Gather together close to 100 of the best long range rifle shooters in the United States and about $1 million worth of custom made gear suitable for putting a bullet through a hole the size of a 50-cent piece from a half-mile away, and you have the makings of one heck of a competition.
An event featuring just such ingredients took place last week in Texas County, as State Rep. Robert Ross hosted the International Benchrest Shooters Association (IBS) 1,000-yard Nationals at his Midwest Benchrest range in Yukon.
The biggest IBS 1,000-yard match of the year, the open competition drew shooters from all parts of the country, many renowned in shooting circles as some of the finest to ever pull a trigger. After a day of practicing and “sighting in” their firearms on Thursday, participants (both male and female, as gender is not a factor in IBS events) got down to business over the next two days, shooting at targets 3,000 feet downrange from facility’s 15 canopy-covered benchrest stations.
Friday featured “light gun” competition, with shooters wielding weapons weighing 17 pounds or less, while the heavy artillery came out on Saturday for unlimited weight “heavy gun” competition. When the last shot had been fired and the results tallied, Henry Pasquet, of Ellsinore, Mo., was the overall “two gun” winner, with a five-shot group of 4.782 inches (the distance between the two shots farthest apart in the group) and a score of 140 in light gun, and a group of 7.904 and score of 290 in heavy gun. Pasquet’s light gun group ranked fourth and his score 10th, while his heavy gun group was 11th and his score first.
Douglas Rumbaugh, of Millerstown, Pa., turned in the top overall performance in the light gun category, with a second-ranked group measuring 4.548 inches and a ninth-ranked score of 140, while Scott Weber, of Steelton, Pa., took overall honors in heavy gun with a category-best 6.405-inch group and a fourth-ranked score of 282.
Like many shooters, Ross became interested in firing guns at a young age, shooting at small animals and “varmints” on the family farm. As he grew, his interest in shooting did too, and he and his father began entering competitions.
“It became a quest to shoot more precisely at greater distances,” he said.
Ross eventually became a top-notch benchrest shooter, winning multiple matches around the country and posting several 1,000-yard groups in the three-inch range in the process. He finally decided he wanted to host matches, and almost single-handedly constructed a range on his property, doing everything from pouring the concrete benches, to building the target frames and overhead canopy. The range opened in the spring of 2009.
“Everything you see there is kind of a reflection of me,” Ross said.
Last week’s match was the second national level competition staged at the venue, as the IBS 600-Yard Nationals took place there in 2011. Ross said there are only a handful of ranges in the country capable of hosting the 1000-yard show.
“And if a 1000-yard nationals has taken place before in Missouri, I’m not aware of it,” he said.
The level of talent at last week’s event is evident in the fact that two participants turned in near-world record groups at a Midwest Benchrest match last year, as Illinois resident Ron Boyd posted a light gun spread of only 1.462 inches (a fraction off the record of 1.397), while Pasquet had a 3.348-inch group at 1,000 yards (compared to the record of 3.044).
“It’s no secret that a lot of people could never do that at 100 yards, let alone 1,000,” Ross said. “But there are a lot of things that have to be just right for that to occur, like your bullets, powder, primer, scope, rest and a lot more. And you’re going to have to have some help from the weather – on a windy day, or when there’s a lot of mirage, you’re never going to get there.”
The hardware used in IBS matches isn’t the kind typically found at local outdoors stores or pawn shops. Guns are custom-made – often by the shooters themselves – to fit a specific style, body contour, or other desire or characteristic.
Many bear elaborate designs and paint jobs.
“They’re absolutely works of art,” Ross said. “I still enjoy working on rifles out in my shop. It’s kind of become my getaway.”
Cartridges used in the rifles are also custom, and are larger than standard so as to provide the power to accurately send a bullet on a 1,000 yard trip. Shooters go with varying bullet sizes – some with sizes as small as .20 caliber – but IBS rules limit them to .40 caliber or less.
Once Ross opened his range, the business of tending to it more or less eliminated the time necessary to remain a big-time shooter. When he’s not involved with commitments related to his election to the state legislature (usually from late spring to early fall), he hosts monthly matches with a 1,000-yard match on Saturday and a 600-yard match on Sunday.
“I love competing, but it’s just too much,” Ross said. “Most people don’t realize how much goes into it putting on an event like this. Even with a regular match, there is just so much preparation.
“But at the end of the day, this is a family business. Without the help of my mom and dad and my sister, this really wouldn’t be possible. It definitely keeps us busy.”
While many local residents weren’t even aware that a national shooting competition was taking place nearby, others were well aware as the hundreds of participants, family members and others involved descended on the area for a few days. The Lazy L Motel in Houston was completely booked by a couple from Kansas, and Miller’s Grill ran out of multiple menu items. Many other area motels were either booked solid or had few rooms left, and the food, gas, and retail community experienced a significant financial boost.
“This is a big deal for our area and it has a real economic impact,” Ross said. “Even when we host a regular match, there’s an impact, and I know that many of the motels and restaurants know the schedule of our monthly shoots.”
Despite the effort needed to put on an event like last week’s match, Ross figures it’s worth it because of the caliber of folks in the benchrest family.
“You just can’t beat the type of people who are involved,” he said. “This match represents the pinnacle of IBS 1,000 yard shooting on the year, and everyone attending puts in a tremendous amount of time and effort in hopes of winning. The reality of the situation is that although everyone is trying to win, if a competitor has a problem and needs help, other competitors are willing to assist, even if that results in being beaten themselves. If there is another sport that has this sort of atmosphere, I’m not aware of it.
“Ultimately, the competition yields to the resulting friendships, which are fostered as part of a common goal: Raising the bar in long range precision shooting.”
The reality of the situation is that although everyone is trying to win, if a competitor has a problem and needs help, other competitors are willing to assist, even if that results in being beaten themselves. If there is another sport that has this sort of atmosphere, I’m not aware of it.”
Click here to see a photo gallery from the 1,000-Yard Nationals: