From August 8 to 17, the Canadian F-Class Nationals and World Championships took place in Ottawa, Canada. These individual and team competitions were the most intense, fun, and educational experiences of my shooting career to date.
It was also wonderful for business. A large proportion of the 400 shooters in attendance relied on the AutoTrickler to save hours of time loading their ammo for the event, and were not shy about telling their friends. Orders were coming in non-stop, and it was great to put a face to the name of so many customers.
In this article I will recall the good, bad, and ugly of my experience. For each match, I have a visual plot indicating the rough difficulty of the conditions and my ability to deal with it. I hope it provides some insight into how I approach the game, and maybe you can learn from some of the mistakes I made along the way.
Interpreting my plots.
It is important to understand that the plot shows the TRUE correction required for each shot, not where the shot actually landed. It is a visualization of the difficulty of the match. My score, 73 with 5 V's out of 75 with 15 V's, indicates my ability to handle the difficult conditions.
In this example, the true wind condition on the range varied between 1 and 3.5 minutes. Shot #8, circled in blue, is quite a bit to the right of shot #7. This indicates a large change happened on the range. As you can see on the row of scores on the top, I lost a point (4, instead of a 5 or V). For the next three shots (yellow), the wind condition was stable at 3 minutes, and I scored 5, 5, and V, meaning I correctly adjusted and they were landing in the center.
Basically, if the plot indicates a large spread, it was a particularly difficult condition to shoot in. With a true wind spread of 2.5 moa, I was able to read, adjust, and shoot all but two shots (#8 and #12) within the 1 moa circle (the second smallest ring). This was one of my better results.
Nationals day 1.
In the morning of the first day of the Nationals, at 700 meters I fired 73-6. While it sounds high, this is actually not a great start. My load for the Jacks is not going to shine at short range in light wind. Now I was in 62nd place, but it's only two points.
For the rest of the day the wind was much more interesting. At a tricky 800m I fired 69-3 which was good enough for 5th place, my highest single finish of any match for the week. There was a 3 minute change between my two sighters. If it wasn't for my plot, I would certainly have had a harder time with this one, as most others did.
The first 900m was a real wakeup call. My 60-1 was 112th place on that match. The wind went crazy, changing 2 minutes at a time, multiple times, and I couldn’t figure it out at all. I realized afterwards I made two major mistakes.
For one, I was taking too long between shots. The wind was changing very rapidly and I was thinking too much, letting the wind change to something completely different than what my partner just fired in. I should have, together with him, shot faster to get more value from each other’s shots.
Secondly, I was looking at the flags for wind strength but missing subtle direction changes. The wind always seemed left to right and consistent strength. I considered the flags unreadable and was trying to focus on the mirage. Usually 1 minute changes are obvious in mirage but the sun was getting low so the mirage was nearly gone.
The angle of the flags was actually swinging from 15 to 45 degrees, which is not clear from the perspective we were shooting from unless you are specifically looking for it. It just didn’t occur to me and probably cost me 10 points. I wasn’t about to make that mistake again.
Nationals day 2.
After a few beers and a good night sleep, day 2 began with a 71-4 for 20th. The wind changes were small, but quick, and I was fighting with it. I should have waited a few extra seconds to shoot at the right time with more confidence. The Jacks were helping, but I shifted around too much and talked myself out of a couple of points.
The 800m was an windy shoot, firing 69-2 for 15th. This is my favorite condition, where I can do relatively well because of my strategy. The wind changes are challenging, but not crazy, and a few points are saved by a mix of optimal group centering, and making precise, careful adjustments for good reasons.
The final 900m was very tough, starting at 4.5 minutes and trending all the way down to zero. I was able to read most of the changes, but completely missed others. The wind kept changing just as I fired. In this scenario, I should have shot more quickly after making a decision, because the wind can change while I'm staring at the crosshair. My 65-3 was 78th place, but only 5 points behind 10th place. When it's rough, it's rough for everyone.
