The inaugural NRA Smallbore Rifle National Championship at Caldwell, NJ, and 2019 iteration at Bristol, IN, are separated by about 675 miles and 100 years. In the century since Captain Edward “Ned” Crossman organized the first National Smallbore Championship much has changed—eight locations, 12 courses of fire, 65 different National Champions and, the addition of position and F-Class competition. Only two things have remained the constant, the dimensions of the scoring rings of the 100-yard target and the intense competition.
The 2019 NRA Smallbore Rifle Prone National Championship was a seven-day marathon of 720 record shots in conventional and metric competition, as well as many as 200 more rounds for the various team matches and 480 for F-Class.
The Drew Cup, the first of the four international prone postal matches, was conducted under the watchful eye of Adjutant Joe Graf and Captain Megan Hilbish. Ten juniors fired an English Match, 60 shots prone on the international target. Abigail Zinsmeyer posted the high score of 578-21X.
The chase for the Critchfield Trophy, emblematic of conventional prone excellence, started when Howard Pitts, a highly regarded gunsmith, won the opening 50-meter match with 400-28X, the only 400 on the line. Although there would be moments over the next three days when he would be looking over his shoulder at the competition, he never gave up the lead. Steve Carlton and Martina Gratz posted the only 400s in the Dewar with Carlton winning 27X to 22X. In a close finish three-time national champion Kevin Nevius, 6400-club member Stephen Angeli and Malori Brown all ended with 399s at 100 yards finishing first, second and third with 28X, 27X, and 26Xs respectively. At the end of the day Pitts took the first aggregate by shooting a 1196-78X, just three Xs ahead of Angeli. One point behind, with an X count of 80 was Wes Shumaker.
Pitts won his second Meter Match in as many days with a 400-36X, edging out Nevius by a single X. Ginger McLemore had the only perfect score in the Dewar, as did Dan Altman at 100 yards. Pitts persevered, winning the second day with yet another 1196 score, only this time with 84Xs. When the metallic sight scores were totaled Pitts had possession of the Hoppe Trophy with an aggregate score of 2392-162X. Angeli was in second place and the winner of the Sam Gates Trophy as winner of the Intermediate Senior class, with a score of 2390-162X. Former prone champion Mark DelCotto rounded out the top three with 2388-167X.
First senior Steve Hardin went home with the Walter Tomsen Trophy. Morgahn Warner, who shoots for the University of Texas-El Paso, was both the Junior and Collegiate Champion. Martina Gratz was first Intermediate Junior, and Ed Mank topped the field in Any Sight Only Competition.
Individual competition took a break on day three for team events. U.S. Dewar Team Captain Lou Cebula and Coach George Harris led the top 22 iron sight finishers to the firing line for the second of the international postal matches sponsored by the National Small-bore Rifle Association of Great Britain. Pitts shot the highest score to secure the Crossman Trophy.
The Dewar Team left the target frames at 100 yards where the Randle Team started shooting the third of the international postal matches, this one sponsored by the NRA, captained by Edie Fleeman and coached by Patti Clark. The Eleanor Dunn Trophy was awarded to University of Michigan rifle team standout Joyce Yu, who fired the team’s top score. Both teams will have to await until all scores are compiled and results announced in early January to see how they measured up.
NRA team competition saw a hat trick by the Lady Black Hawks—Ginger McLemore, Michelle Bohren, Nancy Tompkins and Michelle Makucevich. The quartet handily won the metallic and any sight matches which gave then the team aggregate award. The Texas State Rifle Association team of Zinsmeyer, M’Leah Lambdin, Brown, and Bella Gomez were the high junior team in the iron and metallic matches. The Black Hawk Chiefs—Joe Graf, Wes Shumaker, Mark Delcotto and Mike O’Connor placed as first Master in all three matches.
The any sight championship opened with Mark DelCotto breaking Pitts’ string of Meter Match victories with a 400-37X win. Angeli and Nevius both carded 400-36Xs with the NRA Rules giving silver to Angeli. Nancy Tompkins out Xed DelCotto for the Dewar win, 400-38X to 400-37X. Pitts, who was still clean, was third with 34 Xs. DelCotto came back strong at 100 yards with a 400-34X, beating Hardin by a one X. His perfect 1200-108X won the day with Pitts 14 Xs behind and Hardin third with an 1199-100X. With one day to go, Pitts held a four-point lead over DelCotto for the Critchfield. It was his match to lose.
In the final stretch, Del Cotto won the last Meter Match with a near perfect 400-39X. Pitts was eight Xs behind him but still clean. Nancy Tompkins and DelCotto had the best of 10 different 400 scores shot in the Dewar as they knotted up at 36 in the X-count. NRA Rule 15.7.1(a)(2) gave the win to Tompkins. The bottom fell out of Pitts’ grocery bag in the Dewar after he lost three precious points. Still in the lead, but now just by two points, he could not afford any mistakes during the final 40 shots if he were to stay ahead of Angeli and DelCotto. At 100 yards Angeli went clean, Pitts let another one slip away—but DelCotto dropped two.
