2018 DCRA Canadian Fullbore National Championships • Connaught Rifle Range • Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
2018 marks the 150thanniversary of the Dominion of Canada Rifle Association. The DCRA is Canada’s sanctioning body for many competitive shooting disciplines, including Target Rifle and F-Class. Every year, the Connaught range hosts the Canadian Fullbore Championship, which is the Canadian equivalent of the US NRA’s Long Range Nationals.
2018 is also a selection year for the US Palma Team, and 16 shooters will have the honor and privilege of representing the USA at the 2019 Long Range World Championships next February in New Zealand. Roughly 30 members of the US National Rifle Team were invited by team brass to shoot the DCRA Fullbore this year, and these matches would be used as a sort of final evaluation before the Palma team is selected. Though these matches would be an “official” evaluation, shooters in the USNRT program are always being evaluated. The process for making it onto a Palma team is a long one, and it isn’t easy. Making it onto the 2019 team has been my personal goal since 2013, so I felt very fortunate to receive one of those 30 invitations. While an invitation did not guarantee selection, it did mean that you were still in consideration.
Mia and I decided to break the 18 hour drive into 2 easier days, and arrived in Ottawa on Thursday, 8/16. With the official matches starting on Sunday, this gave us a couple of days to relax and see the area a bit before settling into the 8 days of shooting coming up. My lovely wife has always been more than a good sport about this kind of trip, so I try to make sure that we do something besides shooting when she comes along. This time we spent our 2 free days sightseeing and canoeing in downtown Ottawa.
There was a series of warm-up matches held on Friday afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday morning, and our American squad was represented very well. USNRT members Adrian Harris, Justin Skaret, Ray Gross, Trudie Fay, Mark DelCotto and John Field all collected awards, with John Field winning the Champlain Trophy - the aggregate of all of the warm up matches. With the warm-ups completed, the grand aggregate kicked off after lunch on Sunday afternoon.
The DCRA nationals consist of various prone matches at distances ranging from 300 yards to 900 meters. Hired target pullers are included in the match fees, so competitors are not required to pull targets at all. On most days, shooters would fire 4 matches of between 7 and 15 shots each at various ranges. Squadding times are very specific, and matches start ON TIME. If your scorecard shows an 8:41 am start time, your prep period will be over and the match will be starting precisely at 8:41. All matches are fired 2 or 3-to-the-mound, which means that up to 3 shooters will all be set up next to each other on the same firing point talking turns shooting and scoring for each other. In a 3-to-the-mound format, the shooter on the right fires his or her shot first while the left shooter records the score. The center shooter is getting ready while the right shooter shoots, as he will shoot next as soon as the right shooter’s score is recorded. Each shooter has 45 seconds from the scoring of the last shot to take their own shot. This is considerably different from our normal prone shooting style in the US, and places considerably more weight on wind-reading skills. With 3-shooters rotating, it is not unusual to have 2 minutes or more elapse between shots, so conditions can and will change.
This format required me to make a few changes to my shooting process. I normally shoot pretty fast, and can shoot very fast if the conditions warrant it. Under anything close to normal conditions, I will keep the rifle in my shoulder and remain in position for the entire string. Not having to rebuild my position between shots is part of what lets me shoot fast, and I’ve shot some good scores as a result of exposing myself to fewer condition changes. This style of shooting is just not practical with multiple shooters per target, and trying to remain in position for 30 minutes or more is not going to be a recipe for success for most shooters, myself included. Also, having to record the scores of another shooter between shots requires at least a small break of position anyways, so might as well take the rifle out and relieve some of the strain on the left arm. I also decided to plot my shots for these matches, which I do not normally do. With the extended times between shots, having a record of where I was at was pretty critical for making good wind calls. In some of the Long Range strings, I made changes of up to 5 MOA between shots. Making changes of this magnitude can be a little hard to swallow, but being able to see the trends and results of previous calls/shots made it easier to handle, and my calls worked out *most* of the time. I normally only get to shoot one fullbore-style match per year, so getting an extra 8 days of it was really a lot of fun, and great for honing wind skills.
