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Muzzle Blasts Online
Muzzle Blasts Online Cover
Oct 1998/Nov 1998 Volume 3, Number 5

Shooting with the Best

An interview with:Sharron Smith

Sharron Smith

Sharron Smith

I'm here to tell you that Annie Oakley is alive and well. She lives in Michigan, Arizona, Texas, and other points east and west. She lives on and in the hearts of our lady shooters. If you don't believe me, just look at the ladies' record scores shot at our national events. They are every bit as good as those of their male counterparts. I read somewhere that women are built better for shooting than men. I can't argue that one way or another; but I think the ladies have an edge over men when it comes to that all-important quality we call patience. They should, after all: they have been dealing with men long enough. School teachers are another group that require great patience, which brings us to our first 'lady of the best', Sharron Smith.

Sharron is a teacher by trade, she has taught 9th through 12th grade speech and forensics (Competitive Speaking) at Beaverton High School for 22 years. I first met Sharron (over the phone) when she was the NMLRA's Territorial Coordinator. I enjoyed our conversation and learned quite a bit about the Territorial Program. She ran the territorial program from 1990 to 1995. The next time I met her was in person when she attended the 1995 Winter National. She was just as nice in person as over the phone. Sharron has been shooting muzzleloaders for 35 years. In that time she has set or tied numerous records and won a virtual horde of titles. So many in fact, that when I asked her for some of them she realized she hadn't kept count; "Someday I need to figure that out." she commented.

Here are a few that she did remember; in 1973 she won her first Michigan Women's Championship and tied the record, which she has since re-set. In 1974 she won her first NMLRA Women's Offhand Championship and tied the record. Seems like there is a definite pattern here. In the 1997 NMLRA Women's Offhand Championship she tied records in the Ladies 25-yard Offhand 6-Bull and the 50-yard Offhand 6-Bull.

When I asked her what she was most proud of she said, "I have shot 50's Offhand, from the bench, and using X-sticks. I've never shot a 100 with a pistol, but I have shot a 99 once. But the target I'm most proud of is a 50-2X, on a 6-bull, that I shot from the offhand position at Friendship." I would be too.

So take out that chewing gum, sit up straight in your chair and prepare to learn something. And yes, there will be a test - at your next shoot.

Q. How long did it take you to become a consistent winner?

A. It took three years.

Q. What changed; what put you in the winners circle?

A. My desire! I wanted to win, so I began to practice more. I worked on my stance until I could bring the rifle up on target and hold it steady.

Q. What type of rifle are you shooting now?

A. I use a percussion rifle built by Guy R. Smith. It is a .32 caliber half-stock that weighs 10 1/2 pounds. It is modeled after a modified Pennsylvania rifle that has been in my husband's family for generations. My front and rear sights are Redfield Olympic peep sights.

Q. Why did you choose that rifle and caliber?

A. My shoulder won't take very much recoil so I chose the .32 caliber, and the rifle was available. It still is not finished.

Q. How does the .32 perform at 100 yards?

A. It does very well; it has very high velocity. Of course you have to pay attention and read the wind well. Over the years I have watched the different calibers run in cycles. When I got into muzzleloading the .32 was the hot; now its the .40. I have watched women try to shoot larger calibers and not do well with them. They need to shoot a rifle and caliber combination that they can control. What makes a good women shooter is the support she is given by the person getting her into the sport. I don't care what relation they are to her, they have to give her good support. I've seen husbands get mad at their wives because they are not shooting well. Or a husband gets mad because his wife is beating him! The results are that she will probably never shoot well, or will quit altogether.

Q. Whose barrel are you using?

A. I'm using a 39 3/4" straight 15/16 Douglas octagon barrel. The bore diameter is .320 with a 1 in 66 twist. It has eight lands and grooves, with the grooves cut to a flat bottom .012" deep.

Q. How do you have it breeched?

A. It is a one-piece tang and breech with a standard drum and nipple ignition system.

Q. What nipple do you use and why?

A. I use Uncle Mike's standard Stainless Steel nipple with CCI #11 caps. My rifle is very temperamental; it doesn't like any bit of moisture. I even have problems on very humid days. With the Uncle Mike's nipple I don't have that problem. That design just works well with my rifle. If you're having a problem with your rifle you need to try different things until you find what works, then stick with it.

Q. Whose lock do you use?

A. It is a lock made by Mr. Robbins; he passed away some time ago.

Q. What kind of trigger do you use?

A. I use a double set trigger made by Max Schofield. I keep the pull at three ounces.

Q. What kind of load do you use; have you switched to any of the new black powders?

A. No, I still use Goex. My rifle likes 30 grains of FFF with 0.017" thick Teflon coated patch and a .323 diameter lead round ball that I get from Rush Creek. I use this load from 25 to 100 yards and use my sight adjustments to compensate for the drop.

Q. Do you prepare any of your loads at home, like weighing your powder charge or pre-cutting your patches?

A. No, I do everything at the range. I feel cutting my patches at the range gives me a better gas seal. I've never felt the need to pre-weigh or sift my powder.

Q. Do you weigh your round balls?

A. Yes, I think weighing them is very important. I weigh mine to within 2/10 of a grain difference. Remember that the key word is consistency, and weighing your round ball gives you that. It also gives you confidence because you have one less thing to worry about. It takes away one more excuse. I should point out that I don't actually weigh my round balls. All of the weighing chores are left to my husband, Guy R. Smith.

Q. You said you use Teflon-coated patching where do you get it?

A. I get it from Mel and Paul Hartrampt in Pennsylvania. One of the things I like about their pillow ticking is that they wash it before applying the Teflon. It makes the patching very flexible.

