By Vic Fogle
Shooting course designers are an eccentric bunch. We naturally expect them to design ingenious and challenging courses that test our skills and reactions. But some designers feel themselves challenged to surpass the merely workman-like and to make their courses truly memorable. Indeed, many shooters would argue that course designers use their temporary power for a kind of payback, to avenge themselves for humbling indignities suffered at the hands of previous course designers. But this explanation, although it undeniably has merit, is incomplete. Beyond vengeance there can be sheer joyous, exuberant, inconoclastic creativity, resulting in match stages that make an in-your-face statement and demand a place in your memory.
How would you describe people who combined arrays of knock-downs, no-shoots, oscillating and briefly exposed targets, and then ended with a plate concealed behind Barney the dinosaur? Or who, on Easter, concealed a critical plate behind a large figure of the Easter bunny and used as a stop target a string-suspended egg? Words such as irreverent, misanthropic, antisocial, and sick come to mind. Clearly, the Albany Rifle and Pistol Club has its share of creative designers, and one of them provided an exemplary course for the Oregon Full Auto State Championship, held recently at ARPC, Albany. Oregon.
At first glance, such descriptive terms should not apply to this year’s subgun course designer, Jim Farmer. A most pleasant, engaging, genial man who has rapidly mastered his new Thompson to become one of the club’s top shooters, he would appear to believe all of these adjectives. But consider the 27 target course he designed for Saturdays shooting. It began with weak hand (shoulder?), lateral movement by the shooter, went through knockdown plates (with interspersed no-shoots) so thick that they withstood numerous hits, incorporated a lateral mover with three small target balloons to be broken, interposed a semi-hidden target so far to the starting side that the shooter had to remember to cross-fire back to it from the middle firing station, and had a pepper popper that activated both a turn and drop and an oscillating target with small balloon that barely cleared the side of a no-shoot on its initial oscillations. Shooters had, in addition to everything else, to be careful at what point they stopped to change magazines. Jim’s elevated knock-down plates, hinged to the top of stands, proved difficult enough that this writer was stonewalled- one such plate survive four MP5 bursts that moved it before the fifth burst finally took it down. All this was supplemented by more steel knockdowns and bowling pins on pieces of end-on I-beam on the ground. I rest my case.
One of the most thoughtful features of Jim’s course, whose principal elements were repeated on Sunday except for deletion of the mover, oscillator, and balloons, is the balance between targets requiring power and finesse. We have all seen courses limited to paper targets, where matches could be won with highly impractical .380 creations with lightened springs and loads so feeble that one wondered if they would shoot beyond 50 yards—guns whose only requirement and purpose is that they penetrate a single thickness of cardboard. Not so here. While there are sometimes cardboard scored targets, Albany’s courses are heavily weighted towards steel knock-down targets of variety of sizes and shapes to keep people “practical”. Rather than the designer being dogmatic about it or requiring a separate shooting class, the choice between major and minor power is left where it should be, with the shooter: you’re welcome to shoot even a 7.62mm x 25mm gun, as several people do, but you’d better be good with it and have plenty of ammo ready to use. The winner is, of course, the person who dispatches his or her targets in the shortest time, after adjustment for unshot shoot targets and shot no-shoots.
In fiercely-fought competition on both days, shooters turned in some fine runs. To the surprise of few locals, who have become sophisticated about such things, it was not the most current weaponry that prevailed. Saturdays top subgunner, Wayne Woodcock, brought considerable experience at winning along with his 1928 Thompson. Second was course designer Jim Farmer (surprise, surprise), also with a 1928 Thompson. They were trailed by Steve Arnold (M1 Thompson), Jim Ebert (1928 Thompson) and Jim Wright (MP5). Once again, four of the top five finishers on Sunday’s simplified 28 target course also paid tribute to the continued dominance of a perfected design. These top five were Wayne Woodcock, Bruce Fried (1928A1 Thompson), Jim Farmer, Greta Morrell (1928A1 Thompson) and Donn Easton (Uzi). High shooters in the Oregon Shooting Sports Association state championship were the high scorers in Saturdays course – Wayne Woodcock, Steve Arnold and Jim Ebert.
