It was my good friend Mark Kauffman.
After the normal pleasantries between guys who are friends apart from, being Shooter/Gunsmith he delivered the Ultimatum:
-"There are three shooters registered in Open Piston for the Nationals in Phoenix. They need 5 to run an official Class.
I will register if you register"
- WHAAAT? Mark, come on, you are local! You HAVE to go. And I have only shot 4 matches this year!
- Nope, I will go if you go.
- Hmmmmmmmm, . . . let me consult the Chief of Staff and I will let you know later.
So, after a quick consultation the permission was obtained and I started all the arrangements.
Registering to the shoot was the first, then came the hotel and the car, and last the flights.
When I presented to my family the first proposal: Leave on Thursday morning, and return Monday evening, the questions came back:
-¿Do you REALLY have to spend Sunday night there?
- Love, remember that last year I lost the shootoff because I couldn't stay and I defaulted.
-¿Aren't there any red-eye flights so that you can return on Sunday night?
And so, back to the website. This time I logged into my Frequent Flyer number and, Lo and behold! there were now some red-eye flights available! Who would have thought? Sneaky Airlines!
So, the change was made to return on the wee hours of Monday after the banquet. Going directly to airports after awards is not new to us, we've done it more than a few times, the most remarkable one in New Zealand, after the WFTC's there.
Back to the authorities, and the next big question:
-¿Do you really have to get there on Thursday?
-Honey, you know I like to get the gun well settled down.
- Well, if you MUST . . .
And so, back to the airline website and the final itinerary: Fly out Friday MORNING (like 04:00 hrs.), sight in and get settled, then compete Saturday and Sunday and fly back on Sunday night. For what was going to be somewhat of a marathon, things started to shape up.
Deciding to shoot the Season, and the Nationals, in Open Piston was a given from the time I came back from Lisbon. My year of protest against the idiocies of current WFTF Leadership was coming to an end and even though I do not use a harness, nor do I click., the power level I most enjoy in REAL LIFE is the 20 ft-lbs class.
What I had doubted all along the year was whether I would be even able to go to the Nationals.
Yes, I love my gun! somewhat rare because it is a 0.20" cal D-54 with Lothar Walther barrel that was made by Diana in the old factory at Rastatt, it is accurate and powerful enough to go after some fairly "solid" game (from Woodchucks and Badgers, to Foxes).
It has the T-06 trigger, but the T-05 scope rail. Clearly a "transition" gun, it was made as a prototype back in 2010.
I do love it, but I also understand its limitations.
Those were made clear during the Pyramyd Air Cup, where my performance was much less than stellar. BUT, there I was the lonely "Open Piston", now there would be 4 others! and one of them, shooting a Whiscombe.
Ah, well, this year has been quite a trip and I was really just wanting to go to the Nationals and meet with all the friends that have become closer every year, but I had seen sparsely all along 2017.
And so, bag was made, and things got ready, a LITTLE practice courtesy of our friends at DIFTA and sooner than expected the date arrived.
04:00 hrs saw me at the POD waiting for my ride to the airport.
The flight was full and uneventful and the airline gave me the fright of my life in PHX when I waited, and waited, and waited at the carousel for my bag to appear, only to see everyone leave with their bags and I did not have mine.
I inquired and was told that it HAD been brought out of the plane and that it should be there, but after more than an hour of waiting, and inquiring, finally someone took pity of me and suggested I look for it at the office. Something that, IMHO, should have been noted in the computer's baggage handling system.
Anyway I finally found my luggage at the office.
It so happens that Arizona is home to many international hunters (most of them members of SCI in Tucson), and they fly often in/out of Phoenix. So, those two airports take VERY seriously the trust travelers put in them when they fly with guns that are worth MANY times what our most expensive FT rigs are, and they make it a point to hand manage and deliver anything that is declared as a "firearm" (requirement under TSA); with a previous check of identity. In a way I have to admire their dedication, as I assume they handle a lot of these, judging from the jaded look in the face of employees when they tell each other "This guy is looking for his gun" as if they were saying "He wants his bag of oranges" LOL!. I just wish the computer would have noted that and let me know an hour earlier.
Rental took another hour and the drive to the range a little over 40 minutes. While speed limits are generous in Phoenix, everyone tells you they are LIMITS. NOT "guidelines", LOL!
Anyway, I arrived to the sight-in range after the requisite registration process. And this was the first agreeable surprise: Because we registered LATE, and I mean LATE, we had been told that we would get no shirt, nor other goodies in the goodie bag, but my goodie bag contained all the goodies that all other bags had.
