On July 15th & 16th, Gopher Rifle and Revolver Club in Harris, MN hosted a greatly anticipated US National Rifle Team Tryout. The USNRT is the developmental program for the US Palma Team, which represents the USA at the World Long Range Championship matches held every 4 years around the globe. There has not been a USNRT tryout in the upper Midwest since 2014, and in that time, the list of eager candidates has grown substantially.
This year, the US National Rifle Team Tryout pool consisted of 12 talented shooters from 6 different states. All present were proven shooters capable of match-winning scores. While half were from Minnesota and the surrounding states of Wisconsin and Iowa, the remaining 6 came in from Idaho, Colorado, and the great state of Texas. Interest was high, and the 12 available tryout slots filled up quickly, with a waiting list also collecting names. US National Team coaches Bob Mead, Ricky Hunt, and Steve Knutson were on hand to manage the wind conditions and evaluate shooters based on their ability and general disposition. In addition to the 3 coaches, USNRT shooter Brian Mrnak was there to tryout again – this time as a coach. Brian coached the tryout shooters along with the other 3, giving us 4 coaches for the weekend. With the 4 coaches and 12 shooters, we were able to structure the tryout like a regular 3-relay match. Shooters rotated between shooting, plotting, and pulling targets throughout the weekend.
The tryout was conducted in the standard USNRT format, with each shooter firing 6 20-shot strings for record from the 1000-yrd line. During these strings, the shooter is responsible only for holding elevation, while the coaches dial the wind. In a coached event like this, shooters really do not even need to bring a spotting scope to the line, though many still choose to.
While the shooting aspect of the tryout is similar to any coached team match, the scoring system is quite different. The actual “score” is mostly meaningless; all that matters is how well the shooter holds elevation. In this event, low scores are what you want, and points are a bad thing. Any shot that lands within the height of the X-ring is worth zero points, regardless of where it falls on the target. A shot that lands on the water line in the 7-ring is just as good as a pinwheel X; both are worth zero. Shots landing outside the X-ring height, but within the height of the 10-ring are worth 1 point. For perspective, a shooter could theoretically shoot a 200-0x and still lose 20 elevation points if all of the 10’s were high or low. As things get further out, 9-ring height shots are worth 3 points, and high and low 8’s are worth 5 each.
Over the 120-shot tryout, a shooter needs to finish with 48 points or less for the weekend to be considered for the team. As each shooter needs to average 8 points or less per string to make the cut, elevation 8’s and 9’s can really hurt. All of the shooters present for this tryout were definitely capable of these sorts of numbers, but not all would produce them this time around. Team shooting places a different sort of pressure on a shooter than individual matches, and it can take some getting used to. Also, the idea of shooting entirely for the purpose of having your skill level evaluated can be an intimidating prospect.
On Saturday, the heat was sweltering, with temps near 90º and high humidity. The wind was fairly strong and gusty, coming mainly from the west. Windage knobs got a good workout while the coaches worked to keep shots in the middle. The early relays got a taste of the dark targets that GRRC is known for at certain times of day. Some struggled with the light conditions, while others managed to make it work. As coach Knutson pointed out to shooters at the end of the weekend; “If you go overseas to shoot a major championship as part of the USNRT, you will be expected to shoot in the dark, in the rain, in the heat, in whatever condition there is.” I thought this was a great point, and one worth remembering. Being prepared for adverse conditions is a part of the sport.
On Sunday, the wind was down somewhat from the previous day, and it was much cooler. Everyone arrived in good spirits, and the Day 1 jitters seemed to be all but gone. As the guy responsible for collecting the plot sheets, I could see that scores improved for almost everyone on Day 2. All firing was wrapped up at around 3pm, and the shooters mingled while the staff gathered to go over plot sheets and target faces to come up with scores. At the end of it all, local boys Matt Griffin and Philip Klanderud had made the cut, along with Jerry Iliff of Texas, and Adrian Harris of Colorado. Several other shooters were very close to the magic number of 48, and all were encouraged to keep working and attend another tryout in the future. I’d like to personally congratulate Matt, Philip, Jerry, and Adrian for making the team, and I look forward to shooting with these gentlemen down the road.
I think that events like this are a great first step in getting more people interested in team shooting. Spending 2 days shooting under coaches of this skill level can be a real eye-opening experience. An open-minded shooter can really learn a lot from the years of experience these men bring. Beyond that, bringing shooters together from all over the country for a weekend like this can be a great team-building experience in itself.
This tryout was definitely a team effort, and it could not have happened without the efforts of a lot of different people.
Thanks to the coaches for giving their time, and to Bill Lair for spending the whole weekend keeping the pits running like a Swiss watch. Steve Naumann was at the range all weekend helping with whatever was needed, as he always does. Steve is probably the single most valuable asset that GRRC has, and a lot of things just wouldn’t happen at all without his hard work. Drew Rutherford drove 7 hours from ND just to lend a hand on Saturday, and he isn’t even a Palma shooter. Drew is a really good FTR shooter, and one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. His willingness to help out a different discipline says a lot about his character, and he is a great ambassador to the shooting sports. GRRC Club volunteers also helped with pit duty on Saturday.
Lastly, thanks to all of the shooters for making the trip to GRRC. We hope to host more of these in the future, and we plan to learn from your feedback how we can make the experience even better next time.
US National Rifle Team
Click HERE for more information on U.S. Long Range Rifle Teams.