With our 30-plus shooters in attendance, the USNRT had a very strong showing in all of the individual events. The Governor General’s final match is made up of the top 50 shooters in the aggregate, and the USA held 21 of those spots. Americans also took the top 3, with Brandon Green, Ben Cleland, and Trudie Fay winning the gold, silver, and bronze medals, and Green being “chaired” off the range by teammates as champion. This is an accomplishment that very few Americans can claim, and Brandon definitely earned that ride with exceptional shooting all week long.
The USA also did extremely well in the team matches. In Tuesday’s Coaches Team match, 7 of the top-10 2-person teams were ours, including all of the top 4. Lane Buxton Coached John Field and Curt Gordon to an awesome score of 100-14v to take that trophy. In Thursday’s Outlander 8-person team match, the USA’s 2 squads took first and 2ndplace in a hotly contested 7-team match. Friday’s Canada Match saw 8-person teams square off at the 300, 500, and 600 yard lines. Team USA’s 1194-139v score again topped the field, and set a new record for the match on the ICFRA targets. Also on Friday, team USA got to witness John Whidden win the Gatineau cup in a dramatic sudden death shoot off. John has won the USA’s NRA Long Range Championship several times, and knows how to handle pressure.
The Commonwealth Match was on the schedule for Saturday, pitting teams of 12 shooters against each other for one of the largest format team matches outside of the World Championship Palma Match. In this match, each team has 3 4-person squads shooting at the same time on 3 adjacent targets. Each squad has a line coach directly interfacing with their 4 shooters. The line coaches, along with back coaches and a head coach are all wired together with communications gear to best communicate wind observations and strategy. The 12 shooters, 6 coaches, and 3 plotters are all working together to maximize the team performance; which in this match would be a possible team score of 1200. The logistics involved in a match of this size are daunting, and it’s a great practice run for the Palma Team match coming up in NZ next year. On this day, the US came up just short. The match couldn’t have been any closer, our 3rdplace score of 1181-116v was only 1 point and 12 V’s behind the excellent Great Britain team (1182-128v), and just 8 V’s behind the Canadian home team (1181-124v) in 2nd. It was a disappointing finish for the US team, but the Brits were bent on revenge after suffering a devastating loss of their own earlier in the week. Brian Mrnak and I fought back the best efforts of throwing members Martin Liversage and Simon Osmond to claim the International Bean Bag Toss championship for the USA! It was a glorious victory, and the love and support we got from all of the folks back home after the win was truly humbling. Even with this great championship locked down, we know that we can’t rest on our laurels. I have no doubt that the Brits will be training hard, and we look forward to the bag toss rematch down in NZ!
On Saturday evening, the prize giving ceremony was held with numerous beautiful and historic trophies being awarded to winning shooters and teams. The DCRA staff does a masterful job of running the ceremony, and everything went off without a hitch.
Sunday was the last day of matches at Connaught, and for the US team it was the most important day. The America Match is traditionally held every 2 years, and the location alternates between Connaught and The NRA’s Whittington Center range in Raton, NM. Team Captain Norm Anderson had made this match a very high priority for this trip, and great care went into selecting the team to maximize the chances of winning. The America Match is also one of only a very few team matches in the world where US shooters can earn points towards the NRA’s International Distinguished Rifleman Badge, a distinction that fewer than 100 shooters have earned. This is another 8-person team match with each team having 2 4-person squads firing concurrently on 2 separate targets. Each shooter fires 60 record shots; 15 each at 300 & 600 yards, and 800 & 900 meters.
The day kicked off at 300 yards, on the tricky ICFRA target. The large aiming black of this particular target has caused fits for US shooters in the past, and a lot of work has gone into improving on that unpleasant piece of history. The conditions were mild, with overcast skies threatening rain in the near future. The excellent Brit team made the most of the favorable winds, losing only 3 points out of their 120 shots. The USA didn’t give up much ground losing 4, while Canada was another point back down 5. The West Indies squad was a bit further back, but their members had been making great strides all week with scores improving every day.
The skies were even more threatening as the teams settled in at the 600-yard line, but although the winds picked up speed, the rain held off again aside from some brief drizzles. The Team USA shooters and coaching staff worked brilliantly together, losing only a single point between all 8 shooters. The Canadians lost 3, while the Brits dropped 7 to move into 3rdplace for the day. West Indies remained in 4thplace, but cut their point loss by a third at 600 compared to 300. With the match at the midway point, everyone settled in for lunch while the target pullers took their required break. This also gave the Under 25 America Match to get caught up, as they were firing the 800 & 900-meter stages while the adults fired the short lines.