My final position in the grand aggregate for the Nationals was 18th out of 175. That was 19 points behind first place, but only 6 points behind 5th. Having lost so many points to avoidable mistakes (that I learned from) and still being within arm’s length of the top gave me some confidence for things to come.
Team New Brunswick
On the next day was the Lum team match, in which I coached our team from New Brunswick to 7th, out of 22 teams. We finished 1 point behind Canada FTR and 2 points ahead of KP Ballistics (who I would soon be shooting with).
In case you are not familiar, coaching a 4-shooter F-class team match is not like coaching in other sports. There are two jobs: coach and shooter. The shooters bring the rifle and ammo, aim, and pull the trigger. That’s it. The coach does everything else. The coach is in the unique position to plot, read the wind and make every sight adjustment, for every shooter, all day long. There is no better way to practice long range shooting than to make 180 decisions without spending a dime on ammo.
Worlds day 1.
The Worlds got off to an interesting start. The first match at 700m was pretty easy, and I fired a 75-9. I felt happy with that, until I realized it was a 58-way tie. Tough crowd.
At the 800m, I fired 71-3 which was great considering the spread in the wind. However, heavy rain rolled in and the rest of the day was cancelled, including this match because it was not yet completed for all relays, so my score was deleted.
So after the first day there were over 100 people within 1 point of the lead. Essentially nothing had happened yet.
Worlds day 1, again.
We started at 800m this time. I shot very well here, scoring 73-5, and all 15 shots were within 1/2 minute elevation which was nice to see. This score was worth 7th place, and I was still in a tie for the lead overall.
The next 900m was pretty rough. It started out well. On #5 I thought I saw a big change, made a big correction, and it turned out to not be real, so I lost 2 points right there. This was followed by a string of 7 shots where I lost 5 points just outside the edges to small wind changes.
Then for the last three shots, the wind really did drop from 4 to 2.5, and then again down to 1. I saw those changes, and lost 2 points that could have been many more if I wasn’t paying attention. My score was 66-3 for 27th place. Apparently it was tricky for everyone and I was behind only a few points in the aggregate.
Next was another 900m. Something weird happened here, but having the plot helped keep things under control. There was no mirage, the sun was going down, the temperature lower, and the sight picture was clear. After having fired the previous match in the sun with heavy mirage, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my elevation.
My first sighter was 1/2 moa low, so I adjusted up, which is perfectly reasonable. My second sighter then landed 1.5 moa above the first! With a perfect sight picture, one of these shots is clearly a flier, but which one?
With nothing else to go on, I centered the two sighters on the plot and hoped for the best. My first on score was high, so I lost a point. I concluded the first sighter was the flier and proceeded to ignore it.
It was the right call, as the group ended up forming 3/4 higher than where it was from the previous string, which agreed with everyone else’s experience, and no one seemed to have an explanation.
The wind was fairly light but there were some small changes, and I fired a 69-2. This was 57th place for the match, but only 3 points behind 3rd. It actually moved me up in the aggregate.
After two days, I was only two points behind the leader, in 9th place.
Worlds, final match 1
The next morning, for the first of two 900m 20-shot matches, something truly odd happened.
I fired my first shot, a V. So far so good. Then my partner missed the target. He didn’t challenge the target marker, so I fired my second sighter, a 5. I converted both, and now I had two good shots on score. My partner turned his scope a full revolution and fired a 1 on the far right edge of the target.
His scope must have been out a full revolution, but now he was on target. So we thought we were OK.
I fired my next shot, 4. Down one point, and I couldn’t really tell why. My partner then fired another miss. How could he miss, after hitting the paper?
Keeping myself in focus, I fired another 4, but again, I couldn’t figure out why. There was a lot of time passing, and the mirage and wind were doing weird things that I was not able to see. Again, he fired another miss, and I fired yet another 4. Now I’m down 3 points. I know I'm in serious trouble.
Finally, after his fourth miss, I remembered a rule where if you fire 4 misses in a row you have to stop shooting and let your partner continue. I confirmed with the range officer, and then I was free to shoot by myself.
