Most of the invitational is done at the Heartland Public Shooting Park, but the air rifle and air pistol competitions are held at the Exposition Building at Fonner Park. On Friday, air pistol shooters set their sights on tiny metal animals for the silhouette round of competition.
“I would actually say pistol is one of the easier ones, but it can be very difficult especially just holding your gun still enough to hit the small targets,” says Cody Milner of Reydon, Oklahoma.
The five-day event draws shooters like Milner from more than 30 states to Grand Island.
“We bring in each state’s top, top air rifle shooters for this event and they’re traveling from Washington, from Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana, Texas,” says Air Rifle Match Director Mike Jochum.
On the other side of the Expo Building, those air rifle competitors were taking their turn firing on an electronic range. It’s the second year the Civilian Marksmanship Program’s mobile electronic range has been used to score some of the air gun events.
Matt Carroll, the program’s Outreach Coordinator, says monitors at a shooter’s feet and bigger ones set up for spectators almost instantly display where the pellet pierces the paper target - something the naked eye can barely see from some of the competition distances.
“It creates a sound wave and the four microphones pick it up and then it kind of triangulates where that shot is at,” explains Carroll.
Jochum says the kids competing are the best of the best, so the electronic range is one of the precisest ways to measure their success.
“More than once have we seen kids come in and shoot their very best scores that they’ve ever shot on this type of a system,” he says.
Accuracy in the scoring is important because the “bullseye” isn’t very big in most cases.
“The ten bull is about a half a millimeter in diameter, so you have to a very accurate shot, takes a lot of concentration to shoot this sport and focus,” says Carroll.
Carroll says the system is used in Olympic and military marksmanship training too. Shooters say the high-tech equipment is an extra bonus for making it to nationals.
“It depends from state to state, but for most of us, the states will take the top four competitors from a statewide competition, so it is pretty tough to get here,” says Milner.
Competition continues on Saturday at both the Expo Building and Heartland Public Shooting Park. The invitational will be back in Grand Island in 2015 and 2016.