More than 15-years ago a member of the WVU Rifle team told me during an off-air conversation, “People love us, but they have no idea what we do.”
The remark has stuck with me for years. He spoke the truth. West Virginia is a state with a deep passion and appreciation for the Second Amendment, firearms ownership, hunting, and shooting. They also have deep pride in the Mountaineer Rifle team.
Last weekend I attended my first ever rifle match. I had been to team practices in Morgantown in the past, but never had the opportunity to attend a match. My initial impression wasn’t all that great.
“It’s like watching corn grow,” said a buddy of mine at the match in French Field House in Columbus on the campus of Ohio State for the NCAA National Rifle Championship. I had to concur with his assessment at first. The crowd seated in the bleachers was mostly quiet and spoke in hushed tones as the shooters of the first relay worked through their 60-shots in an hour and 45-minutes.
However, you could follow their progress. The NCAA electronic equipment projected the shooter’s target on a large screen on either end of the range. Flat screen TV’s offered a more detailed view, albeit smaller, on either end as well.
But, things changed in the second relay when WVU shooter Petra Zublasing came to the line to begin what would be her final relay as a Mountaineer. Zublasing’s first shot was a 9, but after that she rattled off 30-straight 10’s. Each shot is marked by a fractional 10th of an inch so that 10.9 is a dead center shot. She was marking 10.9 a LOT. After a break, Zublasing continued to click 10’s up on the scoreboard.
A red dot reflects the most recent shot and the previous shots are shown in green so you can see the shooter’s pattern develop. It’s easy to track when the shooter is becoming fatigued during the match as the shots move in and out of the center of the target.
However, Zublasing’s pattern wasn’t moving. She was in a groove and clicking off 10’s one after the other. With each shot it became more apparent I wasn’t the only one watching her. Soon, with every pull of the trigger and registering of the score the crowd reacted in muffled tones. It was clearly evident on shot 53 when Zublasing hit a 9.6. The crowd groaned in disappointment. Petra finished the relay with all 10’s and a final score of 598 out of 600. The score earned her the Air Rifle Individual Title and solidified her place in Mountaineer lore.
Petra’s performance was off the charts, so much so it overshadowed what was a tremendous shooting display by the rest of the WVU team. The lowest score in the air rifle competition which counted was a 585 out of 600. Petra, to her credit, deflected much of the adoration and showered her teammates with praise. It’s what a good team leader does.
People of West Virginia are right to be proud of the rifle team. We really don’t know what they do. They shoot constantly. They spend hours each day on the range meticulously clicking off shot after shot after shot. They stare down the sights of a rifle into a circle and literally try to divorce their mind of all thoughts besides a perfect shot. When they aren’t shooting, they are doing physical workouts or learning mind control techniques. You cannot be perfectly still for 60-shots in an air rifle event if you are out of shape. Fatigue of being sedentary will wrap your body as much as constant motion. Try it sometime and you’ll be amazed.
These young men and women aren’t shooting beer cans off a fence post in a pasture field. This is precision shooting which requires the most intense focus, concentration, and commitment you’ll ever see. They are competing against shooters of near equal ability and the difference in winning a national title and finishing dead last is measured literally in tenths of an inch. An errant breath of air or a stray thought can cripple your chances in the blink of an eye.
I came away with a new found enthusiasm and respect for the rifle team now that I “know what they do.” We are lucky to have the rifle team and we are blessed to have a team with such tradition and skill. The best shooters in the world now want to come to WVU to shoot. Sure, as a spectator it may be like watching corn grow, but if you look closer there is far more happening on the rifle range at WVU than meets the eye.