5th Pacific Regional Shooting Championships Benchrest

As the Rifle Metallic Silhouette ranks moved out, the Benchrest Rimfire contenders took their places the next day. The scene had shifted to a range decorated with fluttering flags alongside swirling propellers interspaced between bobbing probes ahead of distant targets at 50m. All this was to help the shooters gauge the wind speed as they took aim. There was only a solitary New Zealand team to tackle the three Aussie pairs. However, there were 10 well-credentialed individuals and word was that the field was wide open. The shooters had 30 minutes to take their shots at 25 circular targets with a bullseye. They also had many targets down the side of the card to use as testers while the wind changed direction and speed.

“Who’s the favourite?” pondered Jaegan Peet, who lives in Revesby, NSW, but has retained his Melbourne club membership. “Anybody. I reckon it’s between about 10 guys depending on how they perform on the day.” Robin Cox, from Newcastle, conferred with this forecast. “There may not be many here, but the ones that are, are top performers,” he said.

New Zealand’s Graeme Smith, from Nelson, has been to nine World Championships since he started shooting in the 1970s, but even he admitted the conditions were tricky. The glaring sunshine and sapping heat combined with the blustery gusts down the gullies of the range meant that scores were lower than expected from such an elite crew.

Joy Harrison, from Armidale, NSW, was wary of the conditions, but outlined her strategy. “It doesn’t matter how many meets you go to, there is always something to learn,” she said. “You have to treat the flags like a clock as they change color [orange on one side, green on the other] with the wind. It’s best to get as many shots off on similar colors as possible…I always try, but I get tense and can’t always do it.”

Harrison said that every course has its vagaries and compared knowing a certain range well as being akin to a football team cashing in on having home ground advantage. “All courses have their vagaries and here, the heat haze coming from the ground becomes almost like a mirage,” she said. “The scorched earth patches here make it harder than plain grass because it makes things happen that you think shouldn’t…But some of the bush shooters are like wily old foxes – they just go to whatever range and quietly do their stuff. No fuss or talk,” she said.

Richard Lightfoot, from Melbourne, liked to ease the pressure by giving some of his rifles names. The one he was using had been dubbed ‘Mulga Bill’ in reverence to AB ‘Banjo’ Patterson’s poem, Mulga Bill’s Bicycle, which he promptly recited from start to finish. “The naming of rifles is something more common with American shooters for some reason,” he said. “But I also have a ‘Copperhead’, ‘Red Dog’ and ‘Saltbush Bill’ in my collection.”

Chris Nocente, from Bathurst, NSW, prefers to paint his rifles and the one he was using had a blue and silver chessboard design along the barrel. He recounted the tale of how one shooter colored all his rifles green. “His wife thought he was losing the plot, as he had been in the shed all day working on his rifles, but she thought he was just walking around with the same rifle,” he joked.

Nocente also added that the uncertainty of the Benchrest Rimfire discipline was what made it so enjoyable for him. The results at Majura bore out his claims. After day one, Glenn Seaman led the way in the individuals with a score of 741.039. Second spot was held by New Zealander Smith on 741.037, with Cox third on 739.040. Smith led the teams’ ratings on day one with his Kiwi companion Ian Owen on 1474.064 points. In second position was Australia B (Harrison and Lightfoot) on 1470.066 and nestled in third were Australia A partners Cox and Peet on 1468.066.

On day two, individual honours went to Peter Armstrong, who chalked up 742.040. Behind him was Seaman on 742.036 and Cox third on 740.040. Harrison and Lightfoot snatched top teams’ berth on 1470.066. Kiwis Smith and Owen snared second on 1468.058, while third were Cox and Peet on 1462.067.

The final aggregate count-up left Seaman as winner on 1483.075. The runner-up accolade went to Cox on 1479.084, and Armstrong impressed to grab third on 1477.073. The top team after days one and two turned out to be New Zealand duo Owen and Smith with an aggregate of 2942.122. They were chased home by Australia B’s Harrison and Lightfoot on 2940.132, and third finisher was the Australia A pairing of Cox and Peet on 2930.133.

