Outside an entrance to the Green Valley Rifle and Pistol Club’s Chapman Academy Range, nine flags fly in the breeze. The United States is represented, as are Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Japan and Australia.
Stephen Larner hails from Australia and came to Hallsville to participate for the first time in the 29th annual NRA Bianchi Cup. It’s an event that draws not only local participants but competitors from all over the world. Almost 200 will compete in the cup, the premier championship for action pistol shooting.
Larner has been competing in action pistol shooting for about two years, although he estimates he has been shooting for 10 to 15. He said he made a deal with himself that at age 40 he would buy himself a Harley. He never bought the motorcycle, but after a friend invited him to a shooting club, he found a new hobby.
“I fell in love with the sport then and there,” he said.
Larner’s teammates, Darryl Carnicelli and Leon Ovens, are all passionate about their sport. The men, who represent the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia, came into the sport differently. Carnicelli injured his knee playing basketball, and, unable to run anymore, started shooting pistols. Ovens, a veteran scuba diver, discovered it when he sold a hunting rifle to a police officer who introduced him to the sport of competitive shooting.
In some respects, the competitors said they feel more at ease practicing their sport in the U.S. — Australia has stricter gun laws, and handgun ownership is dependent on competition.
“In Australia, I would take off my team shirt before leaving the range,” Ovens said. But wearing team shirts on the flight to the U.S. was completely different.
“People were coming up to us and wishing us luck,” Carnicelli said.
The competitors also agreed it was cheaper to practice action pistol shooting in the United States than in Australia. Larner estimated that it is two to three times less expensive to buy things like ammunition in the U.S.
Action pistols are built for speed and accuracy. The competition is composed of four different target shooting events, with shooters required to compete in all four. Yet it’s more than just a tournament.
“The social aspect of it is very good,” Carnicelli said.
Larner agreed, “You’re meeting new people all the time.”
For some competitors, including Larner, attending the competition is the first trip to the U.S.
Dirk Borchardt is making his first visit to the U.S., along with 14 others from across Germany. This is also his first time competing in the Bianchi Cup.
“Two minutes before my first match I was so cool,” he said. But his nerves hit when he found himself standing on the shooting range. “I was scared like a little kid,” he said.
Although he didn’t perform as well as he wanted to, Borchardt said he enjoyed himself. “I have nothing to win and nothing to lose,” he said.
Learning to calm the nerves is an important part of the sport, especially for those who have traveled from so far away.
“You try and use your subconscious to do shooting,” Carnicelli said. “If you think, you’re in trouble.”
For some, having a prematch routine is a good way to focus. “As shooters we are creatures of habit, whether in a match or in practice,” Carnicelli said.
Part of Carnicelli’s routine is the wide-brimmed hat he wears while shooting. He said that when he accidentally left his hat in a motel and had to borrow a baseball cap he didn’t shoot as well. “It throws off your entire concentration,” he said of changes in routine.
Larner agreed that an ability to focus is important. Right before competing in the moving target event he noted that sometimes “stupid little things drop into your head.” In his case, the thoughts are usually about his job.
As he stood with his feet hip-width apart and fired at the series of moving targets, it was impossible to tell what was going through his mind.
It must not have been about work because Larner said he felt good about his results.
“It was about what I would do at home,” he said. “Can’t complain about that.”