When Gerald Delk said to me back in March “would you like to be on my team at this years ProAm GapGrind” I had no idea what I was in for, but without hesitation I said “Yes” and the journey began.
Over the months, after agreeing to taking part in the competition, I tried to prepare myself for the unknown using the equipment I had and the videos I have seen on the internet. I have to say nothing I had or borrowed could have prepared me for what was to come.
A few weeks before the competition Gerald was feeding me with as much information as he could to get me kind of ready, and my questions must have been exhausting for him but I was yet again soon to notice that what I thought I knew was not what was going to be happening.
Eager and nervous the trip started on the Tuesday 3rd Oct 2017 at 1700, the mad rush and all the packing was done and we were ready to start our epic journey for a weekend of non stop action, Tennessee here we come.
The journey to Tennessee was an epic adventure in itself, it was 37 hours of car, train, coach and plane travelling all we needed was to sit on a boat for five minutes and we would have covered all major modes of transport.
The train to Edinburgh from Inverness was cut short at Stirling due to rail maintenance so we found ourselves on a 2 hour journey through nearly every town and village in the Scottish central belt before being dropped off at Edinburgh Waverly Rail station and a taxi to the airport.
A very long feeling 4 hours pursued at the airport before we could check into our first flight to Heathrow then a mad dash through Heathrow to get our Philadelphia flight as there was 30 minutes between the two flights and then a 8 hour flight to Philly to arrive to yet another mad dash to get our Nashville flight as there was 15 minutes between those. So as you can imagine it was pretty epic. (Nowhere near as crazy as the journey back but that is another story all together).
We arrived in Nashville at just after 1630 (Nashville time) and after around 45 minutes waiting for our bags we went to find Gerald Delk who was meeting us off our flights.
I hadn’t seen Gerald in over a year when he and his wife joined me for some hunting in the Highlands while they were visiting some mutual friends, and it was his invitation that prompted the whole trip.
Walking out the airport the reality of the whole weekend started to hit me hard, I don’t know whether it was the excitement from the travelling or the fact the heat, yes the heat, hit me so hard as I reached the outside that I realised that “David” was not in the Highlands anymore.
Gerald cruised up in his white Ford F350 Truck and I knew that we had arrived as straight away it also dawned on me that my journey into the world of precision rifle shooting had begun as when I looked in the back of his “Truck” I could see ALOT of equipment. My nerves started to really show now.
The 1 hr 30 min journey to Jackson (where we were staying) was uneventful but very much a testament of being in a different world.
Thursday had come too quick and like a kid waiting for Christmas morning I got very little sleep and was up at 3am.
Gerald advised we would be meeting up at around 6am to get to the range for our training session before the competition on Saturday. We had to be there before the “mirage” as Gerald explained it could get quite bad by midday and the afternoon so he wanted to get through all the principles in the morning.
It was warm and leaving the air conditioned sanctuary of the hotel you could feel the heat and humidity hit you hard when stepping outside. Almost immediately I was starting to sweat. My nerves were not so bad at this moment although I did want to try to prove to everyone while training that the long journey to Tennessee would be worth it and obviously that I did not “suck”.
Thankfully Gerald truck was nicely air conditioned and the trip out to the range was amazing.
On the way out you could tell we were going to the “sticks” the houses were bungalow style and spread well apart but the landscape was no different from lowland Scotland with birch and larch trees bordering the roads and fields and the odd Whitetail deer scattering the roadside. Apart from diving on the “wrong side” and obviously the heat you would not have known you were 3000 odd miles away from Scotland.
A short country lane led us to the range and light was starting to creep in by now. Driving up the heavy gravel track the thin lane opened out on the left hand side to a number of shelters looking over a long, flat, well maintained and mowed field with man made banks down the left and right hand side, this was the first long distance range.
