INTERVIEW WITH ARMANDO AYALA
For our first interview of a Running Target Shooter, we asked Armando Ayala of the AMU to help us introduce this little known, but difficult sport. Armando has been a US Team member for some years, and was the first American to win a World Cup in this event.
Tell me a little about your background and how you started shooting.
I started shooting competitively in high school, at El Paso High School, in their JROTC program and I shot four years there. Then I shot four years in college at the University of Texas, El Paso. I was a Collegiate All American, then I got recruited to shoot for the Army Team. It was then that I switched over to running target and I’ve been on the US Team for the past four years. Since then I’ve won five national championships, was the first American to win a World Cup, got an Olympic Quota slot, and here I am.
That was last year at Atlanta?
What rifle do you shoot?
A Feinwerkbau P70.
What were you shooting before the P70 came out?
I was shooting the Steyr.
Was that the CO2 gun?
I was shooting CO2, and before that I was shooting a 601.
You were shooting the 601 in running target configuration?
Yes, it was a starter gun.
When you started out with JROTC had you done any shooting, or did you walk into it cold?
No, I shot recreationally. I grew up in Fort Stockdale Texas. I got my first BB gun when I was six years old, I wore it out, then started hunting with a 22 and then started taking interest in competitive shooting when I got to high school.
Did you go in the JROTC because of the shooting program or was that just an extra benefit?
No, that was a benefit. I joined the program and then was turned on to their team and I started shooting for them.
Were you in an ROTC program at college as well?
Yes I was. I was supposed to be commissioned in 1995 but had to make a decision between commissioning and shooting at the time, and I chose to shoot and be enlisted.
Tell me a little bit about how you go through your match preparations?
When I first get to the range I go through a series of stretching. I stretch my arms, legs, my shoulders and back. And then I go into exercises to warm up my shoulders and my back primarily, because they are the main muscles you will use to shoot, and that will take about half an hour. Then I get suited up and then I start my mount shooting, where you’re just mounting the gun, warming up the muscles. I’ll do that for about ten or fifteen minutes, then I’ll start shooting on a stationary target for about ten minutes. Then I’ll start rotating, trying to stay level with the stationary targets, rotating through to warm up my back and my shoulders, and that will go on and off probably three or four times. I rotate until I feel a little bit of muscle burn, something to warm them up. I set the gun down, take a five minute break, come back and do it again, set it down for a few more minutes and then do it one more time until I feel ready. Then I wait, then go on to the dry firing for shooting competition.
I know you’re able to live fire a lot, but do you do much dry firing in practice?
Oh yes. I do an equal amount of dry firing as live firing.
What is your most valuable practice drill?
Probably dry firing, because I’m focusing on different aspects of shooting running target. My initial move, I get to concentrate on those few things while still going through the entire shot process and not have to worry about producing a score at that time. So when I’m dry firing I’m working on individual areas, whether it be my initial move, my shot break or follow through. I’ll focus on those until I feel I’m proficient at those and go on to live fire.
What sort of scope do you use?
I’m using a Nickel scope, from Germany. A 4.2 power dual post reticle.
How do you set it up, do you have the post directly under the center of the bull, or a little forward of it?
For my post I’m using center mass; I’m putting the top of the post dead center of the aiming dot.
When you’re doing the dry fire drill, you’re just stationery dry firing? Do you ever draw a line on the wall?
I track on a line. Some ranges will just have a lot of stationary targets, but they’re all level, so I’ll track through the middle of all the targets downrange. Anything that’s level downrange that I know is pretty much close to the height of the target, I’ll use that.
How do you handle the mental game during the match?
I have a shot plan, the same things that I do before every shot. You know, as far as loading, the number of breaths I take, and I focus on that while going through my shot process.
Do you track through at the same speed as the target or sweep through like a shotgunner?
Your follow through you want to be on target, you don’t want to be practising coming off that target at any time. If your timing’s off or you’re a little bit late on that trigger and you come off that target, running target is a little bit more difficult when you’re moving. You’re on plane, everything’s there, you make that shot. If you come off a little bit it’ll go from a ten to eight or seven. Timing is very critical.
I notice there were a lot of tens being shot the other day when I was watching it, and a lot of eights or worse.
