2015 World Long Range / Palma Championships

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Germany, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, West Indies, Channel Islands and Canada brought their countries best long range shooters to the Unites States this August. We, the United States, hosted The World long Range and Palma Championships. 450 of the best long range, iron sight shooters in the world in one place. This is our Olympics. The World Championship is held every four years in a different country. This year it was held at Camp Perry the Ohio National Guard base in Ohio. This is the same location NRA and CMP Nationals are held every year. The last time Worlds was held in the US was 1992 in Raton, NM. The next one will be in New Zealand in 2019. I am a member of the US Rifle and Palma Team and was honored to be part of this experience for the first time in my life. To make it an even better trip I drove from Seattle to Ohio. I drove my Dodge Challenger SRT8 half way across the US. Round trip it was 72 hours driving, 4700 miles, 4000 plus rounds of 308 (I carried other team mates gear) and one burnout. (Don’t ask) Hopefully it will not be the last time and I will join the team in New Zealand. The Challenger would stay at home for that trip. The United States took the Silver Medal this year. It has been a while since the US has received the Gold. Team Great Britain won the Gold in 1992 here and they took it again this year. The last time the US won the Palma Team Gold Medal was in 1985 and it was on Great Britain’s turf. Allow me to give you a brief history of Palma.

IMG_9826The Palma trade mark and emblem is owned by the NRA. The first Palma match was held in approximately 1874. The Olympics did not start until 1896. The Olympic shooting sport in 1896 was a 200 meter service rifle event. In 1920 they added 3 position, prone only and a team event at 300 meters. By 1948 to 1962 they had a 3 position event at 300 meters. After that it went to 22 rim fire only at 50 meters. Now in the Olympics it is mostly air rifle. Although at 50 meters a .22 is still used and there are no longer any team events. But all of this time the Palma Team World Championships have still been held every four years on its own. What is Palma shooting? Using a bolt action 308 rifle we shoot at a bulls-eye target in the prone position from 800, 900 and 1000 yards. The difference is we shoot from a sling which is self-support, no bi-pod. And we are shooting with iron sights, no scopes. Yes iron sights at 1000 yards. In the Palma category the 308 cartridge cannot have a bullet weight more than 155.5 grains. The target is a MOA bulls-eye. The black consists of X ring through 7 ring. So the X ring at 1000 is only 10”. The target frame in the US is about 6 feet x 6 feet. In other countries the frame is about 8 x 10 feet. The entire event of Worlds consists of 3 days of long range individuals and two days of team Palma.

World Championships was scheduled to follow US Long Range Nationals at Perry this year. As a warm up and acclamation period for visiting overseas teams the US Fullbore Nationals was held first. World Long Range for individuals started on August 9th. For three days each competitor shot at 800, 900 and 1000 yards each day. That was the idea anyway. We did have a couple of storm delays that forced us to eliminate a string of fire. After the first string at 800 yards on day one you could tell that you were shooting with the best in the world. Out of about 425 competitors over 200 of them cleaned the 800 yard string. A 75/75 and the only thing that put you at the top of that list was your X count. In the case of international scoring at this match, instead of an X ring it is a V-bull. Scoring is V, 5, 4, 3 instead of X, 10, 9, 8 rings. When the shooters got back to the 1000 yard line there were only two relays that were able to shoot before the rain storm came in. I was one of the lucky ones on the third string that set up all of my gear on the line and the rain squall opened up. Normally rain alone is not enough to cancel shooting but the cloud cover was so thick it made the targets disappear 1000 yards away. All of my gear and me was soaked to the bone. We all waited around hovering under the trees in our ponchos to see if it would let up. It never did and it would have been too dark to continue shooting the last two relays. So the officials threw out that string of the match. Several shooters had cleaned that string at 1000 and were upset to lose that. But that is part of the game. You just never know what will be dealt.

Day two did deal a heavy blow again at the end of the day at the 1000 yard line. The entire two weeks we had been shooting at Perry the winds were very heavy. Just as the pits were sealed and the first relay was about to go to the line, a crazy wind storm started to blow through. The flags were pointing straight up and all going in different directions. I recall Michelle Gallagher, several time National Champion, looking at me and actually saying she was afraid to shoot. She was on that first relay. The first and second relays got pummeled. 10 points lost or more were common down the line. I was on the third relay and I “only” dropped 8 points. This is where you saw the leaders on the board pull ahead. Way ahead. Australian Ben Emms was still clean. My roommate for this trip and fellow Palma team mate Trudie Fay was only down 1 point to here as well. Nigel Ball from Great Britain was in the top three. But as we know, matches can change in an instant and it is not over until it is over. Day 3 had similar windy conditions. Again Ben Emms was still only down one point after all three days of shooting. I was beginning to wonder if he was even human. My nickname for him was “Windja”. Nigel Ball held on to his down two point only lead. Only two relays were fired this day to leave room for the final shoot off of the top 10 places.

