Interview – Jim Laughland –

Jim LaughlandJim Laughland has more patches commemorating all the different years he’s shot at the National Matches than there are rounds fired in a LEG Match. The very friendly and excellent shooter shares some of his many stories and pictures in our interview below.
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Distinguished Rifleman Badge: 1964

Farr Trophy (High Service Rifle 1000-yard Wimbledon Cup): 1965

National Trophy (National Trophy Team Match): 1977

Hilton Trophy
(High National Guard, National Trophy Team Match): 1963, 1977

High Grand Senior Service Rifle (National Matches): 2008, 2009, 2014
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1: What was your experience like when starting out in highpower?

My first experience was in 1955 with the Washington State National Guard to qualify with the M1 rifle. I was 17 and had already been shooting .22cal rifles for a few years, earning my Jr. NRA Distinguished Marksman Badge when I was 16. I was going to show these National Guardsmen what a good shooter I was, but didn’t even qualify Marksman. At 118-lbs the M1 rifle beat me up. I eventually did make Marksman, but my shoulder and cheek were all black and blue! The following year I heard they were having a tryout for the State Rifle Team to go to Camp Perry and shoot in the National Rifle Matches. I went to those tryouts having never shot at 300 or 600-yards before and had no idea about things like checking the wind or light conditions for sight settings. At the tryouts, we shot the National Match Course twice. Col. James could only take nine members to go with him to Camp Perry. After he had selected eight members, I had not yet been chosen. With only one spot left he said, “I have two young shooters trying real hard, but I can only take one of them”. I knew I could shoot better and I just prayed that I would be the one selected… I was! I think that if he had not picked me, I would’ve cried! In those two 20-shot matches at 600-yards, I’d only averaged 75/100 on the old 5-V targets.

Jim Laughland - SmallboreIt took 2 1/2 days on a train across the country to make it to Camp Perry. The first three days we all went to the Army Marksmanship Unit training classes and fired the National Match Course twice. By the end of the class, my 600-yard average bumped up to 85! After that course we had another practice at 600-yards. My team captain, Col. James had earned his Distinguished Rifleman Badge back in 1936. He shot right next to me on that beautiful sunny day with very little wind. I shot 99/100 on the 5th time I’d ever shot at that distance. I was so happy that Col. James was there to see it and to show him that he hadn’t made a mistake by selecting me for the team!

That trip to Camp Perry for the National Matches was the first NRA matches I’d ever fired in, therefore I was unclassified. By the end of those matches, I’d shot an Expert Rifleman Classification. When it came time to shoot in the team matches, I was selected to shoot as the 5th man on the team and ended up cleaning all my rapid fire strings both at 200 and 300-yards. Back in those days, when you fired standing – you could not rest your elbow on your hip. I was shooting the standing position with my hand extended out to the end of the stock! It was a VERY unstable position and my standing scores were just terrible. The following year, one of the older sergeants in my company suggested that I hold the rifle at the balance point right around the trigger housing and my scores jumped up many points!

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2: Who were your mentors? What do you remember most from these experiences and what still rings true?

During the Winter seasons, I would shoot indoors with the Seattle Rifle & Pistol Club at the National Guard Armory – about a mile from my house. When shooting slow-fire sitting with the .22, I would use a crosslegged position. But when I tried that with the M1, the recoil would knock me out of position. A friend’s mother was one of the top shooters in the state – Alice Bull was the first woman to get her Distinguished Rifleman’s Badge and she did it with an M1! She suggested that I use her crossed ankle position to get the body lower to the ground. When we went outside again in the Spring, I found it worked very well in the seated stages. 56-years of shooting later and I’m still using it!

As a new shooter, I’d watch and listen to the older shooters and talk to them about their positions. I’d also talk to them about learning how to determine the sight settings to use on a windy day and for shooting under different light conditions. One of the most important things I learned was to keep a good scorebook, noting all the light and wind conditions and temperature for each range I fire on.

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3: Can you describe some of your most memorable milestones or breakthroughs? Both starting out and along the journey to competing nationally.

With 58-years of highpower shooting behind me, I have lots of good memories and milestones to look back upon!

