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NRA First Vice President John Sigler visited the world championships of .50-caliber rifle competition and got hands-on experience with the anti-gun mainstream media’s favorite target: .50 BMG rifles.

From the beginning of the bogus big-media and gun-banner attacks on .50 BMG rifles, NRA First Vice President John Sigler has been in the forefront defending the Second Amendment rights of peaceable Americans who might wish to own and use that threatened class of firearm.
Among Sigler’s personal goals “is the education of all gun owners to realize that if one peaceable segment among us falls—like those who own .50 BMG target rifles—then another will be targeted for extinction, then another, until none of us are left.”
He especially wants NRA members to pass on that message to other less politically savvy gun owners who might have bought into the media lies about the “big 50.”
As part of that goal, Sigler wanted to experience .50-cal. shooting first-hand to tell others about the discipline enjoyed by so many Americans who have made precision shooting with the big-bore rifles their passion. Participating in the 2005 Fifty Caliber Shooters Ass’n (FCSA) World Championships—held in July 2005 at the NRA Whittington Center’s premier range facilities in Raton, N.M.—Sigler shot alongside world record holders and learned the unique nature of this growing sport, firsthand. At the end of the practice sessions and two days of competition, Sigler developed a profound respect for the shooters, their sense of family, their camaraderie, their inventiveness and for the science behind the precision.
Sigler, who has spent much of his life in competitive shooting with championship honors in clay bird and pistol shooting disciplines, believes .50 BMG shooters have what he called “a unique sense of competition.”
“These people are very serious,” he said. “But it isn’t the same kind of competitive spirit that you might see in some of the other disciplines, where it becomes so focused on personality that it becomes uncomfortable. Their competitive spirit is such that they’ll root for you just as hard as they’ll root for themselves. The whole idea is to attain a level of accuracy and competence.

“Most of these people are competing against themselves and not against each other. I think it’s more about performance than it is who ends up where on the awards chart. And there’s no dog in the manger at a .50-caliber shoot.
“Most of all, what you will see are some things that I like: the willingness to help others, the willingness to help you celebrate and to be truly appreciative of what you’ve accomplished.”
During the first practice day, Sigler was coached by long-time .50-cal. shooter John Burtt, who also heads the Fifty Caliber Institute, an organization dedicated to preserving the sport. Burtt also lent Sigler his finely tuned McMillan heavy-class rifle for the competition. For his own heavy-class shooting, Burtt used his wife Teri’s light-class rifle.
Sigler observed that family participation at .50-cal. matches is the norm: “This is a totally family-oriented sport. It was not unusual at Raton to see sons, fathers and grandfathers; daughters, mothers and grandmothers. They were together, some shooting, some as part of the support. In one case I can think of, they were all shooting. That was very impressive to me.”
Where Burtt was willing to give Sigler instruction and advice, other shooters, world-class champions, were equally helpful—something Sigler found moving. “They go out of their way to help a new person. There is no limit to the concept of camaraderie with these people. They are very open. I wonder if in any other competitive shooting sport you would find someone who had just broken through technically on something that would give them an edge—sharing that breakthrough with you. The .50 BMG. shooters want everybody to have access to what they are learning.”
That sense of inclusion for new shooters was succinctly expressed by Burtt’s comments on Sigler’s shooting performance during the two days of match competition: “It was remarkable. Here is a first-time shooter, and in spite of really miserable weather conditions, with gusts up to 45 m.p.h, [Sigler] kept every single bullet that he fired during the entire weekend on target. ”
During the two days of regular 1,000-yd. competition, scoring was based on a total of six, five-shot groups, with three on the first day and three on the second. That went for each class. Uniquely, two elements counted: shot placement and smallest group.
When final scores were posted, Sigler placed 29th in a field of 48 heavy-class competitors with a 240 out of 300 possible. Sigler’s aggregate group size was 18.32", putting him in 25th in that scoring category.
Burtt laughed as he said, “John Sigler had never shot a .50-caliber match rifle before, and he beat me with my own gun.” (Burtt finished one spot overall behind Sigler, and in aggregate, 11 places behind him.)
Burtt’s rifle is a 48.5-lb (scope included) heavy-class McMillan benchrest with right-hand bolt, right-side ejection port. The 34.5" barrel, made by Montana’s Dan Lilja, is chambered for full-bearing surface bullets with a very short freebore. The K&P-type clamshell muzzle brake was made by John Burtt. The Jewell trigger was set at 4 ozs. The action was topped with a Lightforce USA 12-42x50 mm
variable scope with 4" of eye relief and very fine cross hairs with custom stadia lines. Badger Ordnance rings held the scope on the rifle.
Sigler said that going into pre-match practice, he had trepidations about recoil. But the muzzle brake on Burtt’s massive rifle reduced the felt-recoil to a level that compared to a 12-ga., 3 1/2" shotshell.
