10th World Long Range Muzzle Loading Championship 2015
Every two years the international black powder community holds a world championship. Last time it was held just outside Cape Town in South Africa: this time it was to be held in the USA at Camp Butner the North Carolina National Guard range complex not far from the city of Raleigh. The competition was held from the 6th September to the 12th and comprised individual and team shoots at each of 300, 500, 600 yards for the mid-range section with medals for the highest aggregate score and the same format for 900 and 1000 yards plus awards for a grand aggregate of all distances. The first three places received medals and the next three places received certificates in the individual competitions. There were two classes for the individual entries: "original" and "reproduction" rifles, the latter to be in the spirit of the original rifles of the mid to late 19th century, while the team entries could be a mixture of both so had only the one class.
The targets were the familiar round bull type with three convertible sighting shots and ten shots to count at each of the mid-ranges while at the longer ranges of 900 and 1000 there were five convertible sighting shots available with fifteen to count. The British team comprised six marksmen, two of whom were from the Notts & Derby Vintage Arms Society (Jerry Womble, Andrew Russell). The team was under the excellent leadership of John Whittaker, one of the best shots in the world of black powder shooting at mid- to long-range, with Gary Evans, Alan Beck and Michael Hall, all of them of international experience and success. The team also had on this occasion the novel and valuable addition of an experienced wind coach which is allowed for the team events. Guy Larcombe is quite new to black powder rifle shooting but was able to give some very valuable advice to those squeezing the trigger. Another invaluable component of the team were the "WAGS": Bev Hall, Pam Evans, Brenda Beck and Ann Vause, who was also our medical advisor.
The team gathered at Bisley on the afternoon of Wednesday, 2nd September, to stay overnight in preparation for an early morning pick up for Heathrow airport. The flight out went without trouble and we arrived at Dulles airport, Washington, mid-afternoon to be greeted with the high temperatures and humidity that was to characterise our stay in America. Having navigated through immigration and customs successfully we picked up three hire cars and headed off for our first destination on our road trip to Creedmoor where our hotel awaited us for the duration of the competition. Our first night in America was to be spent in the historic old part of Manassas in Virginia.
Friday, 4th September, dawned bright, hot and humid. After breakfast we hit the road again to follow the Skyline Drive along the Blue Ridge Mountains and spent the night in Lexington. From Lexington we completed our journey to our hotel in Creedmoor, less than a 15 minute drive from the range. Having booked in and unloaded our kit into our rooms, we drove to the range for a first glimpse of where we would be shooting and to get an impression of the conditions. We found a commodious range of 50 firing points with sufficient parking for vehicles at each distance. Transport was provided to and from the butts by means of a vintage tractor towing a trailer fitted with seats. In the butts the targets were raised and lowered by electric motor making life much easier than we are used to at Bisley and, with the weather conditions of 95% humidity and a temperature of 87F it was a vital help.
Sunday the 6th was the start of the serious business with rifles being inspected for compliance with the rules, collection of the shooters packs which gave details of target numbers for shooting, butts and scoring details and fellow shooters on your squad. There would be both an Original class of 14 competitors and a Replica class of 48. Also a team captains' meeting and MLAIC delegates' meeting. Powder and percussion caps had to be collected to enable powder charges to be weighed out for the practice sessions on the morrow. In the evening teams attended a reception buffet under a large covered area which would be our meeting and eating place for the week of competitions, food being available in the form of pre-packed cobs with various fillings and plenty of water and soft drinks available.
Monday the 7th found us on the range before 7.30 to find our practice firing points and attend the safety briefing followed by the Opening Shot fired by a sergeant of the North Carolina National Guard. Brenda Beck along with Ann Vause then departed to the butts to help work our targets so that the British team could all practice together. Ann had also volunteered to help the range staff on the firing point and in the butts as they were short of bodies to run the meeting.
Tuesday the 8th we were on the range for 7 o'clock to start a long day's shooting at 300, 500 and 600 yards only to be confronted by a thick wall of fog, which waxed and waned until 10 o'clock, when it cleared and allowed the sun to break through and start cooking us. Competitors had been divided up into fifteen squads of four each with a number, one to four. No's 1 & 2 shot while 3 scored and 4 worked the target in the butts. Roles were reversed for the next detail and the group stayed together for the duration of the competition. I was No 3, with an American, a South African and a German in my group, which meant I scored first and shot on the second detail. In the 300 yard detail I had the pleasure to score for the winner of the repro class, Markus Gebhardt, 42.2. The top British placing in Replica was Jerry Womble 22nd, 37.1, followed by Mike Hall 39th, 28. The Original class was won by the British team captain John Whittaker, 43.1, Alan Beck 4th, 41,(counted back by American Kenn Heismann), Gary Evans was 7th, 36.2 and A. Russell had a truly bad morning in 12th, 22.
The first detail of the 500 yard competition shot before lunch and the second after. In the Original class Gary Evans won, 44, John Whittaker 5th, 40, Alan Beck 6th, 39, and once again A. Russell a lamentable 13th. The Replica class was won by South African Andre Stander, 46.3, Jerry Womble was again top British Repro shooter 37th, 34.0, only just ahead of Mike Hall, 38th, 33.2.
It was now clear that the last 600 yard detail would start to be effected by the failing light and so it proved. The Original class was won by Art Fleener of the USA, 39.0, but only just from our own Gary Evans, 2nd, 38.0, Alan Beck, 4th, 36.1, John Whittaker, 6th, 36, counted back by one V bull ! On the last detail in failing light A. Russell had a better end to the day than the start with a 7th place, 35.1, which would have been much better had the last shot included a bullet!!! The Replica class was won by USA shooter Lee Shaver, 46.4, Jerry Womble, 24th, 36.1, Mike Hall, 37th, 31.1.
