Blair Atholl Redux
After a three year hiatus, we can announce that we have new Scottish Champions; Richard Sharman prevailed in F/Open and Adam Bagnall triumphed in F/TR. Congratulations to both of our worthy new Champions.
My usual custom is to thank all the helpful people at the end of a report, but not this
time, this match relied so heavily on a key group, that it is only right and fitting to give them the thanks and praise up front; First and foremost, Paul Harkins has ensured that the Silver Mountain targets are resilient enough to stand up to anything that the Scottish Highlands can throw at them. Paul Crosbie has done the work of three or four guys rolled into one; he was the chief driving force behind the whole project. Alan Manson built the target frames strong enough to withstand gale force gusts and Paul Sandie has been a constant and reliable source of practical help in every single way. Lastly and by no means least; Jim and Mary Marsden have been as good as gold, helping at every opportunity. Without all the assistance of that great little gang we’d never have got anywhere, we are all indebted to them.
There was a lot riding on this match and I don’t just mean League points, it was much more than that, this was the “make-or-break” match for Blair Atholl as a future venue of the National League. Quite frankly, this match had to succeed to secure the future of Blair Atholl in the League as there was no doubt, a failure would have spelled disaster, so it was no wonder that we approached this match with trepidation. The weather forecast didn’t help, it looked utterly diabolical – more like winter weather than mid-August; that compounded our fears and concerns; would there be a match at all? Would it be drastically disrupted or curtailed? We were all very anxious indeed and I spent a couple of restless nights worrying about it.
Paul Crosbie was already on the range at 7am on Thursday when I arrived, getting on with assembling and installing the new target arrangements on the mantlet; this is a new system of posts and rails that support the target frames. Alan Manson kindly undertook the construction of these structures, and Paul Sandie was always right in the thick of the work. It was a gloriously warm and sunny day; little did we know that we’d be spending nearly all day in the sun getting the targets ready, it was hot and tiring work. Paul Harkins supervised the installation of the vital Silver Mountain electronics, paying particular attention to the thorough water-proofing of the entire target array. His attention to this was to prove to be absolutely invaluable. Throughout the process, Jim Marsden threw himself into every task with gusto, offering practical help and advice, we are so heavily indebted to this little group; they took time off work and incurred extra expenses simply to ensure that our League match would have all the support it needed.
Friday was practice day and time for the “Friday Friendly”. It could hardly been any less friendly in the sense that the weather was simply appalling, it was more akin to a winter’s day than mid-August, with powerful gale force winds. I was rather worried if the Friday Friendly would actually go ahead at all; the wind was simply horrendously gusty, these massive thunderous blows would batter the gazebos and threaten to lift them out of their deeply hammered-in anchors. Not to be put off, our gallant team Captains boldly went ahead and took on all that Mother Nature could throw at them.
Normally Jon Longhurst would have taken charge of the team shoot, but seeing as he was temporarily indisposed with a shoulder problem Ewen Campbell was deputised to stand in his place and take the helm.
I shall leave the detail of the teams match to Ewen and others more directly involved to report on elsewhere, it is sufficient to say that the teams deserved medals for sheer bravery for even daring to take on such a powerful and blustery wind condition. Any other mere mortals would have been forgiven for having settled the team match with a toss of a coin and then adjourned to the nearest bar, but Ewen Campbell and David Rollafson are certainly made of “sterner stuff”, they seemed to positively relish the situation, all credit to them.
Towards the end of the Friday practice session, a rather worried-looking Graham Ward approached and announced that his car had “slid off the edge”…I had an awful vision of his car tumbling down to the River Tilt, hundreds of feet below. As it happens he’d simply slid into the ditch on the near side – mercifully. In no time a recovery vehicle from the Blair Atholl Garage had lifted him out and got him on the track again albeit at some cost and the stress on his nerves. As we would later find out, Graham would not be the only one to go off-road. Over the years, the Blair Atholl Garage have come to our rescue in a variety of ways, they are also a sponsor of the West Atholl Rifle Club, so please do favour them with your custom if you can.
At the end of the day, we disassembled the gazebos as we feared for them if left up overnight and took down the control boxes from the SMTs to preserve the battery life. The infrastructure had survived an awful trial, we were relieved and to some extent comforted, but the forecast for Saturday was not much better so we still had much to contend with, I did not sleep well at all, dwelling on the prospects.
It has often been mentioned that Diggle has its own ‘micro-climate’ and to some extent Blair Atholl has too – the forecasters don’t always get it right when the weather systems get stuck in the Highland glens, one place can get deluged while the neighbouring glen, sheltering in a rain shadow is bone dry.
It transpired that Blair Atholl was blessed with beautiful, bright sunshine and warmth, what a tremendous relief that was; it lightened the mood and seemed to put everyone in a positively upbeat frame of mind.
To begin with, we shamelessly stole an idea from Diggle and placed tennis balls high up on the backstop for shooters to zero on during the blow-off period, it’s a simple and effective expedient and actually pretty good fun in its own right.
