Pistol Shooting

Rhodesia hosts world pistol championships

Dave Westerhout - world practical pistol champion
Dave Westerhout – world practical pistol champion

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There have been other world championships held in Rhodesia but none has been more spectacular and closely contested than the World Practical Pistol Championships, held at Salisbury’s Cleveland Range.

Rhodesia was chosen as the venue for the 1977 world championships by a unanimous vote at the International Practical Shooting Confederation meeting in 1976.

Nine nations competed: no fewer than 13 shottists from Britain and 11 from the United States. Other countries represented  were: West Germany, Belgium, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, South Africa and, of course, Rhodesia.

The Americans had made exceptional preparations for the world championships in a determined bid to wrest the title from the Rhodesians, who won in Salzburg, Austria in 1976. Members of the American team were selected on merit from all over the United States after extensive trials, and they were firing up to 1 000 practice rounds a week prior to the championships. To round off their training schedule the American team entered the South African championships a week before the world event, and took the first four places.

The contest for the world championship was very close, with nothing to choose between the Rhodesian and American teams from day to day.

After six tense days of shooting the result hung on the last shoot – Falling Plates –  and Rhodesia scraped home  by 41,01 points over the American team (8 776,064 to 8 735,054 points).  South Africa were more than 900 points further back in third position.

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The spectacular Falling Plate shoot was the last event, and amore dramatic climax could not have been staged. On this result depended the final team winners. Competitors had nine seconds to hit six plates of 25,5cm diameter placed at a range of 25 metres and one metre above the ground.
The spectacular Falling Plate shoot was the last event, and amore dramatic climax could not have been staged. On this result depended the final team winners. Competitors had nine seconds to hit six plates of 25,5cm diameter placed at a range of 25 metres and one metre above the ground.
"Kirk" Kirkham (USA) in the Falling Plates event. The shottist had to start with his hands shoulder-high, his pistol holstered and his back to the targets.
“Kirk” Kirkham (USA) in the Falling Plates event. The shottist had to start with his hands shoulder-high, his pistol holstered and his back to the targets.

 

The Rhodesian team was: Dave Westerhout (captain), Alex du Plessis, Peter Boniface, Andy Langley and Lionel Smith.

Rhodesian captain Dave Westerhout (centre) giving a pep talk to his all-conquering team: (from left) Alex du Plessis, Peter Boniface, Westerhout, Andy Langley and Lionel Smith.
Rhodesian captain Dave Westerhout (centre) giving a pep talk to his all-conquering team: (from left) Alex du Plessis, Peter Boniface, Westerhout, Andy Langley and Lionel Smith.

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Rhodesia’s Dave Westerhout, an optometrist by profession, won the individual world title in the style of a real champion and his nearest rival, Peter Maunder, also of Rhodesia, was 116 points behind him, with American Raul Walters third.

Westerhout was in a class of his own and out of 13 separate shoots he only slipped once.

To win the championship requires averaging about fourth in all the shoots, but Westerhout, a former British Olympic athlete, was not satisfied with that and many times his was the best score of the 86 competitors.

A fine example was when Westerhout was the last to shoot in the “House Clearing” exercise and he had to follow Rhodesia’s Lionel Smith, who had just shot a maximum possible score.  Westerhout, with the responsibility of being the Rhodesian captain, had the opportunity to pull Rhodesia into a clear lead after Smith’s fine performance. Despite the pressure, he also shot a maximum possible – and cut 2,3 seconds off the best time for the event!

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Ray Chapman (USA), the 1975 world champion, shooting through a door. The test is designed to make the competitor shoot in the most uncomfortable position.
Ray Chapman (USA), the 1975 world champion, shooting through a door. The test is designed to make the competitor shoot in the most uncomfortable position.

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The crack Rhodesian Army unit, Special Air Services, are trained in the use of the hand gun by Westerhout and have had excellent results in competitions. One of the Rhodesian team, Andy Langley, is a former SAS man.

Today’s practical pistol tests are much stiffer and more sophisticated than even two years ago, when the first world championships were held in Switzerland.

The 1977 programme, approved by the Confederation, was described by I.P.S.C. president Jeff Copper as “diverse, ingenious and complex, exactly as a world measure of advance skill should be”.

In future, teams and individuals will be measuring their performance against that of Westerhout and his Rhodesians, who won despite a severe handicap with weapons and spares.

Special equipment, taken for granted by other nations, was not available to the Rhodesians but they won in a spirit in keeping with the high morale in the country. In fact, Rhodesian teams in all kinds of sports are doing better than ever before.

The next world championships will not be until 1980, so Westerhout and his Rhodesian team will be champions for at least another three years.

The first world champion, Ray Chapman (U.S.A.), came sixth this year. He is a civil engineer from California and doubles as a sharp-shooter for the Los Angeles Police Department.  Tall and thick set, with penetrating blue eyes, Chapman is called out for undercover work in emergencies; and there is no shortage of emergencies in Los Angeles for Chapman-the-trouble-shooter to handle.