I knew exactly the situation I was in. I stopped plotting, stopped looking at flags, and stopped thinking. I just shot at the middle of the target, again, and again, and again, 15 times, losing only 1 more point. I finished with a 96-9.
By this time my partner had figured it out. His first sighter actually hit the target, but the marker didn’t find it, only to find that bullet hole after his second sighter, which actually missed. It really goes to show how things can go sideways fast when a few simple errors add up in the wrong way. He was allowed to finish, shooting reasonably well after he was on paper again.
Worlds, final match 2
Going into the final match, most of the top competition had already fired on the earlier relay an hour before. I needed a 95 to win the World Championship. Just one good match. No problem – if the winds are light. It was now all in the hands of the wind gods.
The wind wasn’t going to be easy today. After four shots, I was down 3 points. But now I had bracketed the wind. With a plot like mine, this is the best situation you can be in, having 18 shots to go and already knowing what the major extents of the wind look like.
I followed mirage speed up and down, and for the next 9 shots I made 9 straight correct adjustments. This was some fine shooting.
Then, out of nowhere, my 12th shot flew way left for a 3. I couldn't see any reason why. I adjusted partially, but lost a point on the other side as my 13th shot landed right back into the original group. So, at this point, I figured it was a one time thing, and moved on.
Then, #14 also went left, next to #12, and I lost another point. Now I am confused. Lightning doesn't strike twice, so I'm missing something.
Then I saw the wind pick up, but after having two shots on the left I played it safe. Alas, #15 went far right. From that point on, I couldn't make any sense of what was happening. Mirage speed alone wasn't working anymore, and none of the other indicators seemed to agree with where the bullets were going.
I remained focused and I didn't make any other mistakes. The plot kept me within safe limits. The only problem was that I just couldn’t find the right indicator to explain the windage errors. Something happened halfway through where things went from making sense to making no sense.
Sometimes the mirage at the target, which is what you see through a rifle scope focused at the target, moves in a different direction than mirage which is halfway down range. This closer layer of mirage is independently visible if you focus a spotting scope at a nearer distance, and it can really indicate a change that you wouldn’t otherwise see. This might have been what was happening, and now I know to watch for that.
The final result.
Overall, I finished 9th in the grand aggregate, 6 points behind the leader. I learned more in this one week of shooting than the rest of the year. Technically, I can now say I’m top 10 in the world, but in reality, the race at the top was incredibly close and it easily could have gone either way for everyone in the top 15.
Rutland team match with KP Ballistics.
For the Worlds team matches, Kenny Proulx did an excellent job coaching and we finished 2nd out of 14 teams primarily due to his consistent wind reading. As well as shooting, I assisted through the process, plotting and analyzing every decision to learn and help when I could. Kenny can see the smallest changes in the mirage and make correct 1/8 wind calls on a regular basis. We followed gradual wind shifts up and down, scoring the highest team V-count as a result. It was a great experience and a great finish for the week.
If I had to do it all over, knowing what I learned from the experience, I would add a spotting scope to my kit. A spotting scope can be focused on mirage at a different distance, and after coaching a few hundred shots I know that is a critical piece of the puzzle on these large open ranges.
My plotting methods are definitely a huge advantage for consistently maintaining decent scores in variable conditions. It helps me visualize what's happening and strike a precise balance between conservative adjustments and risky wind calls. I found there was plenty of time to keep the plot up to date while my partner was firing, except in the one case where I shot by myself.
The 200 Jack bullets provided a BC advantage, as my plotted wind shifts were usually slightly less than others and I didn’t lose as many points to minor wind errors as I did at the Eastern’s. However, I was not satisfied with the accuracy of the load in general. I believe the decision to switch from the Juggernauts 3 weeks prior was the correct one, but neither load was ideal.
Over the last few weeks, I have been testing many different things as I work towards deciding what I should do for my next barrel. I’ve been hooked by the high BC bug and I’m still searching for the right combination of accuracy, velocity SD, and long range consistency to carry me into the next year of competition.
In my next article I will discuss shooting strategy. I have already written most of it, so it won't be a long wait this time.