The further we drove into the facility I was at awe at how perfect it looked, its idyllic location and structures was just breath taking and as far as ranges are concerned I had never seen anything like it. Everything was clean and to a purpose, passing the the first ranges with their obstacles and bunkers etc/ we come across a small pond and the morning light was reflecting on it, it was very peaceful with a couple of people fishing and the Bass rising for the morning flies.
Just after the little Lochan/pond there is a number of buildings which include office, clubhouse, shop and hangar and a bunkhouse all full air conditioned and well facilitated.
You can tell the facility is well maintained and there has been a lot of investment made into it all at the aim to provide everything you can possibly need for the members/shooters.
The day was warm and Gerald wasted no time on getting me on a firing position at the 1200yrd range. He spent a little time introducing me to the rifle I would be using.
The 6.5 x 47 Lapua was amazing custom rifle,
6.5×47 on a Badger M2013 action in a Manners T4A stock. Vortex Gen 2 Razor 4.5-27 EBR2C reticle. Thunder beast suppressor and a Bix and Andy trigger.
This rifle was a masterpiece in regards to precision rifle shooting as I was soon to learn.
Gerald also introduced me to the Kestrel Sportsman with ballistic calculator that I found to be a very useful piece of kit in helping me with my DOPE (Data Observed on Previous Engagements or Data On Personal Equipment I prefer the first one) knowing what numbers I needed to be dialing on my turrets.
Placed before me, to use for the weekend, was thousands of pounds of equipment, much I have never needed to use before but I would need every bit of it this weekend.
The rifles weight was heavier than what I was used to, the custom Manners Stock was weighted and the whole set up including scope must have weighed around 20lbs.
Firstly we checked zero at 100yrds, and it was pretty much spot on with a tiny bit of adjustment. The rounds I would be using were 140gr Berger custom loaded pushing around 2790fps (all data given to me by Gerald Delk). I soon realised that everything I would be using had been specifically calculated for the task. This was testament to the art of the sport and the precision that was needed for competing at a high level.
Officially braking my own personal longest shot record.
Once zeroed Gerald took no time in pushing me out to my limits, up until now the longest shot on a target I ever had was 840yrds and my longest kill on an animal was 540yrds, however, my regular range for shooting has not been more than 250yrds so to say I was new to long distance marksmanship was an understatement.
After using the Kestrel to calculate dope Gerald asked me to aim for the 900yrd target plate, 1st shot “impact” 2nd shot “impact”,
wow I had not just beaten my own personal longest shot record but I put two rounds center mass.
Next Gerald asked me to aim for the 1000yrd plate, I sent the round and “impact” then another “impact”, I could hardly believe it.
Gerald’s aim that day was to push me to the max he told me to engage the 1100yrd, now this is wayyy further than I ever could imagine shooting, and again I dropped 2 rounds onto the plate.
I have to admit I was very very chuffed with myself but when Gerald said lets shoot you out to 1200yrds I was a little hesitant, I settled my breathing adjusted the “dope” on the scope and settled down to take the shot, by this time a mirage was starting to form in the morning heat. I could feel the humidity attach itself to my skin and my breathing was being laboured by the heavy warm air, but, I settled in to take the first shot.
Gerald asked if I was ready “yes” I said. he said “send it” ,
I just touched the 1lb trigger and the rifle gave a kick and the round was sent down range — “impact re-engage” — I sent another “impact in the red dot” came Geralds voice, I just looked at him gormless then a smile and I asked “can I do that again?” Gerald smiled and said “Go for it” so I sent another 2 down range towards the 1200 plate and both made contact.
To be honest, at that point no matter what happened that weekend I was over the moon and in my element, this was definitely a highlight for me.
More Shooting and Training.
After spending time showing me the various “barricades” I would be shooting from and off of, Gerald must have felt confident I was able to perform ok over the coming weekend, however, the truth be told although I loved the training session I was very very nervous.
Over the training period we must have fired off at least 200 rounds. I was shooting targets no closer than 300yrds and learning about 2.5mph movers (which took a little to get used to) and the various obstacles.
