2018 GBFCA European Championships

“Winds to test the best – and confound the rest”

The 2018 F-class European Champions are now Alexander Kreutz from Germany and Gianmattia Mollina from Italy. Both showed great skill and judgement in prevailing over two days of challenging conditions. Our two continental European friends deserve a lot of credit for travelling to a range far from home and defeating all others, including many local shooters who regard Bisley as their home from home.
As always in F-class, there is particular interest in what the top shooters used, in this case both of them used 30 calibre Benchmark barrels which says a lot about the quality of that brand.

The 2018 European Championships attracted 204 entries, drawing shooters from every corner of Europe, from the Ukraine in the East, from Ireland in the West, from Italy in the South and from even further afield from the USA, New Zealand and Australia; a truly representative pan-European championships.

Many competitors arrived early in the week to make use of the warm-up matches and the informal practice targets – it is a strategy that has paid dividends for some previous competitors who have arrived early and made full use of the ranges to get as much practice in as possible. The Italians arrived early and in force; up to 48 in total, many of them having driven all the way across Europe.

The weather was beautifully bright, warm and dry all week – and best of all was the wind; it was remarkably challenging – that’s an over-used euphemism for diabolically difficult and infuriating. Most of what shooting is all about is contending with the wind, so it seemed right and fitting that our most prestigious competition should have especially tricky wind to test the best – and confound the rest!

As with the previous three years, the wind came from the east for the first part of the week, before switching back to the more prevalent south westerly. It was all very strange why that keeps happening, but it’s absolutely perfect weather for testing the abilities of shooters.

Practice day
Monday was an informal, unsquadded practice day – an ideal opportunity to check zeroes and get a handle on the wind flags for those who have not been to Bisley before. It was pretty well attended. For others, it was a day for travelling to reach Bisley in time for the warm-up matches on Tuesday.

The warm-up matches
This was a series of matches at 800 to 1,000yds all of which were long, barrel-warming 2+20 tests of endurance. That said, there were only 2 such stages each day; one in the morning and another in the afternoon. With just 40 rounds to count in a whole day, it made things very laid back and relaxing, there was plenty of time to socialise on and off the ranges. Some had worried that this might not be enough shooting, but were wrong, most folk simply enjoyed the relaxed pace and did not really want to have three frenetic stages – that would come later.

Tuesday Morning 800yds
Rudy Eckbauer from Germany got off to a good start with this stage; his F/O rifle was absolutely hammering them in and he racked up a score of 99.11 Just one V-bull behind Rudy came Antonio Gian Quaglino and in third yet another Italian Ambrogio Pontiggia with 99.7
Those high scores by our continental friends really set the pace for the rest of the competition, every year the standard just seems to climb ever higher.

It was just the same on the F/TR side, Yevgeny Scherbakov from the Ukraine had a truly fantastic stage – he was the only shooter to get a score of 100! An amazing 100.13 in fact, what a superb achievement. Not far behind came two Italian shooters both with 99.12, they could only be separated by a countback; Lorenzo Brandi and Vincenzo Murdocca.

Tuesday Afternoon 900yds
Yet again, Rudy Eckbauer demonstrated incredible skill to prevail over everyone, he won his second gold medal of the day with a superb 100.13. The next two shooters had almost as good scores; 100.11 each, with Marco Been from the Netherlands in second and Fabrizio Giuggia from Italy in third place. That is incredibly good consistent shooting by the top three shooters, they set the bar even higher.

In F/TR, Italian Ferruccio Cataldo won the gold with 99.8; he was closely followed by Maksym Semonovykh of the Ukraine on 98.9 and in third place the familiar figure of local man Ian Chenery with 98.6

Overall, in the daily aggregate Rudy Eckbaur had done enough at both 800 and 900 to ensure nobody in F/O could touch him. He prevailed with 199.24, an amazing score and a testimony to Rudy’s skill at long range.
The aggregate leader in F/TR was Yevgeny Scherbakov with 196.21. Out of all the medals available on day 1 of the tournament, all except one was won by an overseas visitor – it showed that these guys came prepared to show what they can do and they set a very high standard.

