The 50 Calibre Shooters Association
Mike Roberts, captain of the UK’s .50 Calibre team, gives his insights on how you can enter the world of big-calibre shooting in the UK…
To most people, there’s a hint of the dark arts about .50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun) calibre shooting, though Mike Roberts would disagree: “There’s nothing mysterious about it, really, it’s just a different rifle for a different job.” Mike took up .50cal shooting about eight years ago. Why? “I wanted a bigger bang,” is the short answer. So, if there’s no mystery to it, why aren’t more people involved? “I think it’s the cost of feeding the rifle that puts people off,” says Mike, adding that it doesn’t cost nearly as much as you’d think. “The cheapest stuff you can get is the old World War II stuff, which is only £2.50 a round. But it’s awful! Custom match-grade ammunition is usually about £17 a round. Hornady A-Max Match- Grade Target ammunition is a very reasonable £7, and performs better than the custom stuff.” If, however, like Mike, you are likely to be using upwards of 4500 rounds a year, reloading is going to be the most cost-effective and will also produce more accurate ammunition. “The great thing is that Edgar Brothers now import everything you might need for reloading your own .50 calibre ammunition – the reloading press, dies, brass, powder and projectiles. Previously, I had to try to find it myself, which meant sourcing it from all over Europe and sometimes the US. Going the Edgars/ reloading route made it not only less expensive but much simpler to get hold of, too.”
The ammunition is one thing, but what about the rifle? Well, until recently, this too was a rather hefty investment, with options from Accuracy International, RPA or Dolphin Precision costing around £8000. Not something you’d just buy to try. Mike’s now using a Barrett M99, which is a new addition to the Edgar Brothers stable: “They’re incredible for the money, which is only around £4500. It was a Barrett in .416 that won the ‘King of 2 Miles’ shooting competition in the US – for an out-of-the-box rifle, that’s extraordinary.” It’s certainly made the sport of long-range, large-calibre shooting much more accessible, as, thanks to the law, it’s not easy to just “have a go” with these rifles. “At the moment, you can’t come and try one out at the Fifty Calibre Shooters Association (FCSA), but I’m working on that!” Mike said. By law, any rifle with more than 10,000ft/ lb energy must be listed on your FAC before you can use it at a Home Office approved range.
All are welcome
Having said that, the FCSA UK welcomes guests who want to come and see what the club gets up to at a meet, and though the world of .50cal shooting might be competitive, it’s also very friendly, according to Mike. “There’s a lot of camaraderie, and no-one’s dismissive, which I’ve seen happen in other shooting disciplines. This year, one of the people coming to compete at the world championships, which are held in June in the US, has never competed before. “We’ll all be helping him,” he says. And because .50 cal shooting is a long-distance discipline, it’s all about working with a spotter. “There’s no way you can see your own shot until you’re shooting past 1600-metres. Then you have time to get back behind the scope and watch it impact. But you should be focusing on the next shot, rather than concentrating on watching the strike.
Your spotter is everything. They need to be able to call shots, judge wind and the shooter needs to trust them completely. Anyone can pull the trigger, but spotting is in some ways the real art. I’ve been working with the same guy for ages and I trust him completely, and when he’s shooting, I’m willing him to make the shot.” The team uses a clock face to describe where the hit was, with the additional “high and low” or “right or left” to ensure there’s no confusion.”
Top class glass required
Of course, working at the distances the .50 cal club does, optics are of paramount importance. Mike’s used all sorts of brands in his time, but now likes the Bushnell XRS 4.5-30x 50mm FFP. To the long-distance novice this might seem a very low magnification, but, says Mike, 24x or 30x is really as high as you want to go: “If you have too high a magnification, you move too much over the target. Everyone’s eyes are different, so it’s all about finding what optics suit you. The spotting scope is where you want the high magnification, of course. I like the Bushnell 15-45x 60mm T Series.
So when the team does head off into the deserts of New Mexico for the World Championships, what else will they be taking? “We’ll be taking all our own reloading kit, which as you can imagine is pretty hefty. But you have to load for the conditions, which, at 9000ft above sea level and in tremendous heat, are very different to here in the UK.
The ammo needs to be faster and flatter. I prefer shooting off a bipod, as the position is repeatable, so you get better results. I am having a new bipod custom built for me this year by Tier One.” There are a host of different disciplines that the team will be entering, and Mike’s hopeful that they’ll do well. “The first year we competed, which was only two-years ago, we got five trophies. Last year we took seven people and got 11 trophies!” The Worlds weren’t the only success for the Brits last year: during the ‘King of 2 Miles’, where there were 49 teams invited, all four of the UK teams came in the top 13. “I’m sure we’re going to win it this year,” confides Mike.
As to favourite events during the World’s, Mike likes them all: “Perhaps I’m most looking forward to the semi-auto class, partly because we can’t have it here in the UK. I would have done alright last year, but I squeezed off three rounds in one go.” And what’s the best performance he’s squeezed from his .50 cal? “At 1000-yards, a five-shot group of 2.3-inches. Bear in mind though, that with .50 cal, groups are measured edge to edge, not centre to centre, and each hole is ½-inch across! The world record for .50 cal is a 1.7-inch group at the same range. So what is the secret to succeeding with a calibre that can cause tremendous flinch, over such long distances? Mike knows it’s all about trigger time: “I fire 4500-rounds or so a year from the .50 cal, but I spend every spare moment with my other rifles, too – it doesn’t matter if it is a .22, it’s still trigger time.
The other important thing is to forget about your last shot. It’s gone. Concentrate on the next one, and trust your spotter.”
Joining the FCSA UK
It couldn’t be easier, and guests are welcome to go to a range day by prior arrangement to see what it is all about. While you won’t be allowed to have a go with a .50 cal because of the legal ft/lb restriction mentioned earlier, other calibres can be used there. The good news is that the sport is growing, and fast too. Since taking up the role of secretary to the FCSA UK two years ago, Mike has managed to double the number of members from 240 to just shy of 500. It’s an amazing achievement – Mike says it was a combination of hassling people, encouraging those who’d let their membership lapse to sign up again and, most importantly, of booking plenty of range days at Home Office approved ranges. There are four military ranges that the club books every month, all of which allow for long-distance shooting: Sennybridge, in Wales, Lydd, in Kent, Warcop in Cumbria and Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire, which can accommodate shots out to an astounding 5km. The FCSA UK is non-profit, which means the club has funds to help pay entry fees for those competing abroad. Mike not only captains the UK team, but also fills out all of the paperwork.
|Rifle||Barrett M99 in .50 BMG|
|Suppressor||Macctec Custom 50|
|Bipod||Tier One and Barrett|
|Scope||Bushnell XRS 4.5-30x50 FFP|
|Scope rings||Tier One Uni mount with 40 MOA of cant on top of a MOAB adjustable rail with another 150 MOA of adjustment.
|Rangefinder||Bushnell CONX and Leica Vector IV Kestrel 4500 Bluetooth|
|Ear defenders||MSA Sordin Pro X and custom moulded inner ear protection too!|
|For reloading, Mike uses:||Brass: Hornady
Bullets: Hornady 750-grain A-MAX
Powder: Hodgdon US869 and H50BMG
Reloading kit: Hornady
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates