Getting Started in Rifle Shooting
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- Last updated: 26/06/2017
Rifle shooting in all its forms, from air rifle shooting to rimfire and centrefire shooting and not forgetting the black powder brigade, has become ever more popular over the years.
That’s a very good thing for the sport in general, allowing a new generation to appreciate and enjoy this wonderful sport of ours. Be it target or sporting use, the rifle shooter needs a good grounding as regards to safety, most importantly and also rifle handling and then the skill sets to actually hit the target. The premise is always the same, with a need for a good grounding in the ability to improve and maintain a safe performance.
Where to start? There are two real camps here, target shooters start with a local gun club, whilst sporting shots, like me, tend to start on a farm or local shoot. Either way, I bet all of us got the bug by starting with a few shots from an air rifle.
This fact alone, with a start in air rifles, is a great place to begin your journey. Firstly, it’s cheaper than rimfire or rifle shooting to start with and by using and handling a decent air rifle you can actually see if it’s just a fad or real passion. Plinking, or informal shooting in the garden, is excellent for fun, tuition and skills that will set you right on your journey down the winding path of shooting. Better still, if you get bitten, then I would strongly recommend joining not only a shooting organisation such as the BASC, NRA or BDS.
But there are now some excellent indoor shooting ranges around the country, where advice, tuition and kit can all be explained and shown in a relaxing and professional environment. I like to use the superb facilities at A Different Calibre Ltd, as they are friendly and professional and it makes a great place to learn, brush up on your technique or socialise with the kids and family. It’s worth every penny for a correct start into rifle shooting.
These skills, now learnt from the air rifle scene, are transferable to all other forms of shooting and will serve you well over the coming years. Most important, is that you will form friendships and contacts that will invariably lead you the next stage, be it target or sporting shooting.
Start with a local club that is recommended by other shooters and contact the secretary for an informal meeting to discuss your interest; in this way, they know you are keen and at least responsible. Next, a probationary period will follow, where you will be asked to attend a certain number of shoots with differing disciplines to ascertain your skill, abilities and demeanour. The club will obviously be checking you out, to assess your character and it gives you a chance to see if you like them too!
Now that you have a grounding and built up trust within a gun club, you can be coached into applying for a firearms licence. Despite press about long waits and errors, the vast-majority of Police Licensing Departments are there to help. They are just doing their jobs and with the increase in interest of rifle shooting, they can be inundated with applications and renewals. Your local Firearms Enquiry Officer (FEO) will talk you through the procedure for the application of your FAC and crucially, advise on security issues regarding your gun safe.
Personally speaking, my advice here is to go for the best gun safe you can afford. You will need a separate lockable section within it, or a separate safe for ammunition. Too many people just buy the minimum ISO rated safe, which to me is fool hardy. Yes, monetary restraints dictate the affordability but if you settle on a £200 safe with potentially thousands of pounds of rifles, scopes and kit within it, it makes sense to me, to get a good one. Shootingsafe UK, are excellent for affordable and strong products and have a great variety of safes to choose from, to fit your space and guns when they are granted on your new FAC.
It is also very important from the off that you start with only the essential rifles on your FAC, you will probably be restricted to the number you hold anyway but get proficient with a couple of rifles first and then branch out for different rifles for the alternate shooting disciplines your club offers.
This form of rifle shooting is more intuitive to me, having a family background in farming, so it was almost inevitable that I was to get some shooting in the woods. Nonetheless, all that applies to target or club use is relevant here. In some ways, sporting use is easier but also more difficult! You have to find a farm to shoot on in the first place but then, depending on the variety of game to shoot, it’s up to you to progress in a safe and legal way.
The best advice here is really to put some legwork in. Dress smartly, have with you some insurance documents and any CV or references and knock on doors. Probably the best way is to join a Young Farmers group, help in a Woodland Trust work day, or best of all, start as a beater on a pheasant shoot. Although you may want to shoot rifles, if you can demonstrate that you are safe and reliable on a pheasant drive and volunteer to help feed birds, repair pens and odd job, then very often the keeper or land-owner will grant permission to shoot, or at least help out. It’s a foot in the door.
