America Match Day.
The early morning mist has risen
Up climbs the golden sun
And underneath an azure sky
The marksman loads his gun.
OK, so poetry is not your scribe’s strong point! In fairness, a young schoolboy enjoying his first season of target rifle shooting penned it 5 decades ago.
Time to set aside the elation of yesterday evening following the outstanding performance by our Under 25 teams, and the disappointment of the GB Veteran’s 2nd place after a well-fought match.
Today’s diary is being penned “on the hoof”, or “as live” as the media might describe it; though of course by the time you read this the events that are about to unfold shall be history. This approach is taken in part to give a feel for events as they unfold, but also for the practical reason that there will not be time to put a report together between the end of the match and the expected 2 hour formal evening prize giving in the range complex auditorium! As this event does not come with refreshments, time to wash, change and eat, time will again be tight. It is indeed fortunate that our team includes a fair number of “modern men” who are happy to exercise their culinary skills; indeed our team armourer produces some very fine omelettes!
Today’s early routine follows familiar lines:
Load vans at 0705; depart from accommodation 0715; arrive range complex 0730; make way with kit to 300 yards firing point via buggy, tractor pulled trolleys, or foot; 15 min team exercise warm up from 0750; move kit to allocated targets following draw at 0815; set up coaching communications, check rifle sight settings, erect large British flag on 20ft pole; work hard at chilling out and filling the waiting time; 5 min to “Colours” broadcast at 0850; 10 second countdown at 0855; Canon fired and several hundred competitors stand to face the daily flag raising ceremony (somewhere beyond the 1000 yard point half a mile away) while the USA national anthem is played over the speaker system (or not as is the case today due to some random breakdown in the electronics); teams called forward to fire fouling shots (“blow-offs”) as required at 0910.
The air is suddenly filled with the rapid fire of a hundred rifles being discharged from the standing or kneeling position towards the berm behind the target number boards. It is 0915 and teams can now move forward with rifles and equipment onto the firing point. The “preparation period” is announced. A brief GB team meeting is held to focus the whole team on the match ahead of us.
We have been on the range for 2 hours and breakfast seems (and feels) a distant memory. The tannoy system bursts into life again – “The firing line is ready…with one round load….”
Ahead of us is the longest one-day “course of fire” of any regular international match, with 15 shots to count at 300, 600, 900 and 1000 yards. The wind at match start is fresh to strong from between one and two o’clock and will challenge the wind coaching team, especially as we fall back to the longer distances. Rifle buffet from the wind gusts may also be a factor for the firers. Some fair weather cumulus has already bubbled up, causing significant changes in sighting picture as the targets move from sun to shade and back again. And so we commence the match.
Just 5 minutes into the match and an unexpected problem; James Watson is waiting on the point as second to fire when he suffers a mechanical failure of his rifle sling. He clears the point and Dave Armstrong as 3rd firer is called forward while the team armourer, Anton, works on a repair – expect the unexpected! We clear the point after 60 of the allocated 80 minutes, having dropped just 2 points (ex 600). A little surprised that USA dropped 11 points, and impressed that the Aussies “went clean”. Early days….
It’s now 1100 and the range control tower, water butt tables, portaloos and all teams and kit have fallen back to behind the 600 yard point. Five minutes later we get the call to move forward to the firing line with a 2 minute warning for the start of the “3 minute preparation period”. As we wait for the call to “load and commence”, the wind has abated to moderate/fresh in strength, whilst maintaining direction from between 1.30 and 2.30. The temperature is now in the low 20s and forecast to rise to the mid-20s. Humidity remains comfortable at around 65%. It is predominantly sunny with less than 10% scattered cloud. The atmosphere in our “camp” is one of quiet, settled organisation. Some of the initial tension that always precedes the first range has dissipated and the well-practiced team drills are kicking in. It’s 1120 and the match recommences….
Your scribe has just cleared the firing point as last man down and our team has completed this range in 45 minutes (including a number of ‘waits and rests’) with 35 minutes to spare. Indeed, the speed of the first 3 firers was impressive, as the 3 x 15 shot strings were complete in 30 minutes, due in no small part to the excellent performance of the markers in the “pits”, who took barely 2 seconds to mark each shot. Our team can be proud of its performance at this range with 75s all round and a team average of 9 Central or V bulls per firer. With the USA and the Aussies both dropping 5 points, GB has eased into a narrow 3-point lead; however, with another 1200 points to fight for at the longest ranges the match remains exceedingly close.
With a total of 10 teams competing the standings at the half way stage are GB (2 points off), Australia (5 off), South Africa (13 off), New Zealand (15 off), USA (16 off), Canada (24 off), Germany (42 off), West Indies (49 off), followed by Barbados and Japan.
There now follows a regulation 60-minute lunch break after the final shot at 600 yards. We find shade at the back of the range where most sample the lunch they prepared early in the morning before departure, or enjoy a snack from one of the two small food trailers. Our 2 team physiotherapists (Jackie and Zoe) continue to attend to our elite athletes to ensure all team members remain in top physical condition before battle recommences….
Our shoot at 900 yards was more deliberate using a little over an hour of the allocated 98 minutes. We “lost” a further 4 points from a possible 600 to be 6 off with one range to go. Our nearest opposition, Australia, lost 5 points to sit on 10 off. South Africa lie 3rd with 24 off. As usual, the match will likely be decided at the final 1000 yard distance.
Time now 1545, the move back from 900 to 1000 yards almost complete, with teams, equipment, score boards, officials and spectators tightly packed in the narrow band between the firing point assembly line and the road at the back of the range. The shadows are lengthening and we are past the heat of the day, though the wind shows no sign of moderating, remaining fresh in strength from 2 o’clock.
OK, it’s 1730, with Japan the only team left on the mound firing their final shots. The Aussies finished quickly. We took a little more time to avoid the extremes of wind strength and angle change; the result was a wind bracket of little more than 2 moa (minutes of angle) for most shooters. A solid team performance resulted in 9 “points lost” at 1000 yards with an overall 15 off on the day. This was 11 points clear of Australia, with South Africa 3rd and USA 4th. Canada came in 5th and New Zealand 6th. Match tension quickly dissipated to be replaced by a strange yet familiar mixture of fatigue and elation. This is the first time that USA has ever been beaten in the America Match on their home soil.
In the President’s Match, shot alongside, GB entered 2 teams of 4 under the same course of fire. Encouragingly, if our 2 x 4 man team’s scores were added together, the combined total would have placed them 2nd in our America Match, 2 points clear of Australia. Jon Tapster scored his first 300 in the President’s, whilst in the America match Parag and David Armstrong each recorded “possibles”. So, a solid foundation as we enter the World Long Range Individual and Team Championships tomorrow. Just a prize giving tonight and another opening ceremony tomorrow morning (on the range at 0730 again) before the first 800 yard shoot of the World Championships after lunch.
Bring it on!