Thursday, July 26, 2007

Cool New Toy

Did I luck out or what? While at Perry I eventually made my way to Champion’s Choice at Commercial Row and had an opportunity to play with a Feinwerkbau AW-93. I’ve handled a few in the last two years; two of my friends swear by them and I was extremely impressed with their gun’s elegance in design and the how well they were crafted.

The temptation was too great, so I ordered one. Being middle-aged I’m still surprised that I get this feeling, the feeling like a six year old that’s only a week away from Christmas. It is what it is, a new toy, but a really spiffy toy.

Bringing this puppy up to speed to shoot bullseye is certainly going to be an interesting journey. I’m certain that I’ll have to restrain myself from using it before it’s ready for me.

Update: 08/15/2007

Thought I’d give you some insights about my new toy. First off, I’m still a little weary of trying to use this thing in a match, think I’ll need about four, five or even six months experimenting with it before it sees the light of day.

Apparently its design was based on the old Russian IJ35 as many of us know also spawned the very popular Baikal IZH-35m. It was clearly built by old world craftsmen and its design is extremely complicated. Without discounting the 208s, 280s, GSPs, SSPs or Pardinis, it’s the most complicated gun I’ve ever seen. But it looks very beefy and should holdup for a long time.

Funny though, when you rack the slide, it sounds like you’re closing the hatch on a tank. Ka-Clunk! Its balance is legendary and the trigger mechanism is to die for (SMOOTH as silk). The recoil suppression system appears to actually work and I find myself not gripping the gun as hard as I usually do.

I’ve got an issue with the anatomical grips. The thumb knuckle near the web of my hand gets in the way; there isn’t enough room where the grip rolls over with the back strap. Although, the thought of getting the Dremel out seems a little drastic, it would be akin to performing brain surgery with a dull machete. As well, finding a scope mount to my liking appears to be no small chore either.

If I get a chance, I'll post a test target.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Hitch Hiker's Guide to Camp Perry

For those of you who have never gone, let me ask the question even I have pondered: Why is it that everyone who attends has this love-fest mentality about the Nationals and Camp Perry in particular? It’s simple, everyone’s on the same sheet and they simply adore the sport. OK, it’s easy to communicate about similar interests but having the same collective devotion, almost reverence, creates a temporary cult experience that you have to see firsthand. It’s a blast, and then everyone pulls up stakes and heads home.

So, if you’re inclined or giving serious consideration about attending next year the following is a brief survivor’s guide.

Several people have published lists or guides about what to bring or how to function at Perry. I really don’t see a need to tour that real estate all over again. Steve Turner and Justin Nystrom freely provide excellent guidance about what to bring and other insightful thoughts that’ll make life on the line a lot easier. I think they've both done an excellent job. Keep in mind the Range Officers, as nice and accommodating as they are, expect you to be prepared and perform on time. When you have close to three hundred men and women making up a relay, ROs are fully aware that another five hundred will soon be right behind you that same day. Unnecessary delays are not well tolerated.

Wind was mentioned in my prior post and its effects can’t be understated at Perry. This brings me to a story by my old gunsmith. Marlin Weaver at an earlier time in his life claimed to have been Bill Blankenship’s armorer for three years and occasionally shot with him on the AMU team. He explained that Bill was not only an excellent pistolaro, but his skill was so far out in the stratosphere his ego felt that range practice was beneath his station in life. Apparently the unit commander would routinely give Bill a hard time for not being more diligent at practice--assuming he even showed up.

Marlin would however on very rare occasions notice Bill practicing for hours at a time, provided the weather was inclement. When asked why he loved to train in the pouring down rain or on extremely gusty days, Bill replied, “Any fool can score well in ideal conditions.” He had an insight that came from experience; to win at Perry you needed a big edge and that edge was to embrace Mother Nature on the line with you.

Wish I did, but I don’t have any insights on how to train like Mr. Blankenship. As a matter of national pride during the Cold War he was on the government’s payroll to shoot pistol; that was the gentleman's day job until retirement. For the rest of us the best we can do is adapt as best we can. I got one tip redundantly from other Perry shooters, "shoot slow fire like sustained fire." I haven't yet deciphered that little pearl of Zen knowledge, but when I do, I'll clue you in on it.

I found it useful to have a bungee cord or two. Due to the wind it came in handy for strapping my gunbox down to the shooting bench. Without it I would have had to eventually wrangle the darn thing out of Lake Erie.

It can rain there at a moments notice. Since there are no mountains near Lake Erie weather fronts from Canada move in very quickly. Have a separate range bag and put in an inexpensive rain suit with one or two plastic garbage bags. The bags are useful for keeping your box dry while you’re on the ready line or actually shooting. Remember, there are no rain delays just delays for lightning.

