Follow the Walters from Camp Perry to the NRA Whittington Center
Raton, New Mexico - A lot of shooters compete in multiple disciplines and Ronald and Barbara Walters are no different. These two are fresh from Camp Perry's High Power Long Range Championships which ended last week.
"We came from Camp Perry last tuesday," Ron told me, who began shooting in high school as a member of a junior rifle club. "We went back home to Michigan, Barb canned some pickles and did some laundry and I packed the van and traded out high power stuff for black powder stuff."
"This was my 30th year and her 26th at Perry. When I first started shooting competitively I had an itch to get an M1 Garand and the only way you could get it was through the CMP, so in 1978 I borrowed one from a friend and went to my first high power match. They put me with some master who had been shooting for years and years and he says 'You're going to do good, son.' He was impressed I knew how to load it and keep my thumb on it."
Both of the Walters were raised as hunters and Barb got plenty of experience with three bothers.
"I used to do some trapping and found out she could skin a beaver, flesh it and do everything because of her brothers," Ron said. "I used to go out and get a couple ducks in the morning, go back out to get a couple more, and she'd have the first ones cleaned when i got home."
As Barb began to accompany Ron to more competitions as a spectator, she began to get interested in doing it herself.
"I said I think I could do this, could you give me some equipment?" Barb explained. "So I borrowed his jacket and his gun and all the equipment."
"Second-rate rate gun, second-rate ammo, and now she uses the best of everything," Ron added laughing. "The first time she shot a 600 she was mad because I beat her by one point. And I'd been doing it for five years."
"And since then my scores started getting better because Ron was my coach, but that's not always the easiest thing for a husband and wife," Barb went on. "I had to step back and take things literally instead of personally. It took me a while to get over it and I'm thankful that I did because he's been an extremely good coach."
"We both learned to shoot high power on the M1 Garand and then we both got into M14s for a long time," Ron said.
"Love them M14," Barb said.
"Then the AR came along and I started playing with them when you didn't have the right bullets or the right barrels," said Ron. "I got fairly decent at it and found i could shoot it better than the M14 because of the recoil, but she didn't like it at all."
"I went back to the M14 and did pretty well with that," Barb said.
"Pretty well" is being modest. Barb has become a great shooter over the years and now usually outshoots her husband.
Without many long range facilities in Michigan, a few cartridge rifle shooters began showing up to their high power club interested in shooting alongside everyone - just for the fun of it.
"Well I kind of got the bug and I'd always wanted a single shot rifle anyway, so a friend and I bought a gun and we got into it," Ron said. "We decided we wanted to start having organized matches started a regional, a long range governor's trophy championship and a a mid range championship."
"I've had a bad back and for the last eight or nine years years and I can't shoot high power anymore because I can't lay down. In black powder I can shoot sitting up on sticks and it's wonderful."
One day a shooter told Ron to bring his wife out to a black powder match.
"I said 'You don't want my wife to come, she'll beat you,'" Ron said before imitating the shooter's dismissive groan. "Well, she started coming and she started beating him and I said 'I told ya.'"
"They say it's hard to cross over from high power to black powder because reading the wind is one thing, but corrections are so different since the bullet is so slow and goes so high up in the air. I was a lifetime expert high power shooter and after my first two matches I made master because of my wind reading ability."
"We first came here three years ago in 2010," Ron began.
"It was unknown what it would be like and I had no expectations of doing anything," Barb continued. "But I ended up winning seven medals and last year i got seven more. jonathan has made some great strides to improving the match since we've been coming out here."
"She's embarrassed to tell you, but she has 23 national women's records," Ron said glowing. "Wost of them are women's but now she has a couple senior records that she's beat the men for. She's at the point where she's starting to beat her own records."
One of the things the Walters' love about the NRA Black Powder Championships is being around people who are so happy to be there.
"In our high power shooting and some of the other things we do, people just aren't quite as friendly as the people here," Ron said.
"Very true," Barb added.
"We met Steve Rhodes and Kenny Wasserburger when we first came out here," Ron said of the friendships they've formed over the years. "We're signed up for Kidwell's match in Georgia this September. It's just the group of people to be around. It makes the drive down here worth it."
"And doing it the old fashioned way with black powder is so much more challenging."
Another thing the Waters like so much about these championships are that you can drive between stages.
"With high power you park at the very back of the range and physically carry everything with you in one trip," Barb said. "You get tired walking between stages from 200, to 300 and back to 600. You get tired here too, but you can at least pack everything in your car and drive to the next firing point."
The Walters have shot more than just black powder and high power. They've dabbled in pistol, shotgun and muzzleloader as well.
"In the last couple years our local club started action pistol, shooting bowling pins and plates. We got so excited the first year we shared a gun and the next Christmas Santa Claus bought us a pair of 1911s," Ron said laughing.
Ron has been reloading since he was 14 and does it for the both of them.
"I enjoy the reloading as much as i do the shooting," Ron explained. "Everyone tells me I make wonderfully cast bullets and it's just something I take pride in."
And it's a good thing Ron enjoys it, because the Walters go through a lot of ammunition.
"We shot around 1,500 rounds last year of .45," Barb said. "In our biggest year that we were shooting across the course, we went through 11,000 rounds between the two of us."
"One time I bought a 100 lb keg of powder and burnt it up in four years,"said Ron. "People are amazed about the amount of ammunition we go through. For the Black Powder Championships this year I cast 7,500 bullets - one at a time. It took me all of December and then in January I sat by the fire and greased all those bullets. I still have to reload between matches because we don't have enough brass to do the whole thing."
The Walters do a lot of traveling in order to go through so many bullets.
"We enjoy the traveling," Ron said. "This year we will have had 14 matches that we've gone to, including two nationals. We go home, work in the garden, work around the house and get things ready for matches on friday and then we're gone for the weekend."
New this year, to help make their travels a little easier, the Walters put a bed in a large van they've dubbed the Shooting Shack. Instead of spending money on hotel rooms while they're driving to and from matches, the Shooting Shack lets them pull right over to a rest area and get some sleep before heading back out.
Barb, who has been a registered nurse for 42 years is preparing to retire this year and is finally getting to do something she's never had time for - practice. But she's been doing so well over the years that she's a little pensive to get out on the range when it doesn't count.
"I've been thinking that if I practice maybe it'll jinx me and i won't do well anymore," Barb said laughing.
A black powder match is a little difficult to describe to those not familiar with the shooting world, but the Walters have found an effective way to do it.
"We say 'Have you seen the movie Quigley Down Under? We don't shoot buckets, but that's the same rifle we use,'" Ron chuckled.
"Well how big is the scope?" they ask.
"We don't have a scope," Ron tells them.
"Well what do you see?"
"A little black dot."
"That's a half a mile."
"No, it's 5/8ths of a mile."
"You tell them it takes 3.5 seconds for the bullet to get there and they just shake their head," Ron laughed.
"You're nuts," Barb mimicked a reaction.
On the firing line, the Walters are some of the friendliest people you could meet. And it's shooters like them that make the NRA Black Powder Target Rifle Championships so fun to attend. They also show that you can successfully make the transition from high power to black powder. If you're a high power shooter and have ever been interested in black powder target rifles, there's never been a batter time to get involved.