Standing Up: One Year Later
Almost exactly a year ago I took my first swim in metallic silhouette shooting by competing in the state championships for my state. I tied for absolutely last place and was really happy to have done that well. We’re talking about standing up and shooting at steel targets shaped and sized like real critters from what I could easily call ridiculous distances. For instance, the closest targets are the chickens which are life size and set at 200m. Consider this, you’re out deer hunting and one of your buddies sees a grouse on the rocks 220 yards away and you decide to take a shot at it and see if you can score dinner. This isn’t shooting a deer at 200m, it’s shooting a chicken which is much smaller. Small to the point that when I was told about metallic silhouette shooting I was in a bit of disbelief.
I’d been a competitive shooter in other disciplines, things where paper targets with unreasonably small X rings are used. A shooter that can hit anything they point at laying on their belly suddenly turns into a hack when they stand up and it gets worse if you eliminate the option to use a sling or shooting glove or shooting jacket like we do in metallic silhouette. My coach described the game and I thought, “…well if he can do it then it’s possible so let’s try it out.”
I went to my first match with a .308win tactical rifle wearing a 10x US Optics ST-10 with a busy-ish mil-scale MPR reticle and ammo that I hurriedly slapped together that was only capable of 2MOA groups. This match I went into with a rifle I bought from another competitor which is built specifically for the sport and chambered in 7mm BR with a 24x Weaver T-24 on it. With my loads the match rifle is a steady half-MOA gun. I’ve also invested in brass and huge quantities of bullets and powder and primers are now constantly in stock. Before I would keep a couple hundred rounds worth of each thing I used and that was it. Now I keep closer to a couple thousand rounds worth and reload in vast quantities (like 600 rounds at a time).
This past weekend we had the state championships for the current year and I was there to compete. We knew going in it was going to be rough sleddin’ and it was. Over 2 days we were continuously subjected to high winds, cold air and rain. Temperatures only managed to clear 50F after we were done shooting and were more centered a little lower. The second day was substantially colder than the first as well which gave something of a boost to the rate that morale degraded but everyone stuck it out so we could at least get a winner and have a good fair match that wasn’t too short or too long. That’s important because most of the competitors are in fact middle-age, chubby and white and our old bodies just don’t take punishment like they did 20-30 years ago. Most of them are in that demographic but not all of them by a big stretch. We usually have a few ladies and juniors shooting as well as well as non-whites.
This year the only lady shooter was Inez and she opened a cubic hogshead of whoopass on the entire field. I started shooting in the same class as Inez and she’s been consistent about improving her skills and her coach is providing consistently high quality teaching so I frequently measure my performance against hers to see if I’m keeping up or need to work harder. This time, I needed to have worked massively harder and prepared massively more. In the end she shot so far above our rated class that her score got bumped into the next higher class and she still crushed the scores in her new higher class by a landslide. In the process she and the huge majority of the other shooters were jovial and friendly, even to the point of verbalizing that they’re not here to win, they’re here to do their best. You can’t even invite these people to beat you at a game. How infuriating is that. You try to egg someone on and tell them to whip you good today and they reply, “I’m just going to try to do my best.” Arghh. See what I mean.
So about the conditions, winds were constantly high with even higher gusts. I measured 15-22 on day one and 15-35 on day two. The rain wasn’t so bad or heavy on day one but it was bucketing down on day two. That actually helped as we were able to read the wind much easier by watching the rain than by trying to figure out how the geography and fluid dynamics were going to work today. Our range is notorious for having very difficult to read winds. The flags and the air seem to not have much to do with each other. The second day was so cold and rainy and the shooting line was such a river of mud that we called the 2nd day’s match at what was going to be the half way point and nobody even remotely bitched. Shooter wind (wind affecting the shooter) and downrange winds were combining to add huge challenge to keeping anywhere near the target and light crisp triggers were the only way to make it through the 2nd day. The wind drift for me on one stage at 300m was much as 6MOA in addition to the into-the-wind lead I was holding so the wind would blow my crosshairs into the target.
At the end of both days I had won my class in Standard Gun and taken 2nd in Hunter Gun. My coach took first place for Hunter Gun in his class and 5th for Standard Gun. Inez would have smashed my score like a M1 tank rolling through a mirror factory if the rules weren’t so awesome and even if she got bumped up a ranking, she smashed that classes 2nd place score like the fist of an angry God. Another pal of ours DeadEyeKye won the overall winner for the match and we all got some nifty trophies. Hart barrels were raffled off and somehow went to shooters that could actually do some good with them. We also raffled off some other minor prizes but those weren’t the thing people wanted. We were shooting for the trophies, against both ourselves and the conditions.
In one year I have quadrupled the percentage of targets that I hit, I’ve taken 2 first places at the state championship level and 2 second places in addition to winning 8 other times in my class between rimfire and centerfire versions of the sport. It’s been a wild and expensive ride but the best thing I ever did for my shooting proficiency was to get off my belly and onto my feet. I’m now certain of what shots I might ever take on game due to evidence of my performance under pressure where hits ARE being tracked as much as misses, rather than just having too high of an opinion arbitrarily. As well, I didn’t give up prone shooting. I’m actually hugely better at that now than I was before. My trigger control, sight picture, NPOA, and wind reading have all advanced considerably. The thing that was most wrong with my shooting a year ago was I had too high of an opinion of it. The problem with my shooting now is, I have too critical a view on it. I’m hoping that in the next year I’ll be able to rationalize those two and come to some sort of defensible mid-point.
Dunning-Kruger suggests that the less you know about something the more likely you are to think you know more about it than you do as well as the opposite. What it doesn’t make much room for is rational observation. Just like with computers and cosmology and diesel engine repair, the more you know about it the more you realize how much more there is to know and you never really stop to give yourself any legitimately deserved credit. So now, I’ll do just that.
I got up on my feet. I put in the effort and time and money. I started out as a pretty darned good shot with almost any firearm or airgun. I’m now a hell of a lot better at it and I earned that. I’d like to thank my coach, CRPA, and some really great people. Specifically I’d like to thank: Charlie, Jarred, Al, Inez, Steve, Edo, Ken, Bobby, Kyler, Scott, Tammy, Ray, Mary, Luis, Landen and Mark and the other Mark for their friendship, kindness, advice and commiseration. These specific people along with my coach made the whole unbelievable effort and the achievement into its own reward.