Right, that’s just a lack of timing I think. During my performance was a lack of timing. I was on deep in the ten ring, didn’t break it, something in your track, your hold, something goes wrong, it’s going to go way out because it’s in motion.
Do you change your practice routine to be different between off season or lesser matches to coming into a match like this?
I’m pretty consistent. I try to keep it the same, don’t want to change anything.
Did you find it was a big mental changeover switching from a stationary target to a moving target?
Yes. I’m used to shooting a rifle where I can back off of a shot, take a little bit more time to take a shot, for it not to feel right to come off a shot and start over. You don’t have that luxury in running target. When that target comes out, you’ve got five seconds or two and a half seconds to execute that shot or you’re minus ten points.
What sort of difficulties did you encounter there and how did you overcome them?
After supporting all the weight of the gun, weighing 5.5 kilograms, supporting all with your muscles instead of using your bone structure, that was probably my biggest challenge. Trying to hold that gun just as still using my muscles. Once I got through that I had to get into trying to hold on the same sized target but in motion. It was a challenge, and I’ve worked hard at it and overcame it.
How do you go about setting up the balance weights on the end of the barrel? Is it personal preference?
It is, but of course you start with a light weight and practise holding it, and once I can hold it and control that weight a little better then I’ll add a bit more. You do get to a point where you can see what we call a wobble pattern. Downrange where you’re holding the gun there’s a little bit of movement and by adding weight it elongates and slows down that movement. So we work up to a point where it pretty much levels out. You can control it, it moves good, it doesn’t move too fast or too slow and still being comfortable without getting tired. It’s a long process. It probably took me seven months to train up to the weight that I’m at now, and figured out that I could perform better with that weight. It’s just a process of elimination.
If you were a junior shooter just starting out do you think you would be better served to strictly shoot running target coming into it if you wanted to perform as a world class running target athlete, or do you think your precision shooting was a benefit to you?
I feel my precision shooting was a great benefit. I shot rifle for nine years and I knew what a ten looked like and what follow through was, how it’s supposed to look. I’m trying to duplicate that on a moving target. I think that helps a lot, because I know what it’s supposed to look like. Some competitiors at the international level don’t have a follow through, they break the shot and they drop the gun. I don’t think that’s good practice.
Daryl Szarinski said in his interview the breaking of the shot wasn’t the end, he placed a lot of importance on follow through as being the completion of the shot.
Right. You’ve got to have a follow through, and I’ve seen a lot of those performers actually drop shots almost out of the target because they were coming out of the target before they shot it, when they thought they’d actually fired the shot. They’re used to coming off that target at a certain time, if they don’t break that shot then they’re moving out. I think it’s important you have to stay in the target throughout the whole track.
So what would you tell a junior shooter wanting to get into running target?
The basics. You’ve got to have strong basics. For running target you have to start off developing a hold on a stationary target, and develop all those muscles that you need to support the rifle. Once you can shoot a group of twenty shots in ten millimetres then you’re good enough to go on to moving target.
Ten millimetres, is that around eight ring?
Probably a little over the nine ring. On our target they’ll still be tens, seeing that instead of the ten dot ours is the same as the nine ring (on a normal 10 meter target).
What’s your funniest shooting experience?
At the time it wasn’t funny, but now I look back I think it was a bad mistake that I made. It was during the Pan Am selection match, the first shot of competition I forgot to close my loading port. I shot my four sighter shots, opened my port and loaded the pellet and went straight to making a sight adjustment and never closed the port. So I came up, the target came out, I mounted and tracked it, shot it, it clicked, no pellet, the loading port was open, minus ten points. So off the bat I was already down ten points. But I still came back and I won the match, I think I had a good seven or eight point lead at the end. I look back now and I think, “What a dumb mistake!”
But you had a good mental aspect, you didn’t let it bother you.
What would you say your most memorable shooting experience was?
Winning the World Cup in Atlanta. Great feeling, being on the stand and listening to your national anthem and watching the flag come up.
We want to see that in Sydney this fall.
Hopefully I’ll be there.
Tell me a little about you and Renee and how that came about?
Actually Renee and I got to know each other at the World Championships in Barcelona in ’98. We were friends and we spent a lot of time together there. We decided to start dating when we came back from that match.
You were both in the Unit at that time?
