2017 .50 Calibre World Championships
PUBLISHED: 17:47 20 September 2017 | UPDATED: 17:47 20 September 2017
Mike Roberts gives his account of the 2017 .50 Calibre World Championships... it was a tricky start for Mike and the rest of the team, but the end result was phenomenal
Half past eleven and the phone rings… “Can you come back to check-in? There is a problem with your firearms,” says the voice. Our flight closes at five past one and we still haven’t cleared outbound customs with the firearms. This doesn’t seem like a major issue until we discover that getting back to check-in will take about 40 minutes and there is no direct route. We set off, extremely disgruntled at the situation.
Arriving back at check-in, and thanks to the help of some extremely professional British Airways senior staff, the situation is resolved after half an hour of negotiating. Back through security… “Hang on, you have been through once, how can you be going through again?” There is another delay while we are checked out and back in, and we eventually make our flight to Denver with 10 minutes to spare.
Once sat on the plane, the three of us joked about how funny it would be if we got to Denver to find our rifles had not made the flight. Nine and a half hours later we landed at Denver and went through to baggage claim, and yes! All three rifles were there waiting for us. It’s a shame the same couldn’t be said about my bag, which was apparently somewhere else! What a great start to the 2017 .50 Cal World Championships – no bag, no kit, no data, no essential range equipment, but at least I had my rifle!
We rolled into the NRA Whittington Centre, Raton, New Mexico just before 2am. We were met at the gatehouse by a familiar friendly face; he immediately recognised me and the banter that was to remain for the rest of the week began.
Day one had been planned as a ‘sighting in’ and ‘settling in’ day with members of the Barrett Rifle team, in readiness for the King of 2 Miles, but alas it was spent driving to the nearest gun shop to buy essential equipment and clothing for the week. This also meant that the first time I was going to get behind the Barrett M99 .416 would be on the firing line for the King of 2 Miles match. This was less than ideal, and as such cost me dearly… I nearly ducked out early. At least my teammate and spotter, Ronnie Wright, took second place in the King of 2 Miles match. Ah well, there was still the World Championship matches for me to look towards. As luck would have it, and thanks to some frantic phone calls, my missing bag arrived by courier two days later. Finally, I had my own equipment and data for my rifle.
Arriving at the zeroing range that afternoon, I only fired two shots. The first, at 100 yards, hit exactly where it should have. I dialled up to 735 yards (the longest target on the zero range) and achieved a centre hit. Calm was restored to my world. I helped the other two members of our team zero their rifles and check their data; the fourth team member would not arrive until later that night. And that was it! We were ready for the 2017 World Championships.
At the eagle’s nest on the Tubb 1,000-yard range we located our bench number and studied our places in the draw. We had been benched next to the Barrett team, and among friends we had made over the last five years of taking this annual pilgrimage.
We set up our base, gazebo and chairs; benches were levelled and checked; distances fine-tuned and confirmed; data collected on the Kestrel 5700 Elite; and drops plotted. Some competitors were putting rounds downrange and confirming their data. I personally do not do this until I’m ready for the match. Chris, who had been to Raton before, decided he wanted to make sure his data was right and settled to fire some rounds through his rifle.
The huge boom of the .50 soon disturbed my thoughts and his grin confirmed he was on target, if a little to the right. I called his wind adjustment for him and he sent another. Hmm, that didn’t go where it should have! I confirmed his wind call, he agreed it back, and I gave an adjusted call. ‘Boom’ went the .50 and the impact was even further away from where it should have been!
Stopping, I again confirmed his wind call, and the sharp reply came back confirming my data. I looked at him and said, “Maybe move the impact to the other left this time.” With a grin he looked over at his scope, looked back at me, and adjusted the other way. He had wound his scope the wrong way; it happens to us all, but at least on that day it didn’t matter. Had it been the following day it would have been a disaster!
Dave Williams, the newest member of the team, also put a couple of rounds down to settle his nerves. He got the wind calls the right way around.
