If you fancy trying your hand at target shooting with a firearm of some sort, you’re really spoilt for choice; Graham Allen looks at how you can get started…
Firearms can obviously be used for all manner of tasks, from military and police use, hunting and controlling vermin and of course target shooting. People originally shot at targets to make sure that they were going to hit whatever they were aiming at, be it a soldier, deer or rabbit etc. Eventually, the challenge of being as accurate as possible became the objective in its own right. If you look at the traditional German and Swiss ‘Schutzenfest’ shooting festival for instance, it started as a way of improving marksmanship in the Middle Ages, in a similar way that ‘The Society of Working Men’s Rifle Clubs’ (later to become ‘The Society Of Miniature Rifle Clubs’) was formed in the UK to improve marksmanship during the Boer War. Despite the original aim, if you’ll pardon the pun, being for ‘defence of the realm’ etc. people just loved seeing how accurately they could shoot and once an element of competition with other shooters crept in, it became a proper sport. The 22 calibre rifles used are fitted with aperture sights and the distances are 25- and 100-metres; shooters may use specialist jackets and slings and a high level of accuracy is achieved. Contact: nsra.co.uk
In the UK, there are several routes into the sport, but the best is to join a local club but it’s probably an idea to attend a ‘guest day’ if possible, as you will be able to see the various disciplines that take place and, depending on the club, you should be able to try your hand and see if you like it. You can’t just walk in off the streets though and need to be known by a full member. It’s best to contact the club prior to visiting and you must sign the following declaration: “I state that I am not prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition by virtue of section 21 of the Firearms Act 1968. Section 21 applies to anyone who has been sentenced to imprisonment or to youth custody or detention in a young offender institution for three months or more. The prohibition is for life if the sentence was greater than three-years, if it was less than three years then the prohibition is for five-years from the date of release. I further state that I have never had an application for a firearms or shotgun certificate refused or revoked and have not had any application for membership of a shooting club refused/revoked.”
Clubs can have up to 12 guest days per year and they must inform the local police 48-hours in advance of holding one. The National Rifle Association (NRA) at Bisley Camp in Surrey offer guest days and there are many, many disciplines shot there, as it’s pretty much the home of shooting in the UK, where you can shoot anything from a 22 rimfire up to large centrefire calibres out to 1200-yards! They also offer Training Days Skills Courses for new shooters in various disciplines, such as Target Rifle (TR) Gallery Rifle & Pistol (GR&P) and Civilian Service Rifle (CSR).
If you choose to join the club, you have to be a probationary member for six months, so that the club members can get to know you and assess your safety with firearms, attitude etc. The new shooter will be trained in the safe use of the firearms used at the club but will be supervised at all times and; should they be accepted for membership they will then be able to apply for a Firearm Certificate (FAC) and with a couple of referees who can vouch for their character etc., the local police firearms team will look into their background and inspect where they wish to store any firearms and ammunition that they wish to buy and store at home. An approved cabinet is required, and an alarm system is always a good idea, as it shows that you are serious about security of your property.
Most local gun clubs started as Smallbore Rifle clubs but most now shoot ‘pistol calibre’ rifles and carbines as well as the traditional match rifles.
Gallery rifle & pistol
The ban on handguns in the UK obviously had a huge impact on this aspect of the sport but shooters are a resilient and resourceful bunch, and carried on with black powder revolvers and 22 rimfire semiauto carbines, such as the Ruger 10/22 and adapted the courses of fire accordingly and GR&P has really taken off. What are known as Long Barrelled Revolver (LBRs) and Long Barrelled Pistols (LBPs) have become increasingly popular over recent years and they are purpose-built to comply fully with UK law and have to have a barrel longer than 30cm and an overall length of over 60cm; this was originally achieved by using a standard revolver frame with an extremely long barrel to make the overall length over 60cm but they weren’t exactly easy to shoot, as they were very front heavy. Modern versions use a barrel at least 30cm long but with an extension added to the grip, in the form of a steel rod or bar, to make up the length to the legal size; these are much easier to shoot and don’t have the feel of a steel hockey stick! Due to UK law, all semi-autos (LBPs) must only be in 22 rimfire but LBRs can be in any pistol calibre from 22LR up to 38 Special/357 Magnum etc.