There were two full details of F/TR shooters, it is indicative of the continued strong growth in interest in F/TR, it is perceived as being a more level playing field and that seems to appeal to more shooters.
The F/TR shooters had glorious conditions in which to shoot and it really showed; Adam Bagnall seems to be back on top form, he used his highly distinctive Mono rifle to very good effect in taking the gold with a super 75.8, not far off a record score. His Mono rifle is an intriguing design and I wonder when we’ll see more in use.
The F/Open guys were on the third detail, in fact there was only one full detail of F/Open shooters, they are becoming an endangered species! Indeed it meant that the competitor who came last still netted a useful 9 points so that is a small recompense for humping all those heavy front rests around. Top Man was Alan Manson in his first ever National League match, Alan is no Tyro though, he uses a beautiful Callum Ferguson rifle and used it to win the All Distance Challenge in 2018.
Apologies to all for the dark red-coloured scorecards for Stage 2, which were a bit hard to read when filled in with faint pencil – it is remarkable how many shooters use pencils, strictly speaking it’s against the rules, but that’s a fight for another day.
As we were approaching mid-day, it wasn’t surprising that the bright warm sunshine would have more of an effect, we could see mirage, which is a bit of a rarity at Blair. That additional instability in the warm air is all it takes to increase the level of difficulty and it showed just that little bit in the scores, only 7 FTR shooters broke 70 compared to 19 in Stage 1 when it was cooler. Dan Lomas is in fine form currently and he proved it by taking the gold by achieving the only 74.
That same added difficulty caused by the warmer, more unstable air applied to the F/Open just the same as F/TR, only two shooters got a 75, foremost was Gary Costello using a truly stunning example of the Gunsmith’s art; a “Speedy Gonzales” rifle with a beautiful Cerus stock. If we ever held a Concours d’ Elegance event for our rifles, it would surely take the gold, now there’s an idea for the future…
We were making very good time with the SMTs – this is one significant feature that there is no delay in marking each shot, so that’s perhaps 10 seconds saved with every round fired, the cumulative saving in time is significant. By early afternoon we were into the last stage of the day, with hindsight the stages could have been extended to 2+20s, but that’s food for thought for future matches.
By this point in the day as we approached the early afternoon, the heat had increased to well into the 70’s, it was time for sun cream and hats, some guys were recumbent, lounging around the long grass surrounding the firing point, but the fear of ticks and Lyme disease tended to inhibit others from relaxing in that manner.
The wind took on a new characteristic it undulated gently, rolling in on waves, gently increasing and decreasing, with a little luck and some good judgement it was possible to track these fluctuations. Paul Binns certainly seemed to be in synch’ with this wind condition; he had the highest score and V-count. As an aside, Paul was using a neat combined ammo’ box and iPod holder, an innovation that didn’t go unnoticed.
The F/Open guys benefitted from the continuation in the same wind condition; that gently undulating wind motion persisted right up until about 3 minutes from the end of the detail, and then it significantly picked up. Anyone who managed to crack on and get their shots off in time reaped the reward for shooting quickly and anyone who was a little bit slow got punished by that sting in the tail. The lesson being; use the speed of the electronics to your advantage.
That concluded the shooting for Saturday and what a relief that was. The organisers had been understandably concerned about the awful weather forecast and it turned out to be completely wrong – we had enjoyed a wonderfully warm day, shooting in just t-shirts instead of survival suits. Best of all, the SMTs had worked absolutely perfectly all day. Saturday could not have been any better; the gentle wind had given everyone ample opportunity to see what their rifles and ammo’ could do, that helped build confidence in both themselves, their kit and the target system.
There was just one little hiccup, just as Graham Ward had gone off-road on Friday, Paul Sandie decided to follow suit on the way out on Saturday, thankfully only going into the ditch as opposed to going the other way, which doesn’t bear thinking about. Thanks to the brute strength of the departing shooters, who were no doubt anxious to get to the pub, Paul was pushed out and able to carry on without damage.
The overnight leaders in F/TR were; Dan Lomas, David Rollafson and Paul Binns in F/Open they were: Gary Costello, Richard Sharman and Hugh Inglis.
Just at about 4pm when we’d been finished for about an hour, the heavens opened and it was as if the whole days’ worth of rain that we’d avoided, decided to turn up all at once. It was a real “Diggle Deluge”, so intense that the streets in Pitlochry were awash with standing water and utterly devoid of tourists.
Being of a pessimistic outlook I feared for the targetry after the appalling monsoon late on Saturday afternoon and anything else that had occurred during the night – I needn’t have, as we found the system was as good as gold. Paul Harkins’ time in the Navy was well spent – he knew how to keep water out and had done a super job.
At first, it looked as though Sunday’s weather would be pretty reasonable; it was cooler certainly and cloudier, but we hoped for the best. As is often the case though as soon as ‘message one’ is given, it is as if somebody “up there” is watching and cranks up the wind generator.
