John McCoy is the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette’s award-winning outdoors writer. His "Woods & Waters" page appears weekly in the Sports section of the Sunday Gazette-Mail.
In 32 years of outdoors writing, John has had articles published in Field & Stream, Outdoor Life, Bowhunter, North American Whitetail, Hatches and other publications. His works have earned more than 50 state, regional and national awards for writing and photography.
As freshman seasons go, Ginny Thrasher’s is going to be hard to top. Not only did the Virginia native lead West Virginia University to another national title, she won the NCAA air rifle and smallbore titles in the process. To top all that, she flew down to Rio and captured the women’s 10 m air rifle gold medal!
To win, she had to outlast two shooters from China, including the defending Olympic air rifle gold medalist.
At WVU, they teach rifle-team members to shoot “the center of the center of the center” of each target. Looks like Ms. Thrasher got the message.
The video, taken from the NBC Olympics feed, is by Geoff Coyle of WV Illustrated.
West Virginia University freshman Ginny Thrasher is on her way to the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Thrasher, the reigning NCAA champion in both smallbore and air rifle, won the women’s 50-meter three-position competition at the recent U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Smallbore in Fort Benning, Ga.
The Springfield, Va., native was among 16 shooters in contention for a single slot on this year’s U.S. team. She became the third WVU female shooter to make it to the Games. Ann-Marie Pfiffner competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and Jean Foster competed in the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Students in Minnesota high schools are flocking a new interscholastic sport — clay target shooting.
Teams in the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League aren’t officially sanctioned by state authorities, but that hasn’t prevented the sport from growing like wildfire. Two years ago the league had 13 teams and 243 shooters; this year it has 57 teams with 1,500 shooters representing 100 schools.
And get this — students on the teams pay their own expenses.
Moral of story: If you’re a felon, you probably shouldn’t be doing public gunfight reenactments.
From the Associated Press:
RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) — An Old West gun battle re-enactor who wounded three onlookers when he fired live rounds instead of blanks at a South Dakota show was sentenced Monday to seven and a half years in prison.
Paul Doering, 49, of Summerset made a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to a tampering charge in January. In exchange, prosecutors dropped the original charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He had faced up to 20 years in prison for the tampering charge.
Doering and other re-enactors were supposed to feign a shootout by firing blanks during the June 17 mock Old West battle in Hill City. Investigators said Doering somehow ended up firing live ammunition.
The bullets shattered a leg bone of Carrol Knutson, 65, of Minnesota; hit the forearm and elbow of John Ellis, 48, of Pennsylvania; and caused minor injuries to Jose Pruneda, 53, of Nebraska.
Federal public defender Neil Fulton, who represented Doering, had said the shooting was an accident and that Doering was sorry.
Doering wasn’t supposed to have firearms because he has previously been convicted of a felony. He had served several prison stints on assault, burglary and escape charges.
Federal law prevents felons convicted of crimes punishable by more than one year in prison from possessing any firearm or ammunition unless the person has had their civil rights restored by the state where they were convicted. Doering’s convictions were in Minnesota.
Fulton said that after the shootout, Doering hid the weapons and ammunition, resulting in the tampering charge.
The mock shootouts between lawmen and outlaws have been held for decades in the rural town near the Black Hills. The event is sponsored by the Hill City Chamber of Commerce.
The Dakota Wild Bunch had been performing the show for about four years. The show has since been suspended.
Well, how about that? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided not to kowtow to environmental lobbyists seeking a ban on lead ammunition.
From the Associated Press:
LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency has denied a petition from environmental groups asking it to regulate the lead used in some ammunition.
The agency told the groups Monday that it has no authority to ban or regulate lead in ammunition.
The Center for Biological Diversity and more than 100 other groups submitted the petition last month, asking that the lead be regulated under the Toxic Substances Control Act. They contend the lead is responsible for poisoning millions of birds and other animals every year.
Jeff Miller with the Center for Biological Diversity told the Lewiston Tribune that he felt the EPA’s decision was shameful.
Many hunting groups and ammunition makers say lead alternatives are too expensive, and that bullets containing lead don’t pose a threat to animal populations.
Truth be told, the decision was kind of a no-brainer for EPA officials. Many years ago, Congress specifically exempted ammunition from being banned under federal pollution laws.
Denying the petition will probably cost the EPA political capital with its more vociferous constituents, but it will keep the agency out of a protracted court fight that likely would end up in the Supreme Court.
Well, how about that? London’s city fathers have decided that kids won’t be ruined by watching elite marksmen at work!