How they managed to pull this off I will always wonder, but it is just one small detail that reveals how well the organization of the event ran.
The Sight-In range was a joy to behold! Hundreds of targets well laid and yardage identified.
One thing that few noticed when they registered is that Phoenix Airgun Club even has a wind-flow analysis of their range!
And, boy, we were a bother! We used the range as much as we could and quite a lot of shooters arrived to see "their" range taken over by puff guns. But they were somewhat gracious about it and some were even curious.
Hopefully, some of that curiosity and the evident enthusiasm of all FT'ers to show and share the fun will create a few more shooters for the venue. But still, thanks should go to the top echelons of Rio Salado SC because they accommodated all our activities with grace and bonhomie.
I sighted in, with some reservations, because what I was seeing was a little different from what the website described as the typical wind patterns. And because my hunting guns do not use the same bedding system as my FT guns. I had never seen the need for it when you take only a handful of shots over the day, most of which could be called "cold barrel" shots because more than one hour passes between them, and you re-zero every day, or even twice a day with the help of a cooperative knob in a tree trunk.
But it was what it was and when the time came for "dinner" I was surprised to see a band playing music.
So I drove "home" with the requisite stop at WalMart for provisions.
Next morning, after locating the IHOP that was most "in the way" I stopped for breakfast and then continued to the range.
It is always nice to be received well and in this case, my friend Pedro from Puerto Rico popped up from behind the railing, took my bumbag and quickly plopped it on the ground: "There, that is your place!" he said. With a smile I hope conveyed my appreciation, I sat down and while I got everything going, we talked a little. Sad situation the current one in Puerto Rico. Having lived through two Cat 5 Hurricanes, I KNOW what he talked about, and how heartbroken one can feel when you see Nature unleashing fury to that degree and the aftermath of it.
We should all remember that Puerto Ricans ARE Americans, and do as much as we can to raise awareness that the situation there has improved but little. Too much attention is paid to politician's antics in Twitter just because they are day to day source of audience rating for the media, but little is done to tackle the long term effects of completely uprooted natural environments and infrastructure.
If you can, do something about this, write to your Rep. get in contact with the American Way or the Red Cross and see what you can do, our friends and fellow Americans in PR need that.
But, back to the shoot:
Again, it was clear that the bedding was not yet settled, so after quite a few shots, screws were tightened, final groups were shot, and entered into PP-Calc and off we went to the shooters' meeting.
We were all wondering why the shooters' meeting would be called one hour before the scheduled start of the match, and why within that long time they would not re-open the sight-in range.
Then they started the roll call. And we understood why the long time had to be allowed.
This was so different from all other matches we've been to, and so different from a WFTC's where the squads and courses for each squad are posted in paper in a bulletin board outside the "Control Room" (where scores are tallied) and everyone knows that they need to be at the shooters' meeting and then head to wherever they are supposed to be, and be there on time, under penalty of the Match starting without them, that it seemed incredible.
But it worked, and the organizers made light of a hard job. They called each and every name, and then when the no-shows were located, they re-squadded everyone and in less than one hour we were off and going.
A good source of laughter was Riz Marquez' roll call. The "Organizators" didn't really know what to think, but they took everything in stride and with a smile and that helped pass the time. Now that the guilty party has confessed, we'll have to think of something, LOL!
And, so, about an hour late, we started the day.
I was shooting the Yellow course first and I was squadded with Ron Robinson and Lonnie Smith. Ron was shooting Hunter PCP and Lonnie was shooting WFTF Piston
Everyone has mentioned that the it seemed that the Red course was "longer" than the Yellow, and yes, it was true, but only by a little.
As per my notes, the average distance for the Yellow was a little over 25 meters, the average distance of the Red was a somewhat over 26. So, the average distances were not THAT different, what was different, IMHO, was that the average KZ size WAS smaller for the Red than for the Yellow.
As an AAFTA GP course, the Nationals also have to comply with a minimum design difficulty of 28T, but this Nationals had a design difficulty of 33, or thereabouts. And yet the distances were not THAT long (compared to a WFTC), where was the difference?
You guessed it! In the size of the KZ's.
I generally like to document the very small KZ's of matches because to ME, it is one of the main differences between how we play "our" game and how the game is played in the rest of the world.
So let's take a look at some of them (for sizing, my nail is about the size of a 0.44 cal bullet):
Next day would be different! LOL!
I went back to the hotel, and packed as much as I could to check out next morning.
On Sunday, after checking out, I drove to the IHOP for breakfast, only to find Mike Norris and his better half finishing theirs off.
