The Goal

The Goal

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Post CWG - Put down the rifle, and back away slowly...

2014 has been a hell of a year: I've competed in my third Commonwealth Games, run my first half marathon, will run my second in three weeks, and am moving to New Zealand in four weeks' time. On the downside, despite my heaviest training schedule yet my shooting performance wasn't really up to scratch and at least partially because of the move to NZ I haven't been selected to represent GB at the next World Long Range Championships in America, and have been dropped from the Wales High Performance squad. Bummer.

Glasgow 2014 was a wonderful experience, made more so by having a legendary shooting pardner, fantastic coach and an incredible support network of friends and family. The downer of is that what did for me was probably the running. I now weigh 11 stone (70kg), down from 12 stone a year ago, and have a resting heart rate in the mid 40's down from the mid 60's a year ago, but my shooting jackets don't fit any more. I'd identified my physical fitness as the most significant area for improvement, following a couple of years of really hard work on my technique, so there's a certain irony here. Either way, there were still one or two highlights; smashing the 1000x shoot to get the 5th highest score in massively tricky conditions, including making a five minute wind change clean through zero to finish on a V, was great; as was coaching Chris to a damn good score in the pairs match (his ability to shoot fast and very, very flat makes this easy.)

I've had a month off shooting and will probably have at least another six weeks off before I pick the rifle up and start training once more. All my kit and rifles are coming to Auckland with me (assuming that the Indian authorities ever authorise me to fly through their airspace with them) and my entry for the NZ Champs down in Trentham is in the post. There's a brand new Creedmore hardback leather shooting jacket waiting for me in NZ which I'm itching to try. Hell, I may even video a few things and put them on YouTube. The only real decision facing me is whether I shell out the cash for hotel, flights and an individual entry to the 2015 World Long Range Championships at Camp Perry, Ohio.

Shooting career over? Hand me the gun, and ask me again...

Saturday, 26 July 2014

CWG Day 5 - The Social Networking Games

Chris and I nipped to the range for a quick crack at 1000x in the morning and had some decent shoots; although the wind was moving about a bit and we decided to take it on with some success. Groups were more solid that they had been but still weren't perfect. There was a heavy mirage on the range with the strong sunlight and high humidity, which may have caused groups to be slightly bigger than expected.

The range finished, we hacked in back to the main compound and dropped off the rifles and kit bags before hopping a bus back to the Apex Hotel in Dundee. We needed to get on the coaches back into Glasgow at 14:45 for the opening ceremony, so quick showers and changes were required before a swift lunch.

Being a Commonwealth Games, er, athlete consists mainly of being alternatively treated like cattle then royalty. The Opening Ceremony is probably the best example of this. I maintain that marching for your country is the most exhilarating experience you can have, and the feeling of having 50,000 people cheering you on compares to nothing else of which I know; however it usually comes at the cost of hanging around forever and an age. It is always worth it.

With this being a home games, my wife Katrina and children Samuel and Isaac had made it up to Glasgow to watch the opening ceremony so Chris and I escaped from the village to meet up with them and go for a bit to eat. The only downside is that none of us know the city and we were approaching the stadium from opposite ends of town, but eventually we met up at the East Gate and went for dinner. Having been away for nearly two and a half weeks, it was lovely to see the family. I love to tour but being away from family (but not friends, very many are shooters) for long periods of time can be trying. With dinner over Kat and the kids headed for the stadium, while Chris and I headed back to Team Wales HQ in the village to meet up with the rest of the team.

The opening ceremony, well you can see that on iPlayer, and I even managed to make it onto the TV for the second games running. Bit of a late night though, finally made it back to the hotel for 2am to find well over 50 Facebook notifications waiting for me. My good friend Dan from Jersey had well over 100. An ordinary man with extraordinary hair.

Friday, 25 July 2014

CWG Day 4 - Haar, Haar de Haar Haar

To quote the great management guru Ben Hardy, miscommunication is the mother of f***uption. Chris, our manager Martin, and I had quit the range early the preceding day, so we never got to hear that there was only going to be 1 detail at 500x, so we never signed up to shoot in it. Fortunately, the range staff used a bit of common sense and allowed us to fill in after the first firers had finished and put five rounds down to get a good zero. The first was in a very slight mist, the third was quite foggy and the final of these shots was fired "using the force" as there was a barely-perceptible grey smudge in the distance which might have been a target.

The haar had come in with a vengeance just as the detail finished and we broke to move back to 900x. Previously, the sun had burned through the thick fog quite quickly, but that wasn't to be today. The match officials made the sensible decision to break early for lunch, and we sloped back to the athletes' lounge behind 1000x. After lunch, though it didn't look any better and we just had to wait. I had a good snooze behind the firing point and got a decent amount of reading done.