Lever action rifles are also used in ‘Gallery Rifle Centre Fire’ events, with many sporting ‘go- faster’ upgrades, such as adjustable cheekpieces, red dot sights etc. to make them easier to use in competition. Courses of fire vary, as do the ranges, some even shoot out to 300-metres, which is very challenging.
Bisley is the home of Target Shooting, with Target Rifle (TR) still the main shooting discipline. Dating back to the 19th Century, TR grew out of the old Service Rifle competition and changed from .303 to 7.62mm when the UK adopted the NATO calibre for its L1A1 SLR and GPMG. Round bull targets are engaged out to 1000-yards and rifles are fitted with aperture sights, slings; bipods, scopes and handloads are not permitted.
‘MR’ is like TR but scopes and handloaded ammunition are allowed; targets are out to 1200-yards. Experimentation is encouraged and MR includes one of the most enduring international contests in any sport, with the annual Elcho Match, dating back to 1862.
This is the ‘Formula One’ discipline of the shooting world and the target is a 10-inch circle at 1000-yards and the V-Bull is 5-inches! The discipline stared in Canada, when a keen TR shooter found that his failing eyesight was preventing him from taking part, so he fitted a scope and bipod. It is now shot all around the world and rifles are in two classes; ‘FTR’ is pretty much a factory rifle using 223 or 308 ammunition and ‘Open’ allows any calibre up to 8mm. Shooters use hightech, adjustable bipods and sandbags to steady the rifle and the scopes used can be up to 80 magnification. Stocks are also highly specialised, with flat forends to sit in the bipod’s cradle. At 1000-yards, the wind obviously needs to be mastered and shooters can be aiming off 3- or 5-feet to get their rounds on target! This isn’t the sort of thing for everyone but those who shoot it are very dedicated and spend hours preparing their handloads. Contact: gbfclass.com
If you fancy shooting something that’s a little more traditional, the Muzzle Loaders Association of Great Britain (MLAGB) shoot matchlock, flintlock and percussion rifles and muskets standing at 50-metres and rifles prone out to 1200-yards. Pistols, both single shot variants and revolvers are shot standing at 50-metres and it’s now also possible to take part in Mini Cannon shooting at 25-yards – it’s clear that muzzle loaders have all sorts of equipment at their disposal! Contact: mlagb.com
Civilian Service Rifle
‘CSR’ is a modern version of ‘Service Rifle’, where civilians could shoot alongside the UK armed forces with semi-automatic rifles. When civilians were prohibited from owning semi-auto fullbore rifles, UK shooters carried on using bolt action rifles and ‘straight pull’ versions of rifles such as AR15s. CSR shoots are usually from 100- out to 300-yards but some courses of fire go back to 500-yards and others are from 25- to 100-yards. The equipment used obviously complies with UK law, despite some of the rifles looking like military equipment. There are four classes: Service Optic for optics up to 4.5 magnification, where shooters cannot use bipods; Practical Optic, where any power optic can be used, along with bipods. ‘Historic Enfield’ for historic Services rifles, such as No4, No5 and SMLE and ‘Any Iron’ for more modern rifles with open sights. It is a challenging discipline, combining accurate shooting with various positions such as standing, kneeling, sitting as well as prone.
This, unsurprisingly, is shot at 300-metres and is governed by the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) Target Rifles are used in calibres up to 8mm; handloads are allowed, 308 is still popular but many shooters now use smaller, more modern calibres, such as 6mmBR. There are ‘Standard’ and ‘Free’ classes with some shooting prone only competitions and others a combination of prone, standing and kneeling. The bull is 1 MOA, so this is a challenging discipline but the shooters fire from a covered position; they still have to contend with the wind once their bullet leaves the firing point however!
As you can see from the above, there is plenty to choose from down at Bisley from but Sporting Rifle and Classic & Historic are also options. Many of these disciplines are shot throughout the country, however. For information on all the above disciplines, go to nra.org.uk. An alternative to Bisley is the Silverstone Shooting Centre in Northamptonshire, which is a commercial shooting range as well as a Home Office Approved Club, where non-firearms holders can take part in a shooting ‘Experience Day’ and shoot a wide range of firearms and calibres under full supervision. Contact: silverstoneshootingcentre.co.uk