At the close of the day's shooting volunteers were sought to work the targets in the butts for the team shoot the following day and so both Mike Hall and Andrew Russell stepped forward as they already knew they would not be in the mid-range team.
It was at this point in the week that our wind coach Guy Larcombe would come into his own for the team shoot, which would take place over the morning and first afternoon detail, while down in the butts both Mike, Bev and I concentrated on our marking duties which, due to wet sand from the previous evenings rain storm and at the ends of the butts the sand being somewhat over grown, made spotting the arrival of a shot slightly tricky.
South Africa won the 300yard shoot with 170.6 from their team of four. GB came 7th, 135.2
At 500 yards South Africa again won, 173.8, GB came 4th, 150.4
At 600 yards the USA won, 155.4, GB came 5th, 141.3.
This meant that in the aggregate of the three ranges South Africa won with a total of 496.17, while the British team came 5th with a total of 426.9.
This result was not quite what had been hoped for and there had been ominous signs that some of the British rifles were not behaving as they ought.
The rest of Wednesday afternoon was allocated to the 900 yard practice.
Thursday strated out slightly misty when we arrived on range but this soon cleared for the usual blistering sun and humid air. Today shooters 3 & 4 started proceedings and at lunch Art Fleener had won the 900 yard match in the Original class with 67.3, Alan Beck 3rd, 60.1, counted back from American Kenn Heismann also on 60.1. Gary Evans was 5th, 54, A. Russell, 9th, 45, very bad things had happened to John Whittaker as his stock gave up the ghost and he had to change rifles.
The Replica class was won by Kevin Cook of New Zealand, 65.3, this completed a full set of medals as he had a silver medal in the 500 yard and a bronze in the 600 yard matches. Mike Hall was 21st on 54.2, John Whittaker, 33rd, 48.2, using a borrowed rifle from George Arnold, Jerry Womble, 47th, 20.1, also afflicted with a tired stock.
After lunch we shot the 1000 yard practice with the full team as our ladies had volunteered to do the butts duties to allow us to practice together. This meant we could get off the range a little earlier and have a much needed rest at the hotel.
Friday morning was to be the individual 1000 yard match with the team long range matches of 1000 & 900 yards in the afternoon. As I was on the second detail I again went into the butts and helped put up the targets and mark. In the Original class American Kenn Heismann again won a medal, this time a gold medal to go with a bronze and a silver one, 63.5. Alan Beck was 2nd, 59.2, Gary Evans, 3rd, 50, A. Russell 6th, 40.1. In the Replica class Guenter Kunz took the gold for Germany with a 68.4, John Whittaker with his borrowed rifle was 33rd, 37.1, Mike Hall, 37th, 30.1, Jerry Womble, 39th, 23.
After lunch we were supposed to shoot the 1000 yard team match and then move forward to 900 yards. However the start after lunch was delayed by a lack of bodies in the butts. Then there were problems with communications which only became apparent after the match had started which, combined with the difficulty on some targets in spotting the fall of shot and the subsequent delays while the situation was sorted out, lead the organisers to abandon the shoot and use the sealed envelopes supplied by the team captains containing the names of the prospective teams in case a match was rained off. The scores achieved by those named in the individual competition are then used for the team event. Loud protest could be heard from various shooters on the firing point but, with so much ammunition already fired in the competition, many people would not have had enough to restart the match. And so a week of hard fought competition came to a rather unsatisfactory end, especially for some teams which had members who had shot better than in their individual matches.
The 900 yard team match was won by Germany, 241.8, GB came 9th, 134.2
The 1000 yard team match was won by Germany, 235.11, GB, 6th, 132.2
The long range aggregate was won by Germany with 476.19, GB, 9th, 266.4
The team grand aggregate comprising both the mid- and long-range results was won by South Africa, 956.25, GB, 6th, 692.13.
With the competitive shooting now over, Saturday was now free for everyone to wind down and relax until the closing banquet and awards ceremony in the evening; but the range staff kindly attended the range to allow those who wished to shoot in practice to do so.
The banquet was held at the Soldiers Memorial Sports Arena in Butner and was very good with excellent tender steaks. The closing speeches were then made followed by medals and certificates being presented to the background of applause from the assembled multitude of 62 shooters plus supporters.
The ladies of the British Team played a major part in our success and also in the running of the meeting as a whole as Ann Vause was co-opted as a range official, Brenda Beck made herself available as register keeper whenever required as well as working in the butts along with Pam Evans and Bev Hall, plus when not doing this, all were making sure the shooting party were well supplied with water. Guy Larcombe will not be forgotten for the valuable part he played in guiding the team with regard to the wind and the general help he gave on the range including driving one of the vehicles.
On Sunday morning the team packed and departed on the week long journey back to the airport in Washington, visiting along the way Harpers Ferry, the civil war battlefield of Antietam, spent a night at Gettysburg and took a tour of the battlefield there, a look round Washington and its various memorials with a trip to Mount Vernon (General Washington's home) on the final morning of our stay in America. The flight home was uneventful and customs were equally trouble free; we arrived to bright sunshine WITHOUT the humidity!
Thanks once again to John Whittaker for leading the team so well and to Guy and the ladies for their invaluable contribution.