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2016 the highland challenge

A Highland Fiasco

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Photo by - Steve Thornton

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The Highland Challenge – Round 7 of the 2016 season – “A Highland Fiasco”

It certainly was a challenge, but not quite the kind we had in mind, you expect to be challenged by the wind, not by the actual targetry. The Highland Challenge will be memorable for all the wrong reasons; we were badly let down by electronic target malfunctions.

We started out with high hopes and high pressure weather, so all looked set for an enjoyable early autumn match in picturesque Glen Tilt as photographed by Steve Thornton above. There was a lot riding on this match; as there are several contenders in both F/TR and F/Open, who all need to win more valuable points to secure victory.

The entries for the match were snapped up very quickly; about 45 spaces were taken within just 24 hours, there was at least one shooter who was left out for not being able to get online fast enough. Of the total, 32 were F/TR and 16 F/Open, it goes to show the growth of F/TR continues unabated.

Friday Practice Day

There was an amazing turn-out for the Friday practice, about 30 or more shooters were all keen to at least check their zero or better yet, get a handle on the notoriously tricky Glen Tilt wind flags. We had excellent weather for it too; perfect visibility and gentle though twitchy winds. All six targets were in operation and functioned well, giving very little indication of what was to befall us later, such is the fickle nature of all things electronic.

Saturday

The F/TR shooters were first into play; they had pretty attractive conditions in which to shoot; only a gentle south easterly wind being pushed in by high pressure over the North Sea, although the wind was not strong, it could be devilishly tricky – typical Blair Atholl conditions. The range looked glorious in the early morning sun.


Paul Crosbie wins the FTR Highland Challenge with 234.14v. Currently 2nd in the league. Photograph by S Anselm.

Stage 1

Stage one did not take long to complete – the shooters were keen to get on with the match and make the most of what looked like reasonable conditions. Things are seldom as easy as they seem though, and only one shooter managed to break 70, that was Stuart Anselm who got off to a good start with his trusty new Victrix rifle, scoring a reasonable 70.5, closely following Stuart, came big Richie Jones, Captain of the 101 club, with a good 69.4. In third place was local shooter Paul Crosbie with 67.1 as can be seen from those winning scores, even when the wind looks fine it can be very deceptive.

Conditions remained favourable-looking for the F/Open guys, though only three managed to break 70, so that showed that even the big 7mm rifles were getting caught out. First place was won by a first-time visitor to Blair Atholl; Craig Titmus all the way from Cambridge, Craig scored a respectable 70.5, beating the former World Champion Gary Costello into second place by one V-bull. Third place was won by the then current top man in the National League, Paul Sandie on 70.2 that concluded Stage 1 and we appeared to be making good time.

Stage two is when the gremlins struck;
Target 6 appeared to give some shooters errant shots; at first we could not be sure, after all Blair Atholl is a tough range where odd things can and do happen, but after a while it became clear that even confident, experienced shooters were being given very odd shots – too far out to be wind or ammo-related.  It would have been bad enough for one target to malfunction,  but then target 4 started to come out in sympathy, showing all the same symptoms; ridiculously high and wide shots, then not showing any shots and then returning to ‘normality’ for a few more shots. This was an intolerable situation whereby the scores on the monitors simply could not be trusted, pretty soon any errant shot was being viewed with deep suspicion. On a famously tough upland range like Blair Atholl, weird stuff happens even at the best of times, so you can imagine the distress and confusion caused when the electronics throw in many more weird shots.

We were forced to stop Stage 2 and investigate matters; all the usual tricks such as rebooting the system and refreshing screens did not seem to help, the targets themselves appeared on the face of it to be in reasonable shape, but that’s the problem with electronics – it is seldom clear what exactly has broken. The shooters on Targets 6 and 4 were given the opportunity to re-shoot that stage – it seemed the only fair thing to do, when the targets were so unreliable.

Stage two was resumed and completed using just the four remaining targets, all seemed to go fairly well until the last pairing on target 3, then the gremlins struck again as that target also seemed to show some bizarre wide shots which stretched credibility. When that happens naturally shooters who had previously used that target will look at their plotting sheets and see if any wide shots could have been attributed to the system instead of the elements. That is just human nature of course, but it is not easy to resolve such problems to everyone’s satisfaction. Target 3 was therefore down and out of action, leaving us with just three functioning targets.


Stuart Anselm current league leader came 2nd in FTR with 232.14v.  Photograph by S Anselm. (Somehow)

Stage 2 - Continued...

Despite the long interruption, conditions remained tricky giving everyone an equal chance to grapple with the vagaries of the wind. Paul Crosby is well experienced in reading the wind at Blair, and it showed; he took first with 71.6 Matt Jarram was not far behind, Matt seems to have regained his old form again in taking silver with 71.3 third place was a tie between John Cross and John Matthew on 70.5 each, Mr Matthew prevailed after a count-back.

