down Grant was simply one of the best dressed men of the era.

Then there was Fred Astaire, the most stylish, graceful, and athletic man ever to dance in top hat and tails. He was debonair, sophisticated, and could dance like no one else. In the movie Top Hat,he dances his signature number with Ginger Rogers while singing an Irving Berlin tune, Cheek to Cheek.

The song popped into my mind at the Great Pumpkin Match because of, oddly enough, Len Realty’s forgetfulness. It seems that Len, believing that cleanliness is next to godliness, pulled off his rifle’s cheek piece, inserted a bore guide, and scrubbed it out when he got home after the first day of shooting. When done he carefully packed it away for the return trip. Upon opening his rifle case at the range, he was shocked to find that cleanliness and forgetfulness also occasionally go hand in hand. While he packed his rifle, he forgot to pack his cheek piece.

Len, a gray haired shooter of the old school, uses a hoary old wooden rifle in an age of shiny aluminum stocks and was faced with having to withdraw from the match. I, another elder statesman of the sport, use a similar carbon based prehistoric stock because shooting is my religion and aluminum stocks have no soul. I proposed that we share my cheek piece. I am a fast shooter and for the rest of the day I shot my string, rolled over, pulled out the cheek piece and handed it to the hovering Remaly who rushed to his point, slid the cheek piece into his rifle, shot his string, and returned it to me so we could repeat the cycle.

Len and I were in a tight race for second after iron sight day with me in the lead by a slim four points, but nothing is vouched safe in a metric match. It would have been a great story line if Len had been able to make up the difference and forge ahead to beat me with my cheek piece. While Len made a valiant effort to close the gap it was, alas, not to be.

After 82 yearsTop Hatand Cheek to Cheekremain Astaire and Rogers’ best-known collaboration. One must wonder if the same might be said 82 years hence of the 2017 Great Pumpkin match when Remaly and Rocketto went cheek to cheek.

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SHOOTING’S CARROLL HARDY…

SHOOTING’S CARROLL HARDY…

My shooting running mate Shawn Carpenter’s favorite sports teams, outside of rifle teams that is, are the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots.

In fact, he is responsible for bringing me back to baseball after a toxic combination of Robert Moses and Walter O’Malley caused the Brooklyn Dodgers to decamp from the Borough of Churches to the City of Angels. After my ten year old heart was broken by the westward migration of the Dodgers baseball faded into the background. In its place I took up, of all things, following America’s Cup racing. I suspect my juvenile affectation was based on my infatuation with Goodyear Blimps which, at that time, were all namedafter the United States’ America’s Cup yachts.

The romantic in me was in awe of the majestic classic J Boats of the 1930s and the technophile in me was enamored of the sleek 12 meter boats of the 50s through 80s. When commercialism and professionalism entered America’s Cup sailing in the late 1980s my interest in sail racing waned.

It was then that Shawn came along and revived my interest in baseball. Living in southern New England there were three ball teams within a 150 mile radius, the Boston Red Sox, The New York Yankees, and the New York Metropolitans. I had to choose a team and it was easier than I thought.

I rejected the Mets because of team colors. As a Brooklyn fan I could live with Dodger Blue, but it was defiled by the black and orange of the much despised Giants. It then became an ethical decision. Simply put: did I want to root for the button down corporate machine which was the Yankees or did I want a soul? I became a Fenway Fanatic.

On top of that there were many Red Sox players that attracted me, such as Moe Berg. The journeyman catcher played in Boston from 1935 through 39 and stayed on as a coach in 1940 and 41. The Princeton and Columbia Law School graduate could speak seven languages but, as Senator outfielder Dave Harris remarked, “…he can’t hit in any of them.” Famed sportswriter John Kieran said that, “Moe was the most scholarly professional athlete I ever knew.” On the other hand, the wildly eccentric Casey Stengel, in a case of the pot calling the kettle black, remarked that, “Berg was the strangest man ever to play baseball.”

Red Sox Icon Ted Williams, the Lones Wigger of hitting, in his second year in Boston, hadn’t heard of Kieran or Stengel when he asked Berg what made hitters like Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth so special. Berg said, “…you are better than Gehrig, Ruth, or Jackson. When it comes to wrists you have the best.” If Berg was giving an honest evaluation or trying to build a young ballplayer’s confidence is debatable; what Williams went on to do with it is not.

Williams wanted to be known as the greatest hitter that ever hit and it would be hard to argue that he did not accomplish his goal. Harvard paleontologist and popular science writer Stephen Jay Gould called Williams’s 1941 season, in which he became the last ballplayer to hit .400, “the greatest achievement in 20th-century hitting” and “a lesson to all who value the best in human possibility.”

The last day of the1941 season began with Williams sitting on a .3995 average which would have rounded out to .400. Red Sox manager Joe Cronin gave him the choice of sitting out a double header and finishing the year with the rounded .400. Williams would have none of it insisting that if he was destined to hit .400 he would do it the right way and bat. He went six for eight in the two games and finished the season with a .406, the last player to do so.

Williams single minded focus on hitting caused him never to miss an at bat buton September 20, 1960, in the waning days of his Hall of Fame career, Williams stepped into the batter’s box at old Memorial Filed in the first inning and faced Orioles starter Hal “Skinny” Brown. Williams fouled the first pitch off his instep off his foot.

The Splendid Splinter was in such pain that he immediately hobbled off the field and into the club house. Manager Pinky Higgins called out to journeyman outfielder Carrol Hardy, ‘Hardy, get a bat; you’re the hitter.’ Just like that Hardy became the answer to a baseball trivia question: “Who is the only player ever to pinch hit for Williams?”

Fast forward to August 14, 2017. The US Roberts team was heading into the Army Shooting Club at Bisley Camp to attend a dinner in their honor hosted by The Perrymen, a British shooting club consisting of British shooters who have competed at Camp Perry, when NRA Liaison Toro Croft’s ‘phone beeped. It was an Email from Roberts Coach Lones Wigger with distressing news. Fighting cancer his doctors had advised him against making the trip and, after much soul searching, he had to agree.

