Wichita shooters are great from long range

Jim and Sally Bauer are expert distance shooters.

02/02/2013 5:40 PM

02/02/2013 11:06 PM

One thousand yards is a half-mile away, with a football field, including end zones, tacked on.

From that distance a Wichitan can place 10 bullets into a target the size of a big orange in about 35 seconds.

And Sally Bauer, a 5-foot-4 grandmother, has been involved in long-range rifle shooting for three years.

Yet last year she set an international record by shooting a perfect score of 100, and keeping all 10 shots within a group of about 3 1/2 inches wide at 1,000 yards.

She won the Shooter of the Year trophy from the International Benchrest Shooters Association for consistent success at competitions — a first for a woman.

Bauer was also the group’s top 1,000-yard shooter, of any age or gender. She also won three state championships.

Pretty impressive considering the nearest place to practice at such ranges is about 350 miles away in Missouri.

It was at some far-away range, while watching her husband, Jim, compete in a long-range match, that she decided to give it a try.

“It’s a really boring spectator sport, and I’m not very good at just watching,” said Sally Bauer, a lifelong hunter and shooter. “I told Jim if I was going to go along, I wanted a rifle, too.”

He quickly provided the rifle to a precocious student.

“Sally took instructions very well and never let things get in the way for what she needed to do,” said Jim, the winner of several national championships. “She has her system, and she’s very consistent. A lot of our sport is getting all of your cards put together right, and all came together about perfectly.”

She’ll be the first to admit, though, it’s not just about her shooting ability.

The quality of her equipment is paramount, and almost unequaled.

Bauer goes to 1,000 matches, with a rifle that hardly resembles a rifle seen during deer season.

“Stars and Stripes,” her main rifle, weighs 67 pounds, with an 1 1/2-inch thick, stainless-steel barrel and a stock of laminated wood, lead and steel. The scope goes from 12 to 42-power of magnification.

The custom trigger fires with two ounces of pressure, compared to about seven pounds on most off-the-rack rifles.

The stock is fitted with two perfectly machined, wide-steel plates that slide perfectly into solid rests.

The rifle is custom painted with the namesake motif, by Jason Jewett in Derby. Jim Bauer estimates they have about $10,000 in the gun, not including replacing barrels once they’re shot out.

The Bauers credit the hundreds of hours they spend in their basement as an important aspect of Sally Bauer’s success.

“I have a husband who is an amazing load development person,” she said. “He’s the one that figures out what makes a gun tick, getting all the components just right and consistent. That’s really what’s most important.”

“There are some guys are pit crews and some guys are great drivers,” Jim Bauer said. “I’m better at being the pit crew and she’s the better driver.”

Through time he’s figured out the best individual components for the .24 caliber round his wife shoots for her championships. The basic load is called a 6-Dasher.

Rounds she shoots in competition are near mirror images of each other, to the finest detail. That’s the result of a 17-step cartridge loading process.

Every winter, Sally Bauer spends about 60 hours weighing each of about 6,000 custom-made, 103-grain bullets they’ll need for the year. (There are 437 grains per ounce). She separates them into groups to within 1/10th of a grain of each other.

Jim Bauer reshapes the bullet tips to make sure they draw the same amount of air resistance. He uses sonar to check the thickness of the metal that jackets the lead bullets.

Powder is eventually added one granule at time to reach an exact weight.

Jim Bauer estimates it takes a cumulative 20 minutes to construct one loaded cartridge.

No matter if at a range to 400 yards on local land they own, or at a match in West Virginia, Sally Bauer’s shooting regimen is about as precise as the loads she’s firing.

Except for the tip of her trigger finger and a bit of her cheek on the stock, she doesn’t touch the rifle for fear of sending a shot awry.

She has a fast but smooth and consistent routine.

“I don’t want to waste any time getting my shots off,” she said. “That’s so the conditions (like wind) are the same.”

She plans to shoot well again this year, but not nearly as often as in 2012.

“We’ve decided I won’t pursue shooter of the year, because it takes too much time, too many matches. Last year we were gone 26 weekends,” Sally Bauer said. “We didn’t get to hunt together, spend time with friends we like and we didn’t see a single soccer match of our grandkids. We just gave up too much last year.”

But that doesn’t mean she’s not eyeing some long-range success.

“Our goal this year are some club championships and a national championship,” Jim Bauer said. “We’re hoping she can set a world record or two, too.”

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