My first trip to nationals was in 1995 for High Power, but in 1997 I made my first trek to Camp Perry by myself as a junior to compete in the smallbore championships. Looking back 20 years, it amazes me that I have kept with these sports – but they have really helped shape who I am as an individual today. Not only an employee, husband and father but MOST of my day-to-day friends come from the shooting sports. My life would be much different had I not taken that 18 hour drive all those years ago….
On to the championships – several weeks ago I texted my long time MN smallbore travel partner Eric “Skippy” Hazelton to inquire if he would be attending the nationals this year. To my luck, it would fit in his tight college student social calendar. Since I would be driving through Minneapolis on my way to Bristol, it only made sense that we car pool. To my delight, I got to be chauffeured in Skippy’s reconditioned cop car all the way to and from Eagan MN. Skip did a good job keeping that Crown Vic between the white lines and our journey both ways was unremarkable – just the way I like it!
There was rain in the forecast just about every day, things did not look good. But, in actuality it worked out pretty darn well. Attendance was down this year with the creation of a New England based Smallbore nationals, but that didn’t mean the competition was any less. Since total entries were below 100 (max range capacity) we could shoot the whole championship in 1 relay. This also meant a later start time of 9am EST which helped with visibility. I have been struggling a bit with my rifles fitting this year, and my training partner “Prince Taco” is sick of hearing my complaints. But this week was more of the same, I just was not comfortable with my cheek piece.
Course of fire was to be a 4800 aggregate – the 50yd matches being dropped again this year after having been added back last summer. I really don’t miss the 50yd as it is just more good ammo used in an inconsequential match. With no 50-yard targets to shoot, firing would begin at 50m. I shot my sighters and felt comfortable, then went for my first record shot and a WIDE 9 showed up… WTH!!!! I screamed a bit in my head, went back to the sighter bull and everything was fine. Back to record targets and cleaned the rest of my shots. No clean for me today and my aggregate already was in jeopardy…..not good. Second target goes without issue and I shoot a 399-33… welcome to the second page at nationals. Being the good travel partner that he is Skippy also launched a nine to help me commiserate….
Match 2 – Dewar irons. I was able to clean the 50y bucket bull with a rather poor X count, now if I could get through the 100 yard portion. I got through it 19 times, but a puff pushed me out for the final record shot…..oh the humanity!!!! I needed to clear my head going into the 100 yard final. Target 1 clean, but the wind and mirage was playing both sides of zero. A nine at 3 on top bull and a similar shot on the bottom bull dashed my chance for greatness. 398 – There were only 3 400’s shot, with Hank Gray of the AMU dominating the X ring 32 times. Well done Hank, he also only lost 1 point for the day followed by two other AMU members, looking to kick our civilian butts. My 4 points lost parked me in 8th OA, It could have been worse but I really wanted my first shot for record back… Oh well.
Day two the weather was horrible, the NRA correctly postponed all shooting until noon. Well planned by them, we were able to keep all of our equipment and targets dry as the sky opened up at 8:30 to buckets of rain. When shooting commenced, I worked my sighter bull hard at 50m to have the first shot AGAIN go wide at 7o’clock. AHHHHHHH!!!! Back to the sighter and I managed to get through the rest of the target unscathed but the damage was done. 399-29, at least I had company, Nancy, Kevin N and Skippy all joined me on the short bus of shooters that day after 50m.
Dewar went fine as I finally cleaned a match with a score of 400-33. Skip preferred to shoot 9’s in this match and ended with a 396. Back to 100, my new ammo helped my sketchy shooting get all 10’s and X’s. 400-26 is a lousy score compared to the 37’s it took to win, but it was clean and I was down 1 for the day, which helped my iron agg significantly. McPhail, Delcotto and Gray all were clean for the day with monster X counts – well done gentlemen! Down 9 points total was the cut for the Dewar international match, I made the team again. Skip, not enjoying his iron performance was nominated to be my wind coach.