The movers were one of my most worrying tasks, I had never shot moving target (other than deer) before and getting to grips with this took me a bit of time. During the training session all I heard was, “your in front” ” your behind”, from Gerald , it was very frustrating and it just seemed I was just missing either way.
I settled down and concentrated then I worked out where my aim was.
We used the .223 a lot for this to get to grips with where to hold, although it was slightly better with the 6.5×47, as we did have to conserve ammo for the competition.
I have to admit my favourite was shooting at “perps” that were hiding with “hostages” in cars. During training I loved this type of shooting, gave me an obstacle to overcome and not once did I hit a hostage.
After a good morning session training and being shown around some of the facility and meeting a few people it was time to meet Gerald’s lovely wife Meredith (who was also shooting at the competition at Amateur level like myself).
As Gerald took my wife and I back into Jackson for lunch and to meet his wife I was genuinely apprehensive about the weekend ahead, my worries were starting to build up in my head and I was afraid I was going to make a fool of myself. The training session went well and I had not missed any shots, but, I still had the afternoon to come and to see another part of the range, The Field Stage, where I would be shooting from an elevated position and from different positions.
After Lunch we headed back to the range, My wife Dawn went with Geralds wife and I went with Gerald in his truck. I ran through a few things with Gerald while driving back to the range and assured me I had nothing to worry about.
That afternoon, we went to the Field stage, it was 1000yrd range with a elevated firing position and a number of targets and cars scattered throughout. The range went in a V shape heading two different directions making it difficult to judge wind at longer ranges, even the lightest of winds created issues out to range.
This part of the facility is higher up than the rest of the facility and hidden within the trees, I was soon to learn that there were a number of ranges all hidden in various locations used for different training practices and tasks. It truly is an amazing maze of challenging ranges for the shooters.
Meredith zeroed her rifle, a very stylish custom rifle (not sure of the specs) topped with a similar Vortex scope to what I was using and she shot very very well with it. Gerald built her rifle for her and it suited her very well and she proved to shoot better than I with it.
The afternoon session went very well and I only missed two shots due to wind but I also think a little tiredness was settling in and the mirage at this point was crazy making it very hard to see out to longer ranges.
Day 2 Meet and Greet and Sign in.
Day two was meet and greet.
It was a later start as we had covered most of what Gerald wanted to show me on the first day, so friday was just getting a taster of who will be there and gave my wife and I a chance to meet Geralds brother Sam (who was competing as a pro at the competition and Meredith’ team mate).
Again I got very little sleep with being awake and ready from around 4am. Nerves were definately settling in and I felt very much out of my comfort zone.
Day 2 there was no expectations but it did give me a chance to see what people were like and I got to meet a fair few of Gerald’ friends and team mates. Absolutely felt involved although I was a bit like a “rabbit in headlights” at points I was amazed to find out that this was shaping up to be the biggest precision rifle competition event ever held.
On the drive up to the range we very quickly saw how many people were going to be there and the level of organisation that was involved in the event.
Most competitors used this day as their “zero in” day in which we had done the day before.
The car park was already full and it was barely 8am, and every second car was a truck or 4×4 which I loved.
Even getting out the car people were already being introduced to me and everyone I met was friendly, there were people from all walks of life and back-rounds there, there was truly no set demographic. I was astounded at just the sheer amount of shooters and rifles in one place.
Throughout the morning everyone was friendly and I mean everyone, but, this did not calm my nerves specially when I realised the professional back-rounds of many of the people I was competing against.
It was nice to see that everyone seemed to get on with everyone and Gerald got a lot of attention from guys asking on equipment advice.
Competition Day 1
You would have thought after the amount of travelling and the nerves from the days leading up to this day I would have slept but I didn’t.
I did not sleep a wink, even though we were in bed by 10pm the night before I was awake at 2330 then 0030 then 0130 and then 0230 and yes you guessed it 0330 so when I woke at 4am I just got up and got ready.
