I’ve finally returned home from the 2017 USA Shooting Shotgun Fall Selection shoot in Tillar, AR. I went down there knowing that I wasn’t going to be competitive, but I wanted to use this as a learning experience. It was my first international competition, but it certainly won’t be my last. I come home with a head full of knew knowledge and a few friendships that might just last a lifetime.
I arrived at the Delta Resort and Spa in Tillar, AR around 5pm on September 26th. The range closes at 5, so I didn’t get a chance to get any shooting done, but I got checked in to my room and unloaded the car. I took a quick trip to town for a visit to Walmart in order to get some supplies (a small microwave and some groceries), setup my travel network in the room, and took a walk around the property before settling in for the night. The next morning was the first day of open practice and I was on the trap line at 9am as part of the first squad out. I was going to make the most of the two days of open practice since I had only shot on the bunker at the Cardinal Center in the past year. My first round was a 23 which made me feel pretty good about my abilities. My second round was a perfect 25 which made be seriously wonder why this seemed so “easy”. If I’m doing this well, I should make short work of this event! Boy, was I wrong. I planned on shooting all 5 bunkers on that first day so I could get a good look at all the backgrounds, and while I did great on 1 and 2, I followed that 25 with a 17 and had to reconsider my earlier thinking. During the day, I met David Mosscrop, a member of the Canadian National Team and an ISSF Certified Instructor. David gave me some tips and that night I sat down to create a game plan for the next day’s training.
When I got out to the firing line Thursday morning, I knew that my game plan for training was going to get thrown out of the window. There were a lot more people there than there was the day before and there was no way I was going to get a trap all to myself to run through my plans. I spent the day shooting with various groups before we were able to get trap 5 late in the afternoon and David came out to assist me in some training. He gave me some more good tips and I got ready for the next day which was Official Training (OTR).
OTR is basically a dry run of the first day of competition. You are squadded up and you shoot 75 birds; 3 rounds of 25. They don’t keep score… it’s just a way to show everyone how the actual competition is going to go. I didn’t do too bad, but I didn’t do too great either in OTR. One problem I ran into is that once OTR starts, there’s no practice. You can’t go out to the range once everyone is done shooting for the day to get some training in. Sure, you can go shoot skeet or 5 stand or sporting clays, but you can’t shoot trap. I still went out and shot a little skeet (more on this later), but other than that, my time shooting would be limited to competition only. There would be the one day of OTR with 75 targets, then 4 days of competition with day 1 being 75 targets, 2 being 50, 3 having 75 birds, and day 4 consisting of 50 targets and finals. Each round is 25 targets, so you’d shoot 2 or 3 times per day with a round taking about 30 minutes to complete, then you’d wait for 2 hours or so before you shot again on a different bunker.
As Day 1 kicked off, I wasn’t doing great, but I wasn’t doing horribly either. I shot a 19, a 16, and a 20 in my first 75 targets for a Day 1 total of 55. Considering that I’d only been on a bunker about a dozen times prior to this, it was about as good as expected. My goal was to average between 18 and 22 per round if possible, and this was on the low end of that range. The next day was a “short” day with only 50 targets and 16 targets into my first round, the rib on my Beretta broke. I had only dropped 4 targets before the problem, then dropped 6 in a row after it broke. I was only able to pick up 3 more birds through the end of that flight to end with a score of 14. I went to my room and ended up using gaffer tape and zip ties to keep the rib on the shotgun. I also took the gun apart because an issue I was having with the recoil from the top barrel kicking the gun into safe. I was able to get everything back together and make it out for my second flight of the day, and even though my gun was held together with tape and zip-ties, I still managed to pull a 19 out of my butt and finished my first 125 with a rather crappy 88.
Due to my Beretta being broken, I moved to my backup SKB for Day 3. This was a bit of a mistake as I hadn’t really set the SKB up for trap in some time and it didn’t really fit me properly, so I spent the night before going through it and doing my best to fit the gun to myself. I also got online and ordered the parts I needed to repair the Beretta and set them to be delivered the next day before 10am. The three rounds of Day 3 ended with a 21, a 15, and a 19, for another total of 55 on the second 75, matching my first 75 score. I had been shooting some skeet during my downtime and figured that since I was there and skeet would be starting the day after trap, I might as well stick around and try my hand at it. I had never shot international skeet before, and thought that since I shot sporting clays in my youth with a low gun, I’d have a bit of an advantage to other folks that were just starting. Again, I made a bad assumption.
As I was walking out the door to my first flight of the day on Day 4, the courier was walking up with the part for my Beretta. I quickly got the Beretta put together again and decided to let the Loctite set while I shot my first round, and it was the worst one yet. I finished with a 13; a pitiful performance and my worst round to date. Luckily, the Beretta was fixed and I was able to use it for my final 25 and pulled out a 20, so I finished on a bit of an high note for myself. Rather than stick around and watch the finals, I immediately went to the skeet fields and started practicing since I knew that once OTR started, I wouldn’t get the chance.
Skeet went horribly. I won’t get into much detail, but let’s just say that I came in dead last. I guess that’s to be expected as I had never shot that style of skeet before and I was woefully unprepared, but I learned a lot thanks to folks like Remington McBee, 2 time Olympian Frank Thompson, and 6 time Olympian, Kim Rhode. I was squadded up with Kim and Remington for the last two days of competition, so it gave me a chance to see the stuff that Remington had shown me in practice put to use. Kim gave me some really good tips right before my last round of the day which I will definitely work on, even if I decide not to compete in skeet in the future. My scores in skeet ended up being as follows: Day 1 – 14, 15, 12; Day 2 – 12, 14; Day 3 – 16, 13, 16; Day 4 – 19, 16. I had learned that the girl shooting ahead of me on my squad for days 3 and 4, Syndey Carson, held a bit further from the houses than others on the squad, so I started to watch her closely and use her same hold points. That improved my scores by a few birds just by doing that. I ended up telling Syndey that she was the best unintentional coach ever, because gained 4 birds just by mimicking her!
All in all, I learned a great deal during the two weeks I spent in Arkansas. Charlie McKenna, the Promatic tech that was onsite, taught me what to look and listen for in the traps, and I got to watch as the USA Shooting team coaches, Todd Graves and Jay Waldron, worked with the crew from Delta to set the trap schemes. It gave me the opportunity to see the equipment used and as questions so I can set the traps back at Cardinal myself. It also gave me some much needed experience as to what to expect during these sorts of events. Spring selection will be taking place at Tucson Trap and Skeet in late March, so that gives me 5 months to practice and prepare should I decide to go there. I guess that means I should probably get out to Cardinal soon and get started.