Eventually, some four hours later, we received the all clear and managed to shoot at 900x. I had a good core group, but with one or two low shots. Still, something to build on.

Back to the hotel. Dinner. Cheese & crackers snack. Bed. Sleep.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

CWG Day 3 - The Player of Games

I very often read when I'm shooting. One of my favourite books is The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks. The protagonist in this science fiction novel, Jernau Morat Gurgeh, is the eponymous player of games and is the most prolific and brilliant player of all forms of game in the vast, futuristic, pseudo-socialist, meta-civilisation called "The Culture". During the first half of the novel he dedicates two years to learning how to play a game called "Azad" (which translates roughly as "system" or "machine") for about 21 hours per day, and when his vital signs are monitored during apparent sleep, it is noted that he isn't really asleep but is instead lucid-dreaming about the game. When I shoot many days in a row I feel a little like the game player; when I close my eyes I see sight pictures, when I sleep I dream about shooting.

Chris and I decided to only shoot the 300x this morning and take a bit of a break. We've done a lot of shooting over the past two weeks and needed a bit of a break. We duly banged in a couple of possibles each and called it a day on the fullbore range.

Taking the opportunity to wander around the ranges, we went and took a look at our team mates practising on the smallbore, air, pistol and clay ranges before heading back to the hotel for a bit of R&R and a sensibly early night.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

CWG Day 2 - Ticks, Sea Mist, and Windsurfers

Another day, some more training; although there are more teams now with the Malaysians, Canadians and one of the Aussies in addition to us and the English. The plan was for a day of long range in the light winds which were forecast to start from inshore before swinging round to a lefthand offshore wind through the day.

900x was OK. The core group was small, but taking too long in the bright sunlight would often result in a low shot out in the mid-inner. Still, results were generally acceptable and we stopped for lunch, looking forward to shooting at 1000x.

Lunch is held in the athletes' lounge, a glorified tent behind the 1000x firing point. There's a reasonably good array of sandwiches, tea, coffee and am urn of soup available. Nothing terribly fancy, but tasty and filling. We'd be warned that there might be ticks in the thick grass on the range, but it was still a bit of a surprise to see one crawling across Martin's phone as we ate.

Glancing out the door before we finished eating, we could see sea mist beginning to get blown inshore by the wind, which has swung round. Unfortunately, it soon became too thick to shoot and the targets disappeared. After some debate with the RO, we decided to shoot 1000x as soon as it was safe to do so. There was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing as the sentries could and then could not see the boundaries of the danger area in the bay, but eventually the sun burned off the mist and we got back on the range.

Halfway through the first detail, just as my partner was about to bang down his ninth to count... "STOP, STOP, STOP! Unload, bolts open and flags in." A windsurfer had wandered into the danger area. Rifles were shown to be safe and removed from the firing point. Five minutes went
by. Ten minutes went by. Eventually, after about a quarter of an hour, we were allowed back on to finish out shoot. We then swapped and I was about to put down my first sighter when "STOP, STOP, STOP! Unload, flags in." To cut a long story short, after about a similar amount of time, I managed to get back on the range and complete my shoot just as the practice period expired. While my previous two shoots had been a bit on the mediocre side, the final shoot at 1000x went well.

Back to the hotel for dinner with Team Wales, a bit of downtime playing Halo: Reach on the X-Box and a reasonably early bedtime.

Monday, 21 July 2014

CGW Day 1 - SCATT, Livefire, Shopping

After yesterday's travel up from Bisley to the ranges to drop off kit and then back to the hotel, we managed to get on the range for the first time. While the flags were upside down (and manufactured so) and the firing points a little on the angled side, there's a fullbore range in an undeniable state of readiness for the games. We managed to have a good wander around the complex and all the way down to the butts by the beach, and it looks like it's a pretty even-handed range; there's little cover on the left and some trees / low hills on the right which shouldn't give too much comfort to the high end of the target draw.

Chris and I both wanted to do a little SCATT before we hit the range and our team manager arranged for us to use the far end of the smallbore / air range to get set up. Following on from the dodgy results down at Bisley, I wanted to check both jackets to confirm that the old jacket was performing better and Chris just wanted to settle things down a bit.

The fullbore range is a bit of a trek from the main complex, but not as far as it is out to the clay ranges, so we politely requested a lift for our kit while we walked out. We shot at 600x and 1000x just to get some zeroes in a middling strength left-angled headwind worth maybe 3 left at 600x and 8 left at 1000x. Although it seemed reasonably strong, the offshore breeze was actually pretty steady. The steeply raked firing points didn't seem to phase us too much and groups were generally good. We retired to our hotel looking forward to getting stuck in.