One of the things that attracted us to the various action shooting sports is the rejection of purely static targets and prescribed shooting spots in favor of moving targets and more reactive shooting. Unfortunately, some clubs limit themselves to the placement of a few no-shoots, which are themselves static, or too complex and difficult to remember choreography in which the shooter tries to recall which targets he engages from the right or left side of a barricade, then which he can shoot after stepping outside a box or through a door, etc., and finally the order of engagement of the final targets. Ensuing penalties for “procedural errors” bear little relation to the shooter’s probable order of finish in a real world situation. These are, as shooters have noted, impractical constraints involving both target and shooter movement. At Albany matches, they generally don’t apply and in Jim Farmer’s courses on this weekend, they definitely didn’t.
In Most Albany shoots, static displays are augmented by several kinds of movement. You simply do what the course requires you to do as it unfolds, so to speak, and you may have to make a split second decision as to which target will be available longer. You may encounter a pepper popper concealed by another; you can’t shoot the second until you get the first down, however long that takes. One of the poppers may activate a lateral mover in a track and possibly an oscillating target whose movement makes it resemble a shoot target briefly appearing alternately from both sides of a no-shoot. Frequently these two targets are combined with an even more briefly appearing target.
For the benefit of those who would like to try making an oscillating target, a few words may be in order. The short description is that it’s a pivoting target frame suspended on a stand so that it can swing from side to side. Construction of this target involves a metal target frame with a piece of angle iron (for deflection of low shots) welded to the bottom at the center and extending downward. To the back of this angle iron, perhaps a foot below the crosspiece, is welded a hub of some kind that fits a matching bearing welded to the top of a steel support stand on the ground, so that the target can pivot about the hub. This hub should be a smooth piece of cold-rolled steel, while the bearing in which it turns need not be a steel bearing. A material such as nylon, Delrin, or Rivar works at least as well and is long lasting. See accompanying photo. An added refinement to allow some variation in the amount of oscillation can be made by extending a piece of large diameter all-thread on beyond the hub and making a counterweight that be screwed up or down to change the length of the moment arm. Usually a small balloon is placed in the middle of the oscillating shoot target so that it is initially visible on one side of a no-shoot during the widest extend of its oscillation. Naturally, each oscillation goes through a progressively smaller angle of arc until the target ceases to move, so there is a very real need to hit it as soon as possible after it begins to oscillate.
This writer’s favorite, however, is a diabolical no-shoot cover target designed to expose a shoot target for a very brief period of time. Called officially a “turn and drop”, it has been called unofficially by several more colorful and picturesque names. It, too, involves both a steel target frame and a separate steel base. The base consists of cross pieces of steel on the ground which hold a vertical column that can be made of angle or channel or even round stock, but which must have steel welded across its top to make a rectangular opening. A metal target frame is made with stub sides of just a few inches height to hold wooden lath to which the target is stapled. To the bottom (crosspiece) of this target frame is welded at right angles downward a piece of steel flat bar stock that will go through the rectangular opening at the top of our base. At any time during fabrication this flat bar extension may be locally heated while held in a vise and bent 90 degrees laterally with a wrench. At a distance of a foot or so below this bend, the bar stock is repositioned and bent back the other way. Stand the target frame in place so that this bottom extension goes through its slot and the lower bend is a couple of inches above the slot. Mark where the lower end of the extension with the bends comes in the stand and cut a slot there where a small piece of flat bar can be inserted to hold the target frame upright. This small supporting piece is then attached by string to some actuating device, here a pepper popper. When the latter goes down, the string jerks out the supporting piece, the target frame will drop slightly, turn 90 degrees (sideways) and expose the previously-hidden shoot target while dropping the distance between bends, then turn back to its original orientation as it continues to drop and once again obscures the shoot target. While the frame thus drops the distance between bends, it will be edge-on to the shooter, so that the target it has obscured-perhaps a steel plate or a bowling pin-will be visible for a second or so. Then the no-shoot comes to rest again, a few inches lower, once again obscuring the target, which has been deliberately chosen for its limited height. Naturally, the time that the normally-concealed target is exposed can be controlled by the vertical fall of the no-shoot target, which is itself determined by the distance between bends.
To add realism to his course, Jim needed to establish firing lances and to conceal certain of the targets until he was ready to reveal them to each shooter. For this he used large cylindrical empty plastic chemical drums, which serve admirable in place of walls. They are opaque, lightweight, will not shoot apart when hit, do not rust, have no sharp edges, can be conveniently stored outside in the rain and when used with their lids, will hold targets of various kinds on top. Such drums may be available in your area through chemical suppliers, through your local heavy industry or through a recycling program.
