Father and son Stewart and Ben Cumming scooped open and Junior titles at the Scottish Fitasc Championship, reports Murray Thomson
The Cumming family had double reason to celebrate at the 2019 Scottish Open Fitasc Championship, held this year at the spectacular Auldgirth Shooting Ground in South West Scotland. Scottish Sporting international Stewart took the championship title, while his son Ben won Juniors.
The event was the culmination of a season where dedicated guns have had to endure conditions ranging from searing heat to teeming rain. This year’s event was a calm, overcast day, which allowed for steady flight of targets without the glare of the sun aiding their escape plan.
Ground owner and operator David Collins and his team had clearly spent plenty of time preparing the layout designs, and had placed the shooting positions in spots that many who are familiar with the ground would never have shot from before.
The ground stretches along a track that runs through rugged and steep and high forested hills, opening out to the gentle rolling landscape that is synonymous with Dumfries and Galloway, with wider skies and distant horizons interrupted only by far-off wind turbines. Few grounds in Scotland can match the topography available for the intrepid target-setter.
David Collins used the full stretch of the valley for his layouts, meaning that each parcours had plenty of scope for championship level targets. Speaking to me in the morning of the event, David predicted that a score of around 92 should take home the title – and in the event that would prove absolutely correct.
Many of the top names in Scottish shooting were in attendance, hoping to claim the Scottish Fitasc Championship title for their mantelpiece. Last year’s champion, Alan Harris, was tipped as a real contender for taking the title once again.
The first layout was placed at the entrance to the valley, using the forestry track as a backbone and a rising open hill to host flight lines that would demand a test of mental strength.
One of the comments from a gun on the final peg was that here it was normal to see “a real gap” on the leading edge of lots of the targets thrown, and it was indeed something that significantly separated the pack.
Layout two was designed with the forces of gravity complicating assault plans. Here, David placed the first hoop at the base of a steep hill, with two traps at the top. One threw a high driven bird, the second throwing an orange clay at Warp 5 hurtling down the hill and arriving to a sudden stop at the gun’s one o’clock position.
It made a fantastic pair of targets that tested nerve and patience. The referee on this layout, Shaun Hogg, had to be sharply tuned in to the downhill target in particular, as often a second barrel kill took place a nanosecond before the clay met its demise in the earth.
Combined with a steep climbing and distant teal along with a stalling right-to-left bird, it made this layout one not to be taking lightly. The final hoop moved the guns into the forest treeline, and presented a challenge in itself, as all the birds thrown needed steady hands and deliberate movements, a stark contrast to the previous two hoops that needed firm power and some significant gaps.
Layout three, further along the valley again, sees the forest road rise away from the valley floor, caressed by a series of particularly rugged small steep hills, cut cleanly by water and machinery and now recovered by natural foliage.
The guns were placed at the foot of the valley and presented, in the main, with targets that hugged the natural steep angles. A mini target was launched directly in front of the last hoop and screamed up a gap. That caused some mild panic looking much faster than perhaps it actually was.
This layout also extended onto a large open Skeet range, where the steep wooded hills start to level out. Many targets were presented in the sky, making them challenging to get a second opinion on, or even a chance to think about their speed and distance. The will to offer a significant gap here would have served the guns well.
Layout four used a cleared open area that serves as the splash zone for one of the ground’s DTL ranges. The circular grass area is hugged by a band of conifers, and in this area David had taken the chance to throw some ground clays.
The amount of target belly offered depended on which one of the hoops you shot from. Moving the squad around the extremes of the open area allowed for significant changes in elevation, which altered the best laid plans. It was a well thought-out arrangement by the course setter, and a clever use of natural drops and rises.
The final layout was at the most extreme end of the ground’s forest track. Here, the guns were offered a quality level of different target presentations, but at decidedly closer range than at the previous layouts.
What was most noticeable was that the gun was required to change starting position by some 90 degrees from target to target on one of the hoops – swiftly followed by the scuffling of feet from the rest of the squad. This added to the gruelling task of keeping momentum.
The close proximity of the trees here made for a sense of mild claustrophobia in comparison to early layouts, and the gun had to work hard to make clean moves onto the targets but also not over-lead them.
The first few squads back in saw a mixture of smiles from those that were hoping they had done well, and frowns of those who were sure they had left several out there.
Team GB and Scotland Sporting captain Stewart Cumming was one of the early guns home, with a score of 92. He felt that there may be a few more out there on top of his score, but was pleased with what he had managed to achieve.
All eyes now fell upon Colin Will and Garry Meikle – both renowned Scottish competitors with a real prospect of winning any event – who were on one of the last rotations out.
Going into the last layout, number three, both had scores that could match or even top Cumming’s 92. But despite a superb effort from both guns, the nearest was Garry Meikle whose 90 claimed the runner up position.
Stewart proved to be safe from the scores of the last few guns home, and claimed his place as overall High Gun and Scottish Champion. He was quick to praise the ground and staff for their hard work, and took his award in humble fashion.
The icing on the cake was when confirmation that his son Ben had done enough to secure the title of Junior champion – making it a real cause for family celebration after this tremendous father and son moment; not something that either of them will forget in a hurry.
The prizegiving followed, with Edith Barnes once again taking the Ladies title. It concluded with 2019 Scotland Fitasc team captain, Stuart ‘Pablo’ Donaldson, naming his squad for this year’s Home International at AGL. He praised all those who had made the effort to attend the selection shoots, and congratulated the shooters who had claimed the coveted Fitasc cap.
He also reminded them that last year they had managed to secure the win over the other home nations, and that this was the goal for this year once again.
Garry Meikle took his opportunity on the soapbox to acknowledge the hard work of Rose and Edith Barnes, without whose dedication the SCTA events could not run.
Max Jeffery, organiser of the Alpa Grand Prix, was in attendance to give the Juniors, Ben Cumming and Rhys Harrison, £500 each towards their trip with the Scottish team, and additionally announced that a fund of £800 would be made available for next season to pay for the entries of Scottish Junior guns at SCTA Fitasc events. The funds were a result of the 2019 Alpa Grand Prix and had always been destined for Scottish Juniors.
It was a terrific piece of news to close the day’s events