The winds were up higher still at 800, but the skies stayed dry again. The US team kept the hammer down, winning their 2ndconsecutive yard line of the match losing only 3 points. The Canadians were 2ndagain, and their 5 points lost kept them in 2ndoverall with the Brits losing 8. That left the US down 8 so far for the match, Canada down 14, and GB down 18. The West Indies had fallen further behind, but were still giving it their all in unfamiliar conditions. With the winds picking up yet again and the skies looking more ominous than ever, those 10 points between first and third didn’t seem like much at all…
The rain was imminent as we moved back to 900. Winds were in the 5-8 MOA range, and decisions had to be made as to how best handle the weather condition. The Team USA brass decided to try to get all 8 shooters through before the rain hit, and it worked, if only by a few minutes. As our last shooter finished, the team scrambled to get gear off the line and covered before the skies opened. The US’s 13 points lost for the stage seemed good for the condition, but we’d have to wait for the other teams to finish to see how things shook out. With plenty of time remaining on the clock, all 3 of the remaining squads chose to wait out the rain, rather than shoot through it. They were rewarded with a much calmer wind condition when it was over, and all 3 got to work getting their remaining shooters finished up. The Brits showed off their world-class wind coaching by winning the 900 only down 12, and 30 off for the day. Canada was close behind at 900 down 15, and their 29 points for the day was good enough for 2ndplace (2371-271v), just a single point over the GB team’s 2370-271v. The USA’s team score of 2379-278v topped the match, bringing the America trophy back home where it belongs. Worth noting from the 900-meter match, Great Britain shooter Jon Underwood fired a perfect 75-15v to close out the day for the GB team. This is pretty incredible, as both the shooter and coach need to execute flawlessly through 15 shots to even have a remote chance of this happening. Well done gents, well done.
Meanwhile, on the other end of Connaught Range, the US kids were putting on a clinic in the U25 version of the America Match. Young Trey Frigugglietti coached the 5-shooter squad to a decisive 13-point victory over 2ndplace Great Britain, with the Canadians tied for score with the Brits, but with fewer V’s. Trey kept Adam Fitzpatrick clean all day to finish with a remarkable score of 300-38v – the only clean score fired of the match. The US victories by the U25 and adult team in the America Match earned all team members 10 points towards the aforementioned International Distinguished badge. Those 10 points were enough for Adam Fitzpatrick, Lane Buxton, and Kevin Nevius complete their quests for the badge. Congrats to all on this achievement.
Another awards ceremony was held after the America Match with medals for the winning teams. The team captains from the 4 countries made speeches, exchanged gifts, and the GB team presented a beautiful print of Canada House to the DCRA as recognition of their 150thanniversary. Canada House is the DCRA’s headquarters at the Bisley Range in Great Britain. There is a lot of competitive shooting history between these countries, and it was great too be able to see this exchange.
The DCRA ran a flawless match, definitely a world-class operation. All of their staff was friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable, led by the inimitable Kath Corcoran. Kath seemingly never stops working, and will do anything she can to help any shooter, regardless of status, or country of origin. She is truly a friend of the shooting sports, someone give this woman a raise!
Overall, this was one of the best shooting trips I have been on. With the level of shooters present, I wanted to finish in the top 10%, and my 15thplace out of 220 shooters accomplished that goal. The atmosphere among the US team members was as good as I’ve ever seen, with no conflicts at all. Everyone from the legends of the sport down to the regular guys like me got along perfectly. Lots of information and advice was exchanged, and getting to hear the thoughts of shooters like Brandon Green and John Whidden on various shooting topics was priceless. I’d love to shoot with this group again; hopefully I’ll get the chance next February in New Zealand.
After 5 years of working toward this singular goal, it feels a little surreal to know that the evaluation process is now over. I’ve given it my best efforts, and there’s nothing more to do to try to earn a spot on this team. In the coming days or weeks, the 2019 Palma Team roster will be announced, and then the real work will begin…