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A shoot off is held at the 1000 yard line with a large audience. I was hanging out with SSG Sherri Gallagher, former World Champion, who up until the last 10 minutes of scores being finalized was the only female in the shoot off. As the final scores came in she was squeezed out to 12th place by Jon Underwood of Great Britain. Trudie Fay had an unfortunate bit of luck at the last stage that day and did not make it in to the shoot off either. The US did have three shooters that made it, Tom Whitaker, Robert Steketee and Carl Kovalchik. The shoot off is 15 rounds with 2 convertible sighters. These scores are added in to overall scores for the final win. All shooters are on the line at the same time and each has a score board behind them that is marked for the audience to see. To prove that he was human after all Ben Emms, for some dramatic effect, kept us on the edge of our seats during the shoot off. Two crazy shots of a wide two and a low 3 were nail biters. His last round for record had to be at least a 4 to keep the Gold medal from going to 2nd place finisher Nigel Ball from Great Britain. Cheers came from the crowd and especially his team mates when the final 5 came up on the target. Nigel had a beautiful target of centered shots and won the Silver and Matthew Pozzebon also of Australia took the Bronze Medal. Tom Whittaker of the US was High Veteran and SSG Sherri Gallagher was High Lady. Being 7th and 12th overall respectively, these special awards are an honor. The United States Juniors made us proud as well.

Our US juniors (Under 25s and U21s) made a great showing this year. Two of them from my state of Washington were honored a couple of times. Michael Storer was 5th overall with a bronze medal in the U25. Luke Rettmer took the Silver medal in the U21. Brianna Rachinski was 5th overall with a Bronze medal. Nice representation Washington! U21 Gold medalist was Waylon Burbach of Wisconsin, Silver was Luke Rettmer and Bronze was Angus Martin of AUS. In the U25, Great Britain swept the top three spots. Jack Alexander won the Gold, Chloe Evans Silver and Gareth Davies the Bronze. The following day we stepped right in to the World Palma Team Championships.

I have shot matches with the US Team. South Africa was my first big experience with that. But Worlds was much more intense. Add the crowded firing lines with all of the flags, pop up tents, team uniforms and media and it was quite a sight. At each yard line of 800, 900 and 1000 yards a large square area was roped off for each country. All 4 man teams, coaches, head coaches, plotters, score keepers and verifiers had to fit in this area. For Palma Team Worlds it is required that each country have 4 – 4 man teams and one coach for each. There is Team Captain, Adjutant and two alternates that make up The Palma Team as well. There were also 4 reserve shooters, I was one of those. The match is two days at 8, 9 and 1000 yards. In our case, each coach has two of his shooters on the line at a time on either side of him. One is shooting and the other is at the ready. The second shooter needs to be there in case the coaches need them to jump in before their time and take a sighter shot, or pilot shot, (basically sacrificing one of their sighters to help coaches find their way back in to a wind condition). The Head Coach, for the US it was Emil Praslick, stands or sits with his spotting scope behind the line and works together with all of the coaches. All coaches have head-sets on and communicate to each other the conditions and their calls. I wish I could say that the US brought home the Gold Medal this year but Great Britain shot like a house on fire and kicked everyone’s butts.  They deserved to take home the Gold. I believe they broke every record in the book as well. GB member Toby Raincock was high shooter overall winning the Fulton trophy. He only dropped one point! And top coach went to Matthew Ensor also of GB with The Arthur Clarke memorial trophy. On the US team John Whidden and Steve Hardin were the high shooter and coach. South Africa held on strong and took home the Bronze Team Medal this year.

teamfiringlinePart of the excitement of the match is walking down the line and watching the score boards of all of the teams as they are shooting. A lot can happen at each firing line. Again, you just do not know until it is over. After all is finished each team takes photos with their national flag and score board of the match. Then there is the greeting line. Two long lines of team’s members congratulating each other one by one. Probably the only chance you get to actually be face to face with every person out there. It is quite a sight to see. All of the beautiful colors of the international jerseys together. Each team then sends up a cheer for everyone else. The awards ceremony unfortunately is a not a big fan fare. Although, it was nice not to have to get dressed up in our formal team blazers and sit in the auditorium for a couple of hours. This one was held an hour after the matches finished outside the stats office on base. Still in our grimy shooting clothes this was the time to trade jerseys, pins and patches and anything else we could get rid of as it was our last chance before the long journeys home. The beautiful medals were presented and we said our goodbyes. Then of course the big celebration to a long couple of weeks followed. Of course I cannot reveal the details of the festivities that followed that evening. All I will say is that there was one epic pool party and then some dancing at the local watering hole. And perhaps it went on till the wee morning hours. Probably the best ending to a Camp Perry I have ever had. With all of the amazing new friendships made and old friendships reinforced it was like being at summer camp for three weeks. This entire event will be a tough act to follow.

2015 US Palma Team Members – Dennis Flaharty – Team Capt., Robert Mead – Adjutant, Emil Praslick – Head Coach. Coaches – Norm Anderson, Raymond Gross, Steve Hardin, Gary Rasmussen, Jim O’Connell. Shooters – Trudie Fay, Amanda Elsenboss , Michelle Gallagher, Nancy Tompkins, Kevin Nevius, Norm Houle, Ty Cooper, Brandon Green, Brian Litz, Kelly Bachand, Shane Barnhart, Mark Delcotto, Kent Reeve, Justin Skaret, Eric Smith, Mark Altendorf, John Whidden. Alternates – Russell Theurer and Wayne Budbill. Reserves – Anette Wachter, Nate Guernsey, Lane Buxton, Morgan Dietrich and Rob Mango. And of course thank you to Bob Gamboa as team armorer!

By Annette Wachter. Originally published in the October 2015 issue of GunUp the Magazine.