So all-in-all, Tuesday was for many shooters, an excellent introduction to competing at Bisley. It is always good to get a tournament off to a good start with a gentle detail. It rewarded those with well-tuned rifles and punished those who neglected to refine their ammo’, which is just as it should be.
The standard of shooting was exemplary, every year it just seems to climb ever higher which is both inspiring – and intimidating depending on how you fared. Of the 18 medals awarded on Tuesday all bar one went to shooters from continental Europe.

Wednesday morning 900yds
Another lovely warm, bright and beautiful day – what a joy it is to shoot in shirt sleeves in such weather. Shooting really is a warm-weather sport.

The wind was not too strong, but it did have a habit of fishtailing rather rapidly, no F/O shooters managed to clean the targets compared to Tuesday so clearly that fishtail must have been troubling them.
Two of our Continental cousins prevailed in the top three; Ambrogio Pontiggia from Italy, came first with 99.13 then, from Wales came Gareth James with 99.12 and in third place, another Italian Roberto Belli with 99.11.
The standard of shooting was enviably high in such testing conditions, all credit to the skilled wind-readers who kept on top of the situation.

Yevgeny Scherbakov maintained his dominance of F/TR by racking up an amazing 99.5 to take another gold medal – his third. Second and third places were won by a pair of talented continentals; Emanuele Visentin of Italy with 98.11 took silver, while Francisco Franco of Spain took the bronze with 98.9 It was a good morning for demonstrating just what a good rifle in expert hands was capable of.

Wednesday afternoon 1,000yds
The afternoon warmth complicated matters somewhat as it produced more mirage and therefore more distortion in the sight picture, this was clearly affecting scores, but as always, some guys seem less affected than others.
Giuliano Silla proved why he is such a talented F/O shooter by coming first with a superb 95.5 For somebody who was still recovering from the effects of an earthquake on his home, he did very well indeed. The Silver medal went to fellow countryman Antiono Gian Quaglino with 94.9, and in third was the familiar shooter from Wales, our former GB Captain, David Lloyd with 94.6

F/TR scores were also down a bit due to that fishtailing wind and the mirage, only one shooter managed to break 90 and that was Giuseppe de Maria of Italy with a slender 90.1 to take gold. The silver and bronze medals were won by a pair of former European Champions; silver was won by Ukrainian, Oleksander Nikolaev with 89.3, while the bronze was won by last year’s winner Giulio Arrigucci with 88.7 given those tricky conditions, it was a display of superb shooting from all three of them.

The Wednesday daily aggregate demonstrated who had been most consistent at 900 & 1,000 over the day, and there were few surprises; Antiono Gian Quaglino took first place in F/O with 193.17 while Giuseppe de Maria took first in F/TR with 185.7

Of all the 18 available medals to win, only two were won by home shooters, – both Welshmen incidentally, it just showed the sheer level of skill and talent our visitors brought to Bisley.

The last of the warm-up took place on Thursday morning; these were a bit different insofar as they were of the more common 2+15 format. That allowed two stages to be conducted in the morning; it was still a rather tight squeeze though, with the last shots going downrange just moments before the NRA hooter sounded the ceasefire.

Thursday morning 800yds
Back to 800yds, which should be relatively ‘easy’ compared to 900 & 1,000 seeing as it is the same target that is used. By now, 161 competitors took part; clearly more shooters were arriving all the time.

Rudy Eckbauer clearly was on top of his game to rack up a solid 75.12, he was having a terrific tournament so far. The silver medal was won by our Dutch friend Marco Been with 75.11. The bronze was won by our Match Director, Mik Maksimovic, with 75.9 proving that he still has it and can multi-task too.

Conditions were a bit tougher for the F/TR detail and it showed in their scores; only one guy managed to get them all in at 800yds and that was Sergii Osadchiy with 75.7, Silver was taken by Tomica Nikolic with 74.8 and in third place came the familiar Emanuele Visentin also with 74.8 after a countback.

Thursday morning 900yds
Moving back 100yds makes all the difference, at 800yds the medal winners all scored 75, but at 900yds nobody managed that, the conditions were by now very tricky indeed that fishtailing wind was pretty brutal, rarely have I seen it switch with such ferocity and speed. All the more credit to the worthy winners; in first place with a very hard-earned 74.5 came our Mik Maksimovic. Silver was won by Scotsman Paul Sandie with 72.9 and the bronze was won by Welshman David Lloyd with 72.8 – all the home nations were represented on the podium for the first time in the tournament.

