by Hap Rocketto
I shot my first long-range match in 1972 at the Colonie Club outside of Albany, New York. I was working in a small private school in New Jersey and was going to meet my fellow shooters from the Magnum Rifle Club at the range. I didn’t have a long-range rifle but my brother said he would get something together for us. That spring I was at a cross roads in my life and was thinking about going to law school. As it happened the match was the same weekend as the Law School Entrance Examination. So one pretty Saturday morning I took the exam and then hopped into my trusty Volkswagen Beetle for the trip up the Hudson River Valley to the match.
During the drive I enjoyed the scenery and let my mind wander to unwind from the test and prepare for the match. Suddenly a thought formed in my mind that taking the test was a waste of time. I realized that I was disqualified from entering the legal profession. As an undergraduate I had taken a course in ethics and passed it with a B. As a rule pre-law students are steered away from taking such a course. Students who take ethics, and pass it without resorting to cheating, are automatically barred, if you will pardon the pun, forever, from the practice of law.
When I arrived at the range and found that my brother Steve had purchased a bull barreled Winchester Model 70 from the estate of the legendary late Butch Lagerstrom. The rifle had a four digit serial number and was chambered in .30-06. Steve had bore sighted both iron and telescopic sights and got a rough zero on a short range “Christmas Tree” sighting in target. We were as ready as we could be and he gave me the dubious honors of both paying for the rifle and shooting it first. The first match was any sights and I hunkered down behind the rifle, took up what I thought was a good tight position, and let rip. I had never fired a scoped high power rifle before.
I thought the muzzle blast was tremendous and the noise ear shattering for a ’06. It turned out that it was no more violent than any other ‘ 06 I had ever fired. The apparently excessive flash and noise was the by product of the scope slamming back into my forehead. It drove my glasses back into my eye sockets and cut a neat quarter size half circle through my eyebrow. The impact made me see stars and dislodged my earmuffs giving the impression of a really big bang. Head wounds tend to bleed way out of proportion to the size of the injury and it took a minute or two to staunch the flow. As a rifle shooter I never thought that, like Marciano, Ali, or Balboa, I would appreciate having a good cut man in my corner. You can well imagine how tentative I was for the 20 shot string.
As I sat with a sack of ice over my eye during lunch I listened to the tales of the Colonie club members. The one that has stuck with me was concerned the motocross daredevil. The 1000-yard line at Colonie is set up on a wooded hillside. From it you can see the entire expanse of the vast greensward of the range. At hundred yard intervals, starting at 800 and going right to the pit berm, are well-manicured firing lines that are several feet above the level field. During a lunch break, such as the one we were enjoying, at some past long range tournament, the shooters were startled to see a helmeted leather clad motorcyclist emerge from the woods by the 800 yard line.
The modern day centaur swung a slow circle as he sized up the terrain and must have thought the god of bikers had smiled upon him. He drew back, gunned the engine, and proceeded to jump each one of the berms. Warning shouts from the firing line were not heeded. They most likely went unheard, probably muffled by the sound of the engine and the helmet. Mouths on the firing line went dry as the rider jumped the final berm and headed to the one that protected the pit.
The snarl of the bike’s engine being wound up as it approached the final berm was the last thing heard as the machine soared into the air and then disappeared from sight into the pit. The shooters stood motionless in horror for a few seconds and then dashed to their cars and roared off down range to render what aid they might to the hapless biker. They arrived in time to witness a stunned biker, helmet askew, leather torn, and eyes glassy stagger relatively unscathed from the hole. The same could not be said for his mount which, bent and twisted, had been impaled on a target frame. After dusting off the biker, calling for a wrecker, and finishing lunch the match resumed.
I would have given a lot to be a fly on the wall and seen the biker’s face when the world dropped out from underneath him and he realized he was heading straight down into a trench full of metal punji stakes. As I sat nursing my swollen face I reflected upon the similarity between the biker and me. I knew I was never going to be a lawyer but I did know a thing or two about the law of averages and the law of gravity and I was thankful we both had on our safety equipment.