Ian Harford travels to Mount Airy in Maryland, USA for the 2010 AAFTA US National Field Target Championships.
If you were to ask 100 people which country they would call the ‘home of shooting sports’, I would bet your bottom dollar the majority would come back with the same answer.
The USA is as synonymous with shooting, as Africa is with Safari, and a visit to the Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show will give you an idea of just how inextricably shooting is woven into the fabric of American society.
Whereas here in the UK, legitimate shooting enthusiasts are fighting what seems like an eternal battle to prevent further unnecessary restriction or regulation of our shooting sports, in the USA it’s almost the exact opposite.
Unless you have the full support of the shooting public, you can kiss your chances of election victory goodbye. It’s great to know that at least some of us out there have a clear and influential voice.
Of course not all of the things you hear about shooting in the USA are positive, indeed some just seem downright strange. However, much like here in the UK, many of these stories are just that – tales from the fringes of society that are invariably used to exemplify the extreme opinions often wielded in bar room politics.
The relative merits or shortcomings of assertions relating to topics such as gun control, armed police and even civil liberties can be illustrated using various adaptations of these stories.
In most cases it’s the manner of presentation that sways the debate, rather than the accuracy or validity of the detail. But the actual story is much less dramatic than it may appear on occasion.
Without exception, each of the ‘gun wielding’ Americans I have met have been pleasant, respectable law abiding citizens, who also share many of the same values I do such as sportsmanship, community and responsibility.
I have always been made to feel welcome whenever I’ve visited, and my recent trip to Mount Airy, Maryland for the AAFTA US Nationals was no different.
I was actually born in the US, and spent my formative years there before moving the UK when I was 4. I’m fortunate to have visited the US on a number of occasions since then, but have never shot Field Target there, so I was quite excited by the prospect.
My visit was part of a longer trip, which took in the World FT Championships in Hungary and hunting black bear and elk with my good friend Bryce Wells in Idaho.
However, as usually happens with any of the sports that the Americans develop a passion for, before too long they’d established their own disciplines, complete with different rules.
Gun laws in the US allow for a much higher muzzle energy than the UK’s 12ft lbs, so it didn’t take too long before 20ftlb air rifles became the norm.
Because of the very diverse nature of US field target (USFT), there are six individual classes contested at the AAFTA Nationals. International PCP and Piston use identical rules to those we are familiar with here in the UK.
For the steadier shot there’s a ‘Freehand’ Class that means exactly that – all standing shots. The there are the US versions of PCP, Hunter and Piston, which allow for several distinct advantages.
A higher muzzle energy being the biggest, followed by the use of ‘knee straps’ to hold the shooters knees firmly in position.This provides an incredibly sturdy platform from which to shoot.
Shooting aids such as this are outlawed in the International rules but, when added to the extra muzzle energy, result in a high level of precision. So much so that USFT employs incredibly small kill zones in their targets – some as small as 7mm in diameter!
I flew into Baltimore Airport via Denver in the early hours of Friday 15th October. By the time I reached my hotel in Gaithersburg is was gone 3.00am. Not good preparation for a national championship, but I suppose some things don’t change!
I was still feeling a bit jaded when I get to the range for registration at 9.30am, but everything was incredibly well organised. As soon as I arrived, everybody I met welcomed me. As the only international entrant, I was made to feel like a like a celebrity!
After signing in and getting my identity badge, I headed off to the zero range to see if the baggage handlers at the five airports between Budapest and Baltimore had managed to dent my EV2 or dislodge any of the lenses in my March scope.
There were quite a few Air Arms EV2s, which seemed to dominate the International PCP class in which I was entered. The most striking rifles were the ‘USFT’ rifles, which as the name suggests, are specifically made for the USFT PCP class by Tim McMurray, who also happened to be one of my partners for the first days shooting.
When I hit the zero range, the thing that seemed to get more attention than anything else was my new March 8-80×56. Like most of the other FT shoots I’ve attended in recent months, I pretty much lost my rifle for the entirety of the afternoon while people checked out what’s arguably the worlds best FT scope at the moment.
I didn’t mind at all as it gave me time to enjoy chatting with fellow shooters, discussing equipment and generally enjoying the camaraderie we have come to enjoy from FT.
The first day of competition started at 10.00am on Saturday morning, following the obligatory safety briefing. The courses were slightly different from the usual FT format, made up of two 60 shot courses – one to be shot each day.
Each course was made up of a 15 lanes comprising 2 targets per lane, with each target to be shot twice. One thing that wasn’t unusual for me was the wind! After a pretty calm day on Friday for practice, by Saturday Mount Airy was subjected to gale force winds that Sywell would be proud of.
My other partner for the first day was Doug Vinson, who was also shooting in the International PCP Class with his Ripley AR5. We both shot well given the conditions, and kept each other honest throughout the day.
I ended the first day on 47 in 2nd and Doug in joint 3rd place on 46. The outstanding performance of the day was Guy Omictin who put in an outstanding 51 with his Steyr LG110 to finish 4 shots clear of the field in the International Class.
After the shooting had finished we were provided with a meal of burgers and salad ‘al fresco’, followed by an extremely entertaining auction of airguns and shooting related paraphernalia, hosted by a professional auctioneer. It certainly added a light hearted end to the day.
Day 2 brought calmer conditions, but there was still enough wind to keep everyone on their toes. The groups were slightly different and I shot round with the competition organiser Joe McDaniel and Jeff Paddock.
Joe had clearly put a great deal of time and effort into both the course set up, as well as the administration and really seemed to enjoy the day.
Jeff shot out of his skin and posted a stunning 54 – the highest of the day in our class, and after I posted a 48 we ended up tied for 2nd place. Day 1 leader Guy Omictin equalled my score, thus confirming victory by 4 clear shots.
In the PCP Class pre-event favourite Harold Rushton narrowly edged out Johnny Ingram by 2 points with a superb 57. Harold had already dominated the USFT Series winning every round he had entered in 2010, so the AAFTA National title seems a fitting end to an outstanding season.
But of course the day was not over, as we still had the shoot-offs to settle. There were two in the international class. Jeff Paddock and I would shoot off for 2nd, and Rick Knowles against distinctly dresses Ray Apelles for 4th.
The shoot-offs were the usual tense affair, but Jeff’s incredible performance on the day didn’t do anything to help my confidence! Ours was the first and I won the toss. I put Jeff in to shoot first, and we both missed the 52-yard 25mm reducer 4 times before I finally put it down. Rick then overcame Ray for 4th place.
The presentation was just fantastic, with most shooters staying to cheer on those who were lucky enough to win prizes.
Almost everyone I’d met during the weekend took the time to say goodbye, and I very much look forward to keeping in touch. Next years AAFTA Nationals take place at the ‘Good Ole Boys’ FT Club in Pulaski, Tennessee. I will certainly be back, hopefully to go one step better!
This article was written for the January 2011 Edition of Air Gunner magazine.
Final results and standings shown below.
|1||Guy Edsel Omictin||51||48||99|
|3||Hector Jose Medina Gomez||41||39||80|