The hotel, while allegedly four stars, is significantly undersupplied with crackers, cheese and the other small luxuries which make life worth living. We ambled through the town to the nearest Tesco, pausing to make a brief detour on our return to see a bronze statue of Desperate Dan. Bonzer.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Travel to the Games - Warp Speed, Mr. Sulu

486 miles. 8.5 hours. 2 teas. 1 selfie. Roll on a first crack at Barry Buddon tomorrow...

Imperial Day 8 - No, It's Not The Barrel

It has been a funny old Imperial, with some one day of good shooting at the start and a lot of mediocre groups and scores; however I'm hoping that on the final day I can work out definitively what the problem is and sort it before the trip up to Glasgow. My position seems OK in itself, my sighting is fine and my trigger release is good so it's a bit of a mystery. I'm hoping that the new barrel is at least a contributing factor.

After a bit of a lie in, I shot the 600x Prince of Wales' prize at 09:50 in the morning. It started off OK, but soon became clear that there was a 1.5 minute* group in the offing (I normally group to about a  half of this at short range.) Again, the slight pulse beat / wobble was present, which is starting to become pretty conclusive as a common factor.

At this stage, I've eliminated every other variable so whatever remains must be the cause. It looks like the retailored jacket still isn't quite right. I'd got a couple of hours before the National Match, so I grabbed my old Truttmann jacket and headed off to the British Commonwealth Rifle Club to do some SCATT. SCATT is an electronic training aid, which allows shooters to fire their rifles without ammunition and simulates what the shoot could have looked like on the target.

After three ranges of the National Match, I still wasn't 100% sure that I was quite as happy with the old jacket, but everything was much more still even if not quite as comfortable. I decided to give the same setup a go in St. George's II and managed a much better 3/4 moa group in a tricky wind with a bracket of 2 right to 3 left. I qualified for the final with an aggregate score of 149.19 ex 150.30, or would have, had I not been departing for Dundee at 06:00 the following morning.

Well, it's not exactly been the lead up the games that I'd hope for, but I reckon I've got to the bottom of the group issues. Roll on Glasgow.

*Note for non-shooters: Group sizes are generally quoted in minutes of arc. One minute of arc is a sixtieth of a degree and equates to 1.047 inches per hundred yards of distance between the shooter and the target, so a 1.5 minute group is about 9 inches across. While the bullseye is about 12 inches at 600 yards, any wind changes at all or errors in group centring make it very, very easy to lose several points with only a 3 inch margin of error at a third of a mile.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Imperial Meeting Day 7 - In Case of Emergency, Break Glass

I've not been having great groups at Bisley, with only relatively few possibles (5) even in details where the conditions haven't been that bad, and I'm more than a point down on my long-term average. This seems to be a pattern continued from earlier in the season, when weight loss from running meant my jacket no longer fit properly; however the jacket has since been re-tailored. The only other significant variable was the barrel. To cut a long story short, I decided to swap barrels halfway through a moderately disastrous day.

The 300x shoot at 09:00 went well, with a 35.5 out of a possible 35.7 but the group was again a bit on the big side and the wobble persisted. Still, I was hopeful that yesterday's clean and re-foul had helped a little. Similarly the 900x Conan Doyle (yes, as in the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, he was a renowned rifle shot) was an acceptable 48.4 with one clear windreading error on my part and a slightly irritating corner* shot.

The final shoot of the morning before a long hiatus was the 500x range of the 1st stage of Her Majesty The Queen's Prize, which was pretty dire simply because of a big group. Having had a new barrel put on at the start of the season to save my previous, extremely high-performing barrel from getting worn out before the games with lots of training, I had them swapped. This involved a lot of faff (160 miles of driving, a bit of searching to find someone with an action wrench and a bottle of malt whisky) but may be worth it as the barrel is a known quantity and shoots extremely well indeed with the batch of ammunition to be used in the Commonwealth Games.

The final shoot of the day at 600x went well. OK, I lost a point for not getting one shot away before the wind changed, but the group was pretty good. Maybe I've had problems because of a duff barrel (it does happen occasionally.) We shall see...

*Note for non-rifle shooters - A corner shot is one which goes out of the bullseye on the diagonal high-left, high-right, low-left, or low-right. This usually implies that the shooter's group isn't all that it might be.