As I outlined in Sunday’s column, the people behind the city’s Ticketshare program — an effort to provide Olympic tickets to young people — didn’t originally plan to distribute tickets for shooting-sports events. Some unnamed someone apparently had deemed it “inappropriate” for young eyes to see world-class athletes using firearms in a safe and appropriate manner.
Now, after catching heat, those Terribly Concerned city fathers have changed their minds. Good.
This week’s column is a bit of a rant — a rant against the politically correct but misguided effort to deprive 125,000 youngsters from London the opportunity to watch shooting sports at next year’s Summer Olympics:
That high-pitched whistle you hear is steam shooting from my ears.
Just when I thought the anti-gun crowd couldn’t get any more absurd, the organizers of an effort to provide kids with tickets to next year’s London Summer Olympics went and proved me wrong.
London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, wants to make up to 125,000 tickets available so young Londoners can share in the Olympic experience. The giveaway will extend to every Olympic sport – except shooting.
Reporters for the London Evening Standard quoted an unnamed administration source as saying, “We decided it would not be appropriate. It’s the only sport children will not be able to go to as part of the Ticketshare scheme.”
So, let me get this straight. Internationally sanctioned rifle, pistol or shotgun competitions are “not appropriate” for young eyes to see?
Oh, that’s right. Heaven forbid that they should watch people shoot at inanimate targets; better they should watch some shoot-’em-up crime drama on the BBC.
Heaven forbid that they should see people handling firearms in a safe and responsible manner; better they should learn the finer points of gun brandishing from some rapper’s cop-killa video.
Heaven forbid that they should watch athletes exercising the sort of transcendent skills that come only from countless hours of disciplined practice; better they should gain inspiration from the brick-throwing slackers who instigated the Tottenham riots.
I suppose the Brits’ paranoia toward firearms shouldn’t bother me, but it does. After all, there are people in the United States who would like nothing better than to do away with private gun ownership, and the London Ticketshare shenanigans will almost certainly be tried here as soon as an opportunity arises.
When you’ve lived as long as I have, certain things stick with you.
In 1984, while attending a football game at Mountaineer Field, I watched and cheered as West Virginia University rifle coach Ed Etzel was given an SUV for winning a gold medal in the 50-meter prone rifle event during that year’s Los Angeles Olympics.
Political correctness, though present in other areas, hadn’t yet been used to tamp down Americans’ enthusiasm for firearms. University officials at the time were more than happy to reward Etzel for his skill with a rifle.
I wonder if today they’d extend that same appreciation toward current rifle coach Jon Hammond, a world-class shooter with 2012 Olympic potential. They might, but frankly I doubt they would. Their attitudes toward firearms became achingly apparent in 2003, when they eliminated the school’s rifle team and only reinstated it under extreme pressure from the state Legislature.
The Educated Elite’s attitudes toward guns didn’t change overnight, but rather were shaped by a constant media drumbeat of anti-firearm reporting. Examples are legion, but the one that stands out most in my mind came during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
NBC provided the broadcast for those Games. Rather than televising any of the shooting events – which admittedly aren’t terribly exciting to watch – network moguls sent veteran commentator Dick Enberg to the shooting venues to do a pre-packaged “wraparound” segment for one evening’s broadcast.
Long story short, it was a hit piece. Instead of focusing on the extreme discipline, muscle control and hand-eye coordination successful shooters must have, Enberg focused on the shooting events’ lack of apparent physical activity.
The “kicker,” or close, of Enberg’s piece showed precisely how he felt about the shooting sports. With stentorian eloquence, he declared that most of the Games’ sports embody the Olympic motto, “Faster, higher, stronger,” but then added that for shooting sports, it should be, “Slower, lower … weaker.”
She shows up at national rifle competitions, often with precious little practice, and shoots very, very well.
Case in point: At the recent National Prone Rifle Championships in Camp Perry, Ohio, Kauffelt — a Charleston native studying at the University of California — shot some pretty sporty scores.
In the Dewar Course Metallic Sight match, she captured runner-up honors with a score of 400 (out of 400 possible) with 35 x-ring shots. She also took High Woman and High Collegiate honors in the match.
She then shot another 400 (with 29 x-ring shots) to win the High Expert Civilian Category in the 100-yard Metallic Sight Match. In the next match — the 50-meter Metallic Sight competition — she shot a 397 with 26 x-rings to take second in the Expert Civilian Category.
Her three-match 1,197 aggregate on the competition’s second day earned her top honors in the Expert Civilian Category, one point ahead of runner-up Ben Haney. Her four-day total was good for a second-place overall finish in the category.