That first year at Camp Perry with the Washington State National Guard Team, we only got 50-seconds to shoot the 10-shot rapid-fire at 200-yards. Towards the end of the string, our coach started yelling at me to SHOOT ‘EM, SHOOT ‘EM, SHOOT ‘EM because I was running out of time. After getting all of my shots off, the coach asked me what I was doing down there and why I was taking so long. I wear an eyepatch on my left eye. It had slipped and I was trying to adjust it! When my target finally came up for score, I’d cleaned it with 4-V. The Col. could not say much more than “Good Shooting!”, but without him yelling at me – I’d of definitely had some saved rounds! Camp Perry had just put in the 300-yard line that year and the grass had not had a chance to catch. It was a very rainy day and by the time we got back there it was very muddy. I was the only one of the team that had remembered to bring a poncho and had been keeping dry with it over my shoulders between relays. Our Captain asked if I’d be willing to donate it as a groundcloth for our firing point. By the time I was up as the 5th shooter, my poncho had created puddles exactly where my support side and trigger side elbows would go! But once I got to shooting, I didn’t move at all! I was stuck in the mud and cleaned the target! I’d earned two medals that year shooting in the unclassified shooter category. I’d also missed the first week of my senior year of high school because I was on active duty with that National Guard Team shooting at the National Matches! A month after getting home, the NRA sent me my Expert Classification Card.

Five or so years later, I’d moved to New York and was shooting with the New York National Guard, 71st Regiment. I got my Master Classification at Fort Dix, New Jersey and earned my first LEG Medal towards the Distinguished Rifleman’s Badge. Our team would go over to New Jersey to fire the NRA smallbore sectional matches, which I won in 1961. In May of 1962, our team was shooting at Camp Smith, NY in the New York National Guard State Championships. My brother Bill and I shot on the team and we won the 6-man Team Championship. We also won the 3-man, Company Team Match that year and I was able to go to Camp Perry with the New York State Team.

On December 1st of 1962, I moved from New York to Baltimore for work at the Westinghouse Electric Corporation and joined the Maryland National Guard, 175th Regiment. That next year, our Maryland State Team won the Hilton Trophy at Camp Perry for the High National Guard Team in the National Trophy Team Match.

In 1963 & 1964, I earned enough LEG points for the Distinguished Rifleman Badge which I was presented with in December of 1964. Under the old rules I should have earned the Distinguish Rifleman Badge in 1963, but the rules had changed in January of that year from needing three leg metals to earning 30 points in order to earn the badge…

1967 was the last year that the National Guard sent their State Teams to shoot at Camp Perry, opting instead to create the National Guard Matches in Little Rock, Arkansas just for the guard teams. These were the Winston P. Wilson matches. The first year I went was 1974 and I took a 2nd Place in the rapid fire sitting match and 2nd Place in the 600-yard match. I also made the Chiefs 50.

In 1977 I was invited to Phoenix, Arizona for the tryouts of the All National Guard National Rifle Team. When we got to Camp Perry for the National’s, I shot very well for the individual matches – but when they selected the teams, I was put on as an alternate. The night before the big team match I went to the post theater and watched Star Wars for the first time. When I woke up the next morning and made it over to the mess hall, the wind was already blowing 30 to 40-MPH out at 2 o’clock from the direction of the range. I’d just said to my buddy, “I’m glad I don’t have to shoot in this wind today!” as some of the coaches were leaving for the range. Col. Easley then came right to me and told me I’d be shooting on Don Himes’ team, would be the first man up and to have my rifle and ammo ready to go! I was shocked and surprised to be called in at the last minute to fill in for Jack Sperling, who was scheduled to shoot. Basically, this was the second team. I hadn’t shot with the All-Guard team for 10-years because I was busy going to night school getting my engineering degree and having four kids… But this had me feeling like it was the 7th game of the World Series in the bottom of the 9th with bases loaded and a 3/2 count with three runs behind! We could only win with a home run! I was the first shooter, pair-firing with Jim Meger. It was really a struggle to hold the rifle steady in the wind that morning, and after nine shots I really spent a lot of time on the 10th trying to get that shot off. I ended up with a 6 which gave me a total of 84 that day in Standing. Jim Meger came off that line with a 92 – which was SUPER under those conditions! The rest of the way I only dropped 12 more points and Jim dropped 20. We both ended up with a 472, although Jim had a couple more X’s than I did. We were tied for high score on the team! But then we realized that we’d also beaten the Marines by 12-points to win the National Trophy Team Match for the first time in 65-years as a National Guard Team! This was the high point of my shooting career because I hit that grand slam home to help our team win.

