Tuesday, January 01, 2013
New Year's Eve "Belly Gunning"
I'm not really much of a prone shooter. My competitive focus in the shooting sports tends towards Service Rifle -- the hunt for "leg points" -- and tactical precision matches that help hone my understanding of unknown distance shooting. But on New Year's Eve each year I take to my "belly" and assume the position to participate in the fine sport of Any/Any Mid-Range competition. Truth be told, I do this more to have a day hanging out enjoying the company of friends and the heckling we subject each other to. It is the music to my ears that a good New Year's Eve party should be.
It's usually bitter cold for these 600 yard matches. It's the rainy season in what passes for winter in California. 2012 did not disappoint in the need to wear one's long undies and feather filled jackets. It wouldn't be December 31st if one did not see gray skies and hear the crunching of ice under the tires driving into the range. At 2,600 feet altitude in Southern California, there usually isn't snow. What there is is freezing wind coming from the snow covered mountains chilling the air at a good 10 to 12 miles per hour. Ice stays ice. It adds to the ambiance and tests one's down filled clothing fashion sense; the more field savvy arrive in classic Filson's oil garb.
The gun rack is a multicolor display filled with Eliseo tube guns in a bright livery of color reminiscent of jelly beans. This is the land of the NRA high-power rules compliant boomstick. The tactical rifles with their recoil managing muzzle breaks and eye busy measuring reticle optics are left at home. Plain ended barrels and simple crosshairs are what you need for this game. Joining the gathering of tube guns here and there are the wooden stocked glass bedded rifles and this year even a Euro fantastic target rifle that costs more than a Toyota.
My gun of choice is a classic. An old 1970's Winchester Model 70 target rifle originally made by one time US Team Captain gunsmith Creighton Audette in the hey day of these guns as the match rifle of choice. I admired and envied those that had them when I was young and snagged mine about seven years ago from someone who had shot his example too little. This particular rifle was purpose built to perform with surgical precision, a fact I have tested to be true numerous times seeing how easily one can pick which leg of the letter X to target at 200 yards and hit it with near perfect control. It's been updated with an adjustable cheek piece by master sprinkler of competition rifle holy water, Doan Trevor. Looking over Audette's handiwork, Doan also told me not to mess with the gun's perfectly lapped Hart barrel until, well, ever. It now sports a 6-24X Vortex fine crosshair dot scope replacing the boat anchor heavy 15X Unertl Varmint that was its original 1970's topper, POSA bases and all. Repeating, this is the better and cheaper Vortex not the so-called "tacticool" ones. A Weaver T is the classic scope for this application where you set the knobs during the sighting shots and hold for wind the rest of the string. A new set of irons with the latest adjustable everything's completes the ensemble for the compulsories of Regional or Palma matches.
The group I shoot with is smothered in High Masters who make simple work of shooting out the centers of the targets over and over. Winning scores at these "club matches" run into the 599-40X. My once per annum appearances put me in the lowly Expert class in the NRA competition divisions record keeping computers. Still, I try to get better at it every time I shoot and my goal has always been to shoot a "walk on" Master score on New Year's Eve.
And so into this adventure I arrived with my gun and an ammo can of carefully hand loaded ammunition; your basic 168gr Sierra Match King over 44.5gr of Varget seated to 2.800 l.o.a. if you are curious. I tend to like middle of the road rounds that deliver delightfully tiny standard deviations on the chronograph. These particular ones said 6 fps when I tested them; yes that is an amazingly good batch.
Mid-Range matches at the Burbank Rifle and Revolver Club (BRRC) are a 60-shot 3x600 yard affair with each stage having unlimited sighters and 20 shots for record in a time limit of 30 minutes. The objective is simple; put every bullet into a teacup sized X ring. Complex wind patterns in the BRRC canyon invariably conspire to prevent this from happening. It is normal for each wind flag to point in a different direction and for the mirage to agree with none of them; and it always shifts the moment you put your head down into the sights. We call this "fun".
