By Hap Rocketto
It was a dreary Sunday early in October and we were heading up to Blue Trail Range for a Connecticut Big Bore League make up match. It had rained cats and dogs in April on the day the season began causing a postponement and here it was, on the rain date, with the leaden sky spitting on us again. Call it symmetry or call it bad luck but things were not looking good. It had rained on the first day of the season and here it was, six months later, raining on the last day of the season. It was hard to work up enthusiasm for the match but it was a team obligation that must be met, even though we were in serious danger of being rained out again.
The Red Sox had been eliminated from the post season just a few days earlier so what little conversation that broke the early morning quiet was somewhat half hearted baseball talk from the disappointed fans. The radio, turned down low and tuned to public radio to listen to weather reports, droned on in the background. This is our standard protective practice for drives to rifle matches; for reasons unknown early Sunday morning non public radio programming in Connecticut is unexplainably given over completely to evangelists and polka music.
Suddenly our ears perked up, as the words “Lake Erie” crackled out of the speaker and into our conscious. To serious shooters Lake Erie is synonymous with Camp Perry, the “Mecca of Shooting”. Conversation dropped off as I turned up the volume and we listened to a story on something called the “Lake Erie Dead Zone.”
The announcer went on to explain that in a dead zone there is so little oxygen along the lake bottom that fish cannot survive. Scientists have monitored the phenomenon in Lake Erie’s central basin from Ashtabula to Cleveland for years, but 70 miles west, in the Sandusky sub-basin, the problem has worsened to the point that there is no oxygen at all. Maybe that is how he defined it but the term had a whole different meaning to a carload of shooters, all who had spent a couple of weeks each summer on the southern shore of the lake pursuing Xs.
In my case I recalled a leg match where I fired ten well aimed rounds down range in a 300 yard rapid fire stage. After a nerve wracking wait, with my target in the hole and the adjacent targets up for scoring, I was informed that I had insufficient hits, not all in the aiming black, and would I care to challenge or accept the score? My wallet was out in a flash and a crisp dollar bill was soon in the hands of the block officer who laboriously wrote out a receipt. In a few seconds my target popped up with no spotters and the chalkboard, with the number ten neatly printed next to the zero, swinging slowly from side to side on its right hand side. Not a shot on the target yet the elevation and windage for 300 yards was set on my rifle, and there were no shots on any adjacent targets. Quite a mystery and the only logical explanation was that an anomaly in the earth’s magnetic field had opened and closed, like a worm hole, on my point and sucked all ten of my bullets into the Lake Erie Dead Zone.
My brother Steve mused on his debut into long range shooting at Perry. The first year we shot the match was 1975, the only year the Leech was 30 shots, with unlimited sighters, in 30 minutes. We had zeroed in a pre-64 Winchester Model 70, chambered in .30-06, which I had purchased from the estate of the late great Connecticut shooter Butch Langerstram. I was in the pits and Steve was first up. When I came out of the hole I found a terse note attached to the rifle, “Use your M-14. I’ll explain later. Steve.” That Steve’s plastic MTM ammo box was filled with empty brass certainly piqued my curiosity.
Steve related the sad tale at lunch. He was unable to get on paper and after firing all 50 rounds in the futile attempt he was ready to give up and leave the line. However, his efforts had attracted a crowd of interested bystanders who rushed to his aid with team scopes and stocks of .30-06 ammunition, which they pressed upon him. Steve was too much of a gentleman to give up when he was the center of such attention. He lay there firing away the free ammo with abandon as he was instructed to hold on the right side of the frame, the left side of the frame, the top of the frame, the top of the berm, the target to the left, the target to the right, just about everything in sight but the power plant’s cooling tower. He ran out of time before he ran out of enthusiasm, advice, and free ammo. And what of the 86 shots fired in 30 minutes without a hit on paper? You guessed it, the same magnetic anomaly opened up and then snapped shut in front of my brother’s rifle’s muzzle and the Lake Erie Dead Zone accepted another small offering to the gods of shooting.
The radio program ended, interest waned in the story, and our conversation returned to baseball. Recalling the golden days of baseball when Willy Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Duke Snider patrolled the outfields of New York City’s ball parks, my brother recalled a sports writer’s comment that Willy Mays’ glove was the place where triples went to die. Much the same, said he, may be said of the Lake Erie Dead Zone, the place where Xs go to die.