by Hap Rocketto
Ken Girard, then editing the Rhode Island Rifle and Revolver Association section of The Outdoor Message, must have been pretty desperate to fill a few column inches. My well deserved reputation for pontificating on any shooting subject was well known, and probably rattling around in his head, as he ambled up to me one soft spring afternoon after a match at the South County Rod and Gun Club 299 Hap’s Corners ago.
Like the shark hunting Captain Quint chumming to attract the Great White in Jaws Ken tossed out some flattery to bring me in close. Genially he asked if I might care to scribble down a few words of shooting wisdom for publication from time to time. When I struck he set the hook firmly by appealing to my outsized ego. My column, he declared, would be called Hap’s Corner and distributed to shooters all across southern New England in The Outdoor Message. He went onto stroke my inflated self opinion by implying that the shooting world was breathlessly awaiting my gems of wisdom. Gerard was of French decent but could spout more blarney than any ten sons of Erin.
He said that as the spirit moved I could write a small article, maybe 1,000 words. Ken was a high school English teacher so I would mail it to him so he might proof read it before he sent it off to the Message. Typewriters and the United States Postal Service were the tools of the trade when Ken first spoke to me. It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago. But, it was before computers and word processors. It was before email. It was even before my two daughters-now college graduates-were born.
I was on my way to becoming the shooting equivalent of a jongleur, an itinerant medieval entertainer, who could juggle, do acrobatics, sing, and tell tales. I sort of fit the description, moving from one rifle range to another as the shooting season waxed and waned. Juggling my checkbook was never a problem. Anyone watching me go from standing to sitting in rapid fire knew about my tumbling skill. I am well practiced in singing in the shower and can tell tall tales like the storied Baron Munchausen.
My Old Man was fond of saying, as he yarned, “It is a poor piece of cloth that can’t stand a bit of embroidery.” A rich and extensive store of shooting trivia, experiences, and anecdotes, not to mention an overactive imagination, help me stitch away with abandon with my literary needle.
With this Hap’s Corner I have joined a 300 Club, of sorts. Having reached this milestone I can’t help but think about 300 clubs in my sporting passion, shooting.
There are two recognized shooting courses of fire where a perfect score is 300, the pistol National Match Course (NMC) and the rifle Presidents Match. While they are really personal plateaus and not awards or clubs in the common usage of the word, they are none the less remarkable achievements.
The pistol NMC is fired in three stages, ten shots slow fire at 50 yards, ten shots timed fire, in two five shot 20 second strings, and ten shots rapid fire, in two five shot ten second strings. It is can be fired with either the 22 caliber pistol, the centerfire pistol, and the 45 caliber pistol, or all three. The Army Marksmanship Unit’s Bonnie Harmon set the rimfire record in 1981 with a 300-24X, later matched by J.E. Neidinger, and James Henderson. Harmon also co-holds the 45 Caliber record of 300-19X with A.E. Moody, and Brian Zins. Marine Frank Higginson stands alone with the 300-21X centerfire record. Needless to say my pistol skills are such that I have never even threatened these records to gain entry into that particular 300 Club.
The Presidents Match is a different matter. It is a 30 shot service rifle match, with no sighters, which is shot just once a year at the National Matches. Each competitor shoots ten shot slow fire standing at 200 yards, ten shots rapid fire prone at 300 yards and ends the match with ten shots slow fire prone at 600 yards. In the 126 years history of the event the 30 shot course of fire has been fired 51 times, perhaps 61,000 total entries. It wasn’t until 2012 that a perfect score was recorded and lightning struck twice that year. Fittingly enough a military and a civilian rifleman, Army SSG Ty Cooper, 300-17X, and civilian Jared Perry of California, 300-13X, both went clean.
Twice I had a shot, pardon the pun, at making the 300 Club in the Presidents. I earned membership in the Presidents Hundred three times, each time cleaning one stage. Two perfect scores standing twice allowed me to move back to the 300 yard line with a chance at a 300, but my moment of glory was fleeting and denied in rapid fire. Ironically the very first perfect string of 300 rapid-fire prone I ever shot was in the President’s where my score was a nearly unbelievable 100 with no Xs.
Another important shooting 300 comes to mind. When I first got into the game the most popular long range cartridge was the .300 Winchester Magnum. The belted, bottlenecked cartridge was introduced in 1963. It quickly went on to win the Wimbledon in 1965 when Marine Lance Corporal Carlos Hathcock II used a .300 Winchester Magnum chambered Winchester Model 70 to fire a qualifying score of 100-17V, and a perfect score of 50-10Vs in the finals, to win the legendary long range trophy.
In sports 300 of anything is a milestone. Bowlers are always seeking the perfect game, 12 consecutive strikes: 300 pins up, 300 pins down. Pro bowler Parker Bohn has done it 88 times in 25 years. Tennis great Roger Federer spent a record 300 weeks ranked number one. Every major league pitcher knows that 300 wins all but insures his selection to the Hall Of Fame.
I don’t pretend to put myself on the same level as Harmon, Neidinger, Henderson, Cooper, Perry, Hathcock, Bohn, Federer, Cy Young, or Lefty Grove, However, this is the 300th Hap’s Corner and I hope to continue cranking them out until the powers that be either revoke my literary license or call time on my relay.
Category: Hap's Corner