I needed air, the air con in the room was great but I just needed to clear my head, nerves had literally taken over and I could not relax. This was very much unlike me, I couldn’t think and everything Gerald told me was running through my head like fireworks banging in my all around me.
Walking out the Hotel into the car park, it again was hot (29°C) the air was heavy and it was suffocating and my head was spinning. At that point I truly wanted to throw up. Everything I thought I knew, I didn’t and I honestly was privately panicking.
Like some, I talk a lot when I am scared or nervous, and I can imagine the thoughts going through my wife and Gerald’s head on the way to the range as I was probably non-stop.
The safety briefing By Shannon Kay (Owner of K&M and the Range) was straight to the point and informative and although I was listening all I could hear was my heart beat, I honestly had no idea what was happening to me.
It was not long before Gerald told me where our first stage was and we were taking our gear in that direction.
Day 1 was to prove to be a long one.
I was in group 9, and thus meant we were starting on stage 9. stage nine was a straight up on the 300yrd Mover target that moved at 2.5mph from left to right and right to left. This was my worst nightmare, I only ever done it once before and out of ten shots I only hit it 4 times.
0800 came and we were heading to Stage 9, a short walk from the briefing area but, to me, it felt like a million miles.
We were the first up , Gerald went first and aced it and scored 11. I was so nervous that I thought my back was gonna break with my shaking. It felt like the worlds eyes were on me, but they weren’t. Needless to say I only got 4 points and that was gonna be the theme to the day.
the nerves got worse and worse and until lunch came I was dropping an average 3 shots per round.
The rest of the days Stages were scored as follows.
Stage 10. Police Rack, 7/10
Stage 11. Poaching of the Porch, 3/9
Stage 12. Twisted Field Fire, 7/10
Stage 13. Fat or Skinny Dog, 4/10. I lost track of where all the targets were just confused the hell out of me.
Stage 14. Hoodlums from The Truck, 4/9
Stage 15. Shoot House Scramble, 9/10, This was well fun and I was in my element constantly moving was ace.
Stage 16. IPSC Field Fire, 7/10
Stage 17. Mulligan Know your Limits, 2/5, Winds were starting to cause issues for everyone
Stage 18. Lego Fields Fire, 7/10, Another one I felt kind of comfortable with.
Stage 19. Square Fields Fire, 7/10
Stage 20. Pipe Test Your Limits, 4/5 Again another Long Distance round that I really enjoyed.
Stage 1. No Turn Tires, 6/9, This was shooting from Tractor Tyres dug into the ground.
As you can see Nerves and Time Management was my biggest problem. One thing I have to be grateful for is that I did not totally suck. There was not one round on the first day did I completely fluff which is amazing as It was not until after lunch that I started to find my rhythm and calm my nerves down.
Dinner was needed badly and it was tasty thank god.
I had a lot to talk about at dinner and Gerald really did help. I think it was very clear that my nerves got the better of me. Day two was not going to be like that.
After the day before performance I needed to be better, Again I had NO sleep but this had nothing to do with nerves now it was genuinely to do with being so angry with myself .
My weekend was perfect, Dinner with friends was amazing, the people at the competition were absolutely brilliant with everyone helping everyone and the location was just fantastic,
So why was I so nervous?
I was sitting outside the hotel at 0330 and just taking in the atmosphere. The weather again was warm and humid but I had acclimatised to this now and truly it was like being in the tropics.
There was no reason to be nervous I needed to focus today.
Day 2 started with a proper high , I aced the first stage which was stage 2.
Stage 2. Stretch it Out, 9/9, As an amateur I had to put 3 rounds into the 800 yrd then 900 yrd and 1000 yrds plates in 1 minute 15 seconds. I was very comfortable and focused and acing this was a huge confidence booster specially as 2 days before I had never even shot out to that distance before.
Stage 3. Circle Chaos, 6/10
It was starting to feel like the day before, but this time my issues were not misses but time related.
Stage 4. PRS Skills Stage, 7/8 , This stage is a tie-breaker for the Pro’s and costed toward their position in the PRS Championship for the Amateurs like me it was a taster of what the Pros go through.