Roberts officials had earlier made contingency plans for just such a situation. In the soft twilight of a late English summer evening the Roberts Adjutant beckoned Shawn Carpenter away from the crowd, placed his hand on his shoulder, quietly told him that Wigger was unable to attend, and that he was now the Roberts Team Coach.

Carpenter had become to Wigger what the Hardy was to Williams, a relative unknown replacing a legend. Pretty weighty, but still heady, stuff for a Red Sox and shooting fan. But, unlike Hardy who lined into a double play, Carpenter won the Roberts Trophy.

 

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PARTS IS PARTS ANDPIECES IS PIECES…

PARTS IS PARTS ANDPIECES IS PIECES…

From my perspective the 2019 NRA National Smallbore Rifle Prone Championship may best be distilled by a novel, a TV ad, and a book of the Bible. The first is Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus, a novel written by English Gothic novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. The second is a Wendy’s fast food restaurant TV commercial of the mid 1980s about chicken nuggets. The third is the Book of Job.

About three weeks prior to the championships the Kenyon trigger on my prone rifle developed a hitch which required me to replace it. That seemed like no problem as I have several extra Anschütz rifles and triggers lying about. It turns out that it was not as simple as I had hoped as my other rifles are 1800 series guns and my prone gun is a 1600 action. None of the triggers would fit.

Just as Victor Frankenstein created his creature out of different parts I mixed and matched actions, triggers and stocks to get a working prone gun. None of my bloop tubes would fit the selected barreled action forcing me to conjure up a way to fit my 30mm front sight on it. Eventually I got everything to work because, as was stated in the Wendy’s ad, “Parts is parts” and headed off to Bristol with, shades of Shelly, my Frankenrifle.

The first day of metallic sight competition was a trial. It seemed very dark down range and no matter how much I fiddled with the adjustable rear aperture and the various filters I could not get a good sight picture. Without a bloop tube, my sight radius was now eight inches shorter and the front the aperture was closed as far as it would go, It was not the best solution, but it was all I had. After the first match of day two I thought I might open the aperture a bit to let in more light. It was then I found I had installed the sight backwards! Once it was corrected things got better but it was too little too late.

With any sights I had a fresh start and lay down with some confidence that I would be back to form. After a few sighters there befell me, as Shelly wrote, “So strange an accident happened that I cannot forbear recording it.” My replacement trigger failed. Fortunately, I had a spare and quickly installed it. There was no time to adjust the trigger and I had to go with it. It seemed to break cleanly, but the pull was like dragging a log across a sandy beach.

I had been granted a continuation of fire but only had ten minutes to shoot the first stage of the Meter Match. I had no time, chance, or choice but to continue.

After another day of travail, we looked at the rifle when we got back to the motel. It was there that Shawn Carpenter noted that my trigger guard was askew and binding the trigger shoe. The problem was quickly solved, and I had a clean breaking trigger for the final day of conventional prone. The only downside was a nagging cough which had developed from a from a summer cold which had been pestering me for about a week.

The next morning, I took to the line with an air of confidence. I was quickly sighted in. When I closed the bolt for the first record shot the cocking indicator went fully forward. I cocked the rifle again and watched as indicator disappear into the back of the bolt once again. After several repetitions I declared a disabled rifle. I had no more triggers and was in a dark place because I would be faced with withdrawing.

Setting about trying to figure what was wrong I pulled the bolt out and the firing pin slid about a quarter of inch forward. It was a broken firing pin that had laid me low not the trigger. I guess I should have expected it as it was the original firing pin in a 34 years old rifle which had seen yeoman service. Fortunately, I had spare firing pins and was soon back on the line again for my second a continuation of fire in as many days. Parts is parts and it seemed most of mine were becoming pieces.

With conventional prone in the rearview mirror there were two days of metric prone still ahead. Things seemed to be working out but there was a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I was running out of parts and should something else fail I would be out of luck.

The thought was quickly pushed from my mind when my brother Steve flopped down onto the line next to me and cursed. His handstop was missing. Luckily, I had two different kinds with me and sent him off to fetch one. I unfortunately told him it was in my toolbox when it was in a spare parts bag in my rifle case. He uses one with a quick release button while me preference is for an older style with a ball and hook which was the one in my toolbox. He made it work and, search as he might, he could not find where his may have fallen off between our ready area and the firing line. That night he noticed it on the floor partially hidden under a bed.

Other than the various mishaps it wasn’t too bad a match. Shawn made the Dewar Team and fired a perfect 1200, Steve put up a 1198 which netted him a second senior and first Expert award, and I took a second overall in a Meter Match.

However, the cough never left me. It was still bothering me when I got home so I went to see my doctor. He said he had bad and good news. The bad news was I had bronchitis. The good news was it usually lasts about 10-14 days and I was almost over it!

The Biblical Job suffered many trials. He lost crops and livestock and was beset by boils. I lost triggers and firing pins and suffered bronchitis. However, neither one of us lost faith and things turned out alright in the end.

 

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Roman Slings And Pains…

Roman Slings And Pains

I have always been amused by the M1 cultists that post on the CMP website. After obsequiously knuckling their foreheads to the CMP staff they gloatingly post long lists and photos of surplus firearms they have purchased from the CMP starting with the Mossberg 44, working their way through the much sought after US Property marked Winchester 52s and USMC Remington 40xs, the 1917 Enfield follows, as does the various iterations of the M1903, M1 carbines, until, finally, the Holy Grail, the M1 Garand.

Having purchased their yearly limit of 12 M1s they eagerly anticipate the turn of the calendar, so they can stock up with 12 more. In my day one counted himself lucky to win a Director of Civilian Marksmanship lottery to purchase your once in a lifetime M1.

Usually following the rifle braggadocio comes a detailed inventory of the massive amounts of .30-06 ammunition they have squirreled away in their basement bunkers. They discuss in excruciating detail various types of bandoleers, ‘spam cans’, cardboard packaging, and how best to clean the corrosion from ancient delinked loose packed cartridges.