Practical pistol shooting is a fast-growing sport all over the world and is taken very seriously. Shooters deplore the “cowboy” image and do not allow “arm chancers”.

Previously called “Combat” pistol shooting, it is not the dull routine stuff of magpies and inners, but as Mr. Cooper said in Salisbury: “The practical pistol shooter is confronted with problems, constantly varied and it is up to him to solve them with few restricting rules. Accuracy, power and speed are equally essential elements; a perfect shot is no use if it arrives too late,” he said.

Hostage targets are placed with the real ones and a penalty is incurred if the “hostage” or “bystander” is hit – a grave penalty in real life. The calibre of the weapon is important, but not as vital as the calibre of the man. Use of a pistol is usually triggered off by an emergency where speed and accuracy must be combined. Unflappability is an important characteristic and airline pilots have been found to excel at the sport. Three airline pilots have won Rhodesian colours.

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Some more action photos from the competition:

Eileen Hartman (Rhodesia) - ladies champion 1977
Eileen Hartman (Rhodesia) – ladies gold medal winner.                       Photo with acknowledgement to the Rhodesian Services Association
The Rissik twins, Lesley (left) and Gillian, from South Africa. Gillian took the ladies silver medal and Lesley the bronze. Rhodesia's Eileen Hartman won gold.
The Rissik twins, Lesley (left) and Gillian, from South Africa. Gillian took the ladies silver medal and Lesley the bronze.

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A member of the British team jumping 2m barricade
A member of the British team jumping the 2m barricade
Lesley Rissik (RSA) jumpings the 2m barricade
Lesley Rissik (RSA) going over the 2m barricade

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Leonard Knight (USA) was the quickest over the 2m barricade.
Leonard Knight (USA) was the quickest over the 2m barricade.
Roger Swaelens (Belgium) jumps the barricade
Roger Swaelens (Belgium) jumps the barricade.

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The scoreboard
The scoreboard

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Summary of final results.

The 1977 Rhodesian World Championship team comprised of Dave Westerhout (Captain), Alex du Plessis, Peter Boniface, Andy Langley and Lionel Smith with  Danny Hartman as reserve.

Peter Maunder, who was in the 1976 team in Salzburg, ranked only 15th in the 1977 Rhodesian Championships and was therefore omitted from the team. However, shooting in his own right, he ended up taking silver with only Dave ahead of him.

 

Medal winners in the 5 matches were as follows:

Practical Match

Gold – Dave Westerhout (Rhod)

Silver – Danny Hartman (Rhod)

Bronze – Peter Boniface (Rhod)

Urban Match

Gold – Dave Westerhout (Rhod)

Silver – Terry Hill (RSA)

Bronze – Jerry Usher (USA)

Moving Match

Gold – Peter Maunder (Rhod)

Silver – Thomas Campbell (USA)

Bronze – Jerry Usher (USA)

Turning Match

Gold – Mike Dalton (USA)

Silver – Vidar Nakling (Norway)

Bronze – Ron Lerch (USA)

Standard Exercises

Gold – Ray Chapman (USA)

Silver – Dave Westerhout (Rhod)

Bronze – Len Knight (USA)

Overall

Gold – Dave Westerhout (Rhod)

Silver – Peter Maunder (Rhod)

Bronze – Raul Walters (USA)

Overall Ladies

Gold – Eileen Hartman (Rhod)

Silver – Gillian Rissik (RSA)

Bronze – Lesley Rissik (RSA)

Team placings:

                    1. Rhodesia
                    2. USA
                    3. South Africa
                    4. Great Britain
                    5. Germany
                    6. Belgium

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Article by Jeremy Rees of the Rhodesia Herald – pictures by Brian Freeman.

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Post Script.

As it happens, Dave Westerhout was my contact lens optometrist and I was also a member of the Cleveland Pistol Club and later continued practical pistol shooting in England until licenced handguns were prohibited. For all these reasons, writing about Dave Westerhout and practical shooting has been something of a pleasure.

In November 1977 Dave Westerhout was elected the Rhodesian Sportsman of the Year for 1977.

He featured on the front cover of Sportsman’77 which was a Supplement to Illustrated Life Rhodesia published on 24th November 1977.

Click on the above link to view an extract from the supplement. Dave represented his country again at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 where, although he did not fare so well on the shooting ground, he won the, no doubt, greater prize of meeting Tanya, a Russian translator, who became his future wife.

Lastly, here is a 2022 YouTube interview with Dave entitled The Man Who Dry Fired His Way to a World Shooting Title

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Dave Westerhout, Rhodesian Sportsman of Year, 1977
Dave Westerhout, Rhodesian Sportsman of Year, 1977