Q. How do you use the Teflon-coated patches? I've heard of a few different ways.

A. I wet them with saliva.

Q. You said you are using the Redfield Olympic peep sights?

A. To make the targets visible. Peep sights give you the best sight picture. My rear sight has an adjustable aperture so I can adjust it to the prevailing light conditions. My front sight is usually an aperture that sits in the middle of a short metal tube. The tube keeps the glare from my sight and gives me a more consistent sight picture.

Q. Do you use shooting glasses?

A. Yes and no, I wear prescription safety glasses, not prescription shooting glasses.

Q. What about ear protection?

A. I use the regular orange earplugs. They have a string between them that you can loop around your neck, so you can't lose them.

Q. Do you clean between shots?

A. Yes! I use one damp (wet with water or saliva) patch. I push it down, then turn it and remove it as quickly as I can. I don't let the damp patch remain in the barrel very long. I learned to clean this way because my rifle is very temperamental about moisture. You learn to do things for a particular rifle.

Q. What is your cleaning procedure at the end of the match? Does it change if you will be shooting again the next day?

A. When I'm done shooting I fill the barrel with water. Then, using a tight patch, I push the water through the nipple. I then wipe the barrel with dry patches until the last one comes out clean and dry. I oil it with SS-2 both inside and out.

Q. How often do you practice live firing or dry firing? Does this change as a big event nears?

A. I don't practice live firing, and I very seldom use dry firing whether a big shoot is coming or not. At first I did a lot of dry firing. I'd practice my stance, sight picture, and trigger control using a spot on the wall.

Q. How do you prepare for a big match?

A. I try to visualize the entire shoot. I plan what targets and what order I will shoot them in. I visualize the sight picture, the trigger squeeze, and the rifle firing.

Q. How do you plan to shoot your targets?

A. I prefer to do my shooting in the morning. I like to start at the farthest distance and with the hardest target. I then work my way back to the nearest and easiest. I also tend to shoot fast because when I was first learning to shoot we shot squaded matches with only fifteen-minute relays.

Q. What hold do you use, six-o'clock or center?

A. I use a dead-on hold for a couple of reason. The first is that I use round apertures, and that is the only realistic hold you can use. The second reason is that every target has a center. With a six-o'clock hold your sight picture and where the ball hits will change with each different target.

Q. What style of wind flags do you use and how do you use them?

A. I use a length of stainless steel rod long enough to keep the flag off the ground. The arm is a length of rod with a coned piece to sit over the ground rod. I carry different colored surveyors tape that I tie off to the arm. I carry the different colors because my eyes are really bad; I'm legally blind in one eye. With the different colors I can use the one I'm seeing best in the prevailing conditions. If I can I use the flags set up by other competitors instead of my own. But I can't always see them and have to setup my own. As to how I use them I'm probably doing it wrong. I just try to shoot when flags are in the same position as my other shots.

Q. Do you use or avoid any particular foods or drinks?

A. I avoid coffee, caffeine and fried foods. I try to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables.

Q. Do you do any kind of physical training during the year?

A. I lift weights and walk.

Q. Do you keep a shooting log or diary?

A. I wish I had kept a written account. I recommend a logbook for beginners; it can be of great help in the future. It will also be easier than keeping information in their heads, as I do now.

Q. What are you thinking about during a match?

A. When I'm loading I make sure I load everything correctly, powder, patch, ball. I'm also thinking about the conditions; are they changing as I load? It also depends on who I'm shooting with; I like to visit and not think about shooting. When I go to the line, that changes. I concentrate on shooting tens and squeezing the trigger. I check my wind flags and try to get the shot off under the same conditions.

Q. Is there any other equipment you would recommend?

A. I recommend a good spotting scope. I always use a spotting scope for practice shots. When I shoot for score I will sometimes use it to check my first shot; then I use it only after I'm finished.

Q. Why don't you use it during the match?

A. Superstition! When I pull the trigger I know where the shot went and why. If I look I put more pressure on myself to shoot a specific score. I just don't like to shoot that way. I know when I screw up, and I don't need to look to know that. Muzzleloading has forced me to be more honest with myself, so when I mess up a shot I know whose fault it is. That is key to being a good shooter. You can't improve your skills if you are always blaming something other then the true cause. Accept that you jerked the trigger and work at not doing it again!

Q. Are there any books or videos that you recommend for improving shooting skills?

A. Shooting and Winning with the Champions. [Available for $6.00 to members from NMLRA HQ - Ed.] Also anything dealing with competition.

Q. What advice do you have for a novice or advanced shooters looking to better their performance?

A. Watch the good shooters, see what they do, and try it. Also wear good, firm, high-top boots.

Q. What is the most important thing you ever learned to improve your shooting?

A. Keep your supporting elbow under the firearm and at a 90- degree angle to it. If you raise the rifle and the sights are not where they should be, lower the rifle and start the procedure over again. The gun does not have to go off each time you pull it up. People need to realize this is fun. I have a job where I get paid to put up with stress. I shoot to have fun and to get away from the stress. Shoot and have fun; don't get upset over the bad shots. There is a misconception by the beginning shooters that they can't talk to the good shooters because they are serious shooters. That is wrong! How else are you going to learn? Yes, you should wait until they are done shooting a match. If you are still not sure, just ask them when you can talk with them. I have yet to meet a person who is very knowledgeable about a particular subject but isn't willing to help. You just have to ask for it. You must know your rifle, what it likes and dislikes. You must know what you can do with it.

As Sharron said, not everything she does is going to be right for you and your rifle. It is up to you to try it. I found I can't keep up a conversation and shoot well (Those who know me say I can sure keep up a long conversation, though). I hope you found something of use here. Let me know if you get an 'A' on your next test. That's it for now. If you have a particular question you want or need answered, send it to me and I will see about adding it to the interview, or at the least I will get it answered. I'll be seeing you at the range. Thanks and Adios.

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