‘Rattle Battle’ brings out best in junior shooters

By Kevin Sauls, The Union Democrat December 31, 2008 01:22 pm

RECORD-SETTING GRIZZLIES (from left) Chad Kurgan, David Lee Bahten, Kyle Stewart and Anthony Henderson zero in with their Tikka .223 practice rifles at the Mother Lode Gun Club’s indoor range. Their Camp Perry competition rifles they use are modified military M-16s. Kevin Sauls/Union Democrat, copyright 2008
It’s called the Rattle Battle, and it’s the World Series or Super Bowl of competitive shooting.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind match,” said Robert Taylor, coach of the California Grizzlies Junior Service Rifle Team. “It’s the one match everybody wants to shoot.”

The Rattle Battle — more formally known as the National Trophy Team Match — is contested each summer during the National Rifle and Pistol Championships at Camp Perry, a National Guard post on the shore of Lake Erie in northern Ohio. All the top civilian and military shooters in the nation, even the world, are there.

Six-person teams line up — eight at a time — along a quarter-mile firing line, starting at 600 yards. The targets are of the military variety, human upper-body silhouettes, rather than the usual bull’s eyes.

At the command to begin, all the shooters start firing as fast as they can, sending as many rounds downrange as possible in 50 seconds.

Shooters then hustle up to 500 yards and do it all over again, laying down a barrage aimed at slightly smaller silhouettes.

Next, it’s 300 yards and even smaller targets.

When it’s over — and it’s over fast — whichever teams hits the most targets the most often, wins.

In 2008, that team was the Grizzlies. With three shooters and a captain from the Mother Lode Gun Club, the Grizzlies not only won the junior championship but set a national junior record in the process.

David Lee Bahten, 19, Anthony Henderson, 18, and Chad Kurgan, 18, did the shooting while Kyle Stewart, 18, served as non-shooting captain at the request of the team’s coach, Jim O’Connell of Alameda.

In various combinations and also as individuals, the Grizzlies also brought home a number of other titles and honors.

For all they accomplished, they are runners-up for The Union Democrat’s 30th Sports Figure of the Year Award.

The Rattle Battle was the big one.

“It was pretty awesome,” said Kurgan, a senior at Summerville High School. “We want to break the record again next year.”

Stewart, a Sonora High School senior, agreed.

“Definitely,” he said. “We have all the same guys coming back, so it should happen.”

Henderson, a freshman at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said he wasn’t sure about the record.

“We knew we won,” he said, “but we didn’t know we’d set a national record.”

Stewart, from his coaching perspective, was certain.

“I thought we had it pinned,” he said. “It went better than anybody thought it could go. I thought, ‘That’s the smoothest I’ve ever seen anybody run through that thing — especially for juniors.’ ”

The Grizzlies — the foothill shooters, plus Kathryn Bugg and Cheyanne Acebo of Vacaville, and Joshua Lehn of Lemoore — broke the old record by 29 points with a score of 1,233.

“We shattered it,” Stewart said.

The team also gave California its first victory in the event — junior or adult — in more than 20 years.

The Grizzlies used the standard strategy in the match while faced with eight targets at each distance. Four shooters in the middle aimed at one target apiece, while what Taylor called “swing shooters” on each end fired at two targets each.

The Grizzlies’ closest junior competition came from an Arizona team. The match was close through 600 yards, but the Grizzlies surged ahead at 500 yards and, in the words of Henderson, “at 300 yards, we smoked ‘em.”

Perhaps as amazing as their victory and record was the fact that the Grizzlies, who topped a field of 20 junior teams, were fifth overall out of 58 total teams. They were bested only by two military teams and two civilian adult teams.

“That’s incredible,” Taylor said.

Part of the fun for the Grizzlies was shooting right next to a U.S. Marine Corps Reserve team.

“We whooped them,” said Bahten, whose day job is as a welder. “Their coach was going up and down the line cussing at them.”

Recalled Taylor, “When you’re a Marine and you’re in line with a bunch of kids, and the lowest score of one of the junior targets equals your total score ... their coach — and he was a former national service rifle champion — had reason to be mad.”

The Grizzlies also won the National Trophy Individual Team title — nearly setting another record — and the Four-Man Junior Service Rifle championship.

Henderson, Kurgan, Bahten and Stewart each came out of the Camp Perry competition (sponsored by the National Rifle Association) with Top 50 national junior service rifle rankings — Henderson No. 11, Kurgan No. 18, Bahten No. 20 and Stewart No. 47.

Also, Bahten ranked No. 8, Kurgan No. 9 and Henderson No. 30 in the National Trophy Junior Service Rifle championship, and Bahten No. 9, Henderson No. 11, Kurgan No. 12 and Stewart No. 14 in the President’s Match.

The Grizzlies’ names popped up all over the championships:

• Kurgan and Bahten were fourth, Henderson and Bugg eighth in the Whistler Boy Match.

• Kurgan was first, second, fourth and fourth Master, respectively, in the Vandenberg Cup, Members Trophy, Scott Trophy and Coast Artillery Trophy; fourth master in the Coast Guard Trophy and the Appreciation Cup, and high Junior and first Master in the Cavalry Cup. 

• Henderson was high Junior and first Master in the Navy Cup and the Crescent Cup.

• Bahten was first Junior and fourth High Master in the Coast Guard Trophy, second overall and high Junior in the Marine Corps Cup, and third High Master in the Air Force Cup.    

All figure on doing even better in 2009.

What do they plan to do in the meantime?

Bahten and Kurgan: “Practice.”

Henderson: “Get all prepped and get ready to reload.”