In F/TR the winning scores were very similar to the F/O; it just shows that in the right conditions not much separates the top shooters in each class.
Maksym Semonovykh won the gold medal with a well-earned 73.7 just narrowly beating Roman Hauber into second place by a count-back. The bronze was taken back to Italy by Ferruccio Cataldo’s 73.4 after another count-back.

That was Bisley at its best – or worst depending on how you had fared. Some guys mentioned seeing the mirage running contrary to the flags that caused a lot of confusion and consternation.

Overall on Thursday morning, only 1 man had managed drop just one point at 800 and 900yds – it was our organiser, Mik Maksimovic, despite all the pressure of running the match he took the daily aggregate with a super 149.14, all credit to him for doing so well, even while under such pressure.
In F/TR, Asad Wahid had been shooting consistently well to prevail over all others, despite not getting on the podium, it is overall consistency that counts and Asad took the gold with 145.12

Thursday Afternoon Teams Matches
The format for these matches was 4 shooters firing 20 to count at 1,000yds.
The team matches proved to be tremendously popular; clearly there was a big demand for this type of match. Many countries cannot put forward a full-sized 8 man team, but they can manage a team of 4. However, this was not a match for National teams only – any group could enter a team. In fact, 8 F/Open teams were entered and an astonishing 17 F/TR teams. There were ‘corporate’ teams and well as National teams, but groups of friends were just as welcome to put together a team and several did; such as the “Diggle Ringers”, the “White Horse Lodge” and “Team 30cal”.

It proved to be a close-run match, the F/Open winners were Team March; Gary Costello’s team comprised of shooters all using March Scopes. Clearly they saw something the others didn’t as they took 1st place by 5 points with 379.24. Second place went to our visitors from Italy; team Victrix on a total of 374.21 just one point behind was the Dolphin Open team.

The hotly-contested F/TR team shoot was particularly exciting with so many teams competing for the medals. In the end, Team BCM 1 prevailed by 4 points with 367.20. In second place we had the very new Team MXM with 363.17 and in the bronze medal position, on their debut performance, the new White Horse Lodge team; we’ll need to keep an eye on these new teams in future as they have made remarkable progress in such a short time.

The superb turn-out of 4-man teams showed there is great interest in this teams match format, the range was very nearly filled with enthusiastic teams.
I predict we will see even more participation next year that is if we can squeeze any more onto Stickledown range.

The European Championships

Friday, Stage 1 at 800yds
Friday dawned mild, dry and bright; just as it had been all week; a front had moved in across Stickledown from the south-west, the usual direction for Bisley so it was back to business as usual.

The 8:30 blow-offs would have woken the neighbours, if not the dead as 68 F/Open shooters rattled off their shots en masse to foul and warm the barrels. For a handful of late-comers that was their first shot of the whole week, but for the vast majority it came after having had nearly 150rds of practice throughout the week.

800yds is for many shooters an odd distance, we don’t get anywhere near enough opportunities to shoot it, therefore there’s always the danger of over-estimating the corrections required. That said, it clearly did not pose any danger to one guy who racked up an impressive 75.14 that was Paul Sandie, fresh from coming 2nd in the World Championships and still using his trusty 300WSM. Just think; 14 shots into 5” at half a mile…that is terrific shooting. Next we had no fewer than seven shooters all tied on 75.11, requiring quite a detailed scrutiny for countback, the result of which was in second place, our Irish friend Mark Bannon and in third was Craig Titmus.
With count-backs playing such a major role, as always, the lesson is; if you are going to drop V-bulls, do it early in your string.

If you dropped just 1 point, you plummeted right down to 22nd place! Alexander Kreutz knew all about how that felt, though as we were to see, it didn’t harm him. The lesson here is, don’t drop points as “points make prizes”, and the standard was such that only 4 shooters failed to break 70.