Often a photograph of the smiling owner peering over a Berlin Wall of wooden wire bound crates, filled with four M19A ammunition cans or two M2A1 cans of domestic Lake City cartridges or surplus Greek HXP, accompanies the post. The Big Red One probably used less ’06 ammunition harrying the Nazis from Omaha Beach tothe Harz Mountains than some of these basements contain. Oddly, there is rarely a mention by these miserly munition mavens of actually shooting any of the accumulated stocks of armaments.

The mention of the Berlin Wall and hoarded ammunition recalls a similar situation concerning another wall and bullets. Archeologists excavating at Burnswark Hill, hard by Hadrian’s Wall in the Dumfries region of Scotland, report that some 800 Roman lead sling bullets were recently uncovered

The Romans exclusively employed mercenaries from the Balearic Islands as slingers. Vegetius, in his work De Re Militari, wrote, “The inhabitants of the Balearic Islands are said to have been the inventors of slings, and to have managed them with surprising dexterity, owing to the manner of bringing up their children. The children were not allowed to have their food by their mothers till they had first struck it with their sling.”

The sling can lob its bullet in a high trajectory which can achieve a range exceeding 400 yards. Until the compound bow came along it was the long range weapon of choice. Conversely, a skilled slinger can whip a bullet along a flat path at speeds close to 100 miles per hour. Ask any major league baseball batter what it feels like to get struck by a bulky and comparatively soft baseball moving at that speed and one does not need much imagination to consider the damage a small stone or lead pellet might cause.

The sling bullets found at Burnswark Hill are not uniform. Cast in lead, some are acorn shaped-glansin Latin, while some are two-ounce lemon shaped projectiles. A third group of small bullets have holes carefully drilled through them so that when slung toward the enemy the air passing through the holes creates a terrifying whistling sound that is intended to panic its intended victims.

Nearly two millennia later a screaming flying object still seemed to have merit as a terror weapon.The iconic gull winged workhorse German dive bomber, the SturzkampfflugzeugJunkers Ju 87,or ‘Stuka’,mounted a wind driven propeller siren, the infamous “Jericho Trumpet”, on its fixed undercarriage’s fairings. Like the Imperial Romans before them, the Nazi Germans believed that a high pitched screaming sound would destroy enemy morale. Unfortunately, for the Germans, it was soon found that the target population quickly became inured to the siren. More importantly, the bulky sirens reduced the rather low air speed of the stodgy Stukaby about 20 miles per hours, making them sitting ducks for modern fighters and so they were removed.

But I digress. Eventually the Romans abandoned the province ofBritannia, as Rudyard Kipling noted, “Legate, I had the news last night, my cohort ordered home. By ships to Portus Itiusand thence by road to Rome.” The Romans left behindan extensive network of roads, many of which are still followed today, as well as an efficient water and sanitation system. Britannia’smajor cities, such as Londiniumand Mamuciumexist today as London and Manchester.

Like any major power withdrawing from an occupied territory they also left behind abandoned fortifications, girlfriends, offspring, and supplies of all kinds. Far to the south of Burnswark Hillover 22,000 sling bullets were found on the shores of the English Channel at Maiden Castle in Dorset. Was that it an abandoned Roman ammunition bunker or, perhaps, something more familiar?

In my mind’s eye, I imagine Marcus Helvetius Apollonarius,a time expired Roman legionnaire abiding inBritannia, laboring with pen and ink over a sheet of papyrus, placing an order with the Tribunus Ex Arma, the CMP of the time. His order for aduodecimsurplus slings and XXII chests each containing M sling bullets, “good Roman glanscast from plumbumat LacusUrbs, not the inferior Peloponnesian HXP made of stone”, was quickly filled.

Marcus carefully stored the shipment in his Dorset root cellar and later, in the fullness of his years, crossed the River Styx, never having used any of it. While Marcus roamedElysium’s fields, his weapons cache lay undisturbed for millennium. The biodegradable slings rotted but the lead bullets lay until modern archeologists unearthed them and conjectured on their source and meaning.

I suspect that the hidden caches of many a modern day Marcus may confound yet unborn archeologists, countless times over, in the far distant future.

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Forrest, Mama Was Right…

 

Forrest, Mama Was Right…

Those of a certain age fondly recall Charles Schultz’s Peanuts comic strip. Every year, Linus Van Pelt, the strip’s resident intellectual and theologian, holds vigil in a pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear. Across Southern New England the same may be said of a loyal cadre of smallbore prone shooters who eagerly await the annual season ending Great Pumpkin Match sponsored by the Stratford PAL and hosted by the Bell City Rifle Club.

The match is a Metric Regional and recently it took on a more multinational flavor as, in addition to ISSF targets, a group of Canadian shooters returned to the Bell City firing line after a hiatus of several years, making it a truly international contest.

I have been shooting both smallbore and high power rifle at the Bell City Rifle Club in Southington, Connecticut since the early 1970s. During the two years I was a graduate student, and lived close by the range, I was a member and shot on its smallbore team in both the Charter Oak and Nutmeg leagues. Later I was a regular at the old Yankee High Power League which was a 40 shot four position 200-yard slow fire match shot on the 5V target.

It is a pleasant little club which packs into its 10.5 acres a club house with a six point 50-foot indoor range and outdoors a smallbore range with 50 and 100 yard lines, a 200-yard high power range with pits, and a small pistol range. Towering above the range to the west is the mammoth ridge line of Mount Southington, an impenetrable backstop silently patrolled by hawks riding the thermals.

When the club was formed in 1948 it was pretty isolated but, over the past 60 years, civilization has intruded. The club is now in a rural residential area and, as a good neighbor, has taken steps to reduce its impact on the encroachers.

In his poem “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost contemplates the annual spring rite of his neighbor of mending a stone wall between their property damaged by winter winds and snow.  Frost does not like the wall, he feels it is unnecessary.  His neighbor thinks otherwise and tells Frost, “Good fences make good neighbors,” implying that boundaries make better neighbors.

