June 29, 2018
By Eric R. Poole
It was a novel idea. Invite shooters of different disciplines and expose them to one another's sport. The 2018 Aguila Cup combined shotgun competition with rimfire and 3-Gun, attracting more than 400 shooters. Not only was there an appreciation learned for other passions, this event allowed competitors to try a style of shooting they had never experienced before.
After three years, the Aguila Cup has arrived in the U.S. In 2015, the tournament, known in Mexico as "Copa Aguila" was hosted by Aguila Ammunition in Acapulco and was then moved in 2016 to Guadalajara, the capital of the Mexican-state Jalisco, where it continues this year. American shotgunner named Derrick Mein distinguished himself by winning the main events of those three Copas and defeated hundreds of shooters from around the world for loot and glory.
For 2018, Aguila Ammunition moved the four-day, multi-discipline event to Fossil Pointe Sporting Grounds in Decatur, Texas, and created a competition like no other for a chance at $65,000 in cash and prizes.
SPORTING CLAYS PRELIMINARY
The Aguila Cup's Main Event is Sporting Clays. Sporting Clays competition simulates field circumstances with more than 10 stations organized throughout natural terrain. A squad of shooters — usually between two and six — rotate at a station following several attempts at shooting report and/or true pairs.
A report pair is where one clay bird is shot at before the target puller sends a second bird. A true pair means that two birds from two different throwers are offered simultaneously. And, besides throwing birds, a simulated rabbit is sometimes given with a clay turned on its side and thrown so that it runs across the ground and bounces randomly.
The day prior to the Aguila Cup's opening ceremony, shooters willing to arrive early were able to sign up and shoot a unique 100-target Sporting Clays Preliminary (Prelim) course, which helped many settle their nerves into shooting through Texas' oppressive heat. It also allowed everyone who traveled with guns to confirm the function and ergonomics of their shotguns prior to the 200-target main event.
I had the privilege of being assigned to shoot with Cory Kruse, Travis Mears, Derrick Mein and Dave Miller — all champions in their own right and Aguila pro shooters. Those guys were labeled the "Super Squad" by everyone, which put me out of place. The inevitable comparison of results was humbling — demoralizing at times — but what was most impressive was the comradery between them and their helpful nature to ensure that I was having a good time and improving during the course. It became fun to watch them dust more than 90 percent of the targets thrown in front of them, learning from such shooters who were competing at the top of their game. Despite a course created with several challenging stations with difficult flying crossers speeding away, it was Gebben Miles who earned High Overall Champion honors with an almost perfect score of 99. Note that name because you'll see it again.
Shooters were encouraged to try other shooting disciplines in between shotgun events. The Aguila Cup Rimfire Challenge included four pistol stages and four rifle stages with steel targets that required approximately 250 rounds. Shooters with optics such as miniature red dots were classified in the Open Division, while those using metallic sights were segregated into the Limited Division.
The two-day Rimfire Challenge attracted many professional competitors, but the most memorable performances were from young kids. The first rimfire day was fired with pistols, Ruger's Mk IV fitted with a red dot being most popular. Other pistols used included Smith & Wesson Victory models, Browning Buckmarks and 1911s fitted with .22LR conversion kits. The second rimfire day featured rifles that were comprised mostly of Ruger 10/22s (including many Takedown models), and a number of Smith & Wesson M&P15-22s and Magnum Research's MLR22s.
By far, the majority of the rifles and pistols were heavily modified with lightened, accurized barrels complete with compensators and tuned triggers by custom builders such as Tandemkross and Volquartsen. The trick to being competitive was having a precisely zeroed gun that was balanced, thoroughly cleaned and lubricated.
Gaming each stage was difficult with only five attempts allowed against a timer. The four best runs were aggregated for a total time. If you have a gun that's dirty, a malfunction will cost one of those attempts meaning that there is no margin available for error in other attempts should one expect to be competitive. Two malfunctions will place you out of contention.
With a functioning gun, the challenge of deciding which targets to engage first was difficult. Do you engage the smallest target and transition to the largest or do you simply shoot left to right or right to left? For most, it seemed that there was no perfect solution. This was recognized most by the Rimfire Challenge's High Overall Open Champion Mark Itzstein who fired almost twice as fast as other shooters with more misses who then recovered missed targets with twice as many rounds fired much faster.
Speed was Itzstein's game, and since he wasn't penalized for misses or no-shoot targets, he won the Open. Jack Copeland took a more deliberate approach on his way to winning the Rimfire Challenge High Overall Limited award by engaging targets quickly, but not so quickly that he had to make up misses.
The memory that stands out with everyone is watching shooters as young as 8 years old compete. Some were sponsored competitors who fired as accurate, as quickly and with as much efficiency as a professional adult shooter. Still, new youth shooters drew a supportive crowd at each stage. Regardless of performance, the crowd cheered for each junior shooter after they completed their run. There was no junior who left the Aguila Cup feeling anything less than a winner.
I've never seen support like this, or such responsible gun handling as demonstrated by the kids participating in the Rimfire Challenge. It was very inspirational to witness.
5-STAND W/ MINISHELLS
Copa Aguila was known for introducing a unique twist on a 5-Stand side match by supplying and requiring all who participated to shoot exclusively with Aguila's Minishell. Even if you're the least bit interested in shotguns, you've likely heard or have seen these Minis. Minishells are short, 1¾-inch shells loaded with either a slug, buckshot or with #7½, #8 or #9 shot that put smiles on everyone's faces.
5-Stand, as the name suggests is a shotgun event featuring five positions for five shooters to shoot adjacent to one another. Though there are only six throwers sending clays up, across, out and in, the different positions change the perspective, timing and distance necessary to break each bird.