I’ve found having premoistened lens cleaning tissues for your spotting scope or dot sight was very handy, especially to clean the sweat off your shooting glasses.

The only potable water available is the water you lug to the line or water provided by the NRA. Bring enough with you to take care of your daily needs. On Monday I watched a fellow shooter at station #378 drink a gallon by 1:00PM then searched for more within the hour.

Eventually you’ll need a brass deflection screen. I was amazed at the number of people who shoot without brass catchers. And we know how that works: all those empty flying brass cases are aimed right at your head. You'll want a catcher too, the ROs routinely remind all shooters to police the grounds, "including 22 ammunition." From the standpoint of speed while proceeding from one bench to another, a catcher is just plain handy.

Relay #1 starts at 7:00AM immediately after raising of Colours. I mean the first round goes down range right then and there. You'll need to manage your time for sleep, breakfast and any other warm up routines necessary to pull the first well placed shot right on time. If your accommodations are located in Port Clinton it’s not that far away but you’ll need to budget adequate time for nourishment to start the day well. Most restaurants in the area that serve breakfast open at 5:00AM, to accommodate those hardy bass fisherman enjoying Lake Erie. Although, I should mention, food is available on post at reasonable prices.

When you're at the range, it's a long way back to the parking lot. Unless you're a minimalist, you won't survive without a cart to haul your junk around. You're not going back to the car unless you really need to. You'll move all your stuff to the ready line, then proceed to the 50 yard firing line--shoot, then tote your things to the 25 yard firing bench to finish the match. Before your relay starts you'll pickup a full complement of targets before proceeding to the ready line. Now this is unique: No repair centers or pasters...all targets are full sized B-6 and B-8 that have been wallpaper pasted to new cardboard backers. So, you'll have to drag around all the stuff mentioned above and another nine backers as well. Believe me, you'll need a cart.

When you do get to the firing line be prepared. The RO will announce the three minute prep time and Perry it's three actual minutes. I think a lot of us get into some bad habits at home because local matches are much more casual. You should seriously consider organizing your gunbox and other equipment well in advance of arrival to the ready line. Things go smoother and you won't feel rushed or like you're holding the entire line hostage.

The road that parallels the firing range will have several military armorer trailers and the CMP's parked near by which are open to the public. Don't be bashful about using the services of any military armorers. I had a trigger that didn't weight out properly and a CMP smith adjusted it on the spot including minor parts--for free. When I arrived at Perry I scooped up all my guns and had the CMP smiths weight the triggers and apply their inspection seals. It's not required (unless you're doing the CMP matches) but the NRA and the CMP do spot check triggers on the line. Low and behold, the NRA weighted my gun's trigger prior to the 45 match; the one that was repaired 24 hours earlier by the CMP armorer.

This may sound simplistic but if you have backup guns bring them. It's one thing for a gun or optical sight to fail you at a local or regional match, it's another when you're at the nationals. There are no 'do overs' and you're not going to be able to attend a comparable venue sometime next week or month. During the 45 match my Ultradot lost its elevation adjustment and I struggled (through the lost science of Kentucky windage) to find the point of impact. Prior to this disaster I never considered bringing another gun, and at the time, it would have been easy to have the thing declared disabled.

As to lodging, ample space is available in the area adjacent to Port Clinton. For those of you who are real diehards, I guess you could stay in one of the infamous huts but they're crude. The huts were originally designed to be prisoner of war housing during WWII. They look like it too. A little bit of shopping in advance, say about two or more months before arrival, with local lodging establishments is generally the route most participants go.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Very First Time

Boy, where do I start? I wanted to write about my first trip to Camp Perry without being glib by using lots of tired and overused clich├ęs. I don’t even know if that’s possible. But what I do know are most of the descriptions others have expressed don’t describe the event with adequate justice. It was a marvelous experience which I’m planning on doing again.

Luckily for me I placed several times in expert class matches and picked up about 48 NRA points which I promptly converted to medals; thought they’d make nice souvenirs since this was the centennial for the national matches. I really didn’t do all that well from a scoring standpoint due to match conditions but neither did anyone else.

Camp Perry looked like I’d pictured it. The huts, well, look like sixty year old prisoner of war huts with absolutely no practical purpose other than keeping the rain off your head—but not your feet.

Vendors’ Row is a fairly long street dedicated solely to retailers inventoried with some of the most exotic firearms and related precision shooting gadgets that you could ever dream of. Here’s a tip about dealing with retailers there: Bring a pile of cash…no, make that two piles. The breath of their inventory is difficult to describe and most retailers do an excellent job of bringing brick and mortar employees on site who are knowledgeable and extremely helpful. I guess it’s a road trip for everyone.