Stage 5. Concrete triple Decker, 8/9, Thats Better.
Stage 6. Grind it Out, 11/15 , As a Pro Gerald had to do this in 3 minutes as an Amateur I had 3 and half minutes, wow I never made the last shooting position but was a hell of a lot of fun. Gerald got 13/15.
Stage 7. Pipe Precipitous, 5/10, everyone on the second day struggled with the wind on this stage. Very few aced it on the second day but it was a real good taster of the difference 24 hours can make.
Stage 8. K&M Hustle Drill, 9/12 , Our final round and by god for us it was epic. I ran out of time on this but it was a very fun round.
As you can see my second day was a lot better, I was more focused and aware of what was going on and when I found out Stage 8 was our last round I was gutted , I wanted truly to do it all again.
Gerald won 2nd place as a Pro, earning himself $2500 for the weekend, he only dropped 11 shots throughout the whole weekend.
I was 82nd, however, this was my very first time at trying anything like this and only one days training and my nerves really did show on the first day. So I was very happy with my position although disappointed in myself as after the first day I was far more focused.
As a Team we came 31st, out of 162 teams.
There were 324 competitors over the two days and it was amazing, 162 Pros and 162 Amateurs.
K&M, The People and Friends.
For me this was an opportunity I could not refuse when Gerald and Meredith Delk invited my wife and I over and for me to take part as Gerald’ Amateur in the competition.
Gerald, Meredith and Sam were the best hosts we could ask for.
They made sure we wanted for nothing and took us everywhere we needed to go.
Dinner, Lunch and “Cracker Barrel” was a lot of fun and it would not have been the same without the guidance from Meredith, Gerald and Sam as we would have no idea where to go.
I truly enjoyed every piece of food I tried, even the “grits”.
I would have not been able to compete if it was not for the loan of the equipment From Gerald which was very very much appreciated. We could never thank them enough for everything they have done.
K&M is an amazing facility and the competition was just perfectly run and organised.
Shannon Kay and George Gardner put on a first class event that was one of the Highlights of my life. What I gathered from the day was this was not just a first time for me at an event like this but this was the first time K&M had hosted an event with this amount of competitors and if you had not told us this at the briefing no-one would have known it.
To put on an event of this calibre was immense and to organise the Range Officers and the Stages it was clearly not a mean feat. It truly must have taken a lot of organising.
In my lifetime with the hospitality and security industry I have had the experience of organising some very successful events but what I witnessed during this weekend was amazing.
K&M catered lunches for EVERYONE there whether they were spectators or competitors no one was left out, Fresh water was provided at every stage and with the heat it was needed, toilet facilities were available and kept as clean as possible, lunch provision was ideal with drinks, subs and juice as well as a cookie and crisps (potato chips). I honestly never saw an unhappy face in regards to the facilities on offer.
Spectators (mainly family of competitors) and competitors were amazing people, everything you think you know about Americans flush it down the pan and start again, this group of people were the most kindest and friendly people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. There was constant communication between all the competitors even down to asking the guy before you what way the wind was blowing etc. people were constantly helping people out it was truly something to witness.
There one instance were a competitor had a serious accident coming down one set of the stars breaking his rifle stock in the process, Shannon and George replaced the stock right there and then and helped the guy out so he could carry on competing, this in the UK with my experience is unheard of.
My wife Dawn spent a lot of time taking pictures and on occasion I was worried about her, but I needn’t have as every-time I looked round she was chatting to someone, whether it was other competitors or their family members I am sure she made a few friends that day, I feel I did.
There was a comment my wife made when we were leaving after the prize giving and it was true, she noticed that all the stages were free from litter and it look so clean before we even left the event. You would not even have noticed there had been an event on that weekend. This shows both respect for the facility and how organised the event was run.
