A Smallbore Shooter Goes Rogue
submitted by Dennis Lindenbaum, Southeast Bureau Chief of pronematch.com
After legging out at a recent regional Smallbore match, I had the confidence and hubris to accept an invitation to attend a try-out for the Palma Team the following weekend. After all, I had a new rifle used once previously and had a total of two long range matches already under my belt. Preparation enough for sure to be considered for membership on the U.S. Rifle Development Team. Each day after work for the next four days, I worked feverously preparing cases to hold the precious powder that would eventually propel 155.5 grain bullets 1000 yards to a mirage blurred black circle somewhere just this side of the horizon. Long range shooting is a sport in search of an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. Point in fact; I purchased a laboratory grade magnetic force replacement scale so that each allotment of Varget would be precisely identical. The scale measures accurately to 0.001 grains. I am considering building an isolation room in my house where the device can be mounted in a vibration free granite enclosure. I also used the scale to sort the nominal Berger 155.5 grain bullets into different weight groups and then used bullets of the same weight for each string of 20 shots. All of this to help minimize elevation variance at the target. More about this in a moment.
What is this really all about you might ask. After all, I am a smallbore competitor who had never shot a centerfire rifle until last October when Bill Hocker loaned me a rifle and the ammo to shoot in a 600 yard match. The rest is a blur. I immediately started the process of having a .308 bolt action rifle built that would be suitable for 600-1000 yard competitions and specifically Palma matches. I eventually took ownership of that rifle and then acquired yet another from a retiring competitor in an opportunity that was just too good to pass up. Five months after that initial match, I was completely off the deep end and had the gear and reloading tools to prove it. Two 1000 yard matches in Tullahoma, TN and I was good to go for the national team.
I loaded the car with all my gear including my supportive wife and headed to Blakely, GA on a sunny, hot weekend in late June. I had no idea what I was in for. Once I found the range, a sprawling facility called the American International Marksmanship Facility, I soon learned that I would be shooting with just six others that day. All with pedigrees and accomplishments of the highest order. Mark DelCotto (almost won Camp Perry last summer) made the drive from Kentucky and Shane Barnhart (has won Camp Perry) brought some pals from the AMU at nearby Ft Benning. I knew Cindy Forshee from previous smallbore comps and she shared a firing point with me.
Emil Praslick (coach of the U.S. team) ran the audition and John Whidden and Steve Hardin (Palma team members) coached the shooters and made the windage adjustments with Praslick. The program consisted of 100 shots for record over five strings. No pit duty. Temps in mid-90’s and I am told there was a 6 minute variable wind, whatever that means. That does translate to 60 inches of movement from a zero condition. The black at 1000 yards is 44 inches. Steve was my wind coach and seemed to make windage settings on almost every shot. When he felt it was time, your target number and name is called and you are encouraged to release a shot within five seconds. The target is lowered, marked, raised and the process repeats itself.
I was only scored on elevation. A grid system is utilized after taking digital photos of your targets. Each string is clearly defined as different colored pasters are used for each group of 20 shots. Points are assigned for each shot (for example, 0, 1, 2, etc) based on elevation displacement from center and then totaled. A crossfire X is still a perfect shot. I know because I had 2. Having never cross fired before, I now have joined the fraternity. Really happy I waited until now to learn that skill. Very embarrassing especially since there were only three targets to select from. Mine was in the middle. The mirage was intense; I really had trouble just finding the three targets after each shot fired. The number boards were high above the targets so it was pretty easy to misalign coming down.
Did I mention that it was 95 degrees in South Georgia with gnats crawling across your cornea while aiming? Highpower matches are very educational. I picked up some new foul language to use listening to the conversations all day and learned that smallbore is for the less than masculine. At least that’s what I was told. Interestingly, all the good highpower shooters I met are accomplished smallbore marksmen. The good news is that let me wear a shirt, sweater and canvas/leather coat while shooting in the heat and humidity. The IV pole the medics set up didn’t interfere very much and kept me conscious for most of the try-out.
I began with some usual nervousness, settled down, and did quite well until string 4 of 5. The aperture in my 30 mm front sight has a bar that extends from each side of the circle. During the fourth string, the bar started turning and ended up vertical. Shots were off call and I was very frustrated. I should have stopped and surveyed the situation, but my thinking was generally clouded and I just kept going. My entire arm was numb and the sensation extended all the way to my brain. When I got up, the Centra aperture was very loose in its housing. John Whidden was kind enough to fix it for me as it is different than what I know from my smallbore sights. I then shot very well on the last string of the day despite being completely spent so I ended on a positive note. The drive home was another hazy blur with a complex mix of satisfaction and frustration. I slept very well that night.
They wasted no time. I received an email from Emil Praslick the following day informing me that I missed the cut-off by just “8 points”. He sent a document listing the points for each string. The dreaded fourth was indeed a bad one. Can you believe they counted all the shots? How fair is that?
Since starting this pursuit last fall, I am often told that Highpower is mostly populated by knuckle-dragging Neanderthals. Well, it was a great experience and I felt good about hanging in there with the Super Neanderthals. I feel as if I earned my first primate fur. It’s a good thing that pain and misery have short memories because why would anyone go back for more.