Above: Fun magnified defines the team match. The author shares a laugh with his teammate during the 300-yard stage.
If you haven’t yet participated in a team match, you may be surprised at how it can transform competition into an entirely different game. The team match changes the character of competition from a strictly solo, inside-your-own-head endeavor into one of being like the introvert who finally gets up to dance at the party. The elements of camaraderie and simple fun become magnified in the mutual support and sharing of the outcome with friends.
I regularly shoot two high power team matches each year, the February Washington’s Birthday high power four-man team match, an annual fundraiser for the Arizona state juniors, and the October Vintage Military Sniper Rifle (VMSR) two-man team match at the CMP Western National Championships in Phoenix. For this year’s VMSR match I paired up for the second time via phone call with my friend Jason.
Some teams plan and practice together, but Jason and I hadn’t shot vintage sniper rifles together since last year’s championships. On match day we good-morninged each other while waiting in line for squadding without any more practice than having good-byed each other at the Vintage Military Rifle match the previous day with, “See you at the sniper match tomorrow.”
“Do we have a team name?” Jason asked as we stood in the squadding line with 50 other guys, squinting into the dawn desert sun.
“Uh, no,” I said. “How about, ‘White Paster Investments?’”
“Mmm,” he said non-committed, and so CMP put us down for posterity to forever know us as, “Hook-Merrill.”
The VMSR match features two-man teams, each member firing 10 rounds at 300 and 600 yards with only 20 seconds to send each individual shot downrange, and trading shooter/wind caller duties.
I’d already advised Jason on the phone that my M73G2 scope had suddenly failed internally and I had just mounted an untried Weaver K2.5 on my M1903A4 and zeroed it at my local club’s 100-yard range only days before. Jason had suggested we both shoot his M1941 with its 8x Unertl, but I wanted to try out my rifle/Weaver combo.
“I figure a come-up of five and a half minutes for 300 yards,” I told Jason as the squadding line shuffled forward into the sunrise, “but I’m not sure if the scope has quarter-minute of half-minute clicks. Adjustment is a bit ambiguous at a hundred yards ‘cuz the rifle only shoots about one and a half MOA on a good day and I only had a few cartridges to zero it. I researched it online but couldn’t find a reliable definitive answer.”
“Didn’t old scopes usually have half-minute clicks?” he offered.
“Yeah, but a lot had quarter-minute,” I said, “so, ¿quien sabe?”
“Oh,” Jason said, and then after a moment, “Well, we could just shoot mine.”
I thought a moment, too. “Hmm. I want to shoot mine at least at 300 to check the scope adjustments―I don’t even know if it works,” I said. “I like this Weaver K2.5―it has more light and more forgiving eye relief than the M73G2, and I might want to leave it on the rifle.”
I reckon a lot of teammates might have been worse than dubious about my scope predicament, but Jason, in addition to being a good shooter, is a low-stress kind of guy who seems blessed with a natural ability to keep life’s problems in proper perspective, including that competition shooting is neither combat nor lifesaving, so there’s nothing to get spun up about.
My high power rifle shooting buddy of many years is somewhat like that, too. But at a Washington’s Birthday match several seasons ago he crossfired, dropping himself to our lowest scoring team member for the second consecutive year. Since then he’s declined my invitations to shoot a team match. “I don’t want to be the lowest man on the team,” he said. A few seasons before that, an elderly mutual friend shot his last team match with us; this gentleman, a long-time high power competitor, crossfired, shot misses and made errors scorekeeping for another team. He never came back and he sold his gear soon thereafter.
For him, it was a concession to age. “Surrender gracefully the things of youth,” a bit of prose advises us, and he said he recognized that his mental capacity had, sadly, diminished such that it was time to hang up his six-guns (as we all one day shall do). For my high power shooting buddy, I believe it is more a matter of competitiveness tied to a sense of responsibility he feels toward scoring well for his teammates.
Of course Jason and I are competitive―it’s a competitive sport, yes? But―we bring an attitude of fun and experiment to team matches, with a focus on problem solving and personal performance rather than on how we compare to others. Oddly, it seems the more I do of the former, the more often I do well in the latter. Or maybe it isn’t so odd. Paraphrasing uber-champion Nancy Tompkins, there can only be one match winner, so we better have other motives to keep showing up.
Jason accepted my reasoning without a sign of concern about our ultimate score. We elected to share my M1903A4 at 300 yards (if the scope worked) and his M1941 at 600 yards. I shot my rifle first to dial in the sighters; when I hit the X-ring I handed the rifle off to Jason with just enough of the five-minute sighter time for him to shoot one familiarization shot. Jason went on to score a 97-2X and handed the rifle back to me to fire a 99-3X in the 300-yard stage.
With such a good start, during our move back to 600 yards I think we both were reconsidering the 2.5x Weaver. Jason’s M1941 Unertl has three times the magnification of the Weaver and he already had his 600-yard dope. Still, I got my 600-yard zero on the Weaver during the five-minute sighter period while Jason verified his own as we pair-fired. I decided to shoot my own rig at 600.
“Do you want to try a shot with mine?” Jason asked while I was still in position. “There’s still sighter time left.”
“Sure―I’ve never shot a Unertl,” I said.
The superior magnification of the Unertl (the 2.5x Weaver couldn’t even resolve the scoring rings on the target) and dropping the first shot in the 10-ring with his M1941 sold me.
“Wow―very nice,” I said.
He smiled “Are you sure you don’t want to shoot mine?”
I thought for a few seconds. I had what I came for, the 300- and 600-yard zeroes for my Weaver. I really, really wanted to see how well it would perform at 600, but our 300-yard team score had us in the running for a win, so it was time to make a concession to my teammate for a shot at bragging rights. And his multiple offers to shoot his rifle clearly indicated it was what he wanted. Back to Plan A.
“Well, sure, I came here to have fun, so I’ll go ahead and shoot yours,” I accepted.
“Okay,” he said without a sign of relief. “Remember to pull the scope back to reset it after each shot.”
I fired a 97-3X, resetting the scope in its mounts about half the time without reminders, and Jason bested that with a 98-6X, in the end each of us scoring a point or two better than the other with our own rigs, which is unsurprising. At tally time we fell two points short of a win to take second place, a darn nice showing considering we each shot unfamiliar rigs at one stage, Jason at 300 and me at 600, and practiced together not at all.
The day prior I had bombed out badly in the Vintage Military Rifle match, jamming rounds on the rapid fire reload stage on my first outing with a Swiss K-31 and saving three rounds. An hour before that I had middle-of-the-packed with my M1 in the John C. Garand Match, shooting a below-Marksman score offhand. The sniper match was my one dance with the pretty girl at the party.
In the final analysis, yes, shooting is a solo thing because we are alone behind the firearm and we have the last say in sending that shot downrange. But tossing our fortune, good or bad, into the hat with a friend or friends by combining our efforts and scores creates a different kind of game. Depending on the personalities, it can be a lot more fun with plenty of laughter and good natured ribbing, or it can be a stressful public risk of ones self-image in shooting prowess.
In this way, the team match serves as an attitude check. If you can remember when competing was fun, well, there’s a clue for you right there. A team match can show you it’s time to lighten up and to focus less on the “serious” part of “serious fun.”
All photos courtesy Steve Cooper/CMP