Imperial Day 6 - The Magic Bullet Magnet Theory

A very easy day today, I only shot in the 1st stage of the St. George's challenge vase this morning and took the afternoon off (thanks to a very understanding county captain.) I managed to clean St. George's I although with a wobble in my aim and a slightly looser group than I'm used to at short range. I've not been happy with the wobble, as I'm usually pretty still even with a 0.5 Eagle Eye. I had hoped the jacket retailoring would have sorted any residual position problems from running-related weightloss.

Good centring of the wobble saw me through and this is the basis of what I call the magic bullet magnet theory; that if your group is centred and your shot release at least acceptable, then a bit of wobble is acceptable. Because the natural tendency of the rifle is to naturally point at the middle of the target, then shots that look a bit wayward will tend to get sucked back nearer the middle than they may look when the shot broke. The opposite is also true, of course, if you don't have a good natural point of aim (NPA) in the middle of the target then shots tend to get pulled away.

Will clean the rifle, refoul on zero range and try again tomorrow.

PS - Sorry for the historic post. I'll catch up the days missed owing to laptop battery issues.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Imperial Day 5 - Progress, Of Sorts

It's been another lovely day down at Bisley, but the tricky winds have continued. The combination of bright sunshine with cloudy patches is driving fast-changing, erratic winds which are pushing scores down; although one or two of the usual suspects are doing the business, which is always heartening to see.

The 300 yards Times competition went OK. I felt like the shots were coming more naturally and I wasn't having to concentrate so much on technique; however I still put the wrong wind on the gun for one shot to end up with a 49.7. Not a complete disaster though and seeing the Red Arrows fly over the range in close formation at about 500 feet brightened my morning considerably.

The big news of the day was always going to be the 1000 yards Corporation, which is pretty well known as the grave of many shooters' hopes in the Grand Aggregate. At 11:45 the bracket went from just above zero to over nine minutes of wind, with big rapid changes in between shots. I chucked a low shot in my haste to get my sixth downrange and lost another two to wind, but given the general conditions and the time of day, I'll take a 47.3 and live with it.

Unfortunately, as it turns out I managed exactly the same score in the Wimbledon at 600 yards so it's strictly one range at a time during this year's Imperial. The young chap shooting with me made the most of my inability to read the wind and stuck in a 50.5 with pretty good elevation too.
Must go and light the barbecue. Got the Jersey boys coming round in a bit.

Addendum - I very much hope that Mr McLaren will forgive me for posting the following photo without his permission but it seems to best express what I love best about shooting.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Imperial Day 4 - Things Fall Apart, the Centre Cannot Hold

There will be days when things do not go according to plan. When, despite all your training and best efforts, you cannot get it right and are left clinging by your fingernails onto some kind of hope that you can manufacture a good finish. Today was one of those days.

I had drawn three details in the middle of the day; 11:45 at 600 yards, 14:45 at 500 yards and 16:30 at 900 yards. At 600 I had a good group and a pretty mediocre score, with three points lost to ill-judged wind calls. At 500 yards I shot very well and read a tricky fishtail* wind well to lose only a point; for the shot I lost, I had 3/4 right on the rifle when I shot but there was left wind when the trigger broke. I'm not going to discuss the 900 yards shoot as there's no mileage in it. I took a kicking and lost a lost of points; although it was certainly not as hard as some of the mid-afternoon details. Even my afternoon snooze didn't help.

When this kind of day happens, as it inevitably does occasionally, I take comfort in the words of one of my coaches "you don't forget how to shoot overnight." The positives to take away from today are that I held excellent groups at two of the three ranges and the shots I lost were mostly close to the line. Roll on tomorrow and pray for some carnage in the infamous 1000 yards Corporation shoot.

*Note for non-shooters; A fishtail wind is one which either faces directly towards or away from the shooter and flicks alternately left and right, either side of zero. Fishtail winds require fast shooting, as having the wrong direction set on the wind arm of the rifle's sights doubles the error and results in a dropped point (or worse.)

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Imperial Meeting Day 3 - The Vital Urgency of Loafing

My day started with the Donegall at 300 yards about 09:15 this morning, which went pretty well. I wasn't on the best firing point but managed to get into a reasonable position. There was still a slight wobble in my sight picture but a bit of careful centring of the wobble and good control of my now apparently correctly functioning trigger helped me to keep it together for a creditable 50.8 whereupon I was "randomly" chosen for a trigger check by the RO.

During the early stages of the Imperial, when there are relatively few competitions scheduled and there is usually a large gap in the day, it's important to take some time to relax and loaf around a bit. There's actually a fair amount of research which demonstrates that people who are well rested perform better in skill sports so refuse to feel guilty about this and indulge your inner sloth a bit. As I wasn't back on until 15:45 I did a couple of errands and then indulged my inner sloth by having a power nap.

