In an ordinary year, shooters from West Virginia would be gearing up for a summertime filled with top-flight championship competition.
This is no ordinary year.
So far, most of the major national competitions have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Civilian Marksmanship Program matches at Camp Perry, Ohio, have been canceled. The National Rifle Association’s Precision Pistol Championships, High-Power Championships and Smallbore Championships have all been canceled. Olympic and Junior Olympic shooting events have been canceled, too.
Even with the cancellations, members of the Putnam County Gun Club’s Junior Smallbore Team think they have an ace in the hole — the American Smallbore Shooting Association championships, scheduled for July 4-11 in Marengo, Ohio.
“As of April 23, the ASSA organizers indicated they were going to try to go ahead with their national championship,” said Bill Shank, the team’s coach. “We’re hoping we’ll be able to enter nine, 10 or 11 shooters in the ASSA prone matches, and five in the three-position matches.”
Shank said eight team members have been practicing for the ASSA event.
“With the social distancing guidelines in place, we’ve been limited on what we could do,” he said. “No more than 10 shooters can practice at a time.”
To maintain the recommended 6 feet of space between team members, Shank has been placing them at every other firing point on the Putnam County Gun Club range.
“That way, we have 11 feet of separation between them,” he said. “And we’ve taken out the benches at the front of the firing line so shooters can walk directly out to get their targets without having to pass close to other shooters.”
In addition, only one shooter at a time is allowed access to the team’s equipment shed.
Even with those measures in place, Shank said two shooters’ parents decided not to let their kids participate.
“I’ve got no problem with that,” he said. “They’re just trying to keep their kids safe.”
Even though they’re practicing, there’s no guarantee team members will attend the ASSA championships.
“The jury is still out on whether the event will take place,” Shank said. “The deciding factor will be whether motels and restaurants are open in Ohio by the time the competition is scheduled to begin.”
At the very least, the team’s shooters will be able to compete in the West Virginia state smallbore championships, scheduled to be held at the Putnam County range in June.
“We’ll maintain social distancing at that event in exactly the same way we’re doing it in practice,” Shank said. “We’ll have shooters on every other firing point, and we’ll have one relay of shooters in the morning and another relay in the afternoon.”
Those matches ordinarily are sanctioned by the NRA, but won’t be this year because the NRA has officially canceled all its affiliated events.
Shank said the team’s annual smallbore camp for novice shooters, scheduled for June 6-7, might have to be canceled because coaches and instructors need to get physically close to the campers in order to teach them the fundamentals of prone-position shooting.