Rifle, Pistol, Shotgun: What the Top Shooters Shot
By Shari LeGate
It’s almost one year after the 2016 Rio Olympics and the athletes who were whisked to the forefront have since returned home and gotten on with their everyday lives. Rifle shooter Ginny Thrasher, who won the first gold medal of the games, began her sophomore year at West Virginia University. Skeet shooter Morgan Craft was accepted into a prestigious medical school to pursue her career as a physician’s assistant just 5 days upon returning home.
Every Olympian talks about the honor of making an Olympic team and representing their country on the podium. The hard work, the dedication and determination. Every one of them will also tell you they didn’t get there alone. Support of friends, family and the shooting community helped to achieve their goal. But, a very important part of their lives and their journey doesn’t get much credit and it’s usually listed in one line under equipment: The gun.
Most people think of guns as just a tool of the trade, but not Olympians. Their guns are a part of them and it’s a relationship difficult to explain to non-shooters. Those who truly understand the relationship between a shooter and their gun are the manufacturers. It’s an Olympic journey for them as well. Like the athletes themselves, only a few guns rise to the level of the Olympics.
To say it’s just a gun is an understatement. In the Olympic rifle and pistol disciplines, the guns are designed specifically for that sport alone. These guns are not cheap and the athletes usually have to buy their own. Unlike shotguns, there’s not a lot of sponsorship in the rifle and pistol disciplines.
Ginny Thrasher shooting her FWB in competition. Photo: USA Shooting.
Olympic regulations give the FWB 800 (inset) an intimidating look because
almost every aspect of the gun needs to be adjustable to fit the shooter’s
needs and be within the rules. Photo: Airguns of Arizona.
The three gun manufacturers making the 2016 Olympics in both air and smallbore were Bleiker, Anschutz and Feinwerkbau (FWB). Just looking at these guns there’s no comparison between a normal rifle and one built for Olympic competition. These guns look like they’re from outer space. The main difference is due to the stringent regulations in weight, dimensions and adjustability; the guns have taken on a look all their own.
Ginny Thrasher has been shooting an FWB since the beginning. It was the first type of air rifle she encountered and she chose it because of the success it’s had on the international level.
Thrasher notes, “My guns are very customizable and that makes them perfect to fit to my body type. The buttplates in every position I shoot are different to help the gun sit better against my shoulder and give me a better hold. The weight on each rifle is very particular and placed so the balance is right where I want it to be.
“I believe accuracy of the gun and trusting in your equipment is very important,” Thrasher adds, “but in the end it’s the shooter who pulls the trigger and shoots the scores.”
Emil Miley competes with his Pardini SPRF. With the different grip
angle and active counterweight system, the gun is specifically designed
for the Olympic Rapid Fire event. Even though it looks space age (below),
with some small, but important modifications, the gun can be used for NRA
Bullseye competition. Photos: Pardini USA
The Beretta DT11 is the gun of choice for Vincent Hancock here
shooting his DT11 at the 2016 Olympics. Photo: USA Shooting. The
DT11 has 12-gauge “steelium barrels” with elongated 480mm forcing
cones. Standard forcing cones are usually no more than 65mm. By
lengthening the forcing cone on the barrels, the transition from
chamber to bore diameter is extended with a gradual taper to increase
patterning performance and reduce felt recoil. Photo: Beretta USA
Corey Cogdell on the line shooting her Krieghoff. The Krieghoff
K80 Pro Sporter, shown in a highly finished version (below), is
the gun Corey Cogdell shoots. Photo: Krieghoff
Only three shotgun makers made the USA Olympic team in 2016: Krieghoff, Beretta and Perazzi. At first glance, you can’t see a real difference between the look and design of regular shotguns and Olympic shotguns, but to shotgun athletes, their guns are very unique.
Two-time Gold Medalist and 3-time Olympic skeet shooter Vincent Hancock began shooting the sport with a Beretta and never looked back. In 2003, Beretta offered him a DT10 and right out of the box he shot a 98/100 in practice. It was the best score he had ever shot up to that time. Hancock went on to win two World Championships and two Olympic Games with that gun. In 2015, he upgraded to a DT11 and two months later set a World Record at the Mexico World Cup.