Stage one was COLD and shifty. I hadn't fired this gun since testing the ammo in March and I wasn't sure if the scope was sitting at a 200 or 600 yard zero. The elevation and windage knobs were at zero but the parallax knob was at 600. The notebook containing the required information was of course sitting safely on the desk at my office where I had used it to transcribe data just before the last tactical match. FML. Adapt, overcome, prevail. The first sighter shot impacting in the berm below the target but generally good on windage confirmed the BZO was the former so up we come 11 MOA to get on paper. Bang. The target comes down reassuringly and a shot spotter turns up in the lower quadrant of the paper where its supposed to. Up 2 1/2 and left 2 MOA and we are in the 10 ring. Left 2 clicks more and the X marker shows up. Fire again to make sure the same hold and pressure on the stock goes in the same place. Call for record. Twenty rounds later and a few wind shifts that slipped by me I had a 189-5X on the score sheet. Off comes the shooting coat and back on comes my down parka. I'm happy. That's not bad for a rifle I haven't fired in competition in over three years.
It's a four relay match so my next turn doesn't happen for another hour and a half. I take another turn being line officer -- we trade the job around -- and use the time to gossip with the score keepers. The topics range from the what's the best combination of base color and top coat to paint one's tube rifle so it will blind one's opponents utterly -- Gary Eliseo says a good choice is fuschia with metal flake with a clear coat to add depth but you'd better be shooting high master scores all the time to back it up -- all the way to getting tips from an 11 year old on how to win when playing "Call of Duty" online. When you need to now about the art of the kill streak, ask a pro. Heckling centers around reminding service rifle shooters using optics that the knobs turn in the opposite directions and no amount of muttering Hogwarts spells under one's breath will change that.
My turn at stage two comes at last. It's warmer now. The sun is shining on the firing line and it really helps one's shooting. Kumbaya! I'm also now realizing that the work I've done all year to improve my slow prone shooting with the AR-15 in Across The Course matches combined with the gingerly sensitive holds one has to use to connect with smallish tactical rifle targets has remarkably positive influence on one's belly gunning potential. I spend most of the time this string getting perfect NPA's and identical cheek tension on the gun. The wind's picked up a minute but that also means it's shifting less so the hold off in the scope is much smaller. The annoying part of this string is that I get about a half dozen duds rounds. Noticeably light strikes. Not sure why. On my list to check the firing pin protrusion and cocking piece clearances. Still, the guys remarked I never flinched on any of those duds. I think that's a compliment. Despite the annoyance, I'd managed a 194-8X for the string.
Back to running the line and bantering. It's getting well into the afternoon and daylight is short in BRRC's canyon. The targets go into shadow well before 4:00pm and I'm on the 4th and final relay so I'm beginning to think about shooting into a cold, dark tunnel. The timeline does not waver from this prediction and when my turn at my firing point at last returns the 600 yard targets are in the full shadow of a New Year's Eve setting sun. Thank goodness I'm shooting Any/Any with a big light gathering objective scope. The preparation period rewards me with a good clear picture; the kind of light one hopes for waiting for the deer to meander by after a long day in a blind. Sunset also means a pause in the wind and the flags are now wafting gently; the air swirling softly at around 2 miles per hour. It's X count weather! I switched to another box of ammo based on Lake City LR cases instead of the once fired Federals I had been using hoping the duds would not persist. It was a good move. First sighter 1 MOA to the right. Correct windage. Fire again and it's in the X. Call for record. The zen of a string of fire with perfect cadence staying in touch with the wind is like playing a perfect solo with a fine musical instrument. It just feels right as 10's and X's slip effortlessly into the target. Twenty rounds later I had shot a 196-11X not knowing or caring about it until after I had reinserted my empty chamber indicator and meandered over to look at the scoresheet. Breaking the magic 50 percent X's is always the sign of being as one with the gun; something to smile about when it happens.
Tally for the day was a 579-24X; nowhere near enough to win around the BRRC crowd but that's still a 96.5% to go into my NRA Competition Division log records. Yippee do! I got my "walk on" Master score. Not a bad way to end the year. Certainly worth penning into a blog while enjoying a cup of coffee.
Happy New Year!