Target Marking — Abbott and Costello Style

Camp Perry Dispatch: 2021
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View from above Viale Pits Camp Perry, Ohio

It quickly becomes normal — journeying to the range in the early hours and joining the caravan of competitors sleepily pushing 100-pound carts over rocks and grass. It’s astounding really, and from a distance we really do look like ants, especially when it’s time for a pit change. While at 6 am competitors are heading to the ready line, shortly afterward some of this group resigns to the pits.

The pits are not as dreary and squalid as the name implies. At Camp Perry, Ohio, the pits consist of a raised concrete platform with a wall of the same on one side and metal target frames opposing. This is the area underneath the berms and the targets where competitors stand to score and mark paper targets for those on the line to see.

It’s quite the process. Service rifle competitors fire at 200, 300, and 600 yards while a scorer records their scores. The question is, how do you see a bullet hole at those distances? Target pullers in the pits wait for each shot to fly overhead, spot the impact, pull down the metal frame housing the target, and get to work. Large holes along the cardboard host scoring disks, the location of which indicates to the scorer on the line the value of hit. These large disks can be seen with a spotting scope. The shot location is marked by a smaller disk – black for shots in the white and white for shots in the black. Rapid-fire stages are slightly different.

During a rapid-fire stage, competitors fire 10 rounds in 60 seconds (sitting) or 70 seconds (prone). The targets remain in the air this entire time and the scores are marked with golf tees and the values marked on a chalkboard.

Scoring rapid-fire strings is far easier. Slow-fire stage lengths vary by the speed of the shooter and at Camp Perry require uncomfortable neck straining.

Most high-power ranges have a similar form of pit system but Camp Perry is unique because fired bullets fall directly into Lake Erie. There is no dirt berm to watch for splashes of earth straight-ahead. You have to lean against the wall, strain up to the sky, and keep a close eye out.

During the National Matches, you pull targets in pairs that rotate over the course of the match. Today I was squadded next to two gentlemen who could have been the modern version of Abbott and Costello.

First the golf tees disappeared. Target pullers are to mark shots in the black scoring rings with neon orange golf tees and those outside the black scoring rings with small black shot spotters. This makes it easier for the shooter to see from a spotting scope football fields away.

I assisted my partner in marking the chalkboard with the number of X’s, 10’s and 9’s when the target to my right caught my attention. Covered in black disks, I could hardly tell where one shot started and another ended. I suggested switching to golf tees to which the puller excitedly responded that he could find none. His partner quickly pointed out where he had stashed them previously.

While not uncommon, this trend continued over several relays.

I could hardly suppress my laughter, but managed to continue moving the spotting disk while my partner pulled.

On the second string of rapid-fire sitting, I watched as our next-door neighbors marked all shots with golf tees this time and recorded a clean score of 100-2x on the scoreboard, complete with smiley face. The pit pullers pushed the marked target slightly over the berm, just enough so those eagerly awaiting results on the line could take a peek.

Stepping back to admire their handwork, one realized they had accidentally recorded a 9 as a 10. The target came flying down, with the chalkboard slung over the top quickly following. “2-X’s, 7-10’s, 1-9” the sign now read, the chalk smiley turned into a frown.

“Stop!” As one attempted to push the target up, the other halted the maneuver. It’s likely that by this time the scorer and shooter already preemptively recorded the incorrect scores, but it was a rush to push the target up anyways.

“There aren’t seven 10’s!” I nearly burst out laughing, turning away to hide a knowing grin. There were indeed seven, not eight 10s. A quick recount and the board went flying back up over the target.

Target 68 was indeed entertaining. Colorful banter and similar escapades abounded as I shook my head, unbelieving I was being treated to a live modern edition of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First – Pits Edition.”

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