2019 Blair Athol Round 7

The Highland Challenge                   “Wet, Windy & Muddy”      

We have two new worthy winners of the Highland Challenge; Asad Wahid and Richard Sharman, congratulations to both of them. Our two new champions can be rightly proud of their achievement; winning in some pretty difficult conditions.

This was our second visit to Blair Atholl and the second trial of the new Silver Mountain targets, in a way, history repeated itself – the weather was once again a tricky mixture of wind and rain and yet the new targets again performed beautifully!

Coming so soon after the European Championships, it was perfectly understandable that numbers might be somewhat reduced, considering that the Euro’s is a major expense for many and a trip to Blair is also not cheap in terms of time or money. In the end we had 39 competitors; 26 FTR and 13 FO, clearly continuing the trend of increasing FTR and static FO numbers. The upside to this is that even the last-placed FO shooter would go home with a useful 7 points.

Throughout the preceding week, we had been closely following the weather forecasts for news of hurricane Lorenzo as it tracked across the Atlantic. There was considerable uncertainty about its course; would we get a direct hit? Or would it veer off to the North? Eventually the forecasters narrowed down the possible outcomes and predicted that we’d get winds on Saturday and a monsoon on Sunday. This news filled us with trepidation as Blair Atholl isn’t an easy range even at the best of times, as we were to find out though; the forecasters often get their sums wrong…

A lot of preparation goes into running a match, so right up front I’d like to say a big thank you to Paul Crosbie who was on the range from early on Thursday morning, getting the targets all rigged up and he was first on the range each day of the match doing the same, we are all indebted to him for his hard work. Our resident IT expert, Paul Harkins had another engagement and couldn’t attend, but he was always right there at the end of a phone line giving good advice and reassurance regarding the installation and operation of the Silver Mountain targets.

Friday

As is so often the case, the practice day got the best of the weather; it was a lovely mild and dry day with gentle winds. We had a steady trickle of shooters arriving all day, many tired from very long journeys especially Tom Bindley and Ian Bellis who had driven all night from the far South East of Norfolk. It is something of an expedition for many members to travel to Blair Atholl, a few who did so brought their wives and partners for an extended visit to take in the scenery and other attractions.

There was one minor additional obstacle to contend with; the Atholl Estates were conducting timber felling operations in the woods along the access track to the range. It resulted in some shooters being held up slightly while the heavy plant was moving, but most folk didn’t really mind as it was very impressive to watch the specialised timber cutting & handing machinery in action. Understandably, the track got a bit churned up and littered with brash, but not as badly as we had feared.

There was no ‘Friday Friendly’ competition this time, so by 3.30 or so the trickle of arrivals had dried up and we shut shop. It had been a super day for practice in good conditions and with plenty of time and space to test and try different guns. Speaking of which, Paul Key showed us his latest projectile; an enormous 250gr Hornady A-tip which will form the basis of his next heavy artillery, we look forward to seeing this.

Saturday

The forecast for the first day of the match had predicted strong winds whipped up by the approach of hurricane Lorenzo, so we erected the gazebos and tied them down tightly with multiple straps and steel spikes, fearing the worst.

As it happens, our fears were unfounded; the morning started out with gentle 2 moa winds and pretty well stayed that way all day – the fly in the ointment was that gentle wind didn’t just stay in the same direction all day – that would have been just too much to hope for, instead it chopped and changed direction throughout the day.

Stage 1

FTR were first in to bat and were the first to discover just exactly how tricky that wind was, it clearly showed in their scores; only 3 shooters managed to break 70 with David Rollafson, the GB FTR Captain showing how to do it, closely followed by the two other ‘big guns’ in the League.

By the time FO got to play, we had some idea of what to expect from listening to the tales of woe from our FTR friends; “forewarned is forearmed” as they say, so that may have helped half the FO shooters to break 70.

1 David Rollafson 73.03 1 Des Parr 73.03
2 Adam Bagnall 72.05 2 David Raybould 72.06
3 Asad Wahid 70.03 3 Ian Bellis 71.07

Stage 2

By mid-morning we were making very good progress, the SMTs were performing perfectly and allowing us to get through the course of fire in good time. As the day warmed albeit just slightly, the wind seemed to become even twitchier, the subtle changes were difficult to see and often the flags seemed to give misleading indications. This was proving to be Blair Atholl at its best.

Only one FTR shooter managed to break 70 in the second stage; that was our diminutive 101 club visitor Carrie Ryan who seemed to be very well attuned to the wind, while most other shooters were pushed down into the mid-sixties.

It was just the same for the FO shooters; many were struggling to avoid shedding too many points, it was so easily done in that tricky fickle wind condition. That said, Paul Sandie the World Number 2 seemed to take it all in his stride, dropping just two points and still having a healthy V-count.