The following year we came in second to the Army Reserve Team. In 1979, the NRA introduced the High Master Classification and by May 30 of that year I had my card… the first one on the All-Guard Team. There were a total of 26 that year at Camp Perry shooting in the High Master category.

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4. Describe your routine to help you stay on top of your best game?

Off-Season: Shooting pellet rifles or .22 caliber rifles indoors at least once a week.

Mid-Season: Shooting the National Match Course once a week and dry-firing at home in the standing position mainly.

Ramping up to bigger matches: Going out to the range the day before a match to practice really helps on match day.

The first year I went to Camp Perry, our team captain told everyone to just live the way we normally do at home… By the end of the two weeks I had concluded that the other nine guys were all alcoholics! Haha!

One important thing is that you have to keep up your physical strength all year round to get the most solid positions. Having good solid positions helps a great deal with your mental outlook when shooting a match.

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5: How important is technique, mental program, and equipment in influencing your performance? What is their proportional influence?

Finding the best position possible is a trial and error process of experimenting and talking to other shooters. It is important to find positions that suit your physical and mental makeup. You also want to have the best rifles and shooting equipment possible to display your maximum shooting abilities. After shooting for near 60-years, I had both eyes operated on and a cataract removed so I could see the sights and target clearly again. It really helps your mental attitude when you’re able to see what you’re shooting at!

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6: What was the toughest match you’ve ever competed in where you held it together? What was that like?

April, 1961. It was a smallbore match in New Jersey. The NRA Sectional Match consisted of 20-shots prone, sitting, kneeling and standing. The night before the match I went on a date in Manhattan to a show and dinner. By the time I got to the match in New Jersey, I had been up for 24-hours. Out of the 96-competitors, I ended up winning the match with no sleep!

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7: If you had to choose only ONE answer, what has helped you improve the most towards your goals in highpower?

Having good coaches, listening to them and taking their advice! Always be open to listen for new ideas!

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8: Why do you continue to stay involved with highpower?

In 2003 one of my team members let me shoot his AR-15 Space Gun. When I shot the 200-yard 600 reduced target, I shot a 200-10X. I said to my friend, “I need one of these”. I’d been shooting my M-1A rifle ever since I’d retired from the National Guard in 1985. That winter we built a AR-15 Space Gun for me. I shot that Space Gun from 2004 through 2007.

In 2007 I was coaching at a clinic put on by our state Association. The President of the association gave me their schedule and asked if I’d come shoot with them. After the local matches, I decided to go with them to Camp Perry as part of the their team shooting a Space Gun. While at Perry, I got myself an AR-15 Service Rifle. I’ve gone to the National Matches every year since with my Service Rifle. I won the Grand Senior Service Rifle championships in 2008, 2009, and 2014. So the desired to win is what has kept me shooting!

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In 2012, I noticed when driving that my right thumb would twitch and move. After reading up on it, I went to a doctor in 2015 and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I’m determined to continue shooting until I become a hazard on the rifle range!

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9: Thursday, August 26th, 1965: Viale Range, 1000-yard line. What can you tell us about that day?

The National Matches in 1965 at Camp Perry was a very good year for me. In the President’s Hundred I came in 27th out of 2000 and High National Guard with a score of 149-9/150-30V.

The Wimbledon thousand yard match was made up of three stages. The first stage was 20 shots for record plus, sighting shots. When that match was over, the top two Any-Sights rifle shooters (scopes) and the top two Service Rifle shooters from each relay would be notified and a couple days later we had a 10-shot match. When that match was over, the top-10 of each category were notified and the next day we had a sudden death shoot off match.

The day of the shoot off, we had a pretty stiff wind coming in from the left and I’d put about 12-minutes of windage on my sights to compensate. The 20-shooters would all shoot just one shot and the targets would go down. First would raise all the missed shots. Then they’d raise all the 3’s, then all the 4’s, then all the 5’s… My target was the only one that came up with a V and I’d won the Farr Trophy! The Service Rifle Championship of the Wimbledon Cup!

I was so excited that I started to get up, but then quickly realized I was still in it and could win the overall Wimbledon Cup. They went through the same process with the Any-Sight rifles and only 2 V’s came up. Those other 17-shooters all left the firing line, leaving only 3 of us: Lance Cpl Carlos Hathcock, Sgt. Sanchez and myself.

