When the competitors at the 2018 Sportsman’s Team Challenge joked about the most challenging part of a tough day’s competition being finding a restaurant that was open after 8 p.m., we had no idea just how tough things would get last night.
The competition went off without a hitch, but the evening afterwards was anything but calm. While many of us only noticed lights flickering in the local restaurants, tragedy was happening just a short distance away.
A violent thunderstorm rolled through the area -fortunately after the competition- but it is now being credited with being the reason for a duck boat accident on Table Rock Lake just outside Branson. Although details are still sketchy, at least one person died in the accident, and at least 10 others were injured.
According to officials, a duck boat- a popular tourist rides using WWII-vintage landing craft-capsized when the severe thunderstorm rolled through the area. More than 20 people were tossed into the water, and at least six people have been hospitalized.
The storm was the first hitch in what has been an almost flawless competition that combines shotguns, centerfire and rimfire handguns, and .22 rimfire rifles into what may be one of the most challenging shooting competitions imaginable.
“You can be a really good shotgun shooter and still get embarrassed,” one pro shooter admitted, “just because you’re good at clay shooting doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to deal with the idea of a 2 or 3 person rotation when a flurry of five clays come at you all at once-or when they keep coming every second or so until 50 targets have been presented.”
Today, the competition will move forward with rifle, pistol and combination stages. There, the teams will once again endeavor to hit tiny targets scattered at a variety of distances across the stages- all while dealing with the challenge of 10-round (or fewer) magazines – and a clock that tosses many shooting routines right out the window.
The competition today, however, is where the all-round shooters will separate themselves from the rest of us. High-level 3-gun competitors like Craig Outzen, Mark Riedl, Bruce Piatt, Tony Holmes, Larry Houck, and others will quickly use their skills with handguns and diminutive rimfire rifles to remind the “rest of us” that they are, indeed, the Open/Pro class shooters.
For the rest of us, today’s competition will be additional installments in a series of shooting stages that both excite- and humble- us. But it’s in the communal suffering that this event really shines. Any shooting competition is a great example of shooters helping each other out, but this one features teams actually sticking around and cheering their opponents on.
My particular team isn’t heavy on shotgun experience. But other teams with far more experience offered everything from their shell blocks to help with reloading to full-blown shooting and reloading lessons to get everyone comfortable on the loaner gear we’ve been using.
Watching as shooters of every age mingle – cheerfully- with families along for the Branson experience is one of the most encouraging things I’ve seen in shooting sports in quite some time. It points out the fact that shooting isn’t one the “fringe element” activity some would have you believe. It’s a wholesome, safe, family-friendly opportunity to compete -on equal footing- with virtually anyone- including top level professionals.
Hopefully, the Sportsman’s Team Challenge will demonstrate to Bass Pro Shops the kind of crossover appeal that would get the mega-retailer even more involved in shooting sports.
It would be good for everyone- and the sport.
As always, we’ll keep you posted.