That evening was set to be the opening matches – the Practical and Semi-auto matches. We gathered around for the briefing and to be allocated a position on the line. Almost immediately the thunder and lightning started, followed by the rain. The lightning was striking close to the range and lighting up the dark sky, and the match director decided that we would postpone both matches until after the first full day of shooting the following day. That would make it a very long day for those shooters, like myself, who had entered every single class at the Worlds!
At 6.30am on Saturday we were stood under the flagpole on the firing line, listening to the briefing and national anthems. We had been joined by our fourth team member and all was looking good; hopes were high and spirits great.
Dave and Chris were shooting two matches each day plus the practical match. Scott was shooting four matches each day plus the Practical match, also meaning that he qualified for the Iron-man match. I had decided to shoot four matches each day, plus the Practical match, Semi-auto match and, as a result, the Iron-man class too. It was going to be a long, punishing weekend!
Conditions on the first morning started warm and still, and I was enjoying my shooting. I shot Light class first, for guns under 32lbs 8oz all inclusive (I was shooting the same rifle in all classes as I only travelled with one – my Barrett M99 .50 BMG match rifle). Starting really well, I scored consistently and shot some really nice sub MOA groups, settling into a nice routine. As the wind picked up I was ready for it and read the adjustments well; the wind was clearly catching some out, as could be seen by the spotting discs on their targets drifting left and right on the wind pulses. In that first match I never had a vertical drift greater than five inches. I was extremely pleased with how my set-up was performing. Although I did not see my scores, I kept a track of them using my data book and what I believed them to be. I was doing okay. Feeding this back to the UK helped me stay relaxed.
Straight after my Light gun first-round match I was into the Heavy class. This was for guns under 50lbs in total weight. The wind had picked up by this stage and was fishtailing in over my right shoulder. The temperature dropped and there was a heavy rain shower… just like being at home! I again settled in and found my rhythm, shooting a 49 on the first relay with three Xs. First sighter of the second relay showed that, despite the mirage at the target going left to right and indicating decent wind, the wind from my right shoulder was having the dominant effect. The first round down for score was an X, followed by another X, and then a third. I felt the wind change and I paused before sending the fourth round… another X. I have never shot a 50-5x in competition and my heart was in my mouth. As I looked through my IOR terminator scope, gently squeezing the trigger, I felt the shot break and knew immediately that I had still not shot a 50- 5x! I had pulled it and shot a nine! With a smug smile on my face I looked through my scope as the target went down. It came straight back up with the spotting disc exactly where I had broken the shot. Yes, I had shot a 9, giving me a 49-4x for that target. I tried to put that out of my mind but it clearly affected my next target and I shot a 46-1x.
After lunch we shot the Hunter class. This is shot off the floor with a standard bipod that must fold either forwards or backwards and be fixed to the rifle. The afternoon winds at Raton are notoriously difficult, but I had a good relay and was pleased with my shooting. More messages were sent back and forth to the UK. The last match of the session was going to be the Unlimited class, for rifles of any weight. Yet again I shot well and finished the session feeling that I had done alright. Feedback from the guys was good – they had all enjoyed their day, with Scott having shot particularly well (as usual).
With only an hour until the Practical and Semi-auto matches the heavens opened and it looked to be setting in for the night. While this clearly did not suit some of the shooters getting ready for the match, I relished the fact it was raining. The Practical match is shot off the floor with supplied ammunition (standard military-grade ball at that!). The targets are not marked and, although you can use a spotter, the holes in the target (providing you are in the black) are hard, if not impossible to see. With the rain falling hard I shot the Practical match first, which is shot against the clock. I enjoyed the match, but even with my x52 power scope I could not find the holes in the target; still, I was happy none were in the white. Switching out rifles, I settled behind the Barrett M107A1 semi-auto loaned to me by Barrett themselves. I had three sighters against a paper plate to the right of my target on the backstop, so some 80 yards further away. After a quick bit of math and a little adjustment for wind, I settled in, waiting for the command to fire, before engaging my target with the 15 rounds. To keep settled I had decided I was going to shoot three magazines of five rounds. With the first five rounds down I looked the through the scope and my heart sank. I had shot a very nice group of five shots in the seven ring, at around the seven o’clock mark. Annoyed with myself for missing the wind change, I adjusted the scope and carried on. Ten rounds later and I could not see anything in the white. Hopefully these had gone in the middle somewhere (I later found out when I saw the results that eight had gone in the 10 ring and two in the nine ring).
