Why? Because I think that EVERY story is worth hearing, because I think that ALL shooters in TEAM USA are worthy individuals, and because I truly believe their voices deserve to be heard.
So, for the first time, I am only providing the "Soap Box".
Matt is not only a great shooter, he is an outstanding individual whom I have the pleasure to know and the privilege to call my friend.
He is one of the persons that keeps me shooting FT.
Besides having placed 2nd in Lithuania's WFTC's, he has placed well in almost all matches he enters, and has beat me several times, LOL!
In Poland, he performed well, and I am sure he will perform better in the future. He is one of the "young values" of Springer FT shooting in the USA.
It is with great pleasure that I write this introduction to Matt Brackett's story.
Matt Brackett's Story
Crosman is an event that for me seems to test endurance in heat, wind and humidity. During sight-in in the open field, I saw that my rifle was shooting straight and true to my expected trajectory. But even though the range showed strong winds from 10 and 9 o'clock, the pellets didn't seem to be drifting out among the field's grassy channels as much as I anticipated at the more exposed firing line. Somehow this valuable data didn't sink in, however, and paved the way for what I think was my downfall for the weekend's performance: inflexibility. On Saturday's session in the field, I stubbornly refused to account for the reduced wind's effect, and missed many shots holding too much into the wind. And in Sunday's rain and humidity, I stubbornly refused to remember that my TX action tends to shoot a little high when wet. I wanted to think that my freshly-prepared Macarri stock would solve this quirk, and so instead I kept holding center, while struggling to spot my misses through annoying scope condensation in that day's dark lanes.
Dejected with my performance in the competition, I retired once again to the sight-in field with my wet rifle to discover where it was shooting. Sure enough, it was grouping very nicely, BUT ABOUT TWELVE CLICKS HIGH at all distances! I failed to act on the weekend's lessons in time.
I was disappointed in placing so far down in the WFTF piston class, but when your competitors are some of the most accomplished in the country, it lessens the sting. I spoke to some of them about my complaints with my rifle's inconsistency, and they had some good advice. Ray Apelles, Nathan Thomas and Jerry LaRocca commented that they seal rifle stocks with urethane, and not oil. Since I knew that Ray's and Nathan's rifles were remarkably repeatable, that seemed like good intel. Hector suggested looking again at my rifle's lubrication, and since Nathan swears by SuperLube and I've had to fuss a bit with Krytox, I thought I'd look into that, too.
Precision air rifle shooting is a messy mix of physics, engineering, and psychology. With one month to go before the Worlds in Poland, I reluctantly decided to overhaul my rifle between family vacations and work due dates, in part to address all three topics. After much effort, I managed to:
• harvest the fore end bracket and trigger safety pin off my alternate TX200 to replace the stripped and snapped ones I found after Crosman
• strip, re-inlet, re-bed, dry, and seal the Macarri stock with urethane
• remove, deep clean, and lubricate internals with SuperLube
• install a sunshade on the Sightron scope to aid in rain protection
• fit new foam for the rifle and Macarri stock for my airline travel case
• verify all holds and zeroes for the refurbished stock
Then, when I was getting close to being done, my precious stock slipped off my workbench and hit butt-first on the cement floor. The wrist area was snapped in a NEW place! So, after all that work I had to glue the joint as best I could, and install two dowel pins across the grain to try to reinforce the area.
Traveling to the Worlds has become a rare chance to build more adventure into my life, and this year it was a pleasure to share the airline slog component with John Eroh and Matt Sawyer. Somehow I managed to sleep nearly all of the 8-hour, cross-Atlantic flight, and all three of us and our luggage made it safely through Frankfurt to Krakow. Given than many of our teammates weren't so lucky, we didn't know how good we had it! From there, it was an uneventful drive north to the sponsored hotel near the town of Zawiercie.
With the rifle re-assembled after travel, I was very pleased to see that I only needed a few clicks to re-zero even after all the changes, and that it was just shooting low at perhaps 750-760 fps. I've learned this doesn't matter much and accounted for the trajectory. In subsequent days, the rifle needed NO adjustment clicks in maintaining zero, which was unprecedented for me. As someone who had a reputation for disassembling rifles at every previous Worlds, I began to hope that this year would be different!
The first day of competition arrived, Thursday, and it was HOT. Those of us in the springer class had all morning and early afternoon at the sight-in range, and I noticed my rifle-mounted thermometer rose to 110 degrees! As we waited for the delayed PCPs to finally leave the course, most of us collapsed in the shade like desert dwellers.