Compared with the imaginative subgun course, the assault rifle and crew-served matches were simple, straight-forward exercises. The course of fire consisted of hitting a water bottle at 25 yards to start, then knocking down six 1’ x 1’ steel plates at 100 yards, six 1 1/2’ x 1’ plates at 150 yards, and three 2’ x 1’ plates at 200 yards, then hitting another water bottle at 25 yards to stop time. A no-shoot interspersed somewhere among the plates at each distance discouraged traversing fire. On Saturday the shooters knelt and fired over two bales of hay stacked one atop the other. Sunday competitors rested their guns across horizontal plastic chemical drums and shot the same course of fire.
Saturday winners in minor caliber were: Mel Andrews (M16), Walt Engel (AC556),, Jerry Hesting (M16A1), Jim Wright (AR18), and Jim Ebert (Bushmaster J15). Major caliber placing were: Jerry Hesting (MG34), Wayne Woodcock (G3), Mark Cook (G3), Fred Simmons (M14) and John Storms (BAR 1918A2). Crew-served class contestants shot the same course. Placements were: Jerry Hesting (MG34), Randy Van Hecke (M60), Robert Storey (M60), Trent Williamson (M60), and Roger Lottier (M60). Oregon State Shooting Association champions, recognized for assault rifle only, were the top three finishers on Saturday. In order: Mel Andrews, Wayne Woodcock and Mark Cook.
Because there were fewer shooters on Sunday, major and minor calibers were combined. Top assault rifle placements were: Trent Williamson (M16), Fred Simmons (M14), Roger Lottier (M16), Mark Cook (G3) and Donn Easton (AR15). The four who shot crew served on Sunday were, in order of finish: Robert Storey (M249), James Lambert (M60), Roger Lottier (M249) and Tren Williamson (M249).
Shooting such competitive courses provides several satisfactions. First, there is the enjoyment of “hitting the mark”, of seeing one’s skill improve as he or she hits more targets or hits the same number of targets faster. Closely allied with this increase in skill is the elation of placing higher in the final rankings. Goal setting here can being one’s efforts to a sharp focus. Instead of “just shooting”, pick a single clearly better shooter and try to analyze why he or she is better. Then practice your shortcomings. You should channel your practice into whatever exercise(s) will help you close the gap faster. When you can regularly beat this person, pick another who is better and try to beat him or her.
Many of us have friends we see only when shooting. These contacts can be extremely pleasant to maintain, involving, as they do, comradeship and shared experience. And it can be especially pleasing to outshoot one’s friends:
A third source of gratification comes from customizing and improving our equipment so that it’s better suited to our needs than when we acquired it. This process of alteration can begin with something as basic as refinishing the stock or the metal parts. After that, the project can take on a life of its own. One of the most important things a competitive shooter should learn is that the gun and its components can always be improved. Such alterations may involve restocking, rebarreling, sight replacement, modification of the gun’s rate of fire, addition of a compensator, fitting a different handgrip, etc. Some owners to beyond this and adapt higher capacity or lower cost magazines to fit the well or combine existing magazines into jumbo sized ones. Going even further, it’s sometimes possible, by rebarreling or reboring, to change calibers at will, as by adapting a 7.62mm x 25mm to 9mm x 19mm. Changes such as these give the shooter a sense of satisfaction over having improved his guns and, in a very real sense, left his mark on it.
Not to be ignored is the opportunity to learn from our shooting. Many of the guns we use, especially the older ones, possess their own mystique. Who among us has not seen Thompsons and PPShs, for example, featured in documentaries or films and wanted to try them? Our competitions give us those opportunities to become really familiar with such guns. We learn the limits of practical usefulness of various models, of how a faster rate of fire is not necessarily better, or of the great differences in knock down power of various calibers. We get an informed idea about why countries developed the designs they did. We become aware of similarities among “generations” of guns. These kinds of knowledge are, after all, parts of our military heritage that we can ill afford to lose.
A final reason for the competitions, perhaps more important than any of the others, is to provide not only competitive goals for shooters but also a more defensible reason for owning our guns. The wold-be gun confiscators who constantly try to revise the Constitution are fond of claiming that our guns “have no legitimate sporting purpose”. Albany Rifle and Pistol Club offers a well rounded program of legitimate sporting competitions for most guns, and particularly for machine guns.
If additional clubs would sponsor more planned events of all kinds for machine guns, our case that machine guns are genuine sporting arms would be a great deal stronger.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N11 (August 1999)|