Sharpshooter Claire O’Neel, who shoots for Ole Miss, and Shawn Carpenter, coach of the Grasso Technical High School Rifle Team in Groton, CT, both went clean for the day with O’Neel taking first 85X-81X. Tompkins was third with 1199-100X.
Despite the lost points, DelCotto won the U.S. Cartridge Company Trophy and the Frank Boyd Trophy as the Any Sight and Intermediate Senior Champion. Proving that the apple doesn’t fall from the tree, Baker DelCotto, Mark’s father, walked away with the Any Sight Only Championship title. Steve Hardin won the Robert Plimpton Trophy given to the High Senior. Joyce Yu was top Collegiate shooter. O’Neel took the Junior category with Martina Gratz as first Intermediate Junior.
The conventional prone title and the Critchfield Trophy went to Pitts, who by virtue of his two-point lead in metallic sights, put up a 4788-336X. He managed to hold off Steve Angeli who was a point behind, but an X ahead. Angeli found himself in second and also in possession of the Intermediate title’s Black Hawk Rifle Club Trophy. A 4786-376X score earned DelCotto third.
Senior Steve Hardin was the Sam Bond Trophy winner. Morgahn Warner doubled up as the Collegiate and Junior champion gathering up the Austin and Whittington Trophy plaques. Gratz took home the Stark Trophy as Intermediate Junior Champion. Ed Mank won the Any Sight Only Championship.
The Metric Championship began with Pitts again winning the first 50-meter match, this time it was with a 393-25X, one X ahead of Jim Miller who slipped by Chris Ellen Rakyta by a single X. Roaring along, Pitts grabbed the Dewar with 394-22X, ahead of Michelle Bohren’s 393-21X with Tomkins in third place with 393-20X. The leaderboard changed at 100 yards, when Mike Carter replaced Pitts as a match winner with a 388-16X.
Although she was cruising below the radar all day, Nancy Tompkins won with 1167-59X, just ahead of Rakyta with 1166-54X and Carter with 1164-46X. After many years away from the sport, Daniel Makucevich’s return to competition showed he had lost little of his skill, taking the senior metallic title. Malori Brown and Abigail Zinsmeyer were junior and intermediate junior winners.
The Wakefield Trophy Match, the last of the International Postals to be contested, is a 10-person metallic sight English Match. Captain Michelle Bohren was assisted by Coach Hap Rocketto, and Adjutant Shawn Carpenter in a match that saw Kevin Nevius lead the team with a 588. Like the other postal competitions results will not be available until after the start of the new year.
Scopes went on most of the rifles for the second day of the Metric Championship and Nevius banged out a 397-26X for the Meter Match win. DelCotto was back in the winner’s circle in the Dewar with a convincing 397-26X. Tompkins closed out the prone championship with authority winning the 100-yard match with a 392-19X, giving her the any sight title with a 1178-61X. DelCotto and Pitts were locked at 1177 for second and third with DelCotto taking silver by one X. George Harris took Senior honors with Brown repeating as Junior winner and Intermediate Junior Martina Gratz taking that category.
The Pennsylvania Railroad Trophy went to Nancy Tomkins, the 2019 Metric Champion, who, after winning both days, was also the Intermediate Senior Champ. DelCotto took silver while Pitts was the bronze medalist. Makucevich won the Senior category, Morgahn Warner topped the collegiate category as Brown and Gratz won Junior and Intermediate Junior laurels.
The grand aggregate winner in the National Prone Smallbore Rifle Championship was Tompkins, 7126-470X, followed by Pitts, 7120-459X, and DelCotto, 7119-490X. Harris was the Senior Champion as Warner, Brown, and Gratz took home the Collegiate, Junior and Intermediate Junior titles, respectively.
David Pessall dominated the F-Class competition winning all but one of the 12 fired matches. His clean sweep was only broken by Rich Bordelon in a 100-yard match. His F-Class clinic was rewarded by the Marianne Driver Trophy, a national championship belt buckle and an Eagle Trophy. Jim Murphy, the 2018 F-Class Champion finished second.
After a grueling 10-day 1,200 record shot position and prone slugfest, Malori Brown emerged as the winner of the Iron Man competition earning the Lones Wigger Trophy and a silver belt buckle. Gratz and Zinsmeyer finished second and third, respectively.
One hundred years ago Ned Crossman wrote, “The National Rifle Association Small-Bore Matches of 1919 are the first in our rifle-shooting history and constitute the ‘opening bow’ of a feature of the shooting game which we hope will become a permanent part of the annual matches of the great parent organization.” Looking back over a century of competition no one can doubt that he could not have been more prophetic.
See more: 2019 NRA National Smallbore Rifle Championships Results