To that end the club only shoot outdoors between 10AM and dusk. Additionally, they have planted a windrow of trees which, over the years have grown tall and thick, and there is the rub.

Throughout the early spring and summer, the sun is high and rises and sets to the north of the firing line. However, as autumn arrives the sun is lower in the sky and further south causing the trees long shadows to fall upon the targets on the left hand side of the firing line.

This year the early autumn sun took some of the chill from the air but, as expected, cast long dark shadows across part of the target line. A few of the elder statesmen of the sport were squadded on the low end of the firing line and gallantly fought the dim sight picture with aging eyes under light conditions that even the most ocular blessed was less than optimum for iron sight shooting.

So dim was the light that shot holes were often not visible at 100 yards, even through a 25 power spotting scope.

Anysight Day saw the field increase by nine shooters. The firing line was expanded but it did nothing for the dim lighting conditions on the left hand side of the range. The old hands still had trouble seeing the bullet holes and resorted to sighting in in the white part of the target above the sighting bulls. They then just simply held and squeezed in the record bulls hoping to be in the center and, perhaps, see a shot hole or two.

The technique worked for Grasso Tech Rifle Coach Shawn Carpenter who won the anysight 100-yard match with a 386-14X. Using the white area to sight in for the 100 yard stage of the Dewar Jeff Doerschler methodically punished the ten ring with shots until his 15thslipped out for a close nine at one o’clock leaving him with a 199-13X on his first card. Outstanding under any circumstances the score was a bit more so in these caliginous conditions.Wind, the inability to see shot holes, or eye fatigue may have played a part in a 194-11X with which he backed up the first target but his 393-24X won the match.

The magic continued as a trio of 387-17X fired by Doerschler, Carpenter and Québecois GaleStewart-possibly fortified by a breakfast of Cretons,strong black coffee and a side of Poutine, closed out the match. It was familiar territory for Carpenter as he had been involved in two unbreakable 400-40X 50 yard ties at the National Smallbore Rifle Prone Championship at Bristol in July. This time there was a tie breaker available and it went to Doerschler.

Throughout the two days it was a rare shooter on the low end of the line who saw many sighters. It really was a case of hold tight, spray, and pray. But, in the end, the top thee shooters emerged from the shadows, so the speak, to fill the awards podium.

It was a tough day and each time competitors walked forward from the firing line to change targets they were reminded of the movie Forrest Gump. For, to paraphrase Momma Gump, on that autumn day at Bell City, a 100 yard target at Bell City was like a box of chocolates. You never knew what you’re gonna get.”

 

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Chekhov’s Rifle…

Chekhov’s Rifle…

Back in 2016 the, newly appointed Editor of Shooting Sports USA, John Parker,emailed me confirming that I would cover the NRA Outdoor Smallbore Rifle Championships. Former editor Chip Lohman, who had been recently promoted to Deputy Executive Director of NRAPublications, had me on a regular reporting ‘beat’ with a pretty free hand.

A new editor means change so I asked John what my word count would be for the three phase championship. The reply was 1200-1500 words. I was stunned, a list of the members of the Dewar and Randle teams alone would eat up five percent of my allotment.

It seemed I would have to become the Hemingway of smallbore with spare, tight prose. It might not be as difficult as I thought because Hap’s Cornersare written under the constraint of two sides of a sheet of paper, about 700-800 words.

Later, at a family gathering, I happened to mentioned this event to my cousin Harvey, an urbane Emmy winning documentary film editor. Harvey is about six or seven years older and a product of New York City while I am a small town mouse.

I remember a long ago visit to the family in New York during Harvey’s freshman year of college. He was a very smart young man but was, understandably, a bit full of himself because of his rarified academic altitude. After all his older sisters had both gone to the local Long Island University, in Brooklyn, to be teachers. He was living the academic dream at Columbia, on Morningside Heights, on the upper west side of Manhattan.

After dinner he was showing off by musing on great literary names such as Kafka, Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Burroughs. A jejune 12-year-old I eagerly piped up that I was also familiar with Burroughs. Harvey’s eyes rounded and his eyebrows arched in surprise until he quickly realized that his Burroughs was the drug addicted William Seward, author of the recently banned salacious novel Naked Lunch, and mine was squeaky clean Edgar Rice, creator of TarzanandJohn Carter of Mars.

Now, a half century later, we were on a more or less even academic and professional footing. I had mentioned the problem of condensing so much shooting activity into so few words and Harvey related he had the same issues in film editing. Falling back on a lesson learned in a philosophy class he found that Occam’s Razor served him well in editing. Simply put Occam’s razor slices through a problem or situation and eliminates unnecessary elements.

My brother Steve, a philosophy major, had been listening and interjected, in Latin no less, professorially pontificating, “Yes, Hans-Johan Glock regards lex parsimoniae, The Principle of Parsimony-it is pointless to do with more what is done with less-as one of the cornerstones of Ontology.”

The two cousins were intellectual rivals of a sort, made not so by natural combativeness but rather by competitive aunts whose college dreams were crushed by the Great Depression. They vicariously lived the academic life through their children and did family one-upmanshipthrough these surrogates. I knew where this discussion was going and tried to make my escape for I knew the cerebral waters would soon rise and close over my head.

Harvey laid his hand upon my shoulder blocking my flight and said, “Steve mentioned Glock, and while I am sure he is not a member of the firearms family his name does remind me of ‘Chekhov’s Rifle.’ I am sure, that as a writer, you are familiar with Chekhov, the great Russian playwright.”

He had me there, my only experience with check off was placing tick marks next to tasks I had completed on the extensive ‘Honey Do List’ provided by my child bride Margaret. But, if this Russian writer had a rifle, a Mosin-Nagant M91 no doubt, I’d be interested.

I was disappointed to find playwright Chekhov, also a doctor, owned no firearms. It seems that Chekhov’s Rifle is a literary trope. Harvey explained that Chekhov believed that if you wrote that there was a rifle hanging on the wall in the first chapter of a story, in the second or third chapter it must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there in the first place. Chekhov influenced Hemingway with his six tenets of writing; no excessive verbiage; objectivity; accurate description; extreme brevity; audacity; and compassion.