The F/Open guys did a bit better, but still nobody managed to ‘clean’ the target, which indicates just how tricky the wind conditions really were, it was one of the first-time visitors to Blair Atholl who claimed the gold medal, Tom Bindley from the flat lands of the South East won with a good 74.7 In second came Paul Sandie, flying the flag for Scotland with a good 74.5 for the silver, while in third place, taking the bronze medal back home south of the border was Gary Costello with 73.6.

It took quite a long time to investigate the malfunctioning targets, then arrange re-shoots for those shooters who were most badly affected by targets 4 & 6, then re-arrange the remaining shooters still waiting to finish their stage on just four targets, until target 3 went kaput, leaving another pair to re-shoot their stage. After all that carry-on, it was time to pack up for the day, what a day it had been.

Stage three simply had to be cancelled, there was not enough time in the day left to process all the shooters through just 3 remaining targets in the time available. The day ended as it had begun in beautiful bright warm and dry conditions – ideal conditions for shooting, but only if the vital target infrastructure can be trusted. Once again a National League match had been badly disrupted by the failure of the West Atholl club to provide reliable targetry. Despite my promises after the previous debacle the maintenance of the targets simply did not live up to our needs and expectations.

It was clear that with only half the targets available, we would only be able to do half the expected shooting on Sunday, so to make amends to a small extent, we extended the only stage of the day to a 2+20 with an additional 3 non-convertible sighters.


Stage 3

Stage three simply had to be cancelled, there was not enough time in the day left to process all the shooters through just 3 remaining targets in the time available. The day ended as it had begun in beautiful bright warm and dry conditions – ideal conditions for shooting, but only if the vital target infrastructure can be trusted. Once again a National League match had been badly disrupted by the failure of the West Atholl club to provide reliable targetry. Despite my promises after the previous debacle the maintenance of the targets simply did not live up to our needs and expectations.

It was clear that with only half the targets available, we would only be able to do half the expected shooting on Sunday, so to make amends to a small extent, we extended the only stage of the day to a 2+20 with an additional 3 non-convertible sighters.

Sunday

Sunday dawned bright, clear and dry though it was distinctly colder – not cold enough to be scraping car windows, but not far off it, we are well into autumn up in the Highlands. The main thing to note was the wind – or rather the absence of it, this was one of those beautifully cold, clear, crisp mornings with hardly a breath of wind – perfect for precision shooting at long range!

Stage 4

This time, the F/Open guys were able to get down first and it has to be said, they really made the most of it. Lance Vinall clearly has a superbly accurate rifle and ammo’ combination, he really put it to good use in racking up an impressive 100.12. That might also be a new range record – we seldom shoot 2+20s so well done to Lance for establishing a new standard at Blair Atholl for us to aspire to. After a count-back on 99.6, Craig Titmus added a silver medal to his haul, proving he is someone to be contended with. Steve Poultney who was also on his very first visit to Blair, had to be content with the bronze. It was an very impressive performance by the visitors, well done to them all.

The F/TR guys did not have long to await their turn, by then conditions were not quite so ideal; it was warmer, a bit more mirage and the wind was just picking up a bit more strength. That said, Paul Crosbie made short work of it with a solid 96.7. In second came Simon Gambling, who is having a great season, with 96.5 after a count-back with Russell Simmonds the current GB Captain. Thankfully everyone was able to be processed through the remaining three targets without any further widespread problems, though target 2 did start to show the odd wide shot.

The Winners

The F/TR Highland Champion is somewhat appropriately, a Scotsman; Paul Crosbie was consistently strong all the way through the match and it showed in the final tally. Paul took the title with an excellent 234.14. Hard on his heels, came Stuart Anselm who has been having a terrific season with his beautiful new Victrix rifle, Stuart took the silver with 232.14. Big Richie Jones seemed to have had a very good handle on Blair Atholl, coming in a close third with 230.13 to win bronze.

Gary Costello wins the F Open at Blair Atholl scoring at total of  241.23v.  Photograph by S Anselm.

The F/Open title and the glory were won by Gary Costello who seems to be returning to form with a beautiful 300wsm by Peter Walker with 241.23. Lance Vinall is proving to be a real contender, he took silver with a good 240.17. Third place was taken by local guy Paul Sandie with240.10 using his superb rifle by Callum Ferguson. All in, it was a fine result for the Country’s best gunsmiths.

As always the match needed several people to run it, I am especially grateful to Paul Crosbie, who worked tirelessly to rig the range every day and to dismantle and stow away all the electronics, while also range officering. Stuart Anselm and his Father kindly undertook all the stats operations which is always a thankless task. Other notable helpers were Peter Baxter, Robin Gow and John Matthew who all used their 4x4 vehicles to great effect on the range all weekend – I am obliged to you all.

It is probably the end of an era at Blair Atholl, the patience and goodwill of the membership has been exhausted by the repeated failure of the electronic targets or more correctly, the failure of the West Atholl club to maintain the targets in good order. Some hard decisions will need to be made by the club, but that falls out with the scope of this match report. The consequences for the GBFCA are that we may now have to consider finding alternative venues to host two League matches.

Next is the culmination of the 2016 season, the British Championships at Bisley. There is still all to play for those at the top of the National League.
See you there.

Des Parr