The flags went up right and left being pulled hither and thither, the flag poles trembled and I daresay so did some shooters.
This time, the small F/Open contingent were first into bat and all the F/TR eyes were on them to see what they’d make of this much more challenging wind condition. The body language said it all, the F/O guys came off the point shaking their heads and grimacing, some managed to laugh it off – it was that or cry. Nobody had managed to even get a 70. Of all, Richard Sharman came out on top, his 69 says it all about just how tricky it was.
The F/TR shooters quizzed their F/Open friends as to “what wind did they have on?” and what could we say? If only we knew what the mean wind was we wouldn’t have been punished so much. In truth, the wind might have only been on average 3 moa, but it was so highly variable that it seemed, if you’ll excuse the pun, meaningless to talk of a mean.
Our F/TR friends must have got down to business then with some trepidation having just seen the F/O shooters being humbled. True to form, the wind kept up this awful gusty behaviour and the result was all too predictable, a slaughter ensued. This was Blair Atholl at its best – or worst depending on your outlook, but it was certainly far more typical of the notorious highland range than the previous day. The average score was just 49 out of 75. Only three shooters managed to get into the 60’s of these, James McCosh prevailed with a 63, that truly speaks volumes when the winner struggles valiantly to get into the low sixties.
They say that shooting teaches us humility and as if we hadn’t been humbled enough by Mother Nature, she stepped up a gear and decided to throw some rain into the ordeal, it started gently at first, then gradually built up until it we were all thoroughly soaked through.
The entrance to the 900yd firing point was by now an awful quagmire, we’ll need to look at putting down some gravel there in future it was bad enough for most of us, but Ryan Goodman in particular had to take the greatest care, we shall see what the GBFCA can offer by way of investing in groundworks.
The F/TR shooters now got back on the point to resume the slaughter, at least this time some had realised that they were going to need a bit of luck and a lot of bravery. This time seven managed to get into the 60’s and nobody languished down in the 30’s like the first stage. It was a small comfort though as overall, the average score was 56 out of 75. This was the Blair Atholl we have all come to know and love – and at times, to fear. Peter Dommett seemed to do better when the conditions worsened, perhaps he is becoming adept at coping with adverse weather, if so, then he has an enviable skillset which should serve him well.
The F/Open guys had a long wait, from being first on in the morning to last on in the early afternoon, it all heaped on the pressure and in a way helps to build experience of coping with nerves and tension, there was much to play for as Richard Sharman and Gary Costello were vying for gold. As it happens neither of the leading contenders got on to the podium for stage 5, they, and everyone else got trounced by our newest and youngest member of the League; young Tom Reynolds must have the confidence of youth as he prevailed over all.
The conditions on Saturday were certainly rather more representative of what Blair Atholl is generally like; it is a difficult range there is no denying that. It has been said (By Bill Flentje) that; “Diggle barks, but Blair Atholl bites!”.
There were some anxious shooters awaiting the results, had the overnight leaders managed to cling on? Or had the turbulent conditions of Sunday churned things up? As we were to see, in F/TR the challenging Sunday conditions had the greatest effect on overturning the Saturday leaders. At this point, I should humbly apologise to Peter Dommett, I had misread his stage 4 score of 62 as a 52 and had unaccountably not picked that up in checking – I shall have to go to Specsavers!
The new F/TR Scottish Champion is Adam Bagnall with a super score of 338.20. It is great to see Adam back on winning form, his performance is sure to provoke interest in his unique Mono rifle. In second place came Peter Dommett, Peter did remarkably well in the worst conditions, netting a gold and silver on Sunday, when the weather closes in, he seems to shoot better – what a useful skill to have! In third place came young James McCosh, James is making amazingly rapid progress in such a short time.
In F/Open, two out of the three Saturday leaders managed to cling on to their positions overall, perhaps indicative of the calibres being used and their relative advantage in adverse weather or rather more likely due to the skilled shooters making very good judgement calls.
Our new F/Open Scottish Champion is Richard Sharman who prevailed with a superb score of 358.26. Richard is no stranger to Blair Atholl, being the 2018 SRA Long Range Champion; he is now starting to look like a Blair Atholl specialist, which is a great testament to his wind-reading skill. Pipped at the post by a single V-bull, Gary Costello took the silver, but he has earned enough league points to make his position practically unassailable. The biggest news though was the third place winner; young Tom Reynolds. In a similar fashion to Peter Dommett, Tom also seemed to come to the fore when the conditions worsened what an extraordinary display of resilience from such a young shooter – he will surely go far.
The big winner was the new, improved Silver Mountain Targets which have restored our faith in technology. Quite frankly, if they can withstand all that Blair Atholl can throw at them, they can stand up to anything! At the risk of repeating myself, a big “Thank You” to everyone involved. The SMTs have secured the future of Blair Atholl on the National League fixture list, which underwrites the true ‘National’ aspect of the League.
We will all take a well-earned rest now before re-arming and re-equipping ourselves for the highlight of our year; the European Championships at Bisley.
See you there!