Yes we were both in the Unit, and we got along so well we kept dating, and about ten months later we were engaged. We were at the Ducks Unlimited Great Outdoors Festival and we were having dinner with the Petersens Publications from Guns & Ammo, and we told them we were going to get married and they asked us if we wanted to get married on the show. It was eleven o’clock at night and I’m thinking there’s no way they can make this happen in seven hours. But we said sure, if you can make it happen. So one of the guys called his secretary and she was a travel agent or something, and she made some phone calls, contacted the local people. They had media there, they had TV, radio and newspaper, they organized the whole thing. So the next morning there we were on the shotgun range going through our vows and got married.
Sounds pretty neat.
Yes it was neat. The single action shooting society was there, they got in on it and put a little skit to it, turned out being a shotgun wedding. We had all the ladies dressed up with revolvers and all the men on my side with shotguns, and they actually escorted me down to Renee. We got married and when we kissed they all started shooting their guns off in the air. It was a lot of fun, a neat experience.
Do you think about anything special during a match, do you have a little mantra that you go through as you’re waiting for it to come out?
I occupy myself by staying in my shot plan. I have a small line at the end of my barrel weight and I stay focused on that. I go through my breathing routine and stay in sequence, it keeps me in time. I’m focusing on my muzzle, I open the breech, I put the pellet in, close and exhale, take two relaxing deep breaths and on the third breath I come up, go to my reference point, the target comes out and I shoot, follow through and come down. I start the whole cycle over, then I’m just staying focused on my little shot process. It carries me through the whole match. Before I know it, thirty four shots are gone and they tell me to stop.
Are you telling me you’ve got a line on your front weight and you’re focusing on that while you’re holding it in the down position? Do you use that to kind of come up in a certain way and you’re using that line as it comes up and disappears from your field of view, or what?
Yes, it stays in my field of view. It comes up and I know exactly where I place that line in reference with down range when I’m accepting the target as it comes out. So I have a reference point down range where I put my muzzle every time, and I know exactly where it’s at. When the target comes out I mount and am pretty much on target when I mount the gun, so I’m not having to search and move and swing around trying to find it. Once the gun’s up to my shoulder I take a look into the scope, it’s already there. I’ve just got to hold on target and break the shot.
Anything you’d like to add?
Probably just for junior shooters, I think it’s a really great sport to shoot. There’s really not a lot of participation in the US. For some reason not a lot of shooters stick around in running target, but in other countries it’s huge. I went to the German national championships and there were over two hundred and fifty shooters in running target. Here in the US we get twenty five or thirty. It’s a really popular sport in other countries, for some reason in the US people don’t stick around. I personally think it’s too difficult for most people.
How do run your trigger, crisp or rollover?
I’ve totally taken out the first stage so as soon as you’re pointing it it’s breaking. There’s no first stage whatsoever.
So you’re running fifty to seventy five grams, something like that?
Yes, fifty five, somewhere in there. It’s uncomfortable shooting running target with that first stage, because you don’t want to take it out too early or when you’re coming up, you want all your performance to be forcused in those five or two and a half seconds, and the last thing you want to be worried about is taking up that stage.
Is there anything you think might popularize running target in the US?
I think we need to work on juniors, starting from grassroots programs. We’re trying to get one started up in Atlanta. And to get the word out more because I never knew about running target while I was shooting rifle. I’d heard a few things but never really paid any attention to it. I was never exposed to it as a junior shooter.
What was the thing with Letterman?
Oh, the David Letterman show? Well, I was in school, in the army as a PLDC and they called down for a shooter to be on the show to do something for Dave. So I left school and went up there and when I got there the prop guy showed me this paintball gun and said, “Can you shoot one of these?” I said, “Sure, I can shoot one of those”, and what happened was they got a big billboard of David Letterman, half his face down on Broadway Street, and he didn’t like the billboard so he wanted me to run out in the middle of Broadway Street with this paintball gun and shoot his face full of paint, to try to cover it up. It turned out okay, but the gun that they had didn’t shoot very well, and it pretty well much wanted to spray the paint all over it. I went out there and did it, it was a lot of fun. Most people were really good people there. Pretty crazy but they enjoy what they’re doing. It was a neat experience, getting to meet him and be on the show.
*Our thanks to the AMU for supplying the photos of Mr Ayala.