1 Carrie Ryan 70.06 1 Paul Sandie 73.07
2 Quintin Lyle 69.06 2 Richard Sharman 73.03
3 Richard Egan 69.05 3 Alan Manson 71.04

Stage 3

By mid-afternoon, the wind was bringing in some ominous heavy, dark clouds and the temperature was dropping; all the signs were there that the weather was changing from Saturday’s windy forecast to Sunday’s wet weather. We were thankful that the SMTs were performing so efficiently that it looked like we would finish the day in good time and ahead of the oncoming downpour.

Just as we were trying to make good time there was a short delay – David Beech lost the extractor in his Remington – as you’ll know the Remington extractor is a tiny little circlip thing and losing it in long grass looked like the end of the matter, but his friends rallied round and diligently searched the grass until they found it!

The dark clouds were pushing the wind in front of them, so there were some bigger changes to contend with, this consequently cost many more people to lose points, most were averaging in the mid-sixties, most but not all; Asad Wahid showed us all how to do it with a good 72.

Just as everyone was beginning to think that getting a score in the low seventies was very good,  Gary Costello pulled a rabbit out of the hat with an astonishing 75.10 – a “proper winner’s score” as Paul Crosbie called it. Gary later mentioned he’d been conducting experiments with other guns earlier and had reverted back to his old faithful for Stage three.

1 Asad Wahid 72.04 1 Gary Costello 75.10
2 David Rollafson 70.09 2 Des Parr 71.07
3 Paul Crosbie 69.05 3 David Raybould 71.04

With stormy wet weather on the horizon, we all scrambled to pack away the kit while it was still dry, “many hands make light work” as they say and lots of members all pitched in to dismantle the gazebos and tidy up, just as we were leaving the range, the first big heavy raindrops started to fall….

It had been a good day for challenging shooting; we had enjoyed doing battle with a fairly light but very tricky wind and we had stayed dry in the process. Best of all, the SMTs had performed beautifully, never missing a beat.

The overnight leaders could reflect on a good day.

1 Paul Sandie 214.16 1 David Rollafson 210.17
2 Des Parr 213.14 2 Asad Wahid 206.11
3 Richard Sharman 213.14 3 David Lloyd 204.09
4 David Raybould 213.12 4 Julie Bagnall 203.11

While the leaders battled it out, there was another fiercely contested battle in progress; between our youngest shooter; Heather Anselm and the GBFCA Chairman Les Holgate. After Stage two they were one-all and by the end of the day, Les had secured two out of three stages.

That night many shooters headed for Pitlochry for their evening meal and were in for a surprise, the normally quiet little town was chock-a-bloc with visitors who’d come to see a local attraction; the “Enchanted forest”, a light & music show in a nearby forest, parking was nigh impossible to find and those who opted to travel by taxi were in for another fright, a return fare to Blair Atholl was an extortionate £30. Sad to say, the whole affair created the impression of being a tourist trap.

It was a dark and stormy night and we feared the worst for the morning; the forecast looked simply awful; constant heavy rain all day. We feared for the state of the access track, it can be muddy at the best of times and the big forestry machines had churned it up even more, even if we could get to the range safely, the prospect of heavy constant rain was, to say the least not very appealing. Even with the gazebos up to cover the shooters, everyone else would be exposed to the downpour.

Sunday

Down in the village of Blair Atholl the wind was swaying the trees, we wondered how much worse it would be at the higher altitude of the range, the rain however, was not quite as bad as feared; it was moderate.

On driving up to the range, it was a great relief to discover the access track wasn’t too badly damaged by the heavy overnight rain, there was only minimal mud and it didn’t present any real difficulty. It was very misty and it was still raining moderately hard. The big question was; whether to persevere with the published course of fire or curtail it to perhaps one detail of 2+20. A straw poll was taken and to my surprise everyone wanted to soldier on and stick to the original plan for two details – many of those present, having travelled hundreds of miles to get there, quite rightly wanted to get their money’s worth. It turned out to be a very prescient decision.

Before shooting could commence though, there was some entertainment provided by drivers trying to ascend the steep ramp to the 900yd parking area – it was an absolute quagmire and many struggled, even some of those with 4x4s who were unaccustomed to off road driving conditions. With much slip-sliding, wheel-spinning and pirouettes, they eventually managed to get parked, well, more or less.

Three shooters had pulled out for a variety of reasons; illness, ammo’ problems and rifle problems, it was unfortunate for them of course, but the upside was that we could fill their spaces and run the match with just 3 full details and make a significant saving in time, the prospect of getting an earlier start on the long journey home lifted the mood of those present.

