2018 Midwest Palma Championship – Rise of the Palma Alliance
For the last 19 years, Winnequah Gun Club has hosted the annual Midwest Palma Championship on the week immediately following Father’s Day. 2018 was no exception, as 89 sling and F-Class shooters from all over the USA converged on Lodi, Wisconsin for one of the biggest in best Long Range matches of the year.
As always, the festivities kicked off on Monday morning with the 4-man Palma team match, and 13 teams were vying for the trophy. Nice weather resulted in some good scores, as coaches led their shooters through 15 shots each at the 800, 900, and 1000-yard lines. This year it was the US Veterans team coached by Ray Gross that took home the trophy. Palma Alliance member #32 Disco Stu Mackey led the team with his 447-23x, and the rest of the guys were not far behind to finish with an excellent 1783-85x team score. My own Palma Alliance Blue team was 2nd, down 8 points from the Vets for 2ndplace. Only 2 F-Class teams participated, and Team X-Ring Stocks topped the Armed Farmers for the match win.
On Tuesday, the individual aggregate started with the first of 3 scheduled Palma matches. Conditions were unusually good, and again scores were high. Disco Stu picked up right where he left off on Monday, winning day 1 with an excellent 449-23x. Four 448’s kept things knotted up right behind him, along with plenty of 446’s and 447’s. The F-Class match was also close, with Randy Snook and Dwayne Dragoo both shooting 447’s with Randy’s 27 x’s just edging out Dwayne’s 24. If this weather held up, this might turn out to be a week for the record books.
After Tuesday’s Palma match, 22 brave shooters headed to the 1200-yard line for some extra fun back there. This match calls for unlimited sighters and 15 record shots for a max possible score of 150. Palma Alliance member #3 Brian “Short Pants” Mrnak put on a clinic dropping only 2 points to finish with an astounding 148-6x. This was new record for 1200 yards at Winnequah. Worth noting is that Brian shot this score with an iron-sighted Palma rifle and 155-grain bullets. We are not likely to see that happen again anytime soon. Steve McGee and Chuck Rowe took 2ndand 3rd with 147’s, both shooting scoped wildcats. Local Legend Earl “The Kid” Liebetrau took top F-Class honors with a solid 143-3x. I don’t shoot F-Class, but I am pretty sure that hitting that 5” X-ring on the LR F target doesn’t get any easier when you back up an extra 200 yards!
Wednesday’s forecast was not so good, with rain predicted off and on throughout the day. It was already close at hand as the second Palma kicked off at 8 am, and only 1 relay got to shoot their 800-yard string before a 2-hour rain delay was called. The seed squadding assignments had the top-scoring shooters from Tuesday’s match on relay 4, so it was around noon before the big dogs got a chance to shoot. Conditions held very similar to the previous day through 800 and 900 yards, and most of the 1000 line. As it turned out, that rain delay ended up playing a big role in the standings, as the calm overcast of the rest of the day broke up between the 3rdand 4threlays at 1000, and the winds that came out with the sun were a whole different animal. A fast changing fishtail ate the lunches of some of the top shooters from Tuesday, shaking up the leader board considerably. There were still some shooters that figured it out and got away without too much damage, but many did not. Scores for the day’s agg were still high, with Palma Alliance member #68 Jim Foster seemingly coming out of nowhere to shoot his first ever Palma 450 to win the day. Member #70 Adam Fitzpatrick hoped to recreate the 450-magic he made last year at MWP, but ended up 1 point shy at 449-28x. Short Pants Mrnak’s 448-25x was good enough for 3rd, and kept him very much alive in the agg. Dwayne Dragoo was on top of the F-Open field with his own 449-31x, while Ken York’s 445-26x topped the TR guns. Due to the rain delay earlier in the day, the 900-yard 2-man team match had to be scrapped for the 2ndyear in a row.
Thursday’s schedule called for the 3rdand final Palma match of the aggregate, with a 1000-yd 2-man team match to follow. Mother Nature had other plans though, and rain delays were again in play. When it wasn’t raining too hard to shoot, the conditions were eerily similar to the rest of the week (aside from the single relay at 1000 the day before) and the scores were even higher. On this day, only the first relay made it through the 1000-yard stage before the clouds opened up to dump too much rain to continue. The match was called for the day, and the 1000-yard scores for that first relay were tossed out. This saddened a lot of shooters, as at least 10 were clean through 900 and were hoping for the chance to finish out the match. The 2-man team match also wound up on the scrap heap for the 2ndday in a row.