Armstrong’s last day surge meant he enjoyed an encouraging finish. “The wind was pretty tricky,” he said. “I was able to get a bit of a handle on it, which I didn’t yesterday,” he added after picking up his award. “But some people found it much more difficult.”

Seaman proved a popular winner of an unpredictable event. He belongs to the SSAA Wagga Wagga club along with his two daughters, Hannah (18) and Emily (14), who also shoot. “We enjoy weekend shoots quite often up in Coffs Harbour or Sydney and Melbourne,” he said.

Harrison again gave her take on events. “Some of the ones you would expect to do well didn’t,” she said. “It just goes to show how tricky it was.”

Seasoned campaigner James Smith, of Blayney, NSW, said “The range got the better of me on both days. It was so even. Any one of the 18 could have won it even after the first day.”

An overcast day greeted the Benchrest Centrefire competitors in day one of proceedings at the Jim McKinley Range. A few familiar faces from the Rimfire event were back again, with the two New Zealand competitors Ian Owen and Graeme Smith fronting up to compete, along with father-son duo Stuart and Anthony Foate from NSW.

The Benchrest Centrefire competition included two classes – Light Varmint and Heavy Varmint – shot over 100 and 200 yards with both team and individual events. Each round saw the scores change dramatically, with the unpredictable wind making it difficult for competitors to easily adjust to the conditions. The Light Benchrest event was the name of the game for day one, with the results after each shoot creating an ever-changing leader board.

“It takes just one wrong shot and you’re back down the bottom again,” said youngest competitor Stuart Foate, with a quick succession of shots his tried-and-tested tactical approach. Others preferred to take the full seven minutes available to them, with the changing winds causing competitors to second guess almost every shot.

Darren Parsons had a successful day, scoring 0.2796 over 100 and 200 yards. He also won gold in the team event with his partner, renowned Benchrest shooter Paul Sullivan. Sullivan, from Queensland, was described as the ‘best Benchrest shooter in Australia’ by some of his fellow competitors and took out silver behind Parsons with a score of 0.2931. Thomas Sprang, from NSW, won bronze, posting a score of 0.3307. In the team event, New Zealand duo Owen and Smith took out silver with a score of 0.3449, followed by the Australia A team of Murray Hicks and Spang, both from NSW.

Hicks and Spang were a force to be reckoned with on the final day of competition as the Heavy Benchrest event got underway in more challenging conditions that saw the aptly described ‘kids playground’ of orange and green flags constantly change in an almost mesmerising fashion. The Australia A team adjusted most effectively to the conditions, taking out gold with a score of 0.3957. They also were champions of the 2-Gun team results, winning gold with a combined score of 0.3592.

The final day of the competition was also affected by rain and wind. The targets were soaked from an early downpour that required strategic placement in front of a fan before scoring could get underway by veteran scorers Max Coady and Dave Billinghurst.

The clubhouse directly behind the range resembled an assembly line that could be described as a metallic Santa’s workshop, with individual areas commandeered by competitors to adjust their rifles and reload accordingly. Camaraderie and encouragement was often heard among the tinkering of machinery.

Top qualifier Hicks pointed to the clarity from his scope as aiding his success as he took out gold in the Heavy Benchrest with a score of 0.2823 and the coveted 2-Gun for Light and Heavy Benchrest with score of 0.3346. Hicks said “the rain was definitely a factor” in influencing how he approached each shoot. “It’s also about the timing and to sense when it’s the right time to shoot,” he said.

Hicks also won gold in the 2-Gun individual event with a score of 0.3346, with fellow NSW competitor Parsons winning silver with 0.3399 and Owen winning bronze with 0.3640. New Zealander Owen was also among the top scorers, taking out bronze in the Heavy Benchrest individual event posting 0.3830, followed by Benchrest National Discipline Chairman Fergus Bailey, from Victoria, with 0.3927.

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