Day one drew to a close. Back at our cabin over a BBQ we were joined by friends from around the world, made at previous World Championships. Stories were told and laughter rang out late into the night.
Perusing the scores the following morning I saw I had finished day one in seventh place in the Heavy class, and eighth place in the Light class. The scores for the Practical and Semi-auto matches are not disclosed until the prize giving. I was also respectively placed in my other two matches. This gave me a boost and, although I would be shooting the Light and Heavy classes last thing in some big winds, I felt good. The morning started much as the previous day had finished. I was shooting well, almost hitting Xs for fun it seemed! My groups and score were consistent and I shot personal best after personal best, achieving some really nice scores and groups. Over the course of the match I shot 15 sub ¾ MOA groups, and although I didn’t shoot a straight 50, I did shoot enough 49s to keep me driving hard.
The wind picked up again in the afternoon, fishtailing hard, and my first afternoon match was the Light gun class. Taking a deep breath I sent the first round and hit a 10, continuing with consistent scoring despite the heavy wind. I finished strongly and was extremely pleased with how the rifle shot; more importantly I was happy with how I had shot! I had one match left to finish – day two of the Heavy class, just 15 rounds left for score and some sighters. I sent some messages back to a friend in the UK, updating them on my PBs, knowing full well they were gutted at not being there with us.
“The line is hot!” rang out from the match referee, and the rounds started to go downrange. To my right I had Ronnie Wright from the Barrett team, a close friend and excellent shot. We were shooting in unison and using each other for wind calls. I shot a 10 X and Ronnie shot a 10 X. We both fired again at almost the same time. The targets went down and, while I was waiting for mine, I heard Ronnie say loudly: “A seven?! I shot a seven.” Looking at his target through my scope I could see that, yes, he had shot a seven well to the right. I looked at him and shook my head, giving him a little wry smile. Just then my target came back up, and I saw Ronnie roar with laughter. Yes, I had shot a seven in the exact same place as him. We had both missed the wind drop from the right, and as a result were outside the black – that meant that little drop in the wind had caused a 24”+ change in impact at 1,000 yards. Shaking my head and laughing I adjusted for wind and sent the third round – a 10 X was more like it! Ronnie matched me round for round and we both finished that relay on 47. My 2017 World Championships was over.
Sat in the eagle’s nest waiting on the results, we joked about how the Barrett M99 .50 rifles always did well against what were, in reality, F Class and benchrest-style .50 BMG rifles. The first awards were for the Practical match. I was chatting away when fifth place “Mike Roberts” was called; happy with that, I rejoined the team. Next class up was the Semi-auto match. I took fourth place.
When Darik Bolig and Ronnie Wright took fourth and third respectively in the two gun title (for the Practical and Semi-auto match) I waited with bated breath and heard George Tallent take second place. No! It couldn’t possibly be! Yes! In first place and winner of the world title for the Semi-auto and Practical two gun combined score was Mike Roberts! After five long years I had won a world title. I even smiled for the photo!
In addition to these three trophies I also took home trophies for International Shooter fourth place, Iron Man fifth place, and Light gun score fifth place. Scott Wylie took home International third place and fourth place in the Unlimited class.
It was an awesome week for the GB .50 cal rifle team. Interestingly, as I also shot for Team Barrett, the three Barrett team shooters (shooting factory M99s) – Darik, Ronnie and myself – went home with 19 trophies between us, including three world titles.