Last updated on November 15th, 2017 at 06:38 am
9-Day Shooting Odyssey 2017
Part 2: Midwest Palma Championship
20 years ago, Earl Liebetrau had a dream. He believed that if he ran a week of Palma matches in Wisconsin during the summer, serious shooters would come from all over the country to compete. Despite the many naysayers who thought it couldn’t work, Earl convinced the Winnequah Gun Club to let him try. Now in it’s 18th year, Midwest Palma has grown into one of the premier long-range matches in the US, and shooters from all over the country make the trip every year.
The MWP format is pretty simple; a four-person team Palma match on Monday, 3 individual Palma matches on Tuesday through Thursday, and 3 20-shot 1000-yard matches on Friday to finish out the week. There are also 2-person team matches, and a 1200-yard individual match that take place in the afternoons after the individual matches are completed. The grand aggregate is a total of 1950 possible points, which makes the MWP one of the largest agg matches in the country. With 4 full days of competition, the “luck factor” is mostly removed from the equation, and the best shooters who shoot the most consistently tend to rise to the top.
The 2017 Midwest Palma Championship was the first to be fired on Winnequah’s recently installed Silver Mountain electronic target system. With the elimination of pit duty for shooters, the matches moved very quickly, and everyone got a “rest relay” for each match or yard line. I found this to be a very pleasant change of pace, and found that I didn’t miss pulling targets in the midday sun at all, not to mention the rain.
Monday’s team match had a high turnout as usual, with 11 sling teams facing off for the top score. My friends and I on the US National Rifle Team’s squad coached by “Wind Guru” Bob Mead were looking to win this match for the 4th consecutive year. The coaches had their work cut out for them, as is often the case at Winnequah. Coach Mead read the conditions masterfully, but the 4-peat was just not in the cards for us. As it turned out, Norm Crawford’s team from the Carolinas rode junior phenom Adam Fitzpatrick’s match-leading score to the team victory. Our national team would have to settle for 2nd place this year, just 2 points back. It was a heartbreaker, but we will regroup and try again next year. Meanwhile, the Lite Holder team of Gabe Stauffer, Ricky Hunt, Steve Knutson, and Steve Clark took 3rd under the capable coaching of the world’s best gunsmith Randy Gregory.
On Tuesday morning the individual agg began with the first individual Palma match. The weather did not cooperate, and rain came and went all day long. There was something like 5 total rain delays, which kept shooters on the line until past 4 o’clock. I believe the e-targets really earned their keep that day, as I am pretty certain that this match would not have been able to be completed using conventional targets. Pretty much everybody got wet, but good scores were still shot. Carolina’s Keith Hoverstad and Louisiana’s John Rhynard shot matching 448-23x scores, with the tiebreaker going to Keith for the daily win. 447’s a-plenty were next, with legendary stock maker Steve McGee posting the best one with 29 X’s. The Palma Alliance continued it’s string of strong showings, with Jay Johnson, Brian Mrnak, and myself also managing 47’s to stay in the hunt. Kent Weigel’s 448-25x pulled the rug out from under from Bob “Seabiscuit” Sebold in F-Open, while Ken Klemm‘s 441-12x was a full 4 points ahead of 2nd place David Zaffke.
Wednesday’s forecast was much more accommodating, and warm temperatures, calm winds and sunshine prevailed all day. Adam Fitzpatrick took full advantage of the conditions and proceeded to win the day by shooting his first perfect Palma score, a 450-22x. My 449-29x was good enough for 2nd, and Palma Alliance co-founder Steve “Newt” Knutson was right on my heels at 449-25x. Seabiscuit took the F-Open win, his 445-23 topping Jim Bauer by a single X. Ken Klemm repeated in FTR, his 439-16x adding points to his lead. With no weather delays, the electronic targets had the Palm match over by 12:45, and the first 1000-yard 2-man team match starting at 1:15. The NSSC Blue team of Keith Hoverstad and new Palma Alliance member Vinnie Sfererazza were the top sling team of 21 present. Seabiscuit Sebold and Dwayne Dragoo won the f-class match against 2 other teams.
