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MARSHALLVILLE -- The best of the best in the benchrest rifle circle of competitors show up every year the week leading up to Memorial Day to the little town of Marshallville, to try and put a bullet in the same hole 100 times at distances of 100 and 200 yards.
It's a game of patience and calculations, where competitors dabble in gun powder mixtures and bullet configurations. And while the sport is losing numbers, those who still have the passion for it, consider Kelbly's Rifle Range on Dalton Fox Lake Road the mecca of benchrest shooting.
Some 202 competitors were on hand last week for the prestigious Benchrest International Super Shoot, which has been going on since 1973, including every year since 1976 at Kelbly's. Included in the field were shooters not only from all reaches of the United States, but 35 competitors from 11 different countries as well.
South African Kobus Visser made his 10th straight trip to Kelbly's count as he finished 18th in the grand aggregate for the 10.5-pound gun class.
"In South Africa, it's mostly recreational shooting," said Visser. "The level of shooting is not like it is over here. I come here to compete with guys at this level ... It was a brilliant experience, to say the least."
Ironically, Visser hadn't planned on attending this year's shoot, until just two weeks prior when the thought of not competing changed his mind. He got his appropriate papers together and booked a trip and was glad he did.
"I came here unprepared," Visser said, noting he hadn't practiced leading up to the shoot. "Day 1 was not good, but as the week went on, I became pretty competitive. It's a lesson learned. Next year I'll come earlier and practice."
Visser, like a lot of benchrest shooters, is one who likes to tinker, and it's that need to see how things work that drives him to succeed in the sport.
"In South Africa I'm an engineer," said Visser. "I like the technical part of (benchrest shooting). I like seeing how it all comes together."
Closer to home, Don Rosette defended his 13.5-pound gun title (.2566), and said it was the Kelblys who originally got him into the sport.
"I started shooting here 12 years ago," said Rosette, from Aurora. "I bought my first gun from the Kelbly family. I'm grateful to them and just happy to be able to compete at this level."
Rosette shot rimfire competitions in North Carolina for 25 years before moving to Ohio, where he caught the benchrest bug.
"Winning two years in a row, I felt the pressure," said Rosette. "It's hard. My wife thinks I'm away having a good time, but I'm really working my butt off."
Jeff Summers of Oak Ridge, Tenn., won this year's overall Super Shoot title, his third time as the grand agg champion. Summers posted a Super Shoot record .2158 average for 20 groups (100 shots). What's that mean?
"In 100 shots, he was less than a quater-inch from being a perfect hole," said Jim Kelbly, who oversees the Super Shoot and is president of Kelbly's Inc., a manufacturer of benchrest rifles and shooting components. "In my opinion, Jeff is the best shooter at our range in the last 20 years."
Summers won the title despite shooting in a constant rain the last two days.
"Acutally," said Kelbly, "you can shoot smaller groups in the rain if there's not much wind. We had to keep shooting because people come from so far away, that we can't postpone it. Rain just makes it a muddy mess."
As for the sport, Kelbly admits the numbers are dwindling, despite benchrest associations in all 50 states and 30 countries.
"The biggest thing now is shooters are going into long range shooting," said Kelbly. "This is a sport for older shooters, and they're dying on us. We need to get some new blood in it."
For more on benchrest shooting, visit Kelby's website at www.kelbly.com
Outdoor Editor Art Holden can be reached mornings at 330-287-1650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org