Sunday, February 17, 2013

Saturday Biathlon Fun

Chris getting everything set to go.
Given the hectic cycling schedule leading up to the world championships adventure coupled with the poor winter conditions we have had for the past couple of seasons, we have not been to the local Biathlon meets in a some time. In fact, I don't believe that we made it there at all last season and we only made it once this season, yesterday, which was the final event.

These events are put on by the Harvard Sportsman's Club biathlon program, which is run by our friend Chris with help from a number of other club members like Ned and Bob. They are all good, dedicated folks and put on an excellent event despite the environmental challenges that we have had the past couple seasons. As we all know, last week we got a couple of feet of snow in this area. Unfortunately, we got some rain and warm temperatures this past week which made a bit of a mess of things. The course was left challenging to say the least.

Fired up for the start.
We arrived at the club at 8AM yesterday to help setup the range. The club purchased five sets of regulation flip-up targets. Each target is remotely resettable as well as adjustable for prone or offhand target sizing. They are made of solid steel and weigh about 100 pounds each without the legs. We also had to flag the range, run the remote reset cords, pack the infield down and put out the shooting mats at each of the stations. Nothing that was too terribly difficult and was made quick work of.

We then took some time to zero the rifles. Cathy and I used our rifle, a Savage Mark II with a custom Eastern Sierra Armory biathlon stock. Others used their own rifles, many with very nice high end Anshutz or Izhmash, or folks who didn't own their own could borrow a rifle from those that Chris has for the biathlon program. During the practice Cathy was shooting very well at first but I was struggling. I find the prone position difficult to get a good steady rest from and get comfortable enough to shoot. Anyhow, we knew that the issues were more a matter of us and that the rifle sights were pretty darn accurate.

Part of the issue is that the target we shoot at is pretty small. The official offhand (standing holding the rifle and shooting without resting the rifle on anything) target size is 115mm (4.5") in diameter. The official prone (lying on your stomach to shoot) target size is 45mm (1.8") in diameter. The distance at which you shoot from is 50m (164'). That's a pretty small target to shoot at through a peep site with no magnification, at least I think so.

Cathy making it look easy.
We had a pretty good turnout for the event with just about ten of us doing the race. A few brave souls, each of whom had their own spiffy Euro rifles, chose to both ski with their weapon harnessed to their back and shoot Match Class (~Cat 2), which is regulation size targets for prone and offhand. The rest of us shot Novice (~Cat 5) class which meant we shot from the prone position at the larger, offhand size targets. Still plenty challenging for most including Cathy and I. The race starts with a loop of the full ~1.7km (~one mile) ski course and then transitions into the first shooting stage upon completion of which you then head back to a ski stage. There are four shooting stages and five ski stages alternating. For each missed target during the shooting stage you have to ski one lap of the short, 150m penalty loop. Pretty straight forward.

The start had racers going off one every 60 seconds. I went off in 4th position and Cathy further back in order to stagger us some as we were sharing the same rifle. In normal fashion my plan was to go as hard as I could and then settle into a pace that I could sustain. It turned out that the conditions were the biggest limiting factor on how fast you (I) could go. The packed section in the back woods was not wide enough to afford me real power or glide. I was constantly having trouble with the ski tip getting out of the packed and into the crust, ripping the ski around and sending me to the deck. As I result I went over the bars not once but three different times during the event as well as one time warming up. I may be able to go pretty hard but it's not really pretty.

Notice how small the row of 5 black targets looks.
On the first lap I was able to catch my one, three and then two minute men and then promptly caught a tip in the crust and wiped out. Scrambled back up and checked to make sure nobody saw me then back at it. I come into the initial shooting stage first. Miraculously, I shot four for five which for me having not shot the rifle in over six months, is pretty solid. One quick penalty lap and I was back out for a full loop. At this point it had started snowing heavy wet flakes and the temperature was in the 40's making for some slow, power sucking skate skiing. Still, it was the same for everyone and it appeared I was putting in some of the quickest ski laps, which had me stoked given it was my second time on skate skis this season and fourth time since 2011.

On my second ski lap I passed Cathy and cheered encouragement for her then came in for the second shooting stage. Again things went surprisingly well and I shot another four for five. One more penalty lap and out on the course again. Making good time I came back in for the third shooting stage to find Cathy finishing up her shooting round. A few short seconds later we handed off the rifle and I shot my round.

Unfortunately, my luck dried up and I shot a miserable two for five. Three lonely and humiliating penance laps later I was back out on course trying to make some time. I came back around for my final shooting stage and repeated my previous disastrous performance. Ready to be done I did my penalty laps and went back out on course to try and finish with at least some dignity. On the narrow and deep back section I caught another tip and face-planted, flopping helplessly in the snow, curing to the surrounding wildlife and fir trees.

Coming in for the finish.
I managed to finish up though without further incident and retained my position, ending up with nearly an hour good quality intensity. I'm sore as sin today, that's for sure. Cathy finished up strong, struggling even worse than I with the shooting stages, something that is very atypical for her. She usually has better luck than I do at the range.

Many thanks to Chris and the folks at the Harvard Sportsman's Club for having these events. It's a great was for people to try something very different. It is also a good introduction to firearm sport and firearm safety. It's also a whole lot of fun. The biathlon program runs all year long and will convert to run/bike stages replacing ski stages once the snow is gone. Let me know if you want more information.


Hill Junkie said...

Sounds like a good time. What does the required safety training consist of?

mkr said...

Doug, pretty straight forward firearms safety about proper handling and operational details. There is also a Range Master overseeing all range events.