I started Perry on Sunday by attending the Small Arms Firing School sponsored by the CMP. It wasn’t all that helpful from a technical perspective (I actually fell a sleep during the last half hour), the fun part is at the end of the day when they take you out to fire rack M-9s. When you arrive on the line there is one CMP coach for every two shooters, who have been garnered from the various military shooting teams to provide technical instruction.

Somehow I had a firing bench all to myself with the coach as well, Captain Janine M. Mills, from the USMC Pistol Team. You really need to picture this: As I walked up to the firing line I readily noticed the lady captain dressed in fatigues, maybe all of 27, Maui Jim wraparound sunglasses, 5’ 11” tall, wearing a campaign hat…and I swear, she must have been recruited from the Ford Modeling Agency. ‘Stunning’ is about the only term that really comes to mind and her physical distraction didn’t help my scores one little bit. She was extremely helpful, professional and proceeded to tell me her formative shooting experiences were from competing in International while attending the Navel Academy at Annapolis. I must have been blessed that day, got the hot chick instructor who knows how to shoot. Captain Mills went on to compete in the President's 100 and the NTI, and in doing so, established the lady's high aggregate (645-6x) and won the Rose Krelstein Trophy.

Monday the weather was much like Sunday, it was hot—very hot. Late in the day I drove past a bank’s marquee that listed the temp as 100 degrees and there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. I consumed about 70 ounces of water that day which doesn't include another 24 ounces of beer after returning to my hotel room because I still felt dehydrated.

In the past I’ve been skeptical about unsolicited descriptions regarding the shooting conditions at Perry. The range is extremely open, possibly 1,500 feet across and 800 to 1000 yards long to the backstop, directly behind the backstop is Lake Erie. ‘Open’ doesn’t describe conditions adequately at the firing range. Aside from the post’s facilities there isn’t any form of cover, not a single tree. Due to its’ open nature the range at Perry can bake you and at the same time have 35 miles per hour wind gusts roll across the line even on a “pleasant” day.

Others shooters commented to me about this very subject. A few pointed out there was a reason “national records” and “records set at Perry” are recorded separately. The intimation is Perry may be a much more difficult venue. I look back at the outdoor shooting I’ve done and never have I encountered rain that directly pelted my gun, wind that pushed the point of aim from 10 ring to 6 ring, or wind gusting where one out of seven or eight shooters fire on adjacent targets.

The ROs don’t stop for anything except lightning and the occasional break for a refire due to range alibis (which I experienced three times during my week there). At most local club matches, with the possible exception of locations in the high plains or deserts states, covered stations are the norm and some wind baffling is created due to the need for close backstops or berms. Not at this place, Perry is noted for loosing lots of targets due to wind during a course of fire.

Here are some highlights of my excursion:

Got to meet Dr. Norman Wong, he’s truly a charming man. A lot of credit should go his way for all of the work he’s done for junior shooters.

Spoke at length with Ed Masaki and was given an opportunity to play with both his new Dragon (gas) Gun and the auctioned Camp Perry Centennial Gun. Oh, I also sat in on Ed’s 45 gunsmithing class even though I’m the kind of guy who’s uncertain which end of a screwdriver is useful. By the way...yes, I forced myself into wearing the infamous Team Masaki shirt, ugly as it is with blue trim. All in all, it was an honor to pay tribute to Ed, he's truly a great human being. I stood on the ready line, in a rainstorm with 30 miles per hour wind, waiting to be called to the third relay and in the process watched my friend Brian Keyser [pronounced Kaiser not Key-sir, pictured left, aka The Snakeman from Birdsboro] win the Harry Reeves Match. Brain told me sometime ago that he started shooting bullseye with a revolver. Guess it paid off for this most prestigious of wheel-gun matches.

Watched Brian Zins cleanup during the third relay of the 45 match and snag the national title for the eighth time. There were two other serious contenders who could have snatched it, and by the end of the CF match with his modest scores (modest for Brian), I was doubtful he’d win.

As I was picking up my own NRA loot at the awards office, had a chance to talk with Brian after the 45 match and casually asked him, "how'd ya shoot?" In reply I got that devilish look, you know the kind where there's enormous restraint of excessive joy and a friendly but sly reply; "Oh...pretty good T," which was followed by a subtle nod.

Laura and I had a great meal with my friends Joe Borelli and Doug Rankin, possibly the two nicest gentlemen you’d ever want to meet.

And I had an opportunity to speak with a lot of people from the BE-List, other notables in the community and the president of the NRA (because he was probably fundraising one-on-one).

On Wednesday I blew off the practice match and made a day of it with Laura at Put-in-Bay. It kind of reminds me of a Midwestern St. Barts. The ferry ride may be inexpensive but lunch generally isn't. It's quaint. And we made another side trip out to Marblehead Friday afternoon.

I’m already planning my trip for 2008, I just need to train in the open wind a little more frequently.