Off the Porch: The caliber of a competitor
The first 10 shots on Luis’ target were nothing to brag about. We were on the 600 yard line and the wind was coming in off the lake at a 45 percent angle. The speed was pretty steady at about 12 MPH. Normally, longer range shooters can read the frequency and amplitude of the heat waves called mirage. Today, there was no mirage due to the sun being obscured by clouds. Our only other resource in determining how much the wind would affect the bullet was to read the flags on the edges of the range. I much prefer reading mirage and I don’t like to read wind off flags.
My relay-mate on the third day of the National High Power Rifle Championships was Sergeant, Luis Pantoja, an Army Reserve shooter from Waukegan, Illinois. Luis was shooting with 3 ½ minutes of right wind, meaning he’d adjusted his sights to shoot about 20 inches to the right of the target. The wind was pushing the bullet to the left and this setting proved to be a good one.
On his eleventh shot, Luis shot a center X. He continued to shoot only Xs, the six inch center of the six foot square target. He shot eight Xs in a row until he was two shots from the finish of the stage. His last two shots were a ten and a nine. He turned around and grinned. Eight center shots at six football fields is good shooting anywhere.
At 7:10 a.m. that morning, I had no idea who he was, but by the end of the day, I was glad to know this young man named Luis Pantoja. One of the best things about the National Championships is the people you meet. High Power shooting requires both shooters on a relay to spend time in the pits working the target for the other two shooters on the line. This allows a forming of friendships that can last for years. I couldn’t have picked a better relay-mate if I’d tried.
Luis is not only an Army Reserve Sergeant, he also has a part time civilian job, and he’s going to college to further his education. Luis has been in the reserve since 2008 and he’s done one deployment in Afghanistan, in 2011. In addition to Luis’ career obligations, he’s also a family man with a wife and a daughter who’s almost three. “Life is pretty busy,” he said. “Going to school and working balancing family life is pretty hard.”
When I asked Luis why he joined the Army Reserve, his response was, “I wanted to serve my country, but also I know there are a lot of benefits, like help with getting my education. I was in Junior ROTC through high school, and I always liked the military and the brotherhood I saw among service members. I got into shooting in high school and shot air rifle as a sophomore. My coach, David Schrank, was into High Power and he asked me if I wanted to give High Power a try and I did. When I came to Camp Perry as a junior, I saw the Army Reserve shooters and I asked about getting on the team.”
Luis is representative of the best of our young people in the United States. He is quiet, determined, and polite. He’s dedicated to his family and his country. He reminds me of the very best of my generation and for that matter, many of the generation before mine.
There are as many shooting stories at Camp Perry during the National Matches as there are entries and there are an equal number of individuals, many with life stories that reflect the best of American life. This week, I also talked to Jim Laughland. Mr Laughland began shooting in October 1952 with the North End Junior Rifle Club in Buffalo, New York. He was then 14 years old. Two days after he turned 17, he joined the National Guard and came to the National Matches for the first time in 1957. He became a Distinguished Rifleman in 1964. In 1977, he tied for high shooter on the first National Guard team to win the National Trophy Team Match, and was the first NRA High Power shooter to earn the High Master Classification. He still remembers that date, May 31. In 2008 and 2009 he was Grand Senior National Champion.
At the age of 75, Mr. Jim is a vibrant man and still a strong shooter. On the way off the range, I saw him and asked about his day. His face lit up and he smiled, “I had a 198-9x in the Appreciation Cup.” His score in the Appreciation Cup surpassed the scores of three-fourths of the competitors, men the age of his sons, grandsons, and great grandsons.
Camp Perry and the National Matches is about more than people, and shooting, and scores. It’s about the people who have made the United States what it is and the people who are its future. It’s a microcosm of America, our Second Amendment Rights, and the kind of people who make this country great.