So I emulated both Chekhov and Hemingway in my report on the 2016 Smallbore Championship. I eliminated anything that had no relevance to the story as would Chekhov. In Hemingway’s style I used short words, straightforward sentence structure, vivid descriptions, and factual details. To tell the entire tale, which included the title and, of course, my byline as well as classical references to Dante Alighieri’s The Devine Comedyand Robert Browning’s first published work, Men and Women,just 1,278 carefully chosen words were used.

Hemingway wrote, “For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.”

Let’s hope the reader finds that I have been lucky.

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The Wild Bunch…

The Wild Bunch…

Tickets in hand Larry Small, Stan Wujtewicz, Mike Franklin and I walked up the slight incline from the street level ticket box of the Garde Theater into the lobby. Passing through the double doors we took a sharp right to load up on popcorn and boxes of Jujubes,Raisinets, Milk Duds, and Sno-Caps before entering the theater’s classicMoroccan interior. Taking our seats before the towering silver screen we settled in to watch Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. Against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution the tale deals with an aging outlaw band trying to survive as the familiar, comfortable, and traditional Old West of the Texas-Mexico border grudgingly gives way to the new and threatening modern 20th Century.

The story is bookended bytwo violent gunfights. The first is the robbery of a railway company office. The gang, wearing stolen US Army uniforms, led by Pike Bishop played by William Holden, is ambushed by a railroad posse lead by Pike’s former partner Deke Thornton, portrayed by Robert Ryan. The last is violent, gory, bloody, act of suicidal vengeance against the Mexican Army after a fellow gang member is tortured and killed by theFederales.

As aficionados of cowboy movies and firearms it looked to be a great afternoon and we were not to be disappointed, sort of. While Peckinpah did a fantastic job there seemed to be a lack of attention to technical detail that only a quartet of fanatic firearms fanciers would notice.

For example, during the railway company officerobbery scene, in which the Wild Bunch is ambushed, several members of the posse wield Springfield 1903s. But they are the A3 model, easily noted by the receiver bridge mounted peep sight, which was authorized in May 1942, rather than the correct M1905 leaf sight. The anachronism was a bit of a jolt to the knowledgeable.

The gang carried Moses Browning’s iconic Winchester M1897 pump-action shotguns into the office. Those in the movie appeared to be the 12-gauge Riot model with 20 inch barrels. They were first used by the US Army during the Philippine–American Warand so are appropriate.

After temporarily escaping the posse, only to find out that what they thought were bags of silver coin were nothing more than common steel washers, they seek sanctuary from their pursuers in Mexico. There they become involved in a gun running scheme which brings them in contact with the Mexican Army and its German military advisor. When Pike is asked about their arms by the German, he erroneously replies that they are U.S. Army weapons which cannot be owned by civilians. This is incorrect as they are carrying the Winchester shotguns and Colt pistols which had been commercially available since 1897 and 1911 respectively.

A machine gun is prominently featured, and stars, in the final chaotic five minute “Fight on The Bloody Porch” in which the Wild Bunch, and most of the Mexican Army, it seems, annihilate each other. The gun is yet another of Mr. Browning’s masterpieces, the M1917 heavy machine gun. As the action takes place before World War I this is an obvious error. It also seems more appropriate that with a German advisor the Mexicans would have had the Spandau Maschinengewehr08.

Either way both guns are water cooled. However, during the entire “Bloody Porch” sequence the Browning’s water jacket is not attached to the water condensing can. After spitting out hundreds of rounds in rapid progression one would have thought the gun would have seized up, yet it operated flawlessly, but such is the magic of Hollywood.

After a little research we found that the director was familiar with firearms and insisted that each gun have its own distinctive audio report. The 1911’s sounded like .45 pistols, the 97s barked like shotguns, and the Browning rippled out its heavy cough. It is said that the production used up 90,000 rounds of blank ammunition which might be more than the number of real cartridges expended during the actual Mexican Revolution.

Lately it is the last lines of the movie that touch me most, not the minor firearms felonies. The film deals with a time of massive change and upheaval in the lives and times of the characters. Because the movie involves a lot of shooting, as does my life, and there has been great change and upheaval in both the smallbore and service rifle world I feel a little unsettled and estranged, much like the Wild Bunch. I sometimes wonder if times are passing me by.

In the movie’s last few moments Thornton, who has successfully tracked the gang and watched its demise, is at loose ends. As he sits against a wall next to the gate of the town a slow trickle of survivors passes by him, abandoning the town, a band of riders approaches through the dust. The interlopers are led by a former Wild Bunch member named Sykes who had earlier left the outlaw band to fight with the revolutionaries.

Sykesspots Thornton and leans down from his saddle saying, “I didn’t expect to find you here. What are your plans, now?”

Thorntonreplies, “Drift around down here. Try to stay out of jail.”

“Well, me and the boys here got some work to do.” counters Sykes “Ya wanna come along? It ain’t like it used to be; but it’ll do.”

And I guess that is how I feel about the NRA leaving Camp Perry for Bristol and then Camp Atterbury, two extra Leg matches a year to earn Distinguished, and the advent of scopes on service rifles. As far as my little corner of the shooting world is concerned, I suppose I must agree with Sykes, “It ain’t like it used to be; but it’ll have to do.”

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Hopkinton Prone Matches (HPM) Start Thursday, 4/25/19

Hopkinton Prone Matches (HPM) start this Thursday, April 25th. Don’t forget to bring your outdoor stuff…like clips for your target and a windmill if you have one. First shots down range at 6 p.m. Range gate is generally open by 5:15 p.m.

hpm

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The Great Western Schism: Two Popes at One Time…

The Great Western Schism: Two Popes at One Time…

We were lounging in Dick Scheller’s room in Olsen Hall after a long day of shooting the All Army Combat Rifle Championships at Fort Benning. We had earned our trip by winning the First Army Combat Rifle Championships at Fort Meade just as John Hinckley made his failed attempt on the life of President Ronald Reagan. A year later the Falkland’s War would overshadow our marksmanship skills at Meade. First Army just seemed to be carrying a dark cloud with it in the early 80s, but I digress.

