PEELTREE, W.Va. — Some of the best shooters in America were on hand July 16th at the White Horse Firearms and Outdoor Education Center in Upshur County for a high profile NRA Regional match. Some competitors in the F/Class series were looked upon as heavy favorites that morning.
“It’s a Regional tournament sanctioned through the NRA and consists of three strings of 20 for record instead of just two. That makes your match a 600 rather than a 400 score,” said J.C. Jarrell President of the White Horse facility. “We had an F/Class shooter out of Wisconsin, a couple out of Pennsylvania, and one out of Maryland. There were several good shooters there.”
Also entered in the competition was Weston Dunlap, 18, of Sod, W.Va. Nobody thought much about Weston’s chances since it was his first ever competition in the F/Class series.
“It was a regional match and very prestigious, so yeah I was kind of nervous about how I would do,” Dunlap said. “But I told myself I was just there to have fun and if I won that was fine and if I didn’t win that was fine. Once you get to the point you can mentally tell yourself not to get worked up, you’ll perform better and that’s what I did.”
He performed better. A LOT better. By the time the range was silenced at day’s end and the smoke had cleared, Dunlap, in his first ever competition in the F/Class series shot a 589/600 and smoked the competition. His score shocked everybody at the range, but none more so than himself.
“Oh absolutely. I had no intention of winning that match. I was going to try my best, but I had no idea I was going to win,” said Dunlap.
His score bested the second place finisher by two shots and he was far ahead of the third place shooter.
Adding to the amazing feat, It was the first time Weston had ever fired his 284 Winchester custom rifle from the ground. Although he had shot it numerous times from a bench, competitors shoot from the prone position for the the competition. The rifle is a familiar one to Jarrell who actually helped build the gun and sold it to Weston.
“It’s chambered for 284 Winchester with a nine twist Brux barrel,” Jarrel explained. “It’s a super shooting rifle and once I got it together and saw how good it shot, Weston was all about wanting a rifle and I told his dad I’d sell it to him.”
While it was Weston’s first competition in the F/Class series, it was by no means his first shooting event. He’s been shooting in the high powered classification in the junior division for several years. The high powered competition uses open sites with an AR-15 and is from the kneeling position with a strap to secure the rifle to your body. The F/Class event allows the use of telescopic sites, but with a much smaller target.
“Wind has everything to do with it,” said Dunlap. “A shooter’s ability to read wind is what wins matches along with other conditions like humidity, mirage. There are some conditions out there you can never read.”
Dunlap said the White Horse range has a notorious wind element which can humble even the best long range shooters.
“I’ve experienced it. It’s the toughest range,” he said. “I guess in that valley the wind swirls between the mountains. There’s no telling what it’s going to do. Every range flag can be blowing in a different direction at the same time.”
But despite the difficulties, Weston managed to overcome all obstacles and defeat some of the best shooters to claim his title. Jarrell said the feat is made even more remarkable because Dunlap may now skip all of the normal progressions shooters go through the NRA classifications.
“Most shooters start once they are classified as a ‘marksman’ then they move up to a ‘sharpshooter’ and then ‘expert'” said Jarrell. “Weston is probably not going to do any of this. With one more score as high as he shot in this competition he will go from ‘unclassified’ to ‘high master’. You’d be surprised in the NRA just how few ‘high masters’ there are out there.”
Dunlap, who graduated in the spring from Lincoln County High School, will start his freshman year at WVU in a few weeks. Most observers believe his performance during his first competition was no fluke and will only improve as he continues shooting into the future.