There is no mistaking the sound a silhouette target makes when struck by a bullet. For six days in July, this distinct sound filled the air at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, N.M., during the 2023 National Rifle Silhouette Championship Matches.
Smallbore competitors are pictured here at the NRA Whittington Center’s Smallbore Rifle range.
The Smallbore Silhouette matches held July 17-19 drew 140 competitors from across the United States, Canada and Mexico. There were even a few that traveled from as far as Australia and Italy. In fact, this summer’s competition marked the largest gathering of silhouette shooters at the NRA Whittington Center in the last 25 years. This tremendous group of competitors, with nearly one-third hailing from our northern and southern neighbors, tried their best to hit chickens, pigs, turkeys and rams placed at 40, 60, 77 and 100 meters, while shooting from the offhand position with a .22-caliber rifle.
Kalvin Marsh walked away from this year’s Rifle Silhouette Nationals with the Smallbore Standard Rifle and Smallbore Grand Aggregate championships.
Winning the Smallbore Standard Rifle Championship was Kalvin Marsh of Cranbrook, British Columbia, hitting 106 out of 120 targets. Of special note, Marsh is the first Canadian to win a Silhouette National Championship in the United States. Joining Marsh on the podium was John Mullins in second place with a score of 105, and junior Jake Stine in third shooting 104.
The Smallbore Hunter Rifle Championship, which was fired in the same format as Standard Rifle, was decided by a shoot-off between Kalvin Marsh and John Mullins. Both shot 103 out of 120 targets, and the pressure was on as competitors and spectators alike watched Marsh and Mullins go toe-to-toe for the championship. After an intense shoot-off, Mullins took the top spot and Marsh finished second. Joining them on the podium for third place was Gabriel Villareal from Monterrey, Mexico, shooting 102 of 120 targets.
Erich Mietenkorte, Adam Braverman and John Mullins are pictured here with Daniel Salazar, the 2023 Smallbore Hunter Rifle National Champion.
With Marsh’s win in Standard Rifle and tie in Hunter Rifle, he was able to accrue enough points from both categories to win the Smallbore Grand Aggregate National Championship trophy.
Many competitors took notice of the success of multiple youth shooters at the championship. Several juniors competed in the matches, including Jimena Davila from Saltillo, Mexico, who was High Junior in the smallbore aggregate, shooting 195 out of 240. Another was Michelle Carpenter, who was High Intermediate Junior with 154, and 10-year-old Blaine Plummer was High Sub-Junior with a score of 123 in the aggregate. Match Director Jim Luke said, “Blaine competed in his first national silhouette matches this year and has a bright future ahead of him.”
Tino Davila of Saltillo, Mexico, is spotting for his daughter Jimena Davila, who landed the High Junior title in the Smallbore Grand Aggregate.
Along with the possibility of winning their class or becoming a national champion, shooters also had the opportunity to win cash and prizes in the Lapua Monarch Cup. Held in conjunction with the 2023 Rifle Silhouette Nationals, the Lapua Monarch Cup is a three-country aggregate championship where shooters can earn points by competing in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico to win prizes donated by generous firearms industry partners, along with $25,000 in cash from title sponsor Lapua. Adam Braverman, the vice president of sales and marketing for Capstone Precision Group, said, “Lapua is excited to support this spirited competition. Silhouette competitions of all types are experiencing solid growth, and Lapua and Capstone are proud to be a part of it.”
Competitors also had the opportunity to attend a silhouette shooting clinic hosted by Team Lapua’s Cathy Winstead-Severin and her father, the legendary coach and spotter Chris Winstead. Also instructing at the clinic were Master Class shooters, including Team Berger’s Dustin Flint and John Mullins, as well as Team SK’s Erich Mietenkorte and Jake Stine. Attendees were able to ask questions and receive one-on-one coaching from top level shooters.
Silhouette remains a popular shooting sport after more than 50 years of national championships fired in the U.S. alone.