Stage 4

It would be fair to say that this stage wasn’t much fun, the rain was relentless and so the wind flags were absolutely sodden and unresponsive, the wind however was still present, but without the assistance of the wind flags, it was exceptionally difficult to judge what was going on, consequently points were very easily lost. The only two shooters who managed to achieve 70 were the gold medal winners in each class; Paul Sandie and Peter Dommett. All credit is due to them, as for the rest of us, it was like shooting blindfold and just hoping for good luck, but relying on luck isn’t a good plan and consequently Stage 4 turned out to be the make-or-break detail for the fortunes of the overnight leaders, for example spare a thought for the FTR leader in day one; David Rollafson who crashed and burned with a 49! On the other hand, Richie Jones who had been trailing in 23rd place restored his fortunes with an amazing 69. It was a similar story for the FO guys with Paul Sandie reinforcing his position to put him in a seemingly unassailable lead.

1 Peter Dommett 70.06 1 Paul Sandie 72.08
2 Richie Jones 69.05 2 Richard Sharman 69.06
3 Asad Wahid 68.04 3 Gary Costello 69.03

Towards the end of Stage 4 we noticed a welcome change in the weather; the awful forecast had not actually materialised, the rain had in fact abated, the mist had lifted and while you could not exactly call it sunny, it was at least bright now and had every prospect of remaining dry. I was now glad that the members had decided to persevere with the planned course of fire.

Stage 5

The wind flags were gradually drying out and thereby becoming more responsive, so Stage 5 was not quite the same lottery as Stage 4, at least now we had functioning wind indicators. Did it help though? – Frankly no, because now the wind decided to fishtail all the way up and down the range and with astonishing rapidity! It seemed as though every shot was a sighter, it changed that quickly, and it was all too easy to find shots being blown from one side of the target to the other.

At times like this it calls for a shooter with experience, guts and luck. On the FTR side three guys had it all; Asad, Stuart and Richie, each of them reinforced their lead while all around them, other shooters threw away points like confetti.  On the FO side, young Tom Reynolds had an amazing shoot; he was four points clear of his nearest rival, it was an incredible shoot that I’m sure he’ll remember for a long time. I hear that Tom is also improving his tea-making and culinary skills; he hasn’t killed off Paul Key just yet.

1 Asad Wahid 64.01 1 Tom Reynolds 68.02
2 Stuart Anselm 64.01 2 David Raybould 64.04
3 Richie Jones 64.00 3 Des Parr 63.04

Sunday turned out to be a far better day than anyone could possibly have envisaged given the apocalyptic forecast of what hurricane Lorenzo was going to bring, everyone was in an upbeat mood despite what the tricky wind had done to them. We can live with that, the wind is always the big challenge and it always does win in the end and it teaches us humility in the process.

Thanks to all the members who volunteered or got press-ganged into helping to dismantle the targetry at the end of the day, Paul Crosbie reckoned it taken just half an hour which is superb. All the SMTs were given to Richie to transport down to their winter quarters at Diggle. Richie’s taxi must be something like the Tardis as we were amazed that he could fit it all in.

The Winners

So who had prevailed? We all wanted to know, sadly it wasn’t Heather…Les had got lucky on day two and netted both stages. But I’m sure Heather will keep him in her sights and will get revenge.

As for the other winners, Asad Wahid revealed that he had been taken unwell before attending the match and was still not 100% fit and yet despite that he had stamped his authority on the match in a very convincing manner, winning the Highland Challenge with 338.16, a full ten points ahead of his nearest rival Peter Dommett. This is the second time that Peter has come to Blair and won the Silver trophy, which is quite a feat in itself.  Just one measly point behind, came Carrie Ryan taking the bronze trophy back to Liverpool.

In FO, Richard Sharman is the new Highland Challenge Champion; he can add this to his title of Scottish Champion which he won earlier in the year. Richard has previously won the SRA’s Long Range match; he seems to be a Blair Atholl specialist. Paul Sandie was just one point behind and was the only Scotsman on the podium; he’s never far from the front. The bronze trophy was netted by David Raybould who mentioned that he too wasn’t feeling great; one wonders what he could do when well.

1 Asad Wahid 338.16 1 Richard Sharman 345.21
2 Peter Dommett 328.19 2 Paul Sandie 344.25
3 Carrie Ryan 327.10 3 David Raybould 344.20

The other big winner was the Silver Mountain target –we were very encouraged that the system has now successfully endured everything that Blair Atholl can throw at it and come out trumps. Our thanks go to Paul Crosbie and Paul Harkins for all their work on the system.

Next up, the British Championships at Bisley in November see you there.

Des Parr.

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