We were planning for the next day’s shooting as Ed Biatowas ambled into the room and announced that an attempt had just been made on the life of Pope Paul II. Ed had been in the Day Room hustling up a pool game when the news flashed on the television. Roger McQuiggan, a former seminarian, asked him if he had any details. The newsfeed from Rome was sketchy but apparently His Holiness was passing through a worshipful throng as he was entering Saint Peter’s Square when Mehmet Ali Ağca, a member of the Turkish ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves organization, fired four shots from a 9mm Browning Hi-Power pistol and critically wounded the Pontiff. The would be assassin then tried to flee but was captured by the Vatican security chief, and-embarrassingly enough-a nun. Although, after Roger described some of the nuns who taught him in Catholic grammar school, it may not have been so embarrassing after all.

Roger gave an off the cuff opinion that it must have been pretty simple for the assailant to do his dirty deed. The Pope would have been an easy target as he was slowly carried along in his sedia gestatoria by thesediari pontifici.At our raised eyebrows he quickly explained that the sedia was simply the Pope’s sedan chair and the sediariwere the gentlemen of the papal household who carried it. As a happily lapsed Catholic and Latin teacher Roger was our go to guy whenever our more esoteric barracks room musings drifted toward the Holy See and the classical language.

Ed brought Roger up to date noting that the saintly John Paul II had done away with the stately sedia a few years earlier, much to the relief of the elderlysediari,to be replaced with a tricked out motorized vehicleknow as “The Popemobile.”

At that Scheller sat bolt upright. The Popemobile he, who was not well versed in the Church of Rome or Papal transport, blurted out, was an extremely rare classic vehicle from the ‘Brass Era’ of automobiles, so called for the extensive use of the metal in headlights, radiators and other fittings. “By rights it ought to be in a museum and not tooling about the streets of Vatican City!” he exclaimed. That observation got much the same appreciative reaction from the team as did Roger’s exposition on thesedia.

Dick went on to expound on the Hartford, Connecticut Pope Manufacturing Company which had produced over 500 vehicles around the turn of the 20th Century. He was pretty well versed on the subject because he grew up in Hartford. As a collector of Schützen rifles he also knew that the finest of them were made by Harry Pope, whose accurate barrels are legendary. He went on to tell us that for some time Pope was both a director and the plant superintendent at Pope Manufacturing. To make the firearms connection all that tighter he mentioned that Hiram Percy Maxim was the company’s head engineer.

Pope was no shade tree barrel maker either. He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1881 after completing a two year industrial engineering course with a heavy emphases on hands on machining. His MIT degree was an accomplishment of which he was quite proud and made no effort to hide.

Wanting to work on rifles full time Harry left the family concern and took up with the Stevens Arms and Tool Company in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, perhaps the largest producer of sporting firearms in the world at the time. It was an uncomfortable relationship between the prickly barrel maker and the straight laced corporation but it did produce superb target arms, exemplified by the Stevens-Pope Single Shot Schützen Rifle.Pope was, himself, an excellent Schützen shooter and challenged all comers to, “stand on his hind legs and shoot like a man.”

After breaking with Stevens he moved on to San Francisco until rudely awakened on the morning of April 18, 1906 as the San Andreas Fault rearranged itself and destroyed 80% of the city, including Harry’s workshop.The incorrigible chain smoker who admitted that he, “Started to smoke after the San Francisco fire, when grub was hard to get.” was thereafter seldom seen without an ash laden tobacco filled tube dangling from the center of his mouth. After the earthquake he returned to the more stable east coast and settled into a shop at 18 Morris Street in Jersey City, New Jersey from could be heard the humming of belt driven machinery and the occasional popping sound of a rifle being tested.

“And what of the Popemobile” asked an increasingly agitated Dick, “Was it damaged? It is really valuable you know. I’d rather the Pope get lugged around in that sedan chair Roger talked about than risk one of Harry’s priceless cars.”

Roger quietly explained that there hadn’t been two men claiming to be the true Pope since the Great Western Schism of 1378 and the same could be said of two Popemobiles. The one in question wasnot a product of Hartford’sPope Manufacturing Companybut rather a modern Italian FIAT Campagnola.

And, with that explanation, Dick let out a sigh of relief and we returned to the more mundane; a discussion our fire plan for the next day’s Rattle Battle.

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THE METER MATCH, THE MEASURE OF A MAN…

In my dotage I have retreated from serious position shooting. It seems my body is a less flexible, my reflexes sluggish, and my endurance less than it was. Some of this is due to sloth as I really don’t train as I should, but some of it is just the mechanism wearing down.

I had moments of brilliance and managed to worm my way to the stratosphere of the National Guard shooting program in both highpower and smallbore. I was never much more than a journeyman rifleman at my best. But if you shoot long enough you will occasionally luck into a bauble or two. Or, as Dick Scheller, one of my shooting mentors is fond of saying, “Even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then,”

Along the way I picked up a few National Records, mostly in the Codger Category. There were even few geriatric National Championships scooped up when they became available as I aged. Certainly, it was not a testament to my great shooting skills but rather a reflection of the fact that most of my contemporaries had either hung up their shooting boots or passed on to The Great Range in the Sky. There is something to be said for perseverance and good health.

As I scan today’s match bulletins, I note that there are precious few of those I started with who are still potting away at targets from ten meters to 1,000 yards. But what I am noticing is that there are some who are at the top of the game who I recall as struggling juniors trying to remember that the pointy end of the cartridge goes in first. One such shooter is Eric Uptagrafft.

Uptagrafft is a two time Olympian, shooting a rifle he designed and built himself. The World and National Record holder has earned the US International Distinguished Shooter Badge, Distinguished Rifleman Badge, NRA Distinguished Smallbore Rifleman award in both prone and position and the Presidents Hundred rifle tab four times. He has been a National Champion in Service Rifle, Smallbore Conventional Prone, International 50m Prone, 300m Prone, and Mid-Range Prone. An Air Rifle and Smallbore All American at West Virginia University he was the 1993 NCAA smallbore rifle champion Currently he is Sergeant First Class Eric Uptagrafft of the US Army Marksmanship Unit and serves as the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the USAMU International Rifle Team.