Shannon and George and all involved in this event made it a truly family affair. People who know me know I come from a small family so my true friends become very special to me. What I witnessed during this weekend was pure camaraderie and family. Everyone was there not to compete against each other but compete against themselves and everyone knew that so help was always at hand to help you perform better. I witnessed this myself specially on the first day, people clearly noticed me struggling with nerves on the first day and the support was definitely there, I am hunter so I was completely out of my comfort zone, and this is the reason why I was able to improve later on on the second day and the following day.
I learned a lot over this whole experience. I learned what my limits were and I learned that my emotions affected a lot of how I perform, but, I also learned that no matter what your perceptions have of others you have to witness for yourself before commenting or judging.
What I experienced was truly amazing, as you probably could tell.
I would recommend this type of thing to anyone. K&M facility is a dream come true to a shooter at all levels, and this competition really did show me what is on offer out there and what you can achieve.
As a shooter we aspire to obtaining that extra challenge and this definitely was a good challenge for me.
This was a big eye opener on how well a facility and event like this is run and feel that everyone should aspire to this type of perfection.
The attitudes of everyone there over the weekend was just immense, I had never seen such a community nature before as I did this weekend. Every event has its ups and downs but it was clear to see everyone took it in their stride and helped those who needed it out. This event was not about image or how much money you had or heirs and graces, no one held their nose up at anyone (that I witnessed).
Attitudes Must Change and Education is NeededI witnessed some amazing things over the 4 days I spent with the shooting community of the precision Rifle Series. Attitudes were clearly different from the UK and their approach to education over the sport was far more open and healthier. We often believe (in the UK) that Americas gun culture is flawed, but, both sides of the Atlantic can say the same about each other. Education is the key and it always has been the case. In the States children are taught from a young age to respect firearms, and they genuinely do. I witnessed a young girl of 10 years of age competing in the same sport I was and I had the pleasure to meet her and her family and I can honestly say she was far more mature with her rifle than most adults I have met and the support she was given from her parents and other was outstanding. The reason why I say this is healthy is because “You” as a parent should know when your child is ready to shoot, this young lady was not forced to do this she did it because she enjoyed it and her parent supported HER and obviously they thought she was ready to learn this sport. I envisage a good career ahead of her possibly a future Olympian or Champion. In the UK you have to be a Teenager before you are allowed to start shooting, possibly (I am no expert in child psychology) this is the wrong age to start learning as teenagers tend to be far more emotional and unpredictable and somewhat harder to teach as they want to do things their way.
I cannot sit back anymore and watch people in the UK complain or “put down” the American gun culture, what I witnessed this weekend was far from the myths expressed in the UK and I believe we have a lot to learn from the States. There was no pomposity or bravado held in an event like the one I attended, everyone is there for their own reasons and it was not to show off. Yes I agree there is a little bit of banter etc. but nothing derogatory about it.
I think the UK shooting community has a lot to learn.
Legislation also needs to change for this type of competition to happen.
After the match I was interviewed for the Shooting Show and I was asked why we do not have competitions like this in the UK. My answer was straight forward, “We have too many restrictions”.
In the States you are able to change and customise your rifles when you need too, it is common in this type of competition for barrels to be changed regularly and triggers to be swapped out. This kind of modification, such as barrel changes, need variations and proofed and stamped which becomes problematic and restrictive. A lot of the equipment that precision riflemen/women use is just not available in the UK easily and if it is then it is very expensive.
I would love to see this kind of sport in the UK as these professionals are true athletes in the sport. The skills learned in this competition can make you a better and safer shooter that many in the industry could benefit from. In saying all this I do not believe attitudes in the UK will change and I think the future will bring yet more restrictions in regards to firearms, I hope I am wrong.My trip to the K&M was a whole new world to me and the pleasure I had to meet and see what went on has prompted me, if I am allowed, to return next year and hopefully do better, now I know what to expect. Since I have been home I have been thinking of ways on how to bring something like this to the UK as I believe we do need it. We need to grow our shooting sport or risk losing it forever. The U.S shooting community, specially those in the Precision Rifle World, understand this how can we not?