Peter LaBerge was an adolescent in northern Vermont, following in his brothers’ footsteps, when he became interested in rifle shooting.
Kent Reeve was a bored professional in the Piedmont looking for something constructive to do on his lunch break. A pistol shooting range was a mile from his office, so he joined, though he had an interest in rifle shooting, too.
LaBerge and Reeve, both of Cary, did not know each other but they had a similar, deep-rooted interest that brought them together 15 years ago and keeps them connected today — long-range rifle shooting.
“Kent had heard of me but never met me,” said LaBerge, who met Reeve shortly after relocating from Charlotte, Vt., to Cary in the early 1990s. “He said, ‘You mind if I shoot with you so I can learn from you?’ It took him about two years to get better than me.”
The two are teammates on the USA PALMA Team, a 16-person roster of long-range shooters who will compete in the 12-nation PALMA Trophy Team Match in Ottawa, Canada, Sept. 1-2. That competition is being held concurrently with the World Long Range Rifle Championship.
The PALMA dates to 1876. It has been held 27 times and since 1995 it’s been staged every four years.
The competition consists of three stages of slow fire from the prone position (lying on your stomach). The first stage is two sighting shots and 15 shots for record per shooter at 800 yards. The second stage is two sighters and 15 shots for record at 900 yards per shooter. The third stage is two sighters and 15 shots for record at 1,000 yards per shooter. Each national team consists of 16 shooters who form ranks and shoot on four targets at each stage.
The target is six square feet and has a 20-inch bull’s-eye (10 ring). An aiming black circle of 44 inches includes a 9 and 8 ring. A possible score of 150 points can be achieved by each team member in each stage of fire. This adds up to 7,200 possible points for each national team per day of competition.
LaBerge, who is the team captain, started shooting in his youth. One of 12 children, his older brothers were military marksmen. LaBerge never joined the military, but he learned from his brothers’ experiences.
He has been involved with the U.S. team since the mid-1980s. He was on the gold-medal winning team in 1985, the fifth-place team in 1992 and the runner-up team in 1995. He became captain in 2003 and led the U.S. to a second-place finish.
“I guess it’s the challenge,” LaBerge said of what’s held is interest in competitive shooting for more than 40 years. “A thousand yards, to try and hit that little spot continuously with the wind blowing, changing directions, is difficult to do.”
Reeve made his debut in 1999, when the U.S. finished fifth in the PALMA. He was also on the ’03 runner-up team.
He didn’t grow up hunting or shooting. Asked how he got involved in the sport, he said, “Boredom.”
“I wanted something to do during my lunch hour during a previous job, other than going to the company café, which was filled with cigarette smoke,” said Reeve, who now works at SAS Institute. “I ended up getting a membership at an indoor pistol range about a mile from work. I’d go there every day and it didn’t take too long after that I found out about rifle shooting.”
Just as he was getting into it, Reeve learned of a match at Camp Butner, the National Guard facility north of Durham.
He went to check it out, and that’s where he met LaBerge, whose job with IBM had just relocated him and his family from Vermont to the Triangle.
They became friends through the years. In the late-’90s, LaBerge went to Quantico, Va., for a practice, and Reeve asked if he could tag along.
“All I wanted to do was just go hang out with them,” Reeve said. “When I came home that weekend, I told him I was going to be on the next team. To say I got bit bad by the bug is an understatement.”
Reeve has been on the team ever since.
Competitors shoot with custom-built, .30-caliber rifles and use 155-grain, match-grade bullets. Since everyone has similar equipment, Reeve said the best shooters in the world have stronger mental focus.
“When you’re laying there, looking at the conditions and making decisions, it’s 90 percent mental,” Reeve said. “That, to me, is the fascinating part of the game.”
Reeve would know. Last year, he won the NRA National Long Range Rifle championship.
“I’m very proud of him,” said LaBerge, a former national champion himself. “He’s the best shooter on my team. He’s probably the best long-range shooter in the U.S.”
With the nation’s best shooter and a wealth of experience throughout the team, LaBerge didn’t mince words when it came to his expectations going into Canada, even if the PALMA Trophy hasn’t been in the United States’ possession in 20 years.
Said the U.S. captain, “We’re going to win gold.”