Following said powernap the Lovell at 1000 yards went fairly well. I converted a bullseye second sighter but managed to put the next nine shots in the vee, resulting in a tie shoot between me, Ian Shaw (Scotland CWG Team Shooter) and Keith Pugh to be held on Monday. The trigger had held out well at 300x but seemed to creep a bit more frequently during the second shoot.

Moving back on to Century Range and the start of the Grand Aggregate, I poked in a 75.11 to finish the day clean despite trying quite hard to wing one out left; although the trigger had starting to have creep on about every second shot. I've got an early Range Officer duty before shooting at 11:45 tomorrow, so the rifle is going back to the armourer for another crack and I've made arrangements to have a brand new trigger available if required. Shooting pardner Chris had a cracker of a shoot at 500, taking second equal with a 75.14.

A gentle 5k jog around camp after shooting, followed by a shower then an awesome Trinidadian curry for dinner chez Gomez with the West Indies teams and then over to the BCRC for the overseas team reception.


Saturday, 12 July 2014

Imperial Meeting Day 2 - My Rifle is Trying to Kill Me

Today was a day of niggling rifle troubles. I managed to average 49 ex 50 over three ranges, losing all three out the sides*, however the major issue was with the trigger on my rifle. I've had a few issues during the season with it, mostly to do with an intermittent creep**.

I started off with a mediocre 50.5 at 600 yards, just about wobbling all ten shots into the bullseye, but when it came to the traditional trigger test the rifle just would not lift the 1.5 kilogram minimum mass. After a couple of abortive attempts, I took the rifle to the range office, where it just squeaked through on the last attempt resulting in an admonition to get my armourer to increase the weight. This was something of a surprise as the trigger had only been reset two weeks previously.

My armourer had a look at the rifle and very kindly spent half an hour resetting the trigger again. And so I set off to 500 yards, where I only managed a mediocre 48.6, leaking an inner either side at least partially due to the intermittent but fairly horrific creep the trigger started developing halfway through the shoot. Another visit to the armourer ensued, who looked a bit puzzled but said he'd take it apart at the end of the day if I could survive one more range.

I managed a sensible 49.7 in the Admiral Hutton competition at 900 yards, losing one to a wind change in the aim*** while trying to get the damn rifle to go off. With the rifle safely delivered over for the trigger to be stripped and re-built I headed over to the BCRC for barbecue with the West Indies teams, who the GB Team are hosting in acknowledgement of their wonderful hospitality during last year's tour.

This feels like progress. We'll find out in the 09:15 detail of the Donegall at 300 yards tomorrow morning.

*Note for non-shooters. Losing a shot "out the side" is shooter-speak for meaning that you lost a point because you got the wind wrong rather than because you fired a bad shot. This is often seen as being somehow "better" than losing a point because you fired a crap shot. In reality, of course, it's no different to firing a crap shot; you made a mistake and lost a point. Additionally, lots of people do stick them out the side and pretend to themselves that it was a wind change. This is not good.

**Note for non-shooters. "Creep" means that you can feel when the trigger is about to go off (which is bad.) The trigger should "break" suddenly and cleanly. The cause is a poorly designed, manufactured or adjusted trigger. In this case it seems to be a minor manufacturing flaw.

***Note for non-shooters. In the pantheon of reasons for losing a point, having the wind change on you in the aim is considered one of the most unfortunate of causes. It is most definitely not the shooter's fault as they clearly fired a good shot and definitely got the wind right at the time they read it, but the pesky wind changed while they were on aim. The effect is still the same and it's usually an indicator they need to shoot faster.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Imperial Meeting Day 1

After the past of few weeks of desperately wanting to finish work and start shooting, I made it down to Bisley on Wednesday night with the idea of doing the shopping and getting camp set up early on Thursday morning; however when my alarm went off at 06:45 everything suddenly felt significantly less pressing than the night before and I only made it out of bed around 08:45.

A morning of shopping and domestic bliss ensued, as I had nothing important to do until the Veteran's Match at 17:15 in the afternoon. Other, that is, than the hour and a half of work I owed my boss, which eventually got done in the Surrey Rifle Association bar at lunchtime because of the club's Wi-Fi connection.

The afternoon rolled along quietly and I sloped over to the 500 yard point after a cup of tea round at Chris (Chris Watson, my shooting partner for Glasgow 2014) and Vicki's caravan near the British Commonwealth Rifle Club. I shot an acceptable 50.6 in fairly benign conditions, coached by Chris, for whom I later returned the favour. Our duty done, we headed off to the Old Sergeant's Mess for a protein-heavy barbecue and the club AGM.

A sensible start to this year's campaign.