On the first day of the NRA National High Power Rifle Championships, I stopped to watch the sun rise over Lake Erie. For generations, men have made the pilgrimage to this mecca, a crucible of accuracy for the firearm maker’s and user’s art. Many have come to Camp Perry with illusions of how well they would shoot, only to have their hopes dashed by the superior skills of better men. Many have come to learn how to shoot better and returned to make their mark on shooting history. Many come simply for the experience and to say they’ve competed here. If my memory is correct, this is my 20th year at Perry and, while I’ve missed several years, when I’m here, I realize why I like it so much.
I came here this year not with winning in mind, but to prove a point. My point is that an accurate rifle doesn’t have to weigh 14 pounds and be a specialized rifle that’s only good for one game. Two years ago, a special class allowing the use of optical sights in a non-championship class was initiated to keep older shooters shooting and get new shooters involved. When I first heard of the new category, my first reaction was negative but I soon decided it was a great idea. Numbers in conventional high power rifle competition have been falling. Changes in the Civilian Marksmanship Program, social changes, financial pressure and other factors are involved, but no matter what the reason, numbers have been falling.
This year, I’m shooting Colt’s new Competition Rifle against rifles with almost a third more barrel length, and almost twice the weight. My decision to use the Colt is to prove that the AR-15 platform is capable of accomplishing almost any task asked of it, provided you choose a good rifle. I’ve had possession of the Colt for exactly two weeks before the beginning of the match. The only modification was the installation of a scope and mount and a front sling swivel stud. Weight and barrel length are a big advantage in shooting the standing stages of the match. Both characteristics slow the gun’s movement down, allowing the shooter more time to get the shot off while the rifle is pointed in the ten ring. With my 18” barrel and seven-pound weight, I have to admit, the first stage of the match was tough. Excellent trigger or not, keeping 20 shots in a six-inch circle at 200 yards is tough. I finished with a 182-1x, well below what I once would have shot with a fourteen pound match rifle, but not all that bad for a 60-year-old man who only recently began to practice.
Sitting was a little better. I managed a pair of 97s for a score of 194-6x and moved back to the 300 yard line. At this point, I had no zero since I’d only shot the Colt to 200 yards. I guessed at the proper come-up, shot a couple of sighters and adjusted the Bushnell. On the first string, I missed a change in the wind and came away with a 93-0x. On the second ten shots, I adjusted and posted a respectable 97-4x. Checking the scores in the NRA Entry Building that evening, I found I was second master and fifth in Any Sight/Tactical.
On Wednesday, I increased my score at 200 yard standing by one point. I find the Colt simply too light for solid standing scores. Normal “across the course” match rifles weigh about twice as much and that weight is to slow the rifle’s movement down. At seven pounds, the Colt tends to be “frisky”. Slight movements gain momentum quickly and a shot that would be a wide ten becomes a solid nine. This is all about versatility and I’d already decided to shoot the rifle just as it is with no modifications. If I were to seriously campaign this rifle, I’d make a weight to attach to the front tube and I’m sure this would fix that issue. Remember, this rifle was designed for 3-gun competition and light, fast rifles work best there.
I struggled with my sitting position on the first string of 200 yard rapid fire. As a result, I had a late shot that snagged the seven ring as the target went down, resulting in a rather poor 94-2x. On the second string, I got things right and shot clean, giving me a 100-3x for a total of 194-5x. Then I faced the real test, the 600 yard line. Having no 600 yard dope, I came up 13 minutes over my 200 yard zero and put four minutes of wind on. At 600 yards, that’s 24” to compensate for a comfortable crossing breeze.
I fired the first shot and the target didn’t go down to be marked. We called for a mark. My first shot was a non-visible miss. Having no idea where I was, I came up two more minutes and shot again. The target didn’t go down and we had to call for a mark again; again a miss. I tried going down two minutes from the first shot and fired again. As the target went down, I spotted the spotter disc in the bottom of the target. Neither I nor my score keeper had noticed it. The third shot and first for record came up a miss but I now knew where I was. I came up four minutes of elevation above my original setting and shot a low seven. My wind call had been almost perfect. Within a few shots, I was in the ten ring but by then, it was too late. I finished with a 162-3x, points lost that will be hard to recover from. But then, this is Camp Perry where things like this happen every day. At the end of the day, I was fourth master and sixth in Any Sight.
Any Sight/Tactical is growing in popularity but it still has a way to go. The idea to get new shooters into High Power and keep old ones with diminished ability to see iron sights is a good one and I believe it will eventually catch on. The fact that David Tubbs, seven-time National Champion, is shooting it this year helps. At this point, halfway through the championship, David’s score is a 1,191-68x, far beyond my 1,122-13x.
Standings at the halfway point of the 2012 NRA High Power Championship:
- Karl Bernosky 1195-66x
- Sherri Gallagher 1195-59x
- Brandon Green 1194-67x