Day 3 – with a scope, there is hope. I am in the 8th OA place, great shooters ahead of me. I am going to have to figure out my position and shoot well to have a chance. What I wasn’t going to do was shoot a first shot for record 9 three days in a row, I worked the sighter bulls to make sure I was ready and launched an X for the first shot – about time….more x’s followed along with some 10s for a 400-37. Welcome to 6th place. Skip loves his scope and shoots his targets in about 4 total minutes and had a 400-35. That is the Skippy I know and respect, he was looking to push me the whole way!
Dewar – I had a poor 50 yard match but did ok at 100. 400-35 placed me 10th. But at least I Creedmoor’d Skippy’s 35X’s…. At 100 I shot my first ever 200-20X on the first target, the bad part was I followed it up with a 200-12…..not a good plan, but I was clean and had a 1200. Skip got unlucky and one shot needed longer fingernails to hang on to the 10-ring, but the plug said a 9 it was. My 32X clean still beats his 399-34. Kevin Ngyugen of the AMU worked us all over with a scorching 400-38. 13, count that again 13 1200’s were shot for the day. My 104X was only good for 9th, but I was clean and was able to move up from 8th OA a couple of spots in the agg. McPhail shot a hot 113X followed by 110 from Gray and 109 from Uptagrafft. Joe Graf also shot a 1200 with 76, I don’t even know how that is possible but a clean is a clean! Well done Joe! After the day’s shooting the Dewar team match was fired. Conditions were excellent, and Kevin Nevius shot a smoking 396 on the ISSF targets. Skippy called the wind well, I just didn’t perform and shot a dismal 384, second lowest on the squad. I let my team down. That will NOT happen again in England next month. (Editor’s note: it better not, Man-Boy!)
Final day, Gray is still only down 1, with McPhail and Norton down 2 total. Off we go. 50m – McPhail shot 39X to start the day, but so did Delcotto and Michele Makucevich. Yowza, talk about tough! My 36X’s was good enough for 13th. Skip has 32 for 20th. Dewar: Guess who got the Win? He had done it before with match wins, but this one was even more special. Eric Hazelton shot his first ever 20X at any distance on the 50Y portion of the Dewar and it was PRETTY! Nothing was close to not being an X, he then shot his 100yrd card to a 200-18 and claimed the match win with 38x! Nicely done Skip! I couldn’t hang with him only getting 35X’s. Interesting fact on that match, if you look at high 399, that one came with 39X’s from McPhail. Ouch, and no the nine was not the last shot….I had to ask.
Final match of the champ – I need a clean for a 2400. McPhail came back to partially claim the final 100yard match with 37 along with Gray in an unbreakable tie. I was getting twitchy on my shot execution and many gremlins were talking in the back of my mind. I reset a few shots multiple times and was able to stay clean with 34. Skip loves to shoot 10’s and finished with a 400-27??? So we both had 1200’s for the day, along with 9 others. Skip with 97X and me with 105. Gray closed the door on anyone catching him and finished with 108. But McPhail had 115 to go with his 1199….
2400 for me got me 4th in the any agg, as there were 5 2400’s shot. Gray with 218, Uptagrafft and Delcotto both with 213. My 209 was just a little short and slightly ahead of Kerry Spurgin’s 205.
The champs were complete and I managed to take high civilian in the overall behind 4 AMU shooters who claimed the top spots. They shot great this week and I just want to say how impressed I was with their interaction this week, particularly with the junior shooters. They helped coach them during firing their own Dewar team matches, and during the mentor match. I respect those guys and gals for staying at the top of their game all the time, but was really impressed with those interactions. I can remember what those words of encouragement meant to me as a Jr. Well done!
The awards banquet went smoothly, and our favorite Jr Eric Hazelton had his 20th birthday at the match. That means he won’t be a junior in 2018. He was just a couple of points shy to reclaim the overall Jr crown. Had his irons been just a little better it would have been his, again. But when he was called to the podium, chants of “Skippy” rang throughout the hall as everyone loves and respects that speed shooter – especially with a scope.
20 years since my first trip to SB, I still love this game and can remember watching Wig shoot those tiny groups on his way to a 6399 that year. I don’t shoot tiny groups all the time, but because of the friends I have made especially peers like Mike O’connor and Kevin Nevius they have pushed me to be better than I ever thought I could have been all those years ago.
For a complete listing of match results, click HERE.
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