Tuesday’s weather came back with a vengeance on Thursday, as match staff did their best to get everyone through the match. The Liebetraus kept a close eye on the weather radar, and tried to time relays to miss the rain as much as possible. Despite their best efforts, Mother Nature had other plans for us. Some relays got it worse than others, but I’d say we all got it at some point during the day. Wisconsin’s own Steve Clark Took top honors for the day with his excellent score of 447-23x, just shy of the NRA 448 Club. Steve has been shooting like a man possessed for the last several years, and I have no doubt he will be able to check the 448 box soon. Newt had another solid showing, taking second for the day, with US Team hopeful Steffen Bunde rounding out the top 3. Bob Sebold was top again in F-Open, but this time Charles Hayes upset Ken Klemm for the Thursday agg. Thursday’s match wrapped up the 3-day Palma agg, and Palma Alliance Captain Brian “Short Pants” Mrnak finished on top. Brian shot excellent scores all week, but more importantly, he was consistent. Averaging just over 445 per match, Brian kept his head on straight through the last shot to finish strong.
Despite the 2 days of rain, the wind had stayed pretty quiet and manageable so far. I know from personal experience that it isn’t true, but I was starting to think that first-time visitors from other parts of the country might leave thinking that Winnequah was an easy range. My worry was for nothing, as Friday turned out to be the day that she would show her teeth. Pick-ups, let-offs, and switches all showed up to play their Lodi games for the last day of the agg. Shooters lucky enough to be squadded on the relatively calm first relay of the day managed some high scores, but their confidence quickly faded as the winds came up. Of the 88 shooters present, not a single 200 was fired in either sling or F-Class. That’s 264 attempts without a clean. Local boy Marky Mark Liebetrau once again put his decades of Winnequah experience to work to take the 1000-yard aggregate. Mark is always a factor in this match, and I believe that the Winnequah winds whisper secrets to him that the rest of us can’t hear. I have learned that if I am squadded near Mark, sometimes the best wind reading strategy is just to wait and shoot whenever he does. 2015 under-25 World Champion Waylon “Ducky” Burbach was just 2 points behind for 2nd place, and Adam Fitzpatrick made his presence known again with his 3rd place finish.
Having no rain delays meant the match was again over at a reasonable time, which gave Karin and Scotty 2 Hotty time to get to work on tabulating the final scores. Marky Mark took 13 sling and 3 f-class shooters back to the 1200-yard line for more play time in the wind. Norm Crawford and his scoped .284 Shehane won the 1200-yard sling match for the 2nd year running, while Bob Mead fired the top F-Class score.
On Friday evening, shooters gathered at the Winnequah indoor range building for the annual MWP Awards Banquet. Good food was served, and top-notch prizes from match sponsors were drawn for. After a full week of shooting, everyone was ready to relax and find out who had won. MC Steve Suhr made his way through the smaller awards before announcing young Waylon Burbach as the 2017 Midwest Palma Champion. Waylon is not exactly an old man, but he has been shooting on this range longer than most present. He stayed pretty quiet all week, but was in the hunt in every match, and didn’t make any mental errors to take himself out of it. Waylon has come close several times, but this is his first MWP title, and he earned it. Not surprisingly, Bob Sebold was the top F-Open gun for the week, and Ken Klemm finished with the FTR win.
As always, the Midwest Palma Championship was a great match. Karin, Earl, Marky Mark, Scotty 2 Hotty, Kevin, Kyle, and anyone else with the last name of “Liebetrau” worked behind the scenes to make it all happen. Steve Suhr and his lovely assistants Sharon Sekellick and Rita Nash kept the line moving like a Swiss watch. Daniel Chisholm from SMT was on hand all week to deal with any tech issues. We all missed getting yelled at by Johnny in the pits and on the bus, but I am sure he was happy to not have to stand out in the sun and rain all week for the first time in years. I can’t imagine the amount of work it takes to make a match like this work, but these people pull it off every year. My thanks go out to all of them, and everyone else who was involved that I don’t know. I can’t wait to do it again next year!