A team of SSAA members enjoyed a successful time at the prestigious NRA Cowboy Rifle Silhouette National Championships, which were held at Raton, New Mexico in the United States in July. The Adelong pair Melissa Dean and Graeme Whatman plus Brisbane’s Sue Murray all collected awards amid a field of 165 competitors who had arrived at the venue from four countries - the US, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. The Aussie trio had earned selection via the SSAA Cowboy Nationals at Hervey Bay in 2015.
After booking their places, the threesome were joined by supplementary shooters, who went along on the transcontinental haul to take part as individuals. These were Graeme’s brother Jim, Sue’s husband Allan and Alan Gordon, of Gladstone. Completing the travelling band were New Zealand shooter Kath Keeley, who flew to link up with the group in Sydney, and Pat Whatman, Melissa’s nan, who was happy in her role as a non-shooter. All the troupe were SSAA members, apart from Kath.
For the youthful Melissa, the outcome was one to remember as she scooped a total of five awards over seven categories scheduled for four days from July 12 to 15. The Rifle event comprised 80 shots spread over the first two days, which was necessary to accommodate all the shooters within the NRA Whittington Centre Range. However, both the Pistol Calibre and Smallbore took up only one day respectively, again with 80 shots allotted to each participant. The 3-Gun Aggregate was worked out after totting up all the totals.
For Melissa, it has been another important step along her shooting career path. Four years ago, the 21-year-old impressed when she was sent to the NRA Cowboy Nationals as a promising Junior just before she turned 17. This latest haul of medals was further evidence of her growing maturity at the top level. Melissa secured 1st High Woman in the 3-Gun Aggregate and another top placing in the Smallbore Match 2. She was overall first woman in the Smallbore and garnered a third spot honour in the Smallbore Master Grade. Her final accolade came in the sixth-ranked overall finish in the Pistol Calibre.
Sue was top High Woman in match two of the Rifle and repeated the feat in Match 1 of the Smallbore. Graeme collared third spot in Match 2 of the Pistol Calibre.
The supporting individual cast also enjoyed some fleeting joy. Alan Gordon came out on top in the B Grade Pistol and was second in the B Grade Smallbore, while Jim Whatman picked up second place in the Pistol Calibre Match 2. Allan Murray gained a sixth berth in the AAA Grade Smallbore Match 1.
The whole trip was a test of endurance for the group because after the gruelling flight they had to acclimatise to the rigours of high altitude with the Whittington Range being 6679ft above sea level. They did this by spending a few days in the small village of Manitou Springs, located about 25km from the airport where they landed at Colorado Springs. There was certainly plenty for the Aussie visitors to get their heads round with a wide array of wildlife on the go in the surrounding area. Deer, pronghorn antelopes, humming birds, cottontails, turkeys, jack rabbits and skunks were all sighted. However, none of the bears native to the region came calling around the huddle of cottages that the shooters called home during their time there.
When the action was about to be underway, there was a short opening ceremony, with all the nations’ flags flying at half-mast as a sign of respect for the police officers who had been slain the previous week during disturbances in Dallas.
As well as the altitude factor, the Aussies had to contend with soaring temperatures as it was high summer in the northern hemisphere. Most days, the mercury soared to about 40C. During the Smallbore event, there was also an afternoon storm, which is quite common for the area. The noise of hail on the venue’s tin roof made hearing difficult. So shooting was stopped while the loudspeaker was turned up, before resuming again.
An awards ceremony was held at the end of each day’s shooting. On the first three days, the Rifle and Pistol Calibre prizes were presented by Sheri Judd, NRA High Power manager. After that, the Smallbore honours were handed out by Dave Bennett, an NRA board member and chairman of the Silhouette Committee.
For Melissa, the competition was the perfect way to round off her North American experience, which began with a six-month stint working at a hotel in the tiny village of Kananaskis, which is just less than an hour’s drive from the Alberta city of Calgary. “She decided that she wanted to go to Canada to work,” said nan, Pat. “She had interviews over Skype and the job initially was for four months but it turned into six...She only really came back for the Nationals, which were held in Adelaide shortly before we went across to America.”
What makes Melissa’s achievements all the more special is that during her time in Canada, she was unable to practise her shooting. So she went into both competitions not having shot for six months. “There was one shooting range where she was but it was closed for winter,” said Pat. “So she just concentrated on snow sports.”
Melissa is now back in Adelong reinstalled in her former job as a shift manager at an organic fast food outlet and pondering her options on the shooting scene. “She really, truly wants to represent Australia at some event like the Commonwealth Games,” said Pat. “But to do that she will have to change her discipline. She doesn’t want to give up Silhouette but she is worried that if she doesn’t give something else a try, she may live to regret it. So she is wondering what to do next.”
As for the Australian team’s efforts in the US, Pat felt the upshot was highly satisfactory. “They did really well and as SSAA members we should all be proud of the three of them,” she said. “It is the first time we have had two ladies in the team. In the 3-Gun Aggregate, all team members finished in the top 20s or just outside, which is great when you consider how many entrants there were.”