In the past week I have flown halfway around the world (twice), had a wonderful long weekend at my spiritual home and made a good hundred holes in bits of paper at various distances with a view to qualifying for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Originally tacked onto the front end of a business trip to North America, I have ended up having to return to NZ on the May bank holiday Monday owing to a delay in my project. Avoid this if you possibly can, because forty-eight hours of flying in six days in economy is a real pain in the arse.
What I can heartily recommend is enjoying a sport like shooting, where people against whom I was directly competing went out of their way to help me try and beat them: One lent me a rifle to shoot; another loaded top-notch ammunition for me to use. Other people made similar efforts, offered to load me ammo in case of issues, gave me lifts around camp and to the airport on the Monday. You know who you are. Legends. Without people like this, I wouldn't have been able to shoot at all, and our sport would be just another kind of game.
The trial itself was based around the Army Open, with Queen's I, Queen's II and Palma courses of fire spread over the course of the weekend. Being the forward-thinking, war-fighting chaps that they are, the ATSC has made it any ammo and all ICFRA targets. Combine the hard targets with tricky winds and it was bound to be an interesting weekend; and so it proved. It started in pretty benign fashion at 300 yards, with winds not far off zero and a small spread; however back at 500 yards the bracket widened to two minutes, and even further at 600 to run from about 1 right to over 3 left. In the event, I wasn't too unhappy dropping only three points. At least once I had seen everyone else's results. No one managed to clean the shoot, and only two people managed 104s.
The vicious fishtail wind continued into the afternoon, with occasional light showers of rain adding to the excitement. The bracket at 300 ran to about a minute either side of zero. I lost one well out right to a combination of a bad shot and a poor wind call. The bracket at 500 yards was similar, although I managed to avoid firing at the extremes, but I found myself sneaking out into the inner several times. Unlike at previous ranges, my group wasn't centred and I ended up with a 47 as a result of the sudden changes in strength and angle. Still, it could've been worse; the shooters on first detail at 600x took a beating with a huge wind bracket running to several minutes in either direction, whereas those of us on second detail had it a bit easier. There was only right wind to deal with, and I managed to squeeze them all into the tight ICFRA bullseye for a total of 146. Despite what I would generally consider mediocre scores, I was in fifth place in the open competition and first in the trials by three points.
On Sunday morning, the conditions looked readable but proved deceptive. As with the Saturday, the strength and angle would be stable for a few tens of seconds before shifting to a new state extremely rapidly. I only dropped a couple at 800, losing one just out either side. At 900 yards, the wind had strengthened but the general pattern continued of rapid changes within a bracket of 4 to 9 left. After a bull and an inner for my first two shots to count I got caught badly in the aim for a far right outer. ICFRA targets are utterly brutal in hard conditions. The good news in the cloud of being four points down is that I'd managed to identify two general wind conditions: one at a bit under 6 left and another just over 8 left. Using this approach I only lost one further point for a 70. Despite two relatively good scores, my lead in the trials had diminished to a single point.
Up until the final range, I had consistently held about 3/4 of a minute across the ranges. Unfortunately a miserable firing point didn't help my position and I had serious difficulties maintaining an acceptable group despite getting up and attempting to completely reset my position after five shots: tighten my sling, move my mat and do some padding of the drop-off in the firing point. I didn't end up with anything particularly wide unlike the many other shooters who collected outers and misses, but I did end up with a couple of magpies and an awful lot of inners spread at various points around the bullseye for a 61. My group was not all that it might have been.
At the end of the day, while I didn't win the first trial, I did manage to shoot well and led until the final range, losing the lead only after a difficult 1000 yards detail. I'll take second place, four points off the lead, especially as the next nearest competitor was a further eighteen points behind.
Onwards and upwards.