Missed Opportunities

      The material for this tech tip began coming to me over 30 years ago at the rifle range in Tampa, Florida.   I was busy shooting 100 yard groups with a Remington 700 chambered for 22-250.   I was getting several better than average 5 shot groups, and my mind was totally on shooting.   I didn't want to be interrupted.   Before long, I was approached by an elderly shooter.   He introduced himself, and he told me that he was about finished up for the day.   He said that he had been looking over the targets downrange, and he noticed the tight groups that kept appearing on my targets.   He said that he just wanted to know what caliber I was shooting, and if I had done any custom accuracy work on my rifle.   He seemed like an interesting old geezer, very modest and polite.

      I also noticed that there was something unusual about this guy, as if he was on a mission to get to know me.   However, in those days I was a bit over worked and my time was valuable.   He told me that he was shooting a heavy barreled Winchester Model 70.   It was also a 22-250, and he started telling me about trying some great new handloads.   I was running out of time before the dreaded "cold range bell" and just as I was about to politely interrupt his line of questions, he pulled some targets out of his shirt pocket to show me.   Well . . . . I've never seen such tight groups.   Some of those groups looked almost like a single .45 caliber bullet hole.   That's when I knew that it was time to listen and learn.

      In those days, I had read every gun book in print, and I had never even heard about anyone shooting groups as small as that.   He now had my undivided attention.   How could this older gentleman possibly shoot targets that much better than mine?   I had qualified each year as an expert rifleman while in the Marines, and I was quite confident about my shooting skills.   I was spending every weekend searching for the answers that he had already found.   Before he got away, I had to get his phone number so that I could discover how he was doing it.

      The next few weeks flew by, and I discovered that I had lost his phone number.   I was mortified.   I've never known anyone that could shoot that well.   When I was at the range, fellow shooters usually wanted to know my shooting tips.   That was a new experience for me to encounter someone that obviously had one over on me.   I remembered his name and was glad to find it in the phone book.   His name was Al Sears from New Port Richey, Florida.   I gave him a call, and he invited me over for lunch.   I knew that if I was going to become a better shooter, I needed to learn what he knew about accurate rifles and precision handloads.

      The trip to his house was well over an hour away, but I was motivated to uncover this information.   When I arrived, I found that his wife, Fauna, had fixed an elaborate lunch that looked like a banquet dinner at the White House.   I didn't make this trip to gain five pounds, I just wanted to collect a few important tips on shooting and reloading.   I soon learned that they were two of the most interesting people that I've ever met.   I was glad to hear that he was also a varmint hunter.   They were both just over 75 years old, and I found that they were originally from Rockville, Tennessee.

      Al had qualified as an expert rifleman in the Army back in 1919.   Wow .... that was 30 years before I was born!   They had worked together in the restaurant business from about 1925 to 1950.   Even through the great depression, they almost always made enough money to buy new cars.   They retired at the age of fifty and moved to Florida.   Al showed me pictures of his many cross country trips long before interstate highways came along.   I discovered that this couple firmly believed in old fashioned American values.   Their lives were the ultimate example of how our forefathers had intended us to live.   Their hard work and integrity was beyond question.   They described the Christian lifestyle that they lived while growing up on the farm during the early twenties.             The hours ticked away as he told me how he has spent his whole life shooting everything from BB guns to cannons.   He told me that "anything that shoots could be made more accurate".   That was all very interesting until they began to quote bible scripture and then I noticed that it was getting late.   On the way back home, I was surprised to realize how little time that we actually spent discussing shooting tips.   It was a very interesting day, and I knew that we'd get together again.   I'd have plenty of time to learn his gunsmithing tricks on another visit.

      I wound up making countless trips to visit Al; and over the years, we became best friends.   We found that we had a lot in common, and I learned more than I ever would have imagined from him.   We discussed bedding, barrel harmonics, powder burning rates, cartridge design, trajectories, wind effect, bullet design and the list went on and on.   After I moved to Orlando, we often scheduled our trips to meet at the Tampa range so that we could get in more shooting time.   Al was one of the most innovative people that I've ever known.   His knowledge of shooting and reloading was extensive and his intense competitive nature made him almost impossible to outshoot.   We eventually got permission to shoot on a 1,000 acre private range.   That was a dream come true for a couple of long range shooters like us.   When we planned a day at the range, that meant "bring your lunch .... you'll need it".

      We never intended to spend less than the whole day shooting, and many times we were not quite finished when it started to get dark.   I was surprised to find that Al was as handy with a pistol as he was with a rifle.   He taught me how to do some very interesting trick shooting.   Every time we got together, we compared notes on our latest handloading tips and shooting techniques.   He could always estimate distance and windage well enough to place his shots better than anyone that I've ever known.   When he was in his late eighties, he could still out shoot anyone that wanted to step forward and give it a try.

      One day I realized that, imbedded in our conversations, this clever old friend had been slowly and continuously slipping me bits of wisdom from bible scripture.   It's now clear to look back and see that many of the most important decisions in my life were dealt with after hearing his advice.   If I had never met this ol' shooter, I would never have met the girl that I married over 34 years ago, and even if I did, I might have never realized what a great deal I got when I did get married.   Come to think about it, there are a few other things that probably would have gone quite badly without the wisdom that he shared with me.

      It was a great honor to have known Al Sears as a close friend, until he died at the age of 99.   The life of Al Sears was the ultimate example of how to get the most out of shooting, life itself, and all of eternity.   The moral of this story is this . . . . the next time you get interrupted by an old geezer at the range . . . . take the time to listen carefully to what he has to say.   If you don't, you could just be missing one heck of an opportunity.



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Larry A. Willis,   Innovative Technologies
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