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‘peace to the gentle shade’…

by Hap Rocketto

One of the lessons I try to teach young shooters is to expect the unexpected. In a rifle match things can, in the words of Robbie Burns, “Gang aft agley.” You have to be prepared for events that are outside of your control and respond to them with a measured plan of action.

Some common glitches, for which a plan of action can be formulated in advance, are not being on paper on your first shot, stuck cartridge cases, fogged over scopes, forgotten equipment, and such calamities. Having a plan will usually allow you to keep your head and diminish any negative effect upon your performance.

However, every once in a while something will occur that is so far outside of the realm of possibility that you really have to dig into your past experience to find a solution.

I lay sprawled on the grass at Camp Perry prepping for the first stage of a 100 yard metallic sight match. The wind was pretty steady at about seven miles per hour from two o’clock. Therefore, it was no real surprise that my first sighter popped up to the left, about a half nine.

My Sam Gates rear sight is graduated in 1/6th minute clicks and a ten inch ‘bloop tube’ increases my sight radius so that each click is now worth about a 1/8th minute. I had to move right about 20 clicks. I spun the rear sight and shot another sighter which appeared just a fraction of an inch to the right of my first. The wind did not appear to vary so I presumed a bad sight picture and shot another sighter which almost doubled the previous shot.

I was a bit perplexed but put on a few more clicks to no avail. I was reminded of the Niagara Falls sketch from the 1944 Three Stooges short comic film Gents Without Cents. You know, “Slowly I turned…step by step…inch by inch…” I kept twirling the windage knob. Suddenly I felt no resistance and the knob came free in my hand. Now this was a problem which I had never thought about.

The Gates sight is elegant in its simplicity, just two blocks of metal, each sliding on a pair of pins, one set vertical for elevation and one set horizontal for windage. They are held in place by the adjustment knob which works against the pressure of a spring.

The windage block had not popped off into the grass to I carefully rethreaded the screw, pressed the block against the stop to set it and cranked the sight a few handfuls left. I was in a quandary as to what to do but recalled the many days that I shot service rifle and was trained to ‘favor.” Favoring is a quick way to apply a sight adjustment in a rapid fire string by moving the service rifle post sight in the direction the coach directed. In smallbore favoring is called shading and I am fairly well versed in shading with a scope. Not so much with iron sights.

The problem with shading with irons in smallbore is that it is harder to maintain the correct hold off. There is also a tendency to ride up or down as the curved surface of the aperture meets the curved surface of the bull. A high power target is very forgiving of a slight error between the straight edges of the post and the curved edge of the target but that is not the case with the small rings of a smallbore bull.

Very good smallbore riflemen can shade effectively with irons. As a matter of fact Ed Etzel shot his way to an Olympic gold medal in 1984 shooting 60 shots in 45 minutes for a 599X600, shading the whole way. I am no Ed Etzel but it looked as if I had no choice but to learn how to shade.

Knowing that I had come back to my rough starting point I gingerly held the left side of the aperture against the left side of the bull. Much to my relief the shot came up a half nine a three o’clock. I took a few more without moving the sight and shot a nice group. I then clicked left and was soon shooting tens and Xs. Maybe shading with irons wasn’t that hard? Oddly enough, while going through all of this, a visit to Westminster Abbey while in London with the US Roberts Team in 2009 popped up in the back of my mind.

I went for record and was keeping them all in the ten ring for about the first five shots. Then the nines started to appear at one and five o’clock indicating that I was riding up and down. Try as I might I wasn’t able to recreate my early success on a regular basis and lost points, it was a minor disaster-but not as bad as it might have been had I reacted rather than responded to my problem.

During the target change I hurriedly pulled the sight apart, gave it a touch of lube, and reassembled it. Being one of the few smallbore shooters who actually has his mechanical zero recorded I reset the sight, bolted it back on the rifle, offered a quick prayer to the shooting gods, and got ready to shoot the second string.

My first sighter was an X and I went on to shoot a 200-15X on the second card. There is no reasonable or logical explanation for what happened.

And here is where the trip to Westminster Abbey comes into play. Nicholas Rowe, Poet Laureate and dramatist, is buried in Poets’ Corner in the venerated church. Now shade has many definitions. A shade, in Greek mythology, is the spirit of a dead person residing in the Hades, where my score and I would have certainly been if I had not recalled, and calmly practiced, Alexander Pope’s epitaph for Nicholas Rowe, in which he wrote, “…peace to the gentle shade.”

Category: Hap's Corner

About the Author: Hap Rocketto is a Distinguished Rifleman with service and smallbore rifle, member of The Presidents Hundred, and the National Guard’s Chief’s 50. He is a National Smallbore Record holder, a member of the 1600 Club and the Connecticut Shooters’ Hall Of Fame. He was the 2002 Intermediate Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion, the 2012 Senior Three Position National Smallbore Rifle Champion a member of the 2007 and 2012 National Four Position Indoor Championship team, coach and captain of the US Drew Cup Team, and adjutant of the United States 2009 Roberts and 2013 Pershing Teams. Rocketto is very active in coaching juniors. He is, along with his brother Steve, a cofounder of the Corporal Digby Hand Schützenverein. A historian of the shooting sports, his work appears in Shooting Sports USA, the late Precision Shooting Magazine, The Outdoor Message, the American Rifleman, the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s website, and most recently, the apogee of his literary career, pronematch.com.

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