HIGH POWER RIFLE
Moving over to the High Power Silhouette range, competitors continued to fill the air for the next three days with the distinctive sounds of silhouette, this time with centerfire rifles. Many different iterations of the 6.5 mm cartridge were seen on the line this year, including 6.5×47 Lapua, 6.5 mm Creedmoor and .260 Remington, while some competitors opted for a lighter recoiling 6 mm cartridge, such as the 6 mm Benchrest or 6 mm Dasher. Whatever their cartridge flavor may be, hitting the chickens, pigs, turkeys and rams at 200, 300, 385 and 500 meters is an incredible challenge, especially from the offhand standing position.
This is a view of High Power Rifle silhouette targets through a spotting scope.
Going into the third day of competition the scores at the top were close. In the Standard Rifle category, the top three shooters—Dustin Flint, Gabriel Villareal and Erich Mietenkorte—were only separated by three points. Mietenkorte, who won the Standard Rifle title in 2021 and 2022, was looking to take it home this year as well, but in a true show of sportsmanship and integrity he took himself out of the running.
“During the morning Standard Rifle match I shot my last set of targets on the wrong relay,” Mietenkorte said. “There were only two of us squadded together, shooting on relays one and three with no one between us. There was what seemed like an unusually long break between relays one and two, so I thought we were on relay three. Turns out I made a mistake and shot my targets on relay two. As soon as I realized what had happened, I reported it to the statistical officials and asked them to put a zero next to that target. For the first time in my shooting career, I shot zero pigs. Doing so kept me from a top-three finish in Standard Rifle, but it was the right thing to do.”
Erich Mietenkorte on the firing line during the High Power Silhouette Nationals, with Emil Praslick serving as his spotter.
Walking away from the match with the Standard Rifle title this year was Gabriel Villareal of Monterrey, Mexico, shooting 101 out of 120 targets. In second place was Dustin Flint with a score of 96 and moving up to third place with 92 was Enrique Kuess of Saltillo, Mexico.
Gabriel Villareal captured the High Power Standard Rifle championship title after hitting 101 of 120 targets.
In the Hunter Rifle category, Erich Mietenkorte and Dustin Flint were tied going into the third day, with John Mullins only one point behind. Mietenkorte was able to recover from the misfortune of the morning match to shoot 98 out of 120 targets—winning the title for the second year in a row. John Mullins was the runner-up with a score of 94 and Dustin Flint was third with 91.
The trio of Erich Mietenkorte, Dustin Flint and John Mullins—who all shoot as members of Team Berger and Team SK—not only made it onto each level of the podium in the individual championship, but also set a new National Record in the Team competition. The Team competition uses the scores from the first two days of matches, and together they shot 197 out of 240 targets, beating the old record of 195 that was shot back in 2015.
Capstone Precision Group’s Emil Praslick is presenting Team Championship trophies to John Mullins, Erich Mietenkorte and Dustin Flint after setting a new Team National Record.
With the Standard and Hunter Rifle championships decided, all eyes fell on the Grand Aggregate championship. All of the competitors at the match, including Erich Mietenkorte, crowded around the scoreboard to watch the statistical officials post the aggregate scores from both championships.
“I was almost certain being scoreless on an entire set of targets from the morning match took me out of the running for the Grand Aggregate title,” Mietenkorte said. “After watching the aggregate scores go up on the board from all six matches, I came to the realization that I was tied for the national title with Dustin Flint.”
As the crowd watched, Mietenkorte and Flint battled it out in a shoot-off for the aggregate title. Mietenkorte, who won the aggregate title in 2021 and 2022, made it a three-peat after winning the shoot-off and taking home the High Power Grand Aggregate National Championship title once again. A shining example of perseverance and never giving up.
2023 RIFLE SILHOUETTE CHAMPIONSHIP LEADERBOARD
Learn more about Silhouette competition at competitions.nra.org.