"Down Under" means Australia, the "Terra Australis Felix" from the "Quigley" movie all riflemen know and love and the commonplace terms, "Down Under" means Australia!
Well, not so fast. Look at a globe. New Zealand lies at a much more southerly latitude. Wellington in particular, lies at 41.3º S ; the equivalent latitude in the US are the cities that lie in a line that goes from Southern Oregon to Southern Massachusetts. Apart form freaks of nature like the Gulf current Heat Pump that prevents the Europeans from freezing their butts off, climate is pretty much the same.
Then, ¿Why did we take short sleeved polos, cotton trousers and synthetic socks to their WINTER?!
Luckily we had packed, more out of habit than foresight, the usual rain gear and my "magic" wool sweater that Veronika knit for me a few years ago.
But . . . more on that later.
Our trek started in Connecticut, on the train to Grand Central Station NYC, and from there to Brooklyn, to pick up the pre-dropped heavy bags (and the rifles); and a taxi ride to Newark airport (EWR). Taxi ride from hell because he missed several turns and ended up driving us through Times Square. Not the best route in the middle of a Manhattan day.
We arrived to EWR in the nick of time, and after a very heated exchange where I told the "Wannabe-cabbie" he should look for another job, we went through the hassle of declaring the airguns, filling the forms, and explaining that New Zealand did not require from us a permit or license because it was a spring-piston "thingy". Luckily, we had printed the EMail from the New Zealand police and that proved to be priceless not only at the NJ point of embarkation, but also at other points on the route.
We went through the 5 hours flight to LAX and after crossing ALL the airport with the antediluvian shuttle system and, after a few hours wait, we boarded the 13 hour flight to Auckland.
Arriveing in Auckland we, again, presented ourselves to the New Zealand Police and declared our rifles. They started to fill out a license and permit form, but we told them that according to the Wellington Police that was not necessary. We showed them again the printed EMail and they requested to take a copy as they were unsure of how to handle Spring Piston airguns. The policeman then wrote in his copy all the details of both rifles.
After an hour and a half of extremely friendly conversation with the customs, bio-security section and the border protection people; and after telling them they would get a lot more airguns in the next week or so, we tackled the rental car agency and took delivery of our ride: a left handed Holden Barina (similar to the Chevrolet Spark):
Bay of Islands was as north as we would get in New Zealand, from there we started trekking through the wonderful natural setting that makes up the astounding flora and fauna of New Zealand.
From 3,000 years old trees to white flightless birds not bigger than a farm hen, to huge birds larger than a small giraffe, to wines and other wonders, New Zealand is truly "Middle Earth" in the best of the Tolkienesque terms.
Brief, separate, conversations with Kaidu Jalakas (Team Estonia), George Harde (Team Canada), Jaime Artaza (Team Chile) and ourselves made it clear that we wanted as inclusive an event as possible, and it was therefore decided to use TWO scores out of each National Team for the awards.
Having ironed that out, we set out for the range.
I was squadded with Alex Magon, president of NZAFTA and MD for the Match. Upon my first shot with a clear center hit of the paddle, the target refused to fall. As much as I dislike calling for a Marshall and disrupting the rhythm of the shoot, I understand that the first shots are the most problematic. So Alex called for a Marshall, but suddenly ALL lanes were calling for Marshalls, clearly something had gone haywire.
A lot has been written about this, most of it by sourpusses that were not there to witness the whole affair, nor were able to provide any help, just criticism. And, here, I am sad to say that a number of shooters that WERE there, also went into ranting mode. Shame on them! If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem and ranting away at anyone that lends an ear is not going to help any. The extreme consequence of this behaviour is that those that try to be sympathetic and listen end up drained, fed up; completely dejected not at the situation, but at the attitude of people that are highly regarded in the sport.
So, here goes the first lesson: If someone is projecting a lot of negative energy, if that someone cannot hold his keel on an even course to contrary winds, he is not a champion. Just walk away. He does not deserve to be heard. He may be a good shooter, an excellent shooter even. But not a champion. If you do not have the experience to deal with those idiots, then walk away. It is not worth it.
Those of us that have been around the block more than a few times on both sides (MD'ing and shooting), know how to cope with these idiots (and those that know me know that I do not use the words lightly). But those that are new or lack the mental selectivity to disconnect from the flow of negative energy, suffer a lot. More than a handful of shooters performed well under their normal level because of the extremely bad vibes from some of the top competitors.
In the end, the problem was traced to a modification of the GAMO targets. GAMO was kind and good enough to donate ALL the targets needed, but to the MD's discharge, GAMO has produced in the last 10 years at least 4 models with small differences. The modification that works in one model, renders the others useless. And even when dealing with the same model/series, the mod that makes one target work, may not with another.
In proper Kiwi fashion, and taking after the Royal Navy, "not a moment was to be lost". The shoot was stopped, the RGB's convened and among all of them decided to call it a day and allow the Kiwis to fix things up.
All the Kiwi shooters were called upon and all did a bit to solve the situation. Some of them went to pick up a testing pistol (a rare occurrence in a country that regards pistols as WMD's regardless of their propellant or power level), some went to retrieve the targets, some started modifying the targets (shimming the nib that had been ground off too much), some of them started painting faceplates, etc.