By the time the F/TR shooters got down on the firing point, the early morning calm had given way a significant breeze, it certainly had an effect on their scores as only one shooter out of 118 managed to make 75. That was Emanuele Visentin of Italy who had been shooting superbly all week. There was a tie for the next two places, each shooter scored 74.7 Second place was taken by James Treanor and John Ambler took the bronze.

It is always good to get the first stage over and done with; it helps calm the nerves and enables everyone to focus on the match. The F/Open guys had the better morning, it was reasonably benign wind conditions to begin with – this gave them confidence in their ammunition and rifles or not depending on if they had done their load development homework.
For the F/TR guys it was not so benign and much more of a challenge right away, they must have reckoned that they had their work cut out for them.
F-class can be a very unforgiving discipline, there’s no hiding place for those who don’t put the work into their ammunition & rifles.

Friday Stage 2 at 900yds
By 11 am, we moved back to 900yds. The F/Open guys were on the 3rd detail , by then the sun was well up and had provided some more warmth on their backs, not enough to be an issue; just enough to keep it pleasant. The wind was not so pleasant though, it had risen considerably and still behaved in a very unstable fashion; changing angles in a way that was very difficult to see. This caught out many shooters, but the cream rises to the top and it was prescient that the top shooter was Alexander Kreutz in fact, he was the only one to score 75 – a 75.6 which put him comfortably 3 points ahead of Joe West in second and in third place came Italian Fabrizio Giuggia on 71.5
That was one of the toughest 900yds stages we have seen for a long time.

As you would expect, it was even tougher for our F/TR colleagues and it clearly showed in their depressed scores – and visages! The middle detail may have had a slightly better time of it, but it was clearly still very tricky. Norberto Berrone came out on top with 72.6, followed by Vincenzo Murdocca on 72.4 and in bronze medal position with 71.3 came Lorenzo Brandi. With scores like those you can appreciate that there was a wide spread from top to bottom, it could be said that the 900yds stage was a “make or break” stage for many shooters.

So, that was all for the Friday morning’s shooting. There was a stampede to the Café at the clay shooting ground, resulting in a familiar logjam of hungry shooters. Those who were a bit crafty went further afield to find a quiet place to eat; for example the Artists club provided a quiet lunchtime refuge.

Friday Stage 3 at 1,000yds
After lunch we all assembled at the 1,000yds point, as ever, matches are won and lost at this, the longest distance.
As you would expect the weather played a much greater role; it was warmer and windier, with more mirage too – everything sent by Mother Nature to test the nerves and skill of the shooters.
F/TR was first into play after lunch. We had two antipodean shooters at the Europeans and one of them showed he had what it takes to travel all that way and take on the best in Europe; Mark Fairbairn won a count-back with another Mark, Mark Downing who had the same score of 88.5 That relegated Germany’s Stefan Scherer to third place although Stefan had the consolation of also winning a count-back with the next-in-line shooter.
Those scores, although good of course, were indicative of some difficulty being experienced out there – the wind was at its old tricks again of changing the angle in a discrete, hard to see fashion –often it was only evident if at all, after the event, but then hindsight is usually perfect.

Tricky wind conditions call for good wind reading skills, so it was no surprise that when the F/O guys got down to it, that the best came out on top; Martin Townsend, the GB Coach prevailed in a count-back against the new European Champion, Alexander Kreutz both had a creditable 92.7. In third place was Mik Maksimovic, another highly-experienced wind reader with a good 92.4. Only 5 shooters out of the total of 82 managed to break 90 that says it all about the difficulty of the wind condition and it speaks volumes about the skill of those who medalled in this stage.

The home shooters were well represented in this stage, 7 of the top 10 in F/O; maybe they were more accustomed to seeing Bisley at its best.

That concluded the activities for Friday. What a good Friday it had been!
From fairly gentle conditions for some in the morning through to very tough conditions in the midmorning and afternoon. It enabled shooters of all abilities to compete on a level playing field, it showed who had done their homework in tuning their rifles and ammo and it showed just what these F-class rifles can do in tricky conditions.
There’s always much to discuss while on the point and in the bar afterwards. In the evenings, competitors enjoyed good food and good company in the various locations in and around Bisley.

