I read recently, in a trap shooting magazine, that most casual trap shooters eventually try their hand at registered ATA competition. The author based this statement upon his own personal observation. The upshot of the article was that if you haven't tried ATA shooting, you should. I've been shooting in local club trap leagues on and off for about eight years and I've always done my best to shoot well. However, I've never considered myself a serious competition shooter. That is, until I visited this year's Grand American at the World Shooting and Recreation Complex in Sparta, IL. If you read my article on my first Grand American experience, you already know that I was hooked on the idea of registered ATA shooting at first sight. So, when the Menard County Sportsman's Club hosted a registered ATA event in late September, I jumped at the opportunity to officially join the ATA and start the 2010-2011 target year right here at my own home club.
Being new to ATA shooting, I was starting from scratch. The first step was to join the ATA. You can fill out a membership application online at the ATA web site, at any registered ATA shooting event, or at any ATA affiliated club (like our very own M.C.S.C.). I chose to sign-up online, but the choice doesn't really matter, as long as you get signed up. It takes a while to receive your membership packet from the ATA no matter which method you choose. So, until you receive your ATA membership card and scorecard, you need to carry the receipt that you were given when you signed up for ATA membership. This will act as your proof of membership for ATA events. Once I was signed up as an ATA member, all I had to do was show up and shoot. Well, sort of...
The weather had been unseasonably warm and sunny the week leading up to the shoot. Just as you would expect, Murphy's Law of Weather Patterns brought cool temperatures, wind, and rain into our area on the evening before the event. When I arrived at the club on the morning of the event, the grounds were wet and muddy from the rain over night. The temperature was 50 degrees with a 14mph headwind. Wind gusts up to 20mph were common throughout most of the day. Not exactly ideal conditions for my first attempt at ATA competition. The conditions were very tough throughout the Singles and Handicap events. Eventually, the temperature came up and the wind died down for the doubles shooters. They enjoyed 58 degrees and calm air. Of course, my day was done by that point. Needless to say, the weather was a challenge.
After sliding my way onto the grounds in my rusty old Jeep (I feel very sorry for anyone driving a two wheel drive), I signed up to shoot Events #1 (100 Singles) and #2 (100 Handicap). Since I am a member of the hosting club, I pitched in to help get things setup for the event. This included erecting the lunch tent, or as I like to call it, the Flying Dutchman. This is an old school 'circus tent' with lots of poles and ropes. In a perfect world, you'd set this tent up with about 10 strong men. So, imaging four adults and three teenagers attempting to man-handle this thing in a strong wind. At one point, I found myself alone under the tent holding up a 15 foot aluminum pole with the entire tent trying to carry me away, like a giant mainsail. Now I know what a sailboat mast feels like. Eventually, we got the tent setup and tied down. Since half of the first squad was helping setup the lunch tent, the event got under way just a couple of minutes late.
I shot the Singles event on squad two. That gave me the benefit of watching one squad go through the motions before it was my turn. As you can imagine, I was more than a little nervous when I walked up to the line for my first round of ATA targets. I was so nervous, if fact, that I missed my very first ATA target. My VERY FIRST BIRD! Oh well, with the anticipation of my first registered 25 straight out of the way, I shot a solid 22. On house 2, I shot a 23. On house 3, a 22. At least I'm consistent... Until I lost my concentration and shot an 18 on house 4. Definitely, not my best 16 yard round. But, my total was a respectable 85 under very lousy weather conditions. I was very impressed with the rest of my squad. Not only were they pretty good shooters, they were also very considerate and patient with this first time shooter. They made me feel right at home on my first ever ATA round. After Event #1, I reloaded my shooting bag and grabbed a quick lunch before Event #2 got under way.
Again, I shot Event #2 on squad two. But we only had four shooters this time, and only one of them shot Event #1 with me. This squad was just as patient as my first squad. My timing was 'off' with only four shooters. But nobody even mentioned it when I stood there, like a fool, waiting for an imaginary fifth shooter to call "pull". On house 1, I shot a very respectable 24. Then, the wind caught up with me as I shot a trio of 19's on houses 2, 3, and 4.
Overall, I'm pretty happy with how I shot. My scores were not as good as I had hoped, but I ended up in the middle of the pack for both events. I even won the Lewis class for each of the two events. I guess my scores were exactly lousy enough. That just goes to show that no matter your skill level, if you play the options right, every shooter has a change to be a winner.
So, what was my impression of my first ATA event? I gave it two enthusiastic thumbs up! Here are a few lessons that I learned that might help other first time ATA shooters:
- Give ATA Competition a try. If you're on the fence about ATA shooting, jump off the fence and get in the game. Shooting a registered ATA event invokes a competitive thrill that you just can't get from casual league shooting. If you haven't tried ATA shooting before, you really should give it a try.
- Join the ATA before your first shoot. If you get the chance, I suggest that you join the ATA at least a couple of weeks before you intend to shoot your first competition. This will give time for your ATA membership packet to arrive. Then, you can take your membership card and score card with you to the event. Otherwise, the event organizer will have to take the time to help you join the ATA before you can sign up to shoot.
- Arrive early. Try to arrive to the event about an hour before the scheduled start time. This will give time to get signed in and choose which squad you want to shoot with.
- Don't sign up for the first squad. I suggest that you sign up to shoot in the second or third squad for each event. Let the more experienced ATA competitors shoot first squad. This will give you a chance to stand back and watch how things work. And, it gives the event organizer a chance to work the bugs out before it's your turn to shoot. This can be taken too far. You don't want to shoot in the last squad either. Remember, if you signup to shoot with the 25th squad, you'll have to wait around for 24 other squads to shoot first.
- Pace yourself. Shooting in our club league is a 50 target sprint. Teams usually shoot pretty quickly, with little downtime between rounds. ATA competition is more like a marathon (physically and mentally). Shooting two or three 100 target events in a day can, and will, take its toll. When I walked off the Handicap line after 200 targets, my arms felt like they weighed a ton and my mind was numb. You need to learn to turn your concentration on and off. Get plenty of rest the night before and eat a good breakfast to help keep your energy level high.
- Shoot as many events as you can. Many first time shooters think that they should only shoot Singles (16 yard targets). Just because you're a rookie doesn't mean that you shouldn't shoot the more 'difficult' events. Since you are brand new to the ATA, your Handicap yardage will be set at 20 yards. That's only four yards back from the Singles line. And, if you'd like to give doubles a try, go ahead and shoot the Doubles event(s) too. The more targets you shoot, the faster you'll get used to shooting the 'marathon'.
- Play the options. At our shoot, the options were pretty simple; just Lewis classes for each event. But, many shoots have options for Top Gun per even, High Over All, High All Around, etc. Even if you don't feel confident enough to play any other options, I suggest that you at least play the Lewis Class option. Lewis classes give every shooter a chance to win. I was lucky enough to hit the Lewis class in both of the events that I shot. Even though I didn't shoot as well as I would have liked, I still came out a winner.
- Slow down and enjoy yourself. Shooting an ATA event gives you a great opportunity to catch up old friends, meet new friends, and spend a day at the range. It doesn't get much better than that.