October 29, 2012
Pursuing Perfection as a Shooter
By David E. Petzal
Amidst the horror of the recent Olympics, I noticed that a great many of the competitors were not extraordinary talents like Michael Phelps, but simply people of above-average ability whose dedication was extraordinary. There was an Irish gymnast who had sustained a catastrophic injury years before and had been told that he would never walk again, yet here he was. There was a member of the American women’s diving team who had once hit the water wrong, smashed her guts, and nearly died. Yet here she was, back on the platform.
When Vince Lombardi took over the Green Bay Packers, he told them that they were going to pursue perfection. They would not achieve it, he said, but in the process they would attain excellence. He worked them nearly to death, but they became the dominant football team of the 1960s and a good many of the men to whom he spoke went into the Hall of Fame.
Which brings us to my friend Tony M. whom, you may recall, turned in a zero (in a practice round) because he forgot to sight in his rifle. You may also recall my telling you that he was the hardest-working, most meticulous, and best-prepared rifle shooter I know. Just after the zero, this paid off.
One of the events my club shoots is the sheep, a ¼-life-sized target shot prone at 100 yards. The maximum score is 50, plus 25 bonus points which you earn by shooting at a bull’s-eye comprised of fine green lines that you can’t see through the scope. The rings count 1 through 5; the 4-ring is slightly larger than a quarter; the 5-ring is a bit smaller than a dime. You can’t use a scope bigger than 4X or a cartridge less powerful than .243. No shooting jackets, shooting gloves, mechanical keepers on the sling, or target rifles.
In the 60 or so years people have been shooting the event, no one has ever gotten a perfect score. You need an extremely accurate rifle, and perfect shooting technique. The margin for error is not small; it is nonexistent. A score of 50x15 is very good, and the event is often won with 50x17 or 50x18. In the 1970s, one competitor got 24x25, but he did it with a cartridge that would not be legal now, and there was some doubt about the rest of what he did.
So Tony M., a day after he shot the zero, got a 50x23 which, as far as I’m concerned, is the true record. It was not a fluke. He did it through endless hard work that has extended over 20 years, and by refusing to accept that there was a limit to how good he could become.
If our shooting disappoints us, we say that this is as well as we can do, and let it go at that. But the really fine shots don’t stop. Like Tony M. and the Green Bay Packers, they pursue perfection.