A round starts off by shooting one bird from a specific thrower with two chances loaded in each barrel, usually an over/under when using Minishells. When a shooter's turn comes around again, you shoot a report pair. A true pair is then offered the last time. Once each shooter has the opportunity to engage that stand's birds, they rotate to the next position until all shooters complete all five stands. It's incredibly fun.
For years I considered Minishells to be nothing more than a novelty used exclusively in non-autoloading shotguns. Since participating in the first Copa in Acapulco, I'm now convinced that Aguila's Minishells offer all of us many practical advantages. They are great for helping new shooters overcome nervousness associated with the fear of recoil and a loud report, and the Minishells' slightly reduced range and shot pattern make them excellent for training that challenges every experience level.
These characteristics were even proven at the 2018 Aguila Cup to professional shotgun shooters. The shot in Minishells race out of a barrel at 1,175 feet per second, meaning that range isn't as compromised as much as most would expect. With a smaller payload available compared to a 2¾-inch shell, shotgunners benefit from learning to get shots off quicker.
The fact that they were using Minishells did not significantly impact the impressive performance demonstrated by Kruse, Mears and Miller. Ultimately, Gebben Miles became the High Overall Champion for the Main Event, adding to his success. He won the 100-shell, 5-Stand match with a score of 88.
Aguila Cup contestants could sign up to compete in the 3-Gun Challenge. Some 3-Gun shooters local to Texas attended just to compete in the 3-Gun match. A few used the opportunity to learn and experience the Rimfire Challenge and/or the shotgun events.
The 3-Gun Challenge was conducted for two days and could be fired at any time between the main events and Rimfire Challenge. Though it was only three stages, the results compared par times between shooters firing all three types of firearms — rifle, pistol and shotgun — at each stage designed to meet 3-Gun's Traditional Limited and Tactical specifications. Rifles were all based on 5.56 NATO cartridges, while pistols were almost completely chambered in 9mm and shotguns for 12 gauge. Brands of all makes and models were on hand and configured with extended-capacity magazines and high visibility sights.
Each stage proved exciting. There was a total of 100 targets for the three stages including 35 rifle, 35 pistol and 30 shotgun. All three guns were used on all three stages. Rifle targets were clays set up at short distances of less than 100 yards, which meant that some pro 3-Gun shooters in attendance had to consider their zero and sight height over bore when engaging some targets within 25 yards. With the clay damaged in any way, shooters moved quickly to a different firing position or transitioned to shooting reactive steel plates or steel targets that were shot off stands. Time was stopped when the last target was engaged. At the end, it was pro 3-Gun shooter Keith Garcia who finished in first place.
SPORTING CLAYS MAIN EVENT
Sporting Clays is the event that attracted the most competitors. In fact, there were more than 400 registered to compete in the two-day, 200-round tournament. Targets were set by the reigning National Champion and 2018 World All-Around Shotgun Champion, Aguila pro-shooter Derrick Mein. This event was sanctioned by the NSCA and featured several classes including a Hunter Class that awarded first through 10th places with a CZ 612 Target 12-gauge shotgun.
The courses were quite challenging for all, with a couple of stages making it almost too difficult for even the best shooters to dust a perfect score, which helped to prevent the need for time-consuming shoot-offs sometimes needed to break ties before the event can end.
For the Main Event, I was teamed up with Chris and Michele Cerino, Aguila-sponsored 3-Gun shooters and John Nagel, an Aguila-sponsored Rimfire Challenge pro-shooter. We had a fun time and, though tired and drained due to the heat, supported each other to the final stage. Though out of our comfort zones, I think we all grew to appreciate the shotgun disciplines and proper shotgun stock fit as a result of our improvements during this event.
This match concluded four days of fun that produced Miles as the inaugural 2018 Aguila Cup's High Overall Main Event champion. With a score of 197 out of 200 clays, he now has a Texas-sized belt buckle to prove it.
Knowing that it was unlikely that I would contend to win any of the single events, I noticed that Aguila had created a unique award called "Triple Threat." This award was for any shooter who competed in Sporting Clays, Rimfire and 3-Gun to be eligible. It recognizes the best all-around shooter, which is an idea other competitive events should consider encouraging shooters from other disciplines to participate and try an unfamiliar match.
My strategy didn't work as I only placed 20th. It was Robert Romero who took home the trophy belt buckle and the lucrative prize pack that included a Tactical Solutions rifle and an Aimpoint red dot sight.
COME AS YOU ARE
If a shooter attended the Aguila Cup to compete in the Rimfire Challenge or 3-Gun and wanted to try competing in one of the scattergun events but didn't have a shotgun, CZ-USA generously loaned guns from its travel trailer and had experts on hand to help select and determine a shotgun's fit. I ended up borrowing and competing with one of CZ's new Spring Field 12-gauge over/unders and did quite well with it!
Of particular note, holsters and gear were not necessary to run the stages since each firearm was left on safe at each table or bench or discarded in a drum barrel before transitions. This meant that shotgunners interested in attempting a different discipline could experience other types of firearms without the need to bring or make an upfront investment to explore another style of shooting. Shooters of all disciplines were incredibly willing to loan their firearms to competitors of other disciplines who had none, which made the Aguila Cup welcoming to all.
The 2018 Aguila Cup was incredibly well organized and executed. The fact that the Rimfire Challenge and 3-Gun matches were not scheduled for each shooter allowed more opportunity to explore those disciplines while still competing in the shotgun events.
As a competitor who used Aguila's ammunition exclusively during the entire event, it wasn't lost on me that the Aguila brand is now associated with the term "high quality," which not only applies to its tournament but includes shells and cartridges for the world's most popular sporting guns.
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