Beginning a wholly new competition, Sigler said he was also concerned “that I was going to embarrass myself. But that was put to rest almost immediately upon arrival at the range, because of the fact that these shooters take instruction so seriously. They are helpful to a degree that anyone would be made to feel that competence isn’t that far away.”
But Sigler, modestly pleased as he was with his personal effort, said everything was put into perspective by the performance of Lee Rasmussen, the shooter who took top national honors with an aggregate group size of 6.6". The smallest in that six-group aggregate was 2.81". The world record, by the way, held by the late Skip Talbott, is 2.3".
In FCSA matches, the black bullseye of the 1,000-yd. target is 24" in diameter. Beyond the 6" X-ring, concentric scoring rings are 3" apart. As to what the shooter sees through his scope, Sigler said, “With a 24-power scope, you can see the black; it’s out there as a dot. And then there’s the white around it, and what you’re trying to do is center that dot in the cross hairs. Imagine that a minute of angle at that distance is only 10". Then imagine putting five shots into less than 3".
Sigler was working the pits when Rasmussen made his magic. “He shot that 2.81" 1,000-yd. group in 50 seconds!
“When the first shot hit, it didn’t hit the X-ring or the 10 ring, it hit out on the side. Everything was scored two ways: One was on group size, and the other was on score, as in NRA High Power. When the first shot goes, and it is marked, the competitor has to determine whether to go for group size or to go for score, and he made the other four shots based on the position of the first one. In measuring the competitive skill, you’ve got two influences that are coming together: high power and benchrest.
“The best place to be an observer is down in the pits. You have to be on your toes to service the targets as fast as you possibly can. Rasmussen’s target was five or six frames down. It was amazing. There were several good groups going at that time up and down the line. Everybody was communicating up and down, ‘Sixteen’s got a good group going.’ Bang. ‘Hey, he hit it again!’ Bang! ‘Oh my gosh!’”
If Rasmussen’s speed and skill were remarkable, so too were those of his pit team, headed by his wife. They could bring a target down, mark it, and raise it in less than three seconds.
Sigler said, “Rasmussen replicated that first shot again and again. He was a machine. He just held tight. He knew where the wind was.”
The speed of the shooting is also a secret to FCSA matches, as wind doping is done from a vantage perhaps different from other long-range shooting sports.
Sigler, who is experienced in high power and F-Class, explained: “With fifty-calibers, the most important place for judging the wind is near the firing line, and that’s the hardest place to read it. To an inexperienced shooter such as me, reading the wind out near the target line, where you have both the mirage and the flags, is a little bit easier than it is reading it back at the firing line. Remember, that the further that bullet is moved by wind early, the more its impact will be affected later. So, that was the tough part.”
Among the other very different factors Sigler found during the .50-cal. matches was the treatment of ammunition—mostly precision handloads that represented hours of pre-match preparation.
“Pistol shooters like to keep their rounds covered up. Well, these people warm up their ammunition because the temperature of the powder makes a difference in the consistency of the performance. They were taking their rounds out of the cans and laying them out so that they could be warmed by the sun.”
Sigler said that the scientific nature of .50-cal. shooting was impressive. “Precision shooting is what they do, and they’re really always in the R&D stages of this sport. Many of these competitors are very skilled technicians, deeply involved in physics and design. They’re constantly working—trying to find the right barrels, the right twist, the right bullets, the right loads, the right brass, the right primer—and we’re not just talking about just swapping things out. We’re talking about people inventing things to make these rifles accurate. You’re dealing with high-tech variables.”
Sigler was also impressed by the emphasis on safety. Considering that he’s refereed pistol matches at Camp Perry and has served as the Chief Referee for NRA’s National Police Shooting Championships for years, safety is something Sigler knows. “It ranks right up there with how we run Camp Perry—safety always at the utmost. There’s a safety briefing for all competitors at the beginning of each day. They understand safety, they teach safety, and they repeat the safety. It’s part of their game.”
At the end of the matches, Burtt said that Sigler’s presence symbolized something else: “Everybody had come to realize that he was here to tell our organization and peaceable fifty-caliber owners everywhere that NRA is 100-percent behind us in our fight. There were some among us in the past who felt we were out there all alone. Not anymore.”
Sigler said his participation in the matches reaffirmed his conviction of the absolute necessity “to educate our friends in the other shooting sports to the fact that these people are no different than we are. They’re after accuracy; they’re after the technical perfection, and it is totally unfair for them to be vilified by the national media and by the likes of the Brady Campaign and the Violence Policy Center. We really do need to be united, and we must tell our less-enlightened friends that where the fifty-caliber people are under attack, the rest of us won’t be far behind.”
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