It has taken me three weeks to recover enough to blog about it…
It was three days of laughter, tears, sun, wind, Aussies and an abundance of other clichés…
It is the longest running event in the Southern Hemisphere…
The Ballinger Belt 2015!
(from Vic’s perspective)
We were both feeling surprisingly chipper after the previous four days of shooting and although extracting ourselves from under the blankets was the usual struggle (not assisted in any way by the two fleshy feline furballs pinning us down), we managed to get to the range bright and early.
A clear calm morning greeted us but by the time it was my turn to shoot, it was starting to heat up with more than just a shimmer of a mirage apparent.
Much to my disgust, I took a little while to settle with some wobbly elevation shots in the four ring. Eventually I got into my stride and despite being caught by surprise by a freak gust of wind, I was doing ok… not fantastically, stupendously well, but… ok. Then it happened, with two shots to go, I shot a …
You have to be kidding me! A one directly below the bull?
I checked that nothing was loose on my rifle and then in absolute disbelief I challenged the shot knowing full well that if they could not find another shot, I would forfeit the one and score a zero. Unfortunately there was no other shot found so it seems like it WAS mine… bugger… that isn’t like me at all! Still slightly flummoxed by the whole episode, I put it out of my mind and finished on a five. I ended up with a 41.2 which is not a good start especially given the great conditions!
Jared got a 48.5 which he wasn’t very happy with. He was mumbling something about wind last I heard.
In the second 300 yards, I was doing a little bit better, I lost a couple shots to the lazy wind, one to elevation and then it happened again…
A three at 6 oclock.
I was absolutely gutted. So early in the competition and I had already dropped way too many shots without even knowing why. I took a big sigh, pulled myself together again and finished on some fives for a 45. Jared had another good shoot with a 48.1 which put him close to the top of C grade.
Here is me thinking about shooting at 300 yards. Thanks to Karyn Flanagan for the photos!
Over lunchtime, I was determined to figure out what was going on. I pulled my rifle apart to check the bedding (nothing I could see), double checked that everything was tight (it was) and I was just starting to give it a good clean when I was approached by an angel – Jenni Hausler from the Aussie team. Jenni is an amazing shooter, a fantastic person and a straight-talking Range-Mum.
Jenni showed me some tricks and gave me some advice for cleaning my rifle (which we discovered had a bit of carbon fouling in the throat) and then threw me back into my shooting gear to do some work on my natural point of aim. Although I have been told about NPA since I started shooting and I know what it is, andhow to find out where my NPA is, I have never figured out how to get my natural aim actually centered on the target. Jenni helped me get there – moving my feet, checking cheek pressure, elbow position and a few more bits and pieces. We also went through the process of taking a shot. A lot of this was very new to me!
After the dispersal of the watching crowd and a lot of thank-yous to Jenni, I grabbed something to eat and had a rest before heading back down the range full of confidence!
With the melodious voice of Jenni still echoing in my head, I was relaxed, I was concentrating on my NPA and was methodically following the process of firing the shot. Needless to say, I had a much better shoot.
It took me three shots to get used to the new techniques. I discounted the first two as they were sighters but the other was my first counting shot – a 4. After that I was away! Lots of nice fives and centres with just one wind-blown four and a small mistake towards the end. 47.5 is a much more respectable score.
Jared , master of consistency, scored another 48.1. See if you can spot him in this photo (Hint: he is in the middle of it)…
By the end of the day, the wind had picked up a little and the big day in the sun was finally catching up with me. I don’t remember huge amounts about this range but I ended up with a 44.4. The dropped shots were mostly due to wind but I did throw a three up at ten oclock. Jared managed a 47.4 which was a good effort!
I finished the day dead last. Jared, needless to say was doing much better.
After a fairly disastrous first day, I woke up refreshed and optimistic and raring to go! Although I had a bad start, there were still oodles of ranges left to shoot and, after-all, anything can happen at Trentham at the long ranges!
I lay down to shoot and using what I had learnt yesterday from Jenni and choosing to use the faint mirage indstead of the flaccid flags, I was finding it very difficult to miss the 5-ring! Nine shots in and I hadn’t dropped a point. Fighting through my racing pulse I released my last shot…
“Ah crap!” The last thing I glimpsed before the black of the recoil was the muzzle drifting towards 2 oclock. I waited anxiously for the target to emerge from the pit.
Woohoo! I just scraped it in for a total score of 50.2! I couldn’t wait to tell Jared and discover that I had beaten him for once.