For the third year in a row, Kauffelt was selected to represent the U.S. in the Randle Cup Match, a “postal” match in which elite shooters from several countries shoot in their own countries and compare scores with one another. Kauffelt acquitted herself brilliantly there, too. She posted one of three 400 scores put up by the 10-woman U.S. squad.
Her coach, Bill Shank of the Putnam County Junior Smallbore Club, believes Kauffelt would be even more of a world-beater if she only had time to practice. Her environmental economics/pre-law curriculum leaves precious little time for anything else, though, so she shoots only when she comes home for breaks.
This week’s column explores the down side to operating shooting ranges on public property. West Virginia operates 27 of them, and lately has been fighting a losing battle with littering and vandalism:
West Virginia’s shooting ranges have become victims of their own success.
Maintained by the Division of Natural Resources at 27 state-run wildlife management areas and state forests, the ranges attract throngs of hunters and recreational shooters.
Ordinarily that would be a good thing. But lately, people seem to be abusing the ranges instead of using them.
“There’s been a major change in the way people act at the ranges,” DNR director Frank Jezioro told me.
“The ranges were originally built so hunters could go and sight in their rifles, to try out new equipment, and to teach young people to shoot. Now the ranges’ primary users are recreational shooters, many of whom are not hunters.
“An average hunter uses a range one or two times a year, and probably doesn’t shoot more than 25 rounds per visit. Recreational shooters are coming one to two times a week and are shooting dozens or even hundreds of rounds per visit.”
Even that wouldn’t be a problem, Jezioro added, were it not for the targets those high-volume shooters have been choosing.
“They’re bringing in a lot of military-style firearms, from AR-15s to .50-caliber rifles, and they don’t seem content to shoot paper targets with them,” he said. “They’re shooting at old TVs and computer monitors. They’re shooting at milk jugs, glass bottles and tin cans. They’re even bringing in watermelons to shoot, like they see on TV.”
What’s worse, some shooters are even taking aim at the DNR-provided steel frames that hold paper targets.
“I don’t know if it’s to see if their bullets can pierce metal, or if it’s just to hear the clang of the bullet hitting something. The bottom line is that they’re literally cutting the frames down,” Jezioro said.
The job of fixing the damage and cleaning up the litter usually falls to DNR wildlife managers.
“Those people should be spending their time planting wildlife plots, or mowing fields to provide better wildlife habitat,” Jezioro said. “Instead, they’re spending way too much time cleaning up and repairing ranges.”
The problem came to a head a couple of weeks ago at a range near Morgantown.
“One of our employees encountered a guy who had brought a sack of beer bottles and was planning to set them up as targets. The range was littered with shot-up propane bottles, bowling pins and electronic equipment. It looked like a landfill,” Jezioro said.
Similarly irresponsible behavior caused the range to be closed at Berkeley County’s Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area.
“Two years ago, people started putting targets on top of the earthen bank that serves as a backstop for the targets,” Jezioro explained. “Shots were going over the backstop and were hitting people’s houses. We couldn’t allow that to happen.”
The good news is that DNR officials aren’t taking the abuse lying down.
“We’ve instructed our people to clean up the ranges and to rebuild them, and we’re appealing to the shooting public to abide by the rules,” Jezioro said. “From now on, if we catch people shooting stuff up and leaving it, we’ll cite them for littering.”
He has simple advice for shooters who wish to avoid those $500 tickets.
“Clean up after yourselves,” he said. “Anything you bring in – paper targets, ammo boxes, beverage containers – you take out with you. Pick up your shotgun hulls and spent brass. Treat the place as if it were your own property, because really it is.”
Congratulations to young Noah Barker of Winfield, who has captured High Sub-Junior honors in the 50-meter Metallic Sight Match at the National Prone Rifle Championships at Camp Perry, Ohio. Barker, who shoots locally for the Putnam County Gun Club Junior Smallbore Team, fired a 394 (of a possible 400) with 22 x-ring shots on his way to the win.
Barker also acquitted himself well in the 10o-yard Metallic Sight Match. He finished 3rd in the Sub-Junior category with a score of 393 and 18 x-ring shots. His three-match aggregate score of 1184 (out of a possible 1200) ranked second in the category, just one point behind winner Sammy Richardson of Helena, Ala.
One of Barker’s teammates, Catherine Kauffelt of Charleston, placed fourth in the Expert Civilian category in the 50m Metallic Sight Match. Kauffelt fired a 398 with 22 x-ring shots.
The competition isn’t over yet. I’ll update as the results become available.