When Eric was starting out in the game, he was a typically poverty stricken college kid. Between his All American stints at Texas A&M and West Virginia he joined the National Guard and was immediately picked up by All Guard. I met him on his first trip with us, a ten day sojourn to California. Unfortunately, his pockets only contained lint and car keys and he didn’t have enough front money for his motel room. Consequently, Bill Lange and I had him sleep on the couch in our room.

At the 2018 National Smallbore Prone Rifle Championships at Bristol Uptagrafft pulled off an extraordinary feat. Over four consecutive 50 Meter matches he fired an aggregate score of 1600-158X. After the first two 400-40Xs, shot with metallic sights, he dropped two Xs on the first any sight Meter Match to eked out his third consecutive Meter Match win on a tie breaker with Kevin Nevius. I bumped into him at the scoreboard and couldn’t resist a little needling, suggesting that he would have been better off staying with iron sights to keep his string going.

I was gob smacked when he casually replied that he was still shooting irons. The next day he shot a third 400-40X. He won the 2018 Conventional Smallbore Prone Championship on the back of those four Meter Matches, only the second person ever to win the title shooting irons all the way.

Eric’s magnificent performance reminded me of another series of Meter Matches I had witnessed. The year I was picked up for the All National Guard International Team I was sitting next to the Army’s legendary rifleman and coach Bill Krilling in the Assembly Area at Camp Perry. Back in 1965 Krilling became the first person to shoot a 3200X3200 in NRA registered competition. That was in the days of a required three pound trigger pull, so it was no mean feat.

I had met him at the Third US International Rifle Championships at Fort Benning, just before he shot the 3200 at the Silver Dollar Round-up in Winter Haven, Florida. As a graduation present. my parents allowed me to miss a week of school towards the end of my senior year to ride a Greyhound bus to Georgia to shoot the match with my brother Steve. Well, they hoped it would be a graduation present because at the time I was desperately clinging to a lofty class ranking of 311 out of 375. Being of no danger to the presumptive valedictorian I still had the Anchor Man sweating out his place of honor.

Off and on, over the intervening years, I had run into Krilling at various matches and, although not a friend, he was a good acquaintance. One day we were both scoping Wigger during the first of the two any sight Meter Matches of the second half of the smallbore prone championship as The Old Lion shot a 400-40X.

Mr. Bill, you won’t see a performance like that again in a dozen years.” I pompously predicted.

The next day, as we scoped him, Wigger shot another 400-40X.Bill turned to me with an indulgent smile and remarked, “Time sure flies here at Camp Perry, doesn’t it, kid?”

It flies even faster at Bristol when Uptagrafft is on the 50 meter line.

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Cholera, CLASS ACTION SUITS, ANDAMMOPRICES…

Cholera,CLASS ACTION SUITS,ANDAMMOPRICES

A pleasant day of shooting had ended and we had drawn up our lawn chairs into a convivial circle. As the shadows lengthened the day’s shooting was dissected and the post mortem performed. Soon the talk meandered along an aimless stream of consciousness,eventually forming a whirlpool around the subject of the expense of the sport.

The inevitable comparisons to golf and tennis arose. Certainly, the initial investment is large, rifle, sights, sling, spotting scope, jacket, mat, and the numerous ephemera that fill the shooters kit bag quickly add up to several tens of thousands of dollars. But that is an initial expense that, if done with some thought, will need not be repeated. There were also the ongoing expenses of travel, club membership fees, entry fees, dues for various shooting organizations-both state and national, and the ammunition.

However, the cost of ammunition seemed to raise the most hackles. The fact that domestic munitions firms had long ago abandoned the field to European competition was a sore point. Many remember when a brick of Winchester Mark III or Remington Match sold for ten bucks and a gallon of gas cost 36 cents. Less clear in our memories was the fact that minimum wage was $1.45 an hour. Gas and the minimum wage have risen but ammunition prices have far outstripped the natural rise in costs.

A few ideas were tossed out and mulled. The cost of production was popular for a bit. Certainly, the cost of labor and raw materials has increased, but that didn’t ring true when measured against other products. The unfavorable exchange rate of the US dollar against the various European currencies, the pound and Euro, had some traction.

Of course, the conspiracy theorists got all tangled up in the tawdry relationship between the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group, United Nations, the Knights Templers, Skull and Bones, The Bohemian Club, the International Monetary Fund, and various international and domestic anti gun groups trying to dry up the supply of ammunition.

Suddenly a voice impatiently piped up, “Your all wrong. It is because of cholera and litigation.” The quiet was deafening. After a moment’s pause there was general acclimation of disbelief.

“Look! This drastic price jump all got started in the summer of 1854 in London”. It seemed to us to be a very far reach so we leaned forward, anxious to hear this tale.

“It seems that Charles and William Eley ran a factory on Bond Street making percussion caps for Her Majesty’s Forces. The Crimean War was heating up and the Allied expeditionary forces were headed to Balaclava. Sales of percussion caps were going through the roof and Eley’s work force was working long days to supply the “Thin Red Line.”

It was a hot summer. The Eley brothers, perhaps showing unusual compassion for Victorian employers, but more likely doing what they could to keep the work force on its feet to get every percussion cap made, packaged, and shipped, and most importantly paid for, supplied tubs of water to refresh their employees.

The water was drawn from the convenient Broad Street pump which enjoyed a reputation as a source of clean and tasty water. The Eley Brothers were even in the habit of sending bottles of it home to their mother who favored it. The water was convenient and tasty, but it was also infected with Vibrio choleraebacteria,cholera. The workers, and Mother Eley, quickly dropped like flies. Word of Eley supplying the tainted water to its employees, and the ensuing epidemic, drew epidemiologists, public health officials and lawyers like moths to a flame.

