Rimfire shooting demands patience, precisionRimfire benchrest shooting is a highly specialized sport that demands precision and patience.
By: By Dave Newman, New Richmond News
Rimfire benchrest shooting is a highly specialized sport that demands precision and patience.
The 2011 United States Rimfire Association IR 50-50 Wisconsin State Championships were held over the weekend at Willow River Rod and Gun Club near New Richmond. Shooters from four states took part in the competition.
The rimfire shooting is conducted with highly modified .22 rifles. At the state competition, shooters took aim from 50 yards away at the center dot on a target that is a millimeter wide. The X-ring outside the dot is one-quarter inch wide, with four more rings around that center ring. Scores are determined on where the outside edge of the bullet penetrates the target. A perfect score is a 250, with 10 points possible on 25 targets. Each bullet that hits the center dot gets an X, with the highest possible score of 25X. Brian Headlee, president of the Rod and Gun Club and a rimfire shooter, said there has never been a perfect 250 score with a 25X score recorded.
Shooters compete in three classes, based on the weight of their rifle. The Sporter class is for guns of 7.5 pounds or lighter. The other classes are for guns with maximum weights of 10.5 pounds and 13.5 pounds. There are also classes for the aggregate scores, for two guns and three guns.
Willow River Rod and Gun Club has been the home for the USRA state championship meet since 2007. There is another sanctioning body that shooters compete in, the American Rimfire Association.
Willow River Rod and Gun’s shooting range is popular with shooters around the Midwest because of its location within the club’s grounds. The range is located in a low bowl area with trees surrounding the course on all four sides. This concealed location helps to keep the wind on the course to a minimum and wind is perhaps the greatest obstacle that rimfire shooters face.
“The gun, ammo and shooter are part of the equation,” Headlee said. “The shooter’s ability to read the wind is 50 percent of the equation. If you don’t have patience to adjust for the wind, it shows accordingly in your score.”
Headlee explained that a slight wind is good because it helps stabilize the bullet on its way to the target. He said dead calm conditions can cause the bullet to have a knuckleball effect. Highly humid conditions, like those this weekend, can also affect the flight of the bullet.
How big of an impact can wind be? A 10 mile per hour wind can move a bullet an inch as it covers the 50 yards to the target. One shot that is affected that much by the wind can change a 10 score to a five, and knock the shooter out of competition for the top spot in the tournament.
In the two-day event over the weekend, a total of nine 250 scores were registered. In the club tournament in May, there were seven 250 scores in one class, so the class had to be decided on X’s. Fourteen-year-old Austin Headlee of Somerset won the class that day, with 21 X’s. Defending national champion Dean Bircher of Hinckley, Minn., took second place with 20 X’s.
Headlee and Bircher represented the extremes of the age range in the weekend tournament. Bircher, 78, was the oldest competitor. Most of the competitors were over 60 and are retired.
“The average age nationally is in the 50s,” Brian Headlee said.
Because the sport has a smaller following, the competitors become a close-knit group. For much of the summer, they see each other on most weekends.
“We know the reality of having good days and bad days and we recognize the people having good days,” Headlee said. “The competitors are very supportive of each other.”
For Fred and Louise Wickstrom of Cumberland, rimfire shooting is a family event. The Wickstroms were both ranked in the top four in the nation last year. Louise was the national champion in 2008. That year she set a national record in a shoot in Virginia.
“Louise is definitely the top lady in the sport (nationally),” Headlee said. “She’s very patient, very methodical.”
There are pockets across the nation where rimfire shooting is especially popular. Headlee said it is most popular in the southeastern part of the country, from Mississippi to the Carolinas. He said the Midwest has also built a reputation as an area with strong interest in rimfire shooting.
“In the ARA, there were five of us in the top 15 in the nation last year and three of us in the top four,” Headlee said. “We have a reputation as one of the better ranges in the nation as well as one of the best pockets of shooters.”
Competitions over the weekend were held in yards and meters. Here are the top finishers in the aggregate divisions from the state tournament.
Two-gun aggregate, 50 yards
1. Ray Wight, Hutchinson, Minn. 499 32X
2. Fred Wickstrom, Cumberland, 499 31X
3. Louise Wickstrom, Cumberland 498 34X
Three-gun aggregate, 50 yards
1. Fred Wickstrom, Cumberland, 746 46X
2. Mike Cummings, Woodbury, Minn. 744 42X
3. Brian Headlee, Somerset 743 44X
Two-gun aggregate, 50 meters
1. Dean Bircher, Hinckley, Minn. 500 39X
2. Fred Wickstrom, Cumberland 497 35X
3. Dave Weier, Woodbury, Minn. 497 29X
Three-gun aggregate, 50 meters
1. Louise Wickstrom, Cumberland 743 36X
2. Fred Wickstrom, Cumberland 740 49X
3. Dave Weier, Woodbury, Minn. 739 39X