Capt. Robert Davis, 26, a competitive marksman since his high school days in Mesquite, Texas, will receive the 2005 Master of Flanders award March 12. Davis, who won the 50-meter prone event for .22-caliber rifles, will enter the U.S. Nationals at Fort Benning, Ga., in April:
What makes you the “Master of Flanders?”
The Master of Flanders championship series lasts all year and consists of seven 60-shot matches scattered throughout Belgium. This particular sport is exactly the same as what takes place in the Olympics. I am the first American and the first non-Belgian ever to win this competition, and the title essentially means that I am currently the top prone shooter in Belgium.
How’s the title decided?
At each meet, there are 600 possible (target) points. I entered seven meets. The judges take your raw score and award a fixed number of series standings points for your placing in that meet — 50 for first, 45 for second and so on. I won the 2005 series by one point even though the second-place finisher entered one more meet than I did.
We hear a lot about the Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning. How does the Air Force program compare to that?
The purpose of the Air Force International Rifle Team is to get Air Force marksmen into the Olympics. We don’t get support as elaborate as the Army’s. The Air Force supplies ammunition and pays for travel and other expenses. I bought my own rifle second-hand at a meet where a guy was selling it at what I thought was a good price. We did ammunition testing with it at Eley (British ammunition manufacturer) and fired 25 lots. My rifle set the range record, so I got a good buy. The Army guys will decide they don’t like the bore they’re firing and they’ll take their rifle to the shop and choose from 15 or 20 spare barrels — at a couple of thousand dollars apiece — they have in stock.
What makes a good marksman?
Shooting is very, very mental. You have to be mentally strong and control your actions and your thoughts. You have to have the discipline to focus on the task at hand.
How do you cope with the pressure of a big meet?
You have to focus on what you’re trained on, focus on each individual shot. You try to get a mental image in your head of a successful shot. In fact, some trainers advise you to think of each shot as an individual match. The scores are going to be so close that you can’t afford any bad shots. It also helps to get into a routine — load a bullet, look at the target and so on. … The more meets you shoot also helps to deal with the pressure. In Europe, I shoot 60-80 matches a year. With that many competitions, the process becomes sort of old hat.
How much do you practice?
I practice four to five days per week. I use a range in Aachen, Germany, and the Air Force has bought me computer program I use to train at home. You pull the trigger and a laser beam determines where the shot went. It’s pretty cool. It has kind of a tricky sensor which tracks tiny, inadvertent movements you wouldn’t notice on the range.
Why so much practice? Once you’re accomplished, you’re accomplished, right?
You practice because good is not good enough. Sure, you can beat the guy down the street without practicing, but like any sport, any athletic activity, to be the best you have to work at it. Three days a week is minimum. With four to five, you’re building on your skills set. The margins of victory in competition are so narrow you have to keep honing your skills.
How’s it feel to be a national champion?
It’s been a long time coming. I’m using this as a precursor to nationals and the world championships and to spread the word about the Air Force International Rifle Team.
Interview by Rusty Bryan.
Capt. Robert Davis
Member of U.S. Air Force International Rifle Team
Day Job: Executive Officer, NATO Programming Center, Glons, Belgium
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