By Hap Rocketto
During Perry 2001 I bumped into Jeff Doerschler at the NRA Smallbore Committee meeting and found that he had made the Dewar Team, but had yet to secure a coach. The person he most likely would have chosen, his shooting and running mate Jay Sonneborn, was Dewar Team Captain and unavailable. Knowing that the NRA provides hot Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and cold milk for the Dewar Team firing members and coaches I quickly threw myself into the breech, so to speak. Jeff graciously accepted my offer, not knowing my ulterior motive.
I actually have some experience coaching the Dewar. My first encounter with the duty of Dewar coach came when Don Durbin, the Officer In Charge of the All National Guard Team, asked me to assist him in 1986. Don was a great shooter and a member of the 1984 Olympic Team. Why he picked me I’ll never know. I suspect there were two reasons. The first being it that he couldn’t get any other Guard shooter to get up early on a morning when they could sleep late. I was just enough taken with myself to think I was given a deserved honor, when in fact I probably earned it by default. I showed up bright an early with mat and scope and never left Don’s side. When we got into position I asked him just what he wanted me to do.
I was expecting a short conversation on conditions or shooting habits or time. Don knew me all too well and, in reply, simply looked at me and kindly said, “Just lie there and try not to make too much of an ass of yourself.” So that is just what I did. I was quiet, a mouth full of doughnuts prevented me from saying anything stupid and therefore, making an ass out of myself, and we did OK. Considering my physical appearance as well as my predisposition to doughnuts and walking around in my briefs it might be fair to say that I am the Homer Simpson of “Doh”-war coaches.
Because the likes of Durbin and Steve Goff have had some success in the Dewar with me next to them there are a limited few that think I know what I am doing. Jeff was just one such misguided individual. In reality Durbin and Goff most likely asked me for the second reason, compassion for a journeyman shooter who was never going to go anywhere, let alone the Dewar. In return for their kindness I dutifully lay next to them with my eye glued to the scope, much like the donkey they place in a high-strung racehorse’s stall to keep the thoroughbred calm.
Jeff and I set up and we talked a bit about how we would approach shooting the match. I gave him the best piece of advice I could think of at the moment, which was to make sure he got as close to the center of the group as possible when they took the team photo. That way he couldn’t be cropped out if the photo had to be reduced. He also might consider doing the same with his shot groups. He opined that he could shot a mid 380 to mid 390 in the conditions. He would determine the prevailing condition he would shoot in and I would keep him informed of any changes in that condition as well as report the value and location of each shot. I was, simply put, Jeff’s spotting scope. Just before the command “Commence fire!” was given he looked over at me and quietly confessed what we all hope for when we shoot on a team, “Hap, I just don’t want to be low man.”
We started at short range and shot tight groups with an occasional shot opening up a group. With the ten ring shot away it was hard to determine if any of the wider shots, and there was nothing that came close to the inside of the nine ring, would plug for a ten. In the end we guessed we were five down. We next moved to 100 yards and started off well. The air was very clear and there was so little mirage it was hard to pick up changes in the wind. I thought I saw a pick up and ordered, “Don’t” but before I could complete the command with “shoot” Jeff had touched off a shot that went so far left as to be a plugger on the nine line.
We then shot a few sighters and went back for record. Jeff was piling in the tens but they were on the line at three o’clock and I, fearing a let off, suggested he put on a click or two left for safety. He thought he felt a gust and fired anyway, notching up a pretty clear nine at three. We were now even.
Jeff, a slow and deliberate shooter, usually uses every nanosecond of time and is traditionally the last shooter to finish. Much to our surprise we were one of the first pairs done. I asked Jeff what he thought about the wide shot and we agreed that it wasn’t all wind. We waited around for what seemed like ages for the time to expire so we could rush forward and see that shot on the nine line close up. It was close, but I would dig into my pocket for challenge money if it did not come up a nine. We estimated we were down between ten or eleven points, which matched favorably with the other unofficial scores. Later that afternoon Sonneborn came by with the official results that showed Jeff to be the top shooter on the 2001 US Dewar Team by a margin of one point! Not bad for a Dewar tyro who only hoped not to be last.