Above: Mark DelCotto (center) is the winner of this year’s NRA National Smallbore Conventional Prone Championship. SFC Henry Gray of the AMU (right) finished in second place and Matt Chezem (left) finished in third.
The return of the 6400-point course of fire and selection for the 2017 Roberts Team had competitors at the 2016 National Smallbore Prone Rifle Championships fired up. Except for a few sidelined by Olympic preparations, the line was full of the nation’s finest prone shooters.
The level of competition was quickly apparent as all four matches on the first day went to 400 with high X counts. Matt Chezem took home the first victory of the metallic sight aggregate with a 400-38X. The targets were moved 14 feet further away for the Meter match and Katie Bridges set the standard there with a 400-35X. Shooting 20 shots at 50 and 100 yards, Hank Gray put up a 400-37X for a win in the Dewar. The day ended at 100 yards, where Mark DelCotto and Gray both shot 400-35X with the win going to DelCotto. This was a precursor of things to come as he also won the first daily aggregate with a one X victory over Chezem, 1600-132X to 1600-131X.
Day two saw the first of three 400-40X unbreakable ties at 50 yards. Eric Uptagrafft, Bridges, and defending National Champion Kevin Nevius all achieved prone perfection. Nevius was on a roll as he Creedmoored Uptagrafft in the Meter match where both posted a score of 400-37X. Howard Pitts and Gray were knotted up at 400-38X each with the tie-breaker favoring Pitts in the Dewar. Matt Griffin topped the field with a 400-33X at 100 yards. Nevius took the day with a 1600-134X.
The metallic sight aggregate was won by DelCotto who let one slip away at 100 yards on day two, scoring 3199-265X. Uptagrafft and Gray were in his rearview mirror each having shot a 3198—with 277 X’s for Uptagrafft and 267 for Gray.
The first day of any sights saw the second three way 400-40X tie at 50 yards with Mark Gould, Gray, and Shawn Carpenter sharing winner money. Carpenter won the Meter match with a 400-39X. DelCotto and Chezem tied in the Dewar, with the rule book ruling in DelCotto’s favor. Chezem bounced back to take the 100-yard match with a perfect score and 34 X’s. The win at 100 yards gave Chezem the daily aggregate with a 1600-149X. Lurking behind on the day, but ahead in the aggregate was DelCotto at 1600-136X.
The final day of individual prone competition opened with DelCotto enduring the particular agony that all leaders feel in a close match, where one tiny error can destroy the hard work of three days. For the third consecutive day, a trio shot 400-40X, with Carpenter and Gray repeating, while Chezem honed in on the glory. Bridges and Dewar Team Captain Dave Chesser tied at 400-38X in the Meter match with Bridges winning. Morgen Dietrich posted a 400-25X to win the Dewar and it was not lost on the crowd that DelCotto gave up one of his precious points with a 399-27X. Two more fresh faces showed up in the winner’s circle as Bill Burkert and Todd Hanson went to the scoring room tied at 400-35X each, with Burkert emerging the victor.
At the end of the day there were three 3199s on the board. Chezem had 291 X’s for the daily win followed by Gray and DelCotto, with 278 and 264 X’s, respectively. In spite of hard holding, Gray and Chezem could not close the gap with DelCotto who emerged the National Champion—winning the coveted Critchfield Trophy. Delcotto posted a 6398-529X, while Gray recorded a 6397-545X to Chezem’s 6396-550X.
John Pitts opened the Conventional Position Championship with an iron sight 400-36X. Lisette Grunwell-Lacey and George Norton were in a real dogfight standing with Grunwell-Lacey posting a 397-17X to Norton’s 396-17X. Bill Beard led the pack in kneeling, shooting a 397-27X. At the end of the day Norton would be in the lead with 1193-72X followed by Gross, 1189-66X, and Grunwell-Lacey, 1187-61X.
Jared Desrosiers bested Mark Gould in any sights prone when both fired 400-38X and the rule book favored Desrosiers.
Norton established a new National Record standing with a 400-28X, setting the tone for the rest of the tournament.
He won the inaugural Iron Man in 2014 and came to Bristol determined to regain the title he lost in 2015. Unfortunately, Norton hung a meter target during the yard match on the second day of prone iron sights. Down 200 points his only worry was that the godfather of the Army team, Lones Wigger, would royally chew him out. He was much relived to learn that Wigger had done a similar thing in 1992 during the infamous Match 54 incident and was not in a position to chastise him.
Norton rounded out the day with a 399-25X victory in kneeling which gave him an aggregate score of 1199-87X and his second National Record of the day. Desrosiers and Bill Azzinaro were tied at 1192 but Desrosiers had 85 X’s to Azzinaro’s 72.
It was no surprise that Norton would wear the conventional position crown. He had a 14 point lead over second place Gross, 2378-12X, and 16 point lead on third place Grunwell-Lacey.
The course of fire was the same for the Metric championship but the targets switched from the fat A-23 to the rather thin-ringed A-50. No stranger to the international target, Bill Beard shot the only 400 prone to win the first match. Norton would not be denied and won standing shooting a 388-12X. Patrick Sunderman bested Norton’s prone score, beating him by seven points, 382-19X to 385-17X, but it was too little too late. A consistent Norton won the Metric metallic sight title with a score of 1164-49X. Sunderman finished in second, 1157-53X, and Azzinaro third, 1137-48X.
It is said that, “Where there is scope there is hope” and Norton opened the any sight phase with a winning 398-28X in prone. Next after winning standing, posting a score of 387-14X, the more classically educated competitors began to think of hope more in the sense of Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy and its line, "Abandon all hope, you who enter here.” Norton slammed the door with a 389-12X win in kneeling. He left no doubt in anyone’s mind as to who would wear the position champion’s crown. The any sight championship was a walk in the park as Norton, 1174-54X, bested second place Desrosiers, 1151-44X, by 23 points, and third place Ruby Gomes, 1149-44X, by 25.
Norton took home the Metric title with an aggregate of 2338-103X. Sunderman and Gomes were in second and third, shooting a 2306-91X and 2285-76X respectively. The same three shooters finished in the same order in the National 3-P Championship, 4730-262X, 4681-232X, and 4652-209X.
The 2016 Iron Man winner is Patrick Sunderman of the AMU, who accumulated 11,049 points and 666 X’s. Desrosiers was second and the diminutive Gomes, whose weight will probably be doubled by her silver Iron Man belt buckle, finished in third place.
The highlight of the tournament was not the excellent shooting, which certainly deserves praise, but the spirit of the shooting sports exemplified by the extraordinary lesson in persistence taught by George Norton of the AMU. After an early disaster that would have gutted most he refused to give up. He fought to the last shot and turned what might have been an irretrievable defeat into a victory. Perhaps not a student of Robert Browning, Norton certainly acted on the poet’s words, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” While his goal of winning the Iron Man was out of his reach, he proved that two position championships were certainly within his grasp.