There are many other ways to get into rifle shooting and these are ‘have a go’ days or ‘guest days’ at shooting ranges or organised shoots. BASC and BDS both offer training and courses for rifle shooting and deer stalking, which are certificated that will go a long way to impress potential landowners to allow you to shoot.
Personally, from a sporting rifle shooter’s point of view, also attend as many local events from your BDS, BASC or Conservation groups, to further build up contacts; permission to shoot on land can come from the most unusual meetings. I was helping with dry stone walling with my brother in a church, which led to the minister asking me to shoot the pigeons in the belfry. This led to one of his parishioners asking me to shoot rabbits and hooded crows on his small holding, which led to an estate manager asking for culling duties on reds and then the rest is history.
As strange as it might seem, this is the last thing to think about, although no doubt it will be the first thing on your mind, as you are keen to get started. Get the grounding first and advice from your fellowshooters in the club or local shoots or ranger/gamekeepers, as this will help you make a better choice and save you money in the long-term.
From a sporting point of view, a .22LR rimfire is defiantly the best starting point, although some FEOs allow a .17 HMR for dual vermin and fox usage. Personally, I’d start with a .22 rimfire and learn how to shoot it properly. Apply for a sound moderator at the same time and buy at least five different boxes of subsonic ammunition. In this way, you can test you rifle, as well as yourself, for best accuracy and reduced noise levels.
Here, I would strongly recommend a bolt action rifle, avoid a semi or pump, or even a lever action, to start with. A good bolt action or straight pull, such as a CZ 455 or Browning T-bolt, are ideal. They are not expensive and will give you the grounding you need to become a proficient shot and impress the land owner, more importantly. Scope choice is tricky, with so many on the market these days. Buy the best you can afford but make sure it has a parallax adjustment and zoom magnification for short-range use with the higher mags. Illuminated reticles are handy too and pretty much come as standard now. I personally use and love the new Hawke Vantage .22LR, with dedicated .22LR rimfire reticle for accurate, down-range trajectory compensation.
You will also probably want a fox or deer rifle to start with. Don’t ask for anything exotic to start with; in that I mean that if you ask for a .222, .223 or .22-250 or even .204 Ruger for foxes or .243, 6.5x55mm, .308 or 30-06 for deer you are more likely to get it. The land will have to be passed to that calibre rifle for safe use, so sometimes an FEO may suggest a .243 Win for both fox and deer use. Either way, ask for a sound moderator as well, to save on a variation later.
Again, a bolt action to start with and here a good second hand rifle is fine, so long as the barrel is in condition and is screw-cut for a sound moderator. This saves money on having the barrel cut for a mod but check there is no corrosion around the muzzle and down the first four inches of rifling. I like the Tikka or Sako range of rifles but have to say that Browning X-Bolts or A-Bolts are excellent value, as are Howa. With regard sound moderators, you have to decide whether maximum noise reduction is desirable; if so, then a Jet Z Compact, light-weight- than a Schultz and Larsen or A-Tec and for maintenance-free use, then the MAE moderator cannot be beaten, being stainless steel.
Scope choice here is really the same as the rimfire, you need to really ask yourself exactly at what time of day you will be using it, so low light efficient, short or long range, illuminated reticle, or parallax adjustment. With a centrefire rifle, I think that scopes such as Hawke, Delta, Zeiss Terra and NightForce SHC are excellent value but sometimes a good second-hand, higher grade scope is better value for money. Don’t scrimp on mounts either; buy the best you can afford, as a loose scope is no good to anyone.
A bit of an over-view but hopefully helpful. The main point I think, from my point of view, is don’t rush things. I know these days that everything is now, now, now but softly, softly, catchy monkey really works and stops you making mistakes, builds confidence and gets it right from the beginning.
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