On our 2nd shot, the wind that had caught everyone else finally caught the three of us and we were all blown out of the black into the white rings. LPC Hathcock shot a 4, just inside and Sanchez and myself both got 3’s just out. Hatchcock had won the Wimbledon Cup. The M-14 rifle I was shooting that year was one I was issued at Camp Perry. After winning those two trophies, the All National Guard Team came over to my team captain and asked if I could shoot with them in the Infantry Trophy Team Match. I had the privilege and honor to meet Maj. Gen. Winston P. Wilson, Chief of the National Guard Bureau – who was the prime mover to get the All-Guard Team formed.
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The following year in 1966, I also made the President’s Hundred and got into the sudden death shoot off in the world cup match. Carlos was not there that year. In 1967 he was back to Camp Perry and I was telling him that I’d made the sudden death to shoot off again. He just grinned and said that, “Well, he was in a shoot off even flashier himself!” His first tour of duty in Vietnam as a sniper.

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10: What would you like to talk about that wasn’t covered in the previous questions?

I would like to mention some of the wonderful shooters that I’ve had the privilege and honor to shoot with over my shooting career:
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Left to right: Jim Laughland, Lee Bull, Alice bull and Jimmy Porter

Alice Bull from Seattle, Washington. A member of the Seattle Rifle & Pistol Club and the Washington State High-Power team in the 1950s and 60s. The first woman to receive the Distinguished Rifleman Badge in 1961 at the age of 53. In the 1959 photo are from left to right, Jim Laughland, Lee Bull, Alice Bull and Jimmy Porter. Jimmy’s father was the president of the NRA at that time. Jimmy was president of the NRA In 2014.
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LT Margaret Thompson Murdoch was a member of the 1958 Kansas State Civilian Team when we met. Margaret made All-American on the Kansas State University Rifle Team before joining the Army to shoot with the Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, GA. In 1965 she was was the winner of the Navy Cup 20-shot offhand match and also was the high woman in the President’s Match. She later shot in the 1976 Olympics tied for the Gold Medal only to get the silver after the tie-breaker.
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Camp Perry during the 1963 National Trophy Team Match. I was the first shooter online with the Maryland National Guard Rifle Team. We won the National Guard Trophy that year, The Hilton Trophy.
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Jim Laughland and SFC Noel Chandler

SFC Noel Chandler of the Maryland National Guard Rifle Team was my shooting partner that year and as well as the National Guard Champion.
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Jim Laughland and Gary Anderson

Gary Anderson was a member of the Iowa National Guard Team when we met in 1963 at Camp Perry. Later on we shot together the All National Guard Team.
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Jim Laughland receiving the High Grand Senior Service Rifle Award, National Matches, Camp Perry, OH - alongside other award winners Carl Bernosky and David Tubb,

Carl Bernosky from Pennsylvania (left). I met him in 1977 when he was a young kid that came to Camp Perry and won the National Rifle Championship by 4 or 5 points over a Marine shooter D. I. Boyd. He came back the next year and to show it wasn’t a one-time event, he won for the next four years. He has now won it a total of 10-times. In 1981, he came down to Maryland to shoot in the Maryland State championship and somehow I beat him with my M-14 at Fort Meade, Maryland. This photo was taken as the COL. presented me with the trophy for being the High Grand Senior Service Rifle Champion in 2008. I also won the trophy in 2009 and 2014. I first met David Tubb in 2007 but met his father back in 1959 at the National Matches. David has won the national championship 11-times.
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Jim Laughland and Nancy Tomkins

Nancy Clark Gallagher Tomkins from Arizona. In 1977, I was shooting with the all National Guard Team out in Phoenix, Arizona, and Nancy Clark a young teenager who was shooting some good scores along with us. At Camp Perry that year she won the long range championship. She was also the first woman to win the national rifle championship in 1998.
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Jim Laughland with Sherri Gallagher and Julia Watson in the pits of Viale Range at the National Matches, Camp Perry, OH

SGT Sherri Gallagher, a then member of the Army Marksmanship Unit and Julia Watson of the US Marine Corps Team. I met them at Camp Perry in 2007. In all my photos, Sherri is the only person shorter that I am… but she holds the record for winning the National Rifle Championship in 2010 with a score of 2396/2400!

 

Part one of Jim’s Shooting Story… be sure to click through for parts two and three!

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