Saturday dawned bright and dry, but a little colder than previously. Now, the questions were; could the leaders hold on to their overnight positions? Or could the challengers press home their attack and topple the front runners? All would be decided today.

Saturday Stage 4 at 800yds
At 800yds the target, which is correctly scaled for 1,000yds, should appear 25% larger, but sometimes, this still does not make it any easier!
The wind was rather stronger than previously at 800yds, instead of Friday’s gentle though fishtailing wind, we started out with a good straightforward breeze, it made all the difference, it is possible to cope with a good breeze. On the Friday, only 1 F/TR shooter made 75, whereas on the Saturday that went up to 16 shooters.

First place was taken by Bruno Rossi of Italy, with an incredible 75.13 that was simply outstanding. In second, was Tomica Nikolic with just one less V-bull 75.12 In third place with 75.9 was Paolo Vanni Berninni.

F/O could enjoy a leisurely breakfast on the Saturday, but the price to pay was that by the time they shot, the breeze was stronger, making life a bit more difficult, but that’s the challenge of it all. On the Friday, 21 shooters made 75, but now that plummeted to 7. By some strange quirk of fate the top guy who dropped a point on both days was the same shooter; Alexander Kreutz.

This stage was dominated by our Italian contingent; all three podium places were won by our friends from Italy; Roberto Belli took the gold medal with 75.11, his fellow countryman Gianluca Mayer came second with 75.10, while the trio was completed by Fabrizio Giuggia on 75.9. What an excellent result for Italy, it showed the real strength and depth of talent in the Italian team.
In fact, overseas shooters took 9 of the top 10 places at 800yds, showing they had come to Bisley well-prepared to do battle.

Saturday Stage 5 at 900yds
Falling back to 900yds, the wind maintained much the same level of difficulty, only with the obvious addition of another 100yds to compound the challenge. No matter the difficulty, somebody always prevails; one of our Continental friends made short work of it. Giuseppe di Maria was the only F/TR shooter who managed to clean the target with a good 75.4, Giuseppe was 2 points clear of his nearest rival, Mirabile Gualberto on 73.5, while in third place, Stuart Anselm proprietor of Osprey Rifles won a count-back with former European Champion, Giulio Arrigucci to take the silver. It was clearly a tough detail though as less than a quarter of the field managed to break 70. It all helped to churn up the field of competitors.

Life was just as tough for the F/O guys, despite their superb ballistics, none of them managed to achieve 75. The highest scorer was Domenico Squaratti with 74.7, pushing Scotsman Hugh Inglis into the silver medal position on 74.5; Roberto Belli took the bronze medal back to Italy for his 73.7

The 900yds stage was a humbling experience for many shooters who fared badly, in such circumstances it becomes an exercise in ‘damage limitation’, as losing too many points can be fatal to keeping one’s place in the overall ranking. It was good to see a wide distribution of stage winner medals; it is very encouraging and bodes well for the future.

Saturday Stage 6 at 1,000yds
By now the wind was really starting to pick up to something a bit more like the Bisley we all know and love as the flags fluttered with the strengthening breeze. Those at the top of the hill had as much as 5 minutes on the gun, but the problem was the pick-ups and drop-offs, they were fast and furious. It was so easy to drop a catastrophic amount of points in a very short time. It put a premium on having good wind-reading skills and a wee bit of luck too always helps. Paul Sandie, the World’s number two, certainly had plenty of skill in racking up an astonishing 98.10, quite incredible really and it secured the gold medal for him. Next up was the veteran Italian shooter, Giuliano Silla with a superb 98.6 for silver, while fellow Italian Gianfranco Zanoni had the satisfaction of winning a count-back against Alexander
Kreutz to win the bronze medal.

By now, the F/TR shooters really had some challenging conditions to contend with. The middle detail may have had some slight advantage, but there was not much in it, the wind was still pretty unforgiving whenever one got down shooting. There was a very clear winner, by a margin of four points; Angel Garcia-Paz from Spain scored a fantastic 96.6 to win gold. Next came Paolo Vanni Bernini and Stefan Scherer on the same 92.4, Paolo won the count-back.