Hancock’s gun is fitted and balanced with a custom grip and adjustable weight system so it’s perfectly balanced between his hands, but he admits, he’s very finicky. He can feel the slightest difference in weight and in the way it transitions from target to target. Beretta has customized his barrels to 1.300 kilograms, the lightest in the world on a shotgun. On this particular model, the entire barrel is a forcing cone producing a significantly better pattern and much more reduced felt recoil, so the gun stays in his face better.
“I get to know my gun very, very well. You have to have talent to really succeed in this sport and you need to find the gun that fits your talent the best. One that allows you to utilize whatever talent you have (speed, target pointing, transitions, etc.). One that truly fits who you are as an athlete. You have to know how a gun feels and how it works to see if you’re having to push harder in certain places. I can pick up any gun and shoot it well, but I’m talking about a 10th of a target that comes into play.” For Hancock, it’s always been a Beretta and always will be.
On the other hand, trap shooter and 2016 Bronze Medalist Corey Cogdell switched gun makers in 2010 from Perazzi to Krieghoff. After winning her first Bronze medal at the 2008 games in Beijing, she discovered a significant gender gap when it came to support from the manufacturer. Approached by Krieghoff, they sent a K80 for her to try. Going from an MX10 high rib to a 30-inch flat rib adjustable comb was a big change for Cogdell. However, shooting the gun right out of the box, she shot a personal best in practice—a 50-straight and she knew this was her gun. She’s made a few tweaks to the gun since then. Stock configuration and barrel weight, but for the 7 years Cogdell has shot it, the gun and maker have always been there for her.
“With the amount of high-volume training I do, my gun has never let me down. I trust it to work when I need it to. It’s important for me to know how the gun is balanced and how it moves. Every gun has it’s own personality and character and my gun is no different. It’s a part of me. We get along.”
There’s no comparing a shotgun to a rifle to a pistol, but the one commonality all these guns have is with practice and competition, tens of thousands of rounds are fired through them each year and they are required to hold up and perform for the athlete.
Does the gun make the shooter or does the shooter make the gun? “It goes hand in hand,” said Vincent Hancock. “You have to find something that complements you as an athlete and you as an athlete have to make sure you’re using the right equipment.”
After talking with these shooters, I would say it’s not just the athletes who are elite. It’s the guns and their makers as well. If you think about it, maybe there’s not enough medals given away at the games, because according to the athletes, even their guns are Olympic caliber.
Benchrest World Record
The March “Game On” covered the 2016 Benchrest National Championships and I wrote about a possible world record being shot in the Unlimited Eight 10-Shot, 100-yard category. I’m happy to announce the score Larry Boers shot at those championships has been sanctioned as a World Record score and will go down in the books as a 0.095 inch beating the existing world record of 0.097 inch.
Upon receiving notification his score would be a world record, surpassing the previous record by 0.002-inch, Boers commented, “I knew I had a good group going by the 5th shot, so I started to shoot faster wanting to get the shots out in the same wind conditions. I got a little excited and when I removed the 7th fired case, I accidentally knocked the 8th round over, which I had positioned next to the gun. I picked it up, blew off any dirt, chambered it and got the next two shots off pretty quick before the conditions changed.”
Well known shooter and former champion, Bob Brachney shot in the position next to Boers. “I was watching his target through my scope and each time he took a shot, the hole didn’t get any bigger. It was incredible shooting.”
Larry Boers Winning Equipment
Gunsmith: Steve Kostanich
Action type: BAT Model B
Scope: Leupold 45X
Caliber: 6mm PPC
Bullet: Bishop Bullets (Boers hand swages his own bullets, but in honor of Del Bishop, whose equipment he bought, he still calls them Bishop bullets)
Bullet Seating Depth: Jam
Powder: Vihtavuori N133
Weight: 28.3 grains
Primer: Federal 205M
P.O. Box 549,Ottsville
17601 Beretta Dr.
7811 N. Dale Mabry Hwy
Tampa, FL 33614
1010 W. 10th St.
Azusa, Ca. 91702
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