By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
They started with regular bull’s-eye papers and progressed to smaller target dots, and about the time those lost their challenge one of them hit on the idea to shoot the tacks they were using to hold the bigger targets in place.
This sparked a running competition that’s gained a foothold in the lives of dozens of good friends in the Guntown and Fulton areas, a foothold that’s slowly spreading among a network of shooters across the state.
“We actually started shooting thumb tacks 30 years ago,” Mike Robinson, of Saltillo, said. In the intervening decades various distractions of life got in the way, but more recently he and a group of buddies have returned to the discipline and now form a regular corps of shooters that gathers several times a week at a farm near the Union County line.
Neat lines of thumbtacks crossing cardboard braced across a custom-welded frame form the background for a group centered on the joy of bench rest shooting. Though calibers and distances change according to the group’s mood and range across the full spectrum from the flat-shooting .223 Remington to the classic .35 Whelen, one of the more popular selections is .22 rimfire launched from custom target rifles at tacks set in cardboard at 50 or 100 yards.
Quality gear is critical
“You wouldn’t think you could knock out a tack at that distance,” Robinson said, “but once you find the right load that matches your rifle and get it dialed in, it all comes down to concentration. It takes about three rounds to get the barrel heated to a consistent temperature. After that, it’s all up to the shooter.”
Once the daily dial-in is accomplished, the group typically plays a few rounds of rotation, shooting in turns along the firing line, eliminating those who miss until a single shooter remains. It doesn’t take long for the good-natured jabs to begin.
“It’s a lot of fun to shoot with friends,” Andy Gusmus, of Saltillo, says. “We enjoy shooting and enjoy each other’s company. We come shoot several times a week and you never know who’ll show up on any given afternoon.”
Many of the group’s regulars rely on a German rifle brand made famous by an unparalleled track record of Olympic victories. The Anschutz target line was created for exactly the task being undertaken in the tack-shooting circle. The rifle’s precise nature, from its barrel bedding and stock configuration to a smooth, two-stage trigger, remove mechanical variabilities from the competitive equation. The weather, the wind and the person behind the rifle are all that come into play.
“It comes down to controlling your nerves and staying consistent,” Robinson said. “That’s what keeps it competitive. You never know who’ll do the best from day to day.”