When the NRA hooter sounded all the shooting had been completed for another year; the Individual European Championships were over and it was up to our Statistician, Karen Robertson in the stats caravan to tally up the scores and let us know where we stood. All credit to Karen, she had worked hard all week while not feeling very well. It did not take her long to tally up.
In fact, Karen has added a new expression to the shooting lexicon; “are you above or below the sellotape?’ – A reference to the two A4 score sheets taped to the outside of her stats caravan, being in the top 50% put you “above the sellotape”.

We had clear evidence of the level of skill and talent of our Continental friends; 11 of the top 20 places in F/O and 14 of the top 20 places in F/TR in the Individual Championships went to overseas shooters.

In F/TR, the winner and the new European Champion was declared to be Gianmattia Molina with a superb total score of 455.19. Gianmattia was a very popular winner who got a resounding cheer from everyone present. He is the third F/TR champion from Italy in as many years; it is a testament to the quality of the Italian F-class community.
Taking second place and the silver medal was the new GB Captain, David Rollafson with a super tally of 454.24 clearly David intends to lead from the front, setting a good example to his team.
In third place came Joaquin Bolsa with a total of 453.39 Joaquin had the satisfaction of having the highest V-count of the match, yet he had not featured on the podium on any stage, instead he simply maintained a good consistent high performance throughout the match.

The F/Open Champion is now Alexander Kreutz, who won with a superb total score of 484.48, Alexander’s score was six clear points ahead and he also had the highest V-count of the match, what a super way to win. Alexander shoots for the famous German BDMP team and is a great credit to his team and country, he used 215gr Bergers in his 300WSM and oddly enough he finished on target 30 –the same target Paul Hill won on last year.
In second place with 478.36 came the familiar figure of our former GB team Captain David Lloyd who had been shooting superbly well all week, he takes a well-deserved silver medal back home to Wales. Third place was won with a score of 474.36 by the genial Scotsman, Paul Sandie who has been having a superb time competing with his 300WSM.

Looking to the future if Gianmattia and Alexander decide to compete in the National League next season, we shall all have to raise our game to keep up with them!

The top places in the Individual European Championships showed a good, healthy distribution of winners from all over the Continent, it is an encouraging picture of equally dedicated shooters all brought together by a shared interest in long-range precision shooting.

As an aside, the European Championships is run concurrently with the 6th match in the GB National League, which has its own list of winners on the GBFCA website. With only one more League Matches to go, it is getting tough at the top, with all to play for – just as it should be.

Sunday – the teams matches

Interest in the Europeans team matches is growing stronger every year; this time we had a bumper entry of 27 teams, the highest ever. Perhaps interest was boosted by the change of format away from big 16-man teams towards the smaller, Rutland format of 7-man teams. It is more accessible to more groups to form a smaller team, though the larger National teams may have felt they had lost a valuable opportunity to practice.
On the National team’s side, we have a super entry of 8 in both F/TR and F/O, with teams from all the major European countries participating.
On the F/TR side, the Ukrainian A and B teams dominated, taking both the gold and silver positions, pushing the GB side into third place. The GB A F/O team made amends though by taking the gold by albeit by a slender margin over the BDMP A team, while the Ukraine team were pushed back into bronze position.
The F/TR Rutland team match was keenly contested between 9 teams, with some familiar and some very new teams taking part, there is a sense of fun mixed with enthusiasm in forming these teams which is evident in their names: “Julies Gigolos” springs to mind along with the “Diggle Ringers”. The Italians dominated the match by winning both gold and silver with two teams from the renowned BCM gun company, their rifles shoot just as well as they look! The bronze medal was won by the “V-Hunters”, a newly-formed team of talented shooting friends.
The F/O teams match consisted of just two teams, in this two-horse race, Joe West Riflestocks won by a useful 5 point margin, the team members are always easy to find on the range due to their distinctive blaze orange t-shirts.

Organising and running the biggest annual F-class match in the World takes a herculean effort. We all owe a big debt of thanks to Mik and Tina for all their efforts, well done to the pair of them, they must be worn out. Thanks are also due to Peter Dommett who arranged for our generous sponsor, Hofmeister to kindly donate beer for our meet-and-greet.
That concluded the 2018 European Championships; it is destined to grow even bigger and better in future. Make sure you’re there next year.

Des Parr

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