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.”