The WMS Steel Challenge
- By Chris Parkin
- 68 Comments
- Last updated: 15/12/2016
The WMS Steel Challenge was set up for those wanting to learn, test and improve their shooting. From military and police marksmen through to sporting shooters like ourselves, whether you wish to hone your current skills or perhaps raise your game a notch for the trip of a lifetime: here is an opportunity you can’t afford to miss.
Owner Andrew Venables has drawn together a large facility amongst a very rural farming landscape in West Wales, with around 5000 acres of shootable terrain surrounded by nearly 20,000 acres of uninhabited land. It’s over a mile off the main road up a single track gravel road until you get to the small range building. Seating, shelter and classroom are on hand along with tea and coffee facilities.
A Tailor Made Day
Visitors to the facility are given the opportunity to discuss their requirements and plan their day in advance although like everything outdoors, the weather will of course have some final say. Shorter ranges atmospheric conditions are all part of a hunt but at very long range, visibility can often be a limiting factor purely on safety grounds and that is before the wind is encountered! A new idea for a realistic hunter’s needs, using animal silhouette targets at appropriate ranges is catered for by a `50-300 metre` day. Indulging all skills from range and wind estimation alongside multiple shooting positions, allowing participants to engage realistic animals at responsible hunting ranges in a real-world scenario.
As this venue is not a standard gallery range and laid out over rolling hills, it has its own unique safety and gun handling procedures to adhere to. Everything is covered in a short pre-shoot briefing followed by a quick zero check! Most targets have fixed arcs of fire but anyone on site is accompanied by a radio-equipped instructor, all of whom are experienced shots. They are on hand every minute of the day to offer advice from wind reading and ballistic information to ranges and inclination.
They strike an excellent balance between telling you too much and letting you learn through personal experience. On a painted steel target with a few like-minded friends, this is a fantastic opportunity. Shooters are encouraged to work in pairs, one shooting, and one spotting. Calling the shots is as much fun as pulling the trigger because you can sometimes see bullets vapor trail in flight, read hits and misses and advise corrections for either wind or elevation. You see it happen, respond quickly and the brain learns better this way for when it comes to your turn to pull the trigger.
Just One Visit?
The full scope of what WMS offers is so extensive it would be impossible to experience in a single day. The site displays around 60, large, fixed targets and 50 more