Go Navy Rifle - Guns portrayed in a positive way


January 19, 2006, 10:46 PM
From the Annapolis Capital, emphasis is mine:

Navy's rifle-shooting team undefeated, but not in fans' cross hairs
By EARL KELLY, Staff Writer

The University of Alaska at Fairbanks is to NCAA rifle-shooting what Duke is to men's basketball.

But when its team visits Bancroft Hall tomorrow afternoon, it won't attract the throng of fanatics who paint their faces and cheer at Cameron Indoor Stadium. It's a surefire bet that fewer than five people will watch the Nanooks (8-0) take on Navy (5-0).

Alaska-Fairbanks has won six of the past seven national rifle championships. Navy is no slouch either, consistently finishing near the top of the rankings.

But at Navy's match against the Coast Guard Academy last Saturday, only three people were seen watching a sport competitors describe as mentally and physically exhausting.

"Shooting free throws in basketball and putting in golf are about as close to this game as you can get," Navy coach William Kelley said. "The people who are attracted to this sport tend to be perfectionists."

Midshipman 4th Class Lisa Kunzelman said the team practices about three hours a day, five days a week.

The Constantia, N.Y., native has scored 588 out of a possible 600 in competition and lamented that "it's not perfect."

"It all comes down to making good decisions and shooting the same every time," she said.

Shooters also are generally excellent students, and some large state universities with powerful football teams promote their rifle teams because the shooters improve the athletic departments' overall GPAs and graduation rates, Mr. Kelley said.

West Virginia University, for example, is noted for football, but its rifle team has won 13 national championships.

Schools that take the sport seriously go to great lengths to find good shots, and Alaska-Fairbanks often recruits from Europe, where shooting is second only to soccer in popularity, and professional shooters often become media heroes and amass fortunes endorsing products.

"In Europe, fans cheer on their favorites with cow bells, air horns and yelling," Mr. Kelley said.

That's not the scene at college matches in this country, but that's something Mr. Kelley wants to change.

He wants more people to attend Navy's matches. And they should feel free to talk and cheer. That, he said, will help to prepare young shooters for the environment they would face as Olympic competitors.

Game of nuance

Rifle-shooting has male and female teams and is one of the few NCAA sports that includes co-ed teams.

Navy's best air rifle shooter until recently was Midshipman 2nd Class Sarah Bergman of Fort Mill, S.C.

She scored 593 last year against Alaska-Fairbanks and MIT, but is coming back from corrective eye surgery.

Shooters must pay attention to detail, as shown in Navy's match against the Coast Guard.

A midshipman shooting in the prone position had his equipment set up so he could shoot and then rotate his head ever so slightly to look at the target through his spotting scope.

In contrast, the Coast Guard cadet next to him lifted her shoulders after each shot and rotated her torso to look through her scope, then repositioned herself for a shot. Besides wasting valuable energy, she was also sacrificing consistency.

"She's not one of my better shooters," Coast Guard coach Michael E. McKaughan said, "but she's making progress."

The people

Mr. Kelley, who owns a gun shop in Frederick, is in his seventh season as Navy's rifle coach. He came to the post when his son Josh was a midshipman and the academy needed someone to head the rifle team. He has since amassed a record of 71-4.

In a sport where an athlete needs to shoot in the 590s to be among the elite, Midshipman 4th Class Alex Karacsonyi of North Haven, Conn., is shooting in the high 570s.

"For me, right now, it is mental: Stop thinking about the outcome and pull the trigger at the right time. I psych myself out too much," he said.

Good shooting skills can carry an athlete far beyond the rifle range.

"I read a book on mental (attitude) for riflery and it improved my grades in statics," said Midshipman 3rd Class Christina Schade of Eagle River, Alaska. She hopes to become a Navy pilot and an astronaut.

On Saturday, Navy outshot Coast Guard 4,635 to 4,363 on the range in the basement of Bancroft Hall.

Mr. McKaughan, the Coast Guard coach, said that win or lose, shooting teaches his cadets how to set goals and achieve them.

"Shooting produces the kind of officer you need today," he said. "When a gun goes off, you know where the shot is going to go. So when you look through the (spotter) scope, the hole should be where you thought it would be. If not, you ask yourself, what did I do wrong, what did I do right?"

Of course, there are always some surprises in the game, as when Coast Guard Cadet 3rd Class Michael Amersbach shot 568, up from his previous best of 556.

"I didn't think I shot that well," he said.

Cadet Amersbach couldn't have picked a better time to do well. He was so focused on what he was doing, he failed to notice that his grandmother, Carol Amersbach, a Pasadena resident, was among the handful spectators at the range.

Mrs. Amersbach had never seen her grandson shoot in competition before, but remembers him as a child.

"We saw him lying on his belly in the back yard, shooting at targets," Mrs. Amersbach said. "He has always had what it takes."

The Navy vs. Alaska-Fairbanks rifle match begins at 1 p.m. at the range in the basement of Wing Two of Bancroft Hall. It's expected to last four hours.

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January 19, 2006, 10:48 PM
This was also in the same day's paper:

Rifle shooting: A game of nuance

NCAA shooters hit targets that most of us can barely see, carrying rifles that some of us could barely hold steady.

A college team fires small-bore rifles and air rifles that weigh between 12 and 17 pounds, or two to three times what normal hunting and military rifles weigh. The added weight helps keep the rifles steady on target.

The athletes fire air rifles while standing, but they shoot the small bore rifles in the prone, squatting and standing positions. Unlike hunters and snipers, they cannot use tripods or other supports. And they cannot use telescopic sights.

The small bore marksman shoots at targets 50 feet away. The circular target measures about 1 3/8 inches across and the bull's eye is about 3/16-inch across, roughly the diameter of a small soda straw.

Air rifles shoot .177 caliber pellets at the same size targets, but the distance is 10 meters, or roughly 33 feet.

It is a game of nuance, and one shot out of hundreds that strikes the target 1/16th of an inch off-center can cost a team dearly. Last year, Army beat Jacksonville State 4,659 to 4,658, to win its first national championship.

Some useful terms for watching an NCAA collegiate shooting match:

Small-bore rifle: rim-fire cartridges not larger than 5.6 mm (.22 caliber long-rifle). Rifle weight not to exceed 8 kilograms (17.6 pounds). Range is 50 feet.

Air rifle: Conventional pellet with maximum caliber of 4.5 mm (.177 caliber). Range is 10 meters (32.8 feet).

Spotting scope: Not part of rifle. Used by shooter to locate shots on a target.

Sights: May not contain a lens or telescope.

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