On Friday morning, the match directors decided to get rid of one of the 3 scheduled 1000-yard “Any Rifle” matches in favor of finishing the 1000-yard stage of the Thursday Palma. The shooters supported this decision almost unanimously – this was the Midwest Palma Championship after all! There was still some light rain coming down, but nothing to be afraid of. An unbelievable 5 Palma shooters (all 5 Palma Alliance members) and 1 F-Class shooters finished the match with 450’s. Winnequah is a club that doesn’t give them up easily, and some years there aren’t any at all shot. As far as I know, 6 450’s in one day, and 7 for the week was completely unprecedented for a match of this size anywhere in the country. Here’s how those unbelievable scores broke down:
450-34x Marty Gunderson
450-32x Bob Steketee
450-28x Erik Rhode
450-23x Brian Mrnak
450-23x John Frigugglietti
450-34x Jim Bauer (F-Open) - not pictured.
Can you imagine shooting a 450-23x and only coming in 5thplace? Well, John Frigugglietti can. I am sure he was still happy with the results, as this was both his and Marty’s first perfect Palma score. The 450 for Brian Mrnak was enough to cement him as champion of the 3-day Palma agg for the second year running.
All that was left of MWP week was 2 20-shot matches from the 1000-yard line. Disco Stu and his Palma rifle came back with a vengeance in the switchy conditions only dropping 1 point over those 40 shots to win that title on the sling side. Meanwhile, Kent Weigl’s 397-18x and Ken Klemm’s 391-11x sealed the deal in F-Open and FTR.
When all the points from the week were tallied, my good friend Brian Mrnak came out on top as the 2018 Midwest Palma champion. I know that this has been a goal of his for years, and I was glad to be there to watch it come true. His 1739-89x score was 2 points ahead of 2016 MWP champ (and perennial contender) Bob Steketee, who had the x’s over 3rdplace Adam Fitzpatrick. Mr. Steketee has been at every MWP since the beginning – 19 years straight. Dwayne Dragoo won the F-Open trophy, and Ken Klemm topped the FTR class in style, winning every single match and agg of the week.
The Palma alliance had an awesome showing out in Lodi, with 9 of the top 10 grand agg spots going to members, along with the half dozen 450’s shot and many other accomplishments. By my best count, we had 34 club members shooting this week at MWP, which was by far the largest number ever assembled in a single place. We got 31 of those 34 together after the matches on Friday for a group photo on the 1000-yard line. The lovely Mia Rhode took the pic, and I couldn’t be happier with how well it turned out.
At Friday night’s excellent catered awards banquet, Brian Mrnak and I had the honor of presenting the first ever Palma Alliance prize package to one lucky shooter from the week. A few of our generous members donated some very nice items to be awarded to a new (or new-ish) Palma shooter, and an awards committee was put together to find the right person deserving of the award. This year’s prize consisted of Bullets, brass, primers, a Whidden .308 sizer die, and one of the last Palma barrels to come from Boots Obermeyer’s shop. This package was awarded to Mark Nash from Bristol Connecticut. I first met Mark last summer at the 600 yard matches in Lacrosse on the way to MWP. At that time, Mark was just getting started in prone shooting after getting the hook set by Ron Sekellick, and was eager to learn and progress in the sport. In the year since then, Mark has progressed up to Expert class, and his 1669-47x (95.37%) at MWP this year should mean there is a LR Master card destined for his mailbox in the near future. Mark is also about the nicest guy you could hope to meet, and all agreed that he is exactly the kind of person that our sport needs more of in order to continue and grow. Congrats Mark, we’ll see you next year in Wisconsin!
While I didn’t finish as well as I had hoped, I had some bright spots and was happy to see so many of my friends and fellow Alliance members do great things. I ended up tracking my mediocrity at the 1000-yard line down to a front sight adjustment issue, and made good notes to prevent it from happening again. There are still a lot of matches left to shoot this year, and I will be back next year to try my luck at MWP again.
As always, thanks go out to Karin, Earl, Scotty 2 Hotty, Marky Mark, and Kevin Liebetrau; Steve Suhr, Rita Nash, Sharon Sekellick, and all of the other staff and volunteers for working both on the front lines and behind the scenes to make sure everything works. The logistics of running a match of this size are daunting to say the least, but this crew makes it look easy every year. The electronic target system is purring like a kitten now after 2+ years of use, and the few problems that arose were solved quickly and without hassle. I really like shooting on these targets; I have no concerns about the system at all, and I very much enjoy the relaxed match atmosphere that not having to pull targets allows. I look forward to more clubs converting in the future.
June 17-21 of 2019 are already circled on my calendar for the 20thAnnual Midwest Palma Championship.
Hope to see you all there!