Team USA offered to help and we got commissioned with getting sighting in targets copied and the sighting in range set-up next day.
Veronika and I adjourned to the town, photocopying, dinner and a good night's sleep.
The day before, the RGB's decided to shoot TWO rounds on Saturday and leave ONE round for Sunday. To me that sounded like terribly ambitious, as it was hard on everyone. Suggestions of shooting 75 shots on Saturday and 75 shots on Sunday were not well received, so "mum" was the word for us.
Next morning at 06:00 we were up and having breakfast. By 07:00 we were at the Brookfield Scout Camp and we sat down for a while with some shooters having their breakfast. We collected a staple gun and proceeded to the sighting in range.
There we were met by Adam Welsh and Brett Nixon. Between the four of us, it was a piece of cake.
At 08:00 sighting in began. Because most of the Kiwis had been "drafted" for Marshalling, some of them had to "scratch" the shoot. Among those that had to stop shooting was Alex Magon, my squad mate. So I was paired up with Jeff Hemming, from Canada.
Jeff had been able to put in some 18 shots to my ONE. So I had to shoot all the targets needed to get even with him. I have to say that that was a marathon! LOL! We were going from target to target with no space of time in between. Going up to the glen and down to the paddocks, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot . . . to some that may be fun or even desirable, not for me. My mind started wandering and I remembered an old soldier's song:
"O'er the Hills and O'er the Main,
To Flanders, Portugal and Spain,
The queen commands and we'll obey
O'er the Hills and far away."
Funny how riflemen come to similar ideas under similar conditions.
Still, we had to go on, and on we went. Till all the targets that I had not shot had been shot.
After that, we resumed a more leisurely pace.
Sunday came and we again were up by 06:00 and at the range by 07:30 setting up the sighting in range. We were met at the range by Brett Nixon and we made short work of it. By 08:00 all shooters were lined up and ready to sight-in.
After sight-in Jeff and I still had to shoot 73 shots. So we proceeded to our last lane and continued the shooting. By the end of the white course I had posted a 36. Well, at least I was consistent.
Second lesson: Stick to your rhythm.
I knew that Javier Luna, from Chile had had a very good first course, and that Ray had struggled a bit on the first course, but I was completely unaware of how the others were doing. Brian Samson was, as always, doing very well, but he did not have a team. What we were focused on was the Team event. We had worked hard trying to get a 4 man team and when it was not possible, we worked hard to make a Team Event possible. That had been the focus of all the year-long activity and preparations.
And we did a little better than expected.
By the end of the day, Team Canada came in 3rd, Team USA came in second and Team Estonia took the first place by 3 points.
Although it was an Unofficial Friendly Competition, it is the first time since the 2007 12/20 ft-lbs schism that an American Team medals.
On the individual Spring-Piston side, Ray placed second, Veronika placed third in Women's Spring-Piston, tied for 12th in the overall Spring-Piston division and I placed fifth. On the PCP side: Paul Plauche placed third overall, Greg Sauve placed fifth overall and second on the veteran's list.
Team Chile put on an impressive performance on the PCP side and, it is interesting to note: had Brian Samson's score counted for a "team", even if he was shooting a spring-piston airgun in the PCP division, the English would have placed second. Now, that would have implied that Brian should have been registered as a PCP shooter and would have foregone his splendid victory in the Spring Piston category.
It is also MOST rewarding to see the young South African shooters, from the Juniors that placed at the top levels, to the Team that had a wonderful performance. Clearly a strong organization helps the sport become stronger.
So, let's see some of the pictures of the awards ceremony:
If I had to choose ONE answer, it would be: The people.
Almost every person you meet in the FT circuit is a gentleman, or a lady. With VERY few exceptions you will not find someone loud mouthed, rude, bothersome or noxious/toxic. Yes some of us are obsessive, but most are good natured.
Yes there is the fact that the places we go are fantastic.
Yes there is the aspect of the competition itself and measuring oneself against the best in the world.
Yes there is the novelty of seeing tens of thousands of dollars on display in some persons equipment. I still get a kick out of shooting my "squirrel gun", LOL!
But beyond that, the experience of being part of a group that goes through rain and shine, faulty targets and plain bad luck. Who we all go through the same hoops when travelling internationally. The Human side is what makes this a great sport.
I've made lifelong friends in these things. We see each other every year and if we don't, we enquire about health and family of our missing friend.
It would be nice if everyone could go at least once to a World's Matches. A better, deeper, understanding of this blue-green bubble we call planet Earth would be more prevalent.
And so, with thankful hearts we say good bye to our Kiwi hosts and all the friends, hoping to see them in Lithuania, 2015!
Kia Ora, Haere Ra (Good life and see you later)!
We REALLY need to thank Pyramyd Air, their support of the FT sport is exemplary.
We also need to thank TopGun Airguns and AEON scopes
Thanks also go to JSB for the pellets they make, not only under their own name but also under the AA brand.
Thanks should also be extended to Mayer & Grammelspacher, their consistent quality in the making of the Diana Mod. 54, the basis of all Team USA's Spring Piston rifles, is invaluable.
And we need to thank Alan Jones photography for the good pictures in this report.
Last, but defintely not least, I need to thank my wife, Veronika, for being the best in my life.