Alas! it was not to be. Jared had triumphantly shot an admirable 50.6 and claimed the victory once again.
600 yards and the sultry breeze was starting to flit between left and right – a feeble imitation of the Trentham wind that we know and… um… love?. It was still very readable and I only got caught out a few times, mostly because I am still quite slow taking the shot. I wasn’t too unhappy with a 45.3 which was only a couple of shots behind Jared’s 47.2
A important part of shooting is scoring for the other shooters in your squad. Thanks André Doyle for the great photo of me!
After lunch, 900 yards was much the same as 600 yards for me. I felt like I was reading the wind well and only got caught out a couple of times. The flags were still soft and languid but changeable. I scored a 45.3 which wasn’t too bad compared to others in my grade. I outdid Jared for the first time which I was pleased with but I don’t think that he was of the same sentiment. Jared got 44.2
One thousand yards is where it all happens and there was certainly a wider range of scores at this range! I managed a 41.2 with most of my shots lost to wind. Again, not a bad score for the grade and I am gradually clawing my way back up the board! I think by this stage I was about 7th in my grade and a few more shooters separated me from last place. Jared didn’t have such a great shoot and scored a 35.1 which wasn’t actually that bad considering the conditions!
Karyn Flanagan got some great pictures of Jared at 1000 yards. Note his fancy-schmancy mirage shield.
Last day of the belt for us as we were certainly not going to be in the finals! We were feeling a little jaded due to a late night catching up with a seldom-seen friend but I felt well-equipped to handle the wind having participated in a coached teams shoot earlier in the day. I think I picked up a few useful tips.
The wind had picked up overnight and was flicking between left and right quicker than you can blink! Gone was the feeble and sluggish wind from earlier in the week, the ferocious and fickle Trentham wind had finally blown in!
Luckily, we were on the flag line for this range and I picked a couple of flags that I could see through my sights and reverted to my normal trick of shooting on the same condition every time. This tactic along with the information that I had gleaned from the coaches in the morning, helped in keeping me somewhat centered. I managed a 40.2 which I think included a couple of twos and a three due to the wind! Jared did a little better with a 43.2
I was feeling a little nervous before this shoot, I was first down which I normally don’t mind but combined with the strong and twitchy wind, I was getting a little intimidated. I had also crept up to 5th place in my grade so I just needed a semi-decent score to hold my place and win a badge!
As usual, it didn’t quite work out like that.
I had a quick look at the conditions and decided that 9 minutes was a good starting point. As I watched, the wind kept building so I took a stab and put on 12 minutes.
4-on! Wow! with 12 minutes on the sights, I got blown out into the 4 ring. I dialled on another 3 minutes and pretty much hit the previous shot.
Right. This is easy. Scratch the sighters and go for it!
I regretted ditching my sighters quite quickly. My next shot was a wobbly two. Oh well. I will just have to make the next nine shots count. Unfortunately my next shots were a three and a one. Despite the wind seeming to drop, I kept getting pushed further and further out.
And then… A miss. Of course I challenged it and this was probably a mistake. I think this one shot ate up 5 minutes of time and by the time the target came back, the wind had completely changed. It seemed to have dropped so I optimistically twirled the sights to 6 minutes right and had another go.
This time, my spirits were lifted by the four targets around me also signalling misses! At least I wasn’t the only one!
By this time, I really did not have a clue as to what the wind was doing. I had no reference points, no confidence and I was very quickly running out of time!
I managed to hit the target on my next two shots and they were really good elevation and I had one on either side of the target. Right! I know what I am doing now!
I was given my three minute warning as the target went down and most of that was used up waiting for the target to come back. I didn’t even bother challenging it. The wind had switched to the right but I didn’t have much to lose at this point so I had a guess and fired my next shots as quickly as I could trying to get my last shot away before I ran out of time… who knows, everyone might be having a similar nightmare and I might need my last shot!
No such luck, Jared scored a 31 which seemed to be a standard sort of score in the grade. My impressive 17 just wasn’t going to cut it!
I think we can safely say, I got well and truly Trenthamed!
If anyone is interested, full results are here. I ended up third to last out of everyone. Jared managed third in the grade and won a badge! well done!
Thank you so much to all the people who helped us two relative beginners out over the week in particular Jenni for all the encouragement and help! Also everyone in my squad for a great week and all the encouragement and Liam for scoring for me!