You've heard about the course, and seeing it was like walking into an amusement park. Everywhere you looked there were interesting features, angles and sight lines. I was really happy with it. I was squadded with Fredrik Mäkeläinen from Sweden, and it became quite a pleasure to shoot with him. Reminded of Crosman, I tried to neutrally observe wind in the quarry, and I felt I made some progress as we moved from lane to lane. Shortly, however, everyone noticed the failing light until it became clear we could not continue the shoot. Henrik and I had only shot fifteen out of 25 lanes, while we learned other squads had managed many more.
Later that night over beer, we heard the decision from the powers that be that we would have to shoot our remaining lanes the next morning before proceeding immediately to shoot that day's scheduled course. I sometimes struggle with sleep in normal life, and I've noticed that travel and competition nerves amplifies it a bit at Worlds. But Thursday night I just couldn't fall asleep. I lay peacefully in bed, almost meditating, and only really got between three or four hours of sleep. Still, I woke feeling prepared for the day.
When we got to the range, my rifle was still shooting dead on, and I thanked the air rifle gods and those friends at Crosman who gave me their sound gunsmithing advice. Fredrik and I set up to begin on the next lane from yesterday's course, but then marshals marched in and informed us we had to separate! They wanted to speed up our progress by making us shoot individually, and to each be scored by a marshal. I saw a few other squads being directed the same way, but it wasn't everyone. This meant I had to shoot 20 consecutive shots with no break in the heat. I tried to keep my breathing down and to stay mellow, but it was very difficult. I missed the highest ratio of my shots during this session than any other, and I was sweaty and beat when the scorecard was finally filled.
Finally we springers finished our session, and with enough time for the waiting PCPs to swap places. I was happy with a combined 36 for Thursday's complete score, and a 38 for Friday's. However, as we recovered at the Villa's bar, the sky opened up in a pretty intense lightning storm. We knew the PCP's were in danger of not finishing their day's shoot, and that meant the competition was in danger of not being completed. That had never happened before.
Still, it made for a kind of giddy atmosphere, and many of us spent the afternoon and evening comparing theories of how it would all be decided. We welcomed the soggy PCP's back to the hotel as light fell, and confirmed they didn't finish. I was pretty certain the springers wouldn't shoot a third course and would be judged on 100 shots. Sure enough, late into the night we were informed that the PCPs would complete their 100 shots on Saturday morning, and that the championship would end there. Hearing scores by word of mouth, I was pretty sure that I was somewhere in the midst of the top ten, and that most likely Brit John Farbrother was the springer champion. He and I hung out that night with John Eroh, Matt Sawyer, Tyler Patner, Hector and Canadian springer teammates Zach, Jeff and Joel. Some beers later, I had the silly pleasure of defeating John Farbrother in a similar game of sharpshooting, 8-ball!
Before going to bed however, I received word that I was scheduled to perform Saturday morning in a shoot off for fifth place with last year's Springer Champion, Jan Homann from Germany. I wasn't concerned much. After failures at Crosman, my goal was to reach the top ten. At either 6th or 5th I was going to get a medal to bring home!
After the heat and stress of the week, I was a little depleted Saturday morning. This isn't uncommon after the marathon of the Worlds experience. But once again on the sight-in range, my rifle shot center of the target out of the case. That was confidence-boosting. However, my positionals were still unsteady. I just swayed all over the kill zone. I knew that since shoot offs at the Worlds proceed quickly to kneeling and offhand shots, that I'd be lucky to make it far against Jan.
I was really grateful to the teammates and friends who came out to the two lanes at the sight in range to spectate, and Jan and I took our positions beside each other. We each faced two targets, a 1" kill zone at around 21 yds, and a 1.5" kill zone at around 39. 'Relatively easy shots for sitting, even in the slight wind, and so both of us advanced to the next round, which would be to shoot both targets kneeling. Jan sped through his shot quickly and felled the near target before I had really lined up. My crosshairs wobbled around the hole as they had for three days, and my shot smacked the edge at 9 o'clock. Of course, Jan had to hit is next shot at the far target to seal his win, and he did so very quickly after my miss.
Short and sweet, folks! I was a little sorry I didn't give a better show, but I was grateful for my finish.
The awards dinner that evening was yet another noisy and cheerful affair. Some of us had peeked at scores posted online, and we were thrilled to learn that the scores of Ray, me and Cameron had earned the U.S. Springer Team a historical first place for combined scores! I travel to Worlds mostly for the adventure, but also for the distant hope to try to actually win the class. But it never really occurred to me that a whole team of us could become World Champions together! That was the best surprise of the week, and it was a fantastic way to end. Assembled together on the podium, we belted out the national anthem when it was played in our honor. I felt really proud to stand with those guys.
And hey, TWO medals!
Photos by MB, JH and some taken from published photos in social media.