We chatted a little and they went on their way.
I took breakfast in and drove to the Match.
After a trajectory check that implied a complete redo (yes, the elastic bedding of the 54 is not the most consistent day to day) and the shooter's meeting, we went to shoot the match.
On Sunday I was squadded with Riz Marquez and Terry Markham. Terry is a "local" that transplanted himself from Wisconsin upon retirement and a perfect gentleman, Riz has been partner in crime with us a few times, having shared Nationals and World's competitions.
I was having a tough time, but I was having fun. Seeing the pellets hit the lips of the very small KZ's has become, to me this year at least, a sense of accomplishment.
¿WHY? simply because this is a hunting gun. NO adjustables whatsoever (buttpad, cheekrest or hamster), light and easy to carry (for a 54), no jacket, harness, or ANY other aid, and it still hits with authority to within 3/4" of POA at 40 yards, it is a GREAT hunting gun!
But it is not an FT gun.
And so, after a long day of misses where my highlight was cleaning the long kneeling lane, I ended up in 3rd place.
The awards ceremony was fun and entertaining, the Apache dancer was incredible and, as usual, the Auction called for a lot of attention; the sponsors did a VERY good job of supplying interesting items. There were a few interesting bidding wars, but all was resolved amicably, no blood was spilled.
At the end, I had to drive all the way to the airport, return the rental, and find the counter. We had a little bit of a hiccup because at that time of night there was no one in the TSA area and we waited for almost 30 minutes to get the bag checked in.
The TSA guy arrived late and panting, and he gave me some pushback because my duffle bag was not "hard-sided" enough for him, but as I mentioned it was an airgun, he relented and let the airline check my bag.
After traveling all night, getting home and doing a post-mortem analysis, I confirmed the suspicion that the bedding had been acting up, I also discovered that the trigger blade had been hitting the guard when the action recoiled back.
This was my fault because I wanted the trigger as "swept back" as possible to allow for a natural alignment of the hand to the axis of the slanted pistol grip of this stock (have I mentioned it is a HUNTING gun? LOL!), and I adjusted the break point too far back.
The trigger hitting the guard during the recoil cycle was definitely robbing me of that last bit of accuracy that I could have used with those tiny KZ's.
I also decided to use the same solid bedding I use with my FT guns, and so now the gun is not as silky smooth as it was before, but it is much more consistent, as I was to prove at the next DIFTA shoot (but that is a story for another entry, LOL!).
On the Professional front, however, I would class this Nationals as a watershed event because several of my guns, and other things, were there and performed more than creditably in the hands of very good shooters:
And if you add Ray Apelles that is also shooting a D54, it was by far the best showing of D54's in a Nationals event. Not bad for the gun that Rodney Boyce once said "If it was any good, someone would be using it in FT", LOL!
Not everything was milk and honey. Matt Sawyer suffered a melt-down with his 54 that we just could not pin-point. But, Matt being Matt, he kept his smile, shot a borrowed gun, and had fun.
We are looking into Matt's situation and I feel that part of the problem is using the wrong batch of pellets, but if that does not solve the situation, then we'll take the gun apart and put it right together again. These guns are not "Humpty Dumpty".
Matt is a great shooter, as he proved a few days later shooting the 2nd Annual Texas Piston Ch. and placing right along shooters that have been shooting springers for a lot longer than he has.
I spent countless hours of childhood roaming the deserts nearby Lerdo, Durango, Mexico; and even more countless hours of youth venturing into the desert with nothing more than a light backpack, the first gallon of water, a basic "Vivvy", an H&R 999 and a box of assorted ammo. Those outings taught me some valuable lessons, not the least of which revolved around what the REAL and RELEVANT place for a side-arm (pistol or revolver) is; the skill needed to wield it accurately at any reasonable distance, and the value of time vs. accuracy in a crucial shot. All these have very little to do with the game some like to call "Pistol FT" but, that is, also, another story LOL!
In a few more weeks, FT will go dormant in this section of the world for a few months till winter loosens its grip and allows us to play again in the sun. Perhaps, IF we are lucky, we'll get an extra Match at DIFTA in December, but it is very variable, some years we can, some years it is not possible.
What the future will bring is up in the air, WFTF? Open? who knows?, but the good memories of a great event, well organized, well staged, and excellently executed to the last detail will remain in our memories.
BIG THANKS! to Rio Salado SC, to all the Sponsors and contributors, and to Phoenix Airgun Club and all its wonderful people for hosting a memorable Nationals!