Shooters compete for handgun championships at Winnabow competition
BY MIKE MARSH CORRESPONDENT
SEPTEMBER 13, 2017 02:12 PM
John Richards knocks down a turkey silhouette while with a .22-caliber Thompson/Center pistol. He was shooting in the U.S. East Coast IHMSA championships at Buccaneer Gun Club in Winnabow, N.C. Look carefully at the bank of small turkey silhouettes and you only see nine standing. He just hit the turkey on the far left. MIKE MARSH
An ear-splitting muzzle blast, a solid clank, a spatter of lead dust and a target fell backward to bite into the dust. The noise was all in the fun for 33 shooters who were competing in the U.S. East Coast International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association championship at Buccaneer Gun Club in Winnabow, Aug. 30-Sept. 4.
“I came with my wife, Sally,” said Russell Mowles, a 69-year-old retired cabinetmaker from Cooran, Australia. “I came to the U.S. for the World Championships in Oklahoma in July and shot a two-day and a one-day match in Ohio in August before coming here. It’s a vacation and a chance to visit the states.”
When he was a young boy, Mowles shot rabbits with rifles on his family’s farm. He began shooting pistols in the early 1990s when he joined a pistol club. His fondness for pistols grew, culminating in his trip to U.S. to shoot in pistol silhouette matches.
“To own a pistol in Australia, you have to be a member of a pistol club,” he said. “It must be locked up in a safe at home and you have to shoot a minimum number of times each year. You must have a license, for which you have to do a safety course, go through background checks and pay an annual fee.”
In IHMSA competition, the shooters must hit chicken, pig, turkey and ram targets. Each target grows progressively larger in that order as the distance increases. The U.S. East Coast match included both rim fire and center fire disciplines. For rim fire competition, the ranges are 25, 50, 75 and 100 yards. For center fire competition, the distances are 50, 100, 150 and 200 yards. Since the targets are made of metal and bullets shatter when they ring against steel, shooters are required to wear eye and ear protection before any firing can begin, when the match director calls the range “Hot!”
Most of the shooters fired their pistols in at least a dozen different matches, with each match based on the type of firearm and the shooting position, which decreases or increases the difficulty for the shooter to hit the targets. Except for minor changes, production class pistols must be unaltered from what any shooter can buy over the counter at a gun shop. Unlimited class allows the use of customized guns. Open sights class prohibits the use of glass optics. Standing class requires shooters to stand upright. Revolver classes are separate from fixed breech pistol classes. For the most accuracy, competitors lay on their backs with their scoped, single-shot custom pistols braced against their lower legs for the utmost in steadiness. For the most difficulty, shooters stand upright and aim with open sights.
In standard IHMSA matches, the course of fire includes 10 shots at each animal target for 40 shots. At the world championships, the course of fire was 20 targets at each range for 80 shots. This regional competition required 15 targets at each range for 60 shots. Scoring is simple. Unless you hit a target out of sequence, which subtracts two, you add up the number of targets that fall.
Mowles had already scored a 59 and 60 in center fire production gun class, shooting a Remington XP-100 bolt-action single shot chambered in 7mm BR. He had also fired two perfect 60s in two small-bore classes, using a Freedom Arms .22 revolver and an Anschutz single shot .22.
Most shooters team up, with one acting as a spotter to call out the locations of hits and misses while the other shoots. The silhouettes are painted black for visibility and readily show a whitish gray spot when a lead bullet spatters against the steel.
John Richards, a 55-year-old public works employee from Savage, Minnesota, had driven to the shoot with his friend, Steve Martin, a 60-year-old retired telecommunications worker from Wilmer, Minnesota. Martin is also the current president of IHMSA. Richards was shooting a Thompson/Center Contender .22 in production, open sight standing class, while Martin was spotting for him.
“I have shot IHMSA matches in South Dakota, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Wisconsin this year,” Richards said. “I will shoot 12 guns (12 different matches) in this competition. I enjoy the challenge. I like shooting different guns because once you get one shooting right, it is time to start on another one.”
“I shoot two or three matches a month, mostly in Minnesota, but also in other states,” Martin said. “I like the challenge of developing different loads for accuracy because there is always room for improvement. I also like competition and this part of the country has some good shooters.”