The chambers at the Inns of Court emptied in a flash. Barristers and solicitors raced toward Bond Street, armed with brief cases, their outstretched hands loaded with business cards. The tenement lined streets surrounding Bond Street soon were clogged with an armada of Hansom Cabs discharging a tsunami of London’s bowler wearing brollywielding ambulance chasers on the stricken neighborhood. The traffic jam had a unexpected positive effect on public health as the locals were unable to pass through the blocked streets and could no longer use the contaminated pump.

Individual and class action suits were filed and, at geological speed, they crept through the turgid and clogged British court system. Progress was further slowed by interruptions caused by The Abe Slaney Trial at the Winter Assizes at Norwich, Wilde v. Queensberry, The British Wreck Commissioner’s inquiry into the sinking of the RMS Titanic, the 1926 General Strike, theAbdication Crisis, The Hawley Harvey Crippen Murder Trial, the William Joyce/Lord Haw Haw Treason Trial, Regina v. Turing and Murray, and The Great Train Robbery.

That being said, the wheels of British justice may grind exceedingly slow but they do grind exceedingly fine and it wasn’t until just recently that the multitude of Eley workers’ compensation claims cases were adjudicated. Jurors found in favor of the workers, England being a socialist haven and heaven what else would you expect. So Eley has had to raise its prices to meet these unexpected compensatory and punitive damages.”

Given the other ideas this one is just as plausible.

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PICKLED PEPPERS, PILOTS, AND PISTOL POTSHOTS…

PICKLED PEPPERS, PILOTS, AND PISTOL POTSHOTS…

There are two major events that occur on consecutive days in early October each year in the United States. On the first Monday in October the Supreme Court of the United States traditionally convenes following its summer recess.

Overshadowing this judicial event is the annual Abe Rocketto Memorial Service Pistol Match, on the first Sunday in October, a gathering of pistol shooters at the Quaker Hill Rod and Gun Club. The event is open to  any general issue service pistol or replica from any country and any era, provided it is in original issued condition.

Like the Supreme Court there are oral arguments. In this case it is to the suitability of a pistol for competition but, unlike the Supreme Court, there is only one justice to render an impartial decision and his word is law. The match has seen a myriad of service pistols pulled out of the dusty dark corners of closets and gun safes to appear on the line The Beretta M9, black powder Schofields and Remingtons, Tokarovs, Nagants, Makarovs, Nambus, Radoms, Webleys, Mausers, P38s, DMWs, and Smith and Wessons come to mind quickly.

About the only military handgun that has not yet shown up is the stamped sheet metalFP-45/M1942 ‘Liberator.’ There is no doubt that as soon as someone acquires one it will be on the line to be ogled over by the military pistol cognoscenti.

The venerable Colt 1911, in its various iterations, is the most popular pistol used and the most honored of these is Abe’s Gun. The somewhat holster worn, and slightly battered, slab sided 45, the Old Man’s personal sidearm, has appeared in every match since the late Steve Schady inaugurated the event some 15 or 16 years ago. All participants are invited to shoot a reentry with the historic piece and most have.

The match consists of 30 record shots fired in three stages; ten shots slow fire in 10 minutes, ten shots timed fire in two five shot string strings of 20 seconds each, and ten shots Duel-ten target exposures of five seconds each. There are no alibis, but for range alibis, and unlimited re-entries are permitted and encouraged. However, each re-entry must be fired with a different pistol. Most competitors bring generous amounts of ammunition for their guns so that collegial swapping around is quite frequent.

The match is followed by a traditional holiday picnic featuring hot dogs, hamburgers, Tony Goulart’s hot pickled peppers, and Mother Goulart’s deservedly famous potato salad. As the competitors refresh themselves with food and drink, they convivially swap loading information, the history of their guns, and tales of pistol daring do-some of which may even be true.

At a recent match we were munching on our lunches as the subject of the 1911 came up, as it often does. In response one of the guys pulled out his wallet and extracted a folded page from an old Air Force Magazine.Carefully unfolding it and called out, “Ya gotta hear this.”

He related that the magazine reported that on March 31, 1943 a Lieutenant Owen J. Baggett USAAF, was stationed in India serving as a B-24 bomber pilot on a mission to destroy a railroad bridge near Pyinmana, Burma. His plane took heavy fire from attacking Japanese A6M Zero fighters and he and his crew was forced to bail out of the crippled aircraft.

The Japanese pilots attacked the parachuting men, killing some and grazing Baggett’s arm with a 7.7mm bullet. The pilot who fired upon Baggett circled around for a second look at Baggett who was playing possum, hanging in his harness as if dead.

As the Japanese pilot flew within a few feet of the limp man in the parachute he throttled back, pulled his nosed up to further reduce his airspeed, and slid back his canopy to get a better look. At that moment Baggett pulled out his M1911A1 and fired four rounds at the plane. Much to Baggett’s surprise, and I am sure that of the pilot, the Zero, already in a most precarious state of flight close to the ground, stalled, spun, and crashed.

After landing Baggett was soon captured and sent to a POW camp near Singapore where the harsh daily struggle to survive as a prisoner under the Japanese quickly pushed the incident to the back of his mind. One day a fellow prisoner, Colonel Harry Melton, commander of the 311th Fighter Group, casually mentioned that a Japanese colonel had told him about a Japanese pilot who had been shot down and thrown clear of a crashed Zero in the area of Pyinmanaon March 31st. He was found dead with a single bullet wound to the head.

Had Baggett’s case come up before the Justices of the United States Supreme Court on the first Monday in October they might well rule that there is not enough substantial evidence to confirm that Baggett did, indeed, shoot down a Japanese fighter plane with a 1911A1.

On the other hand, their clerks may not have read, or even been familiar with, the precedent established on the first Sunday in October by the pistol packing jurists at the Abe Rocketto Memorial Service Pistol Match. They unanimously opined that the tale had to be true based on two factors. The first is that there wascorroborating evidence, no matter how flimsy, from disinterested parties. The second? The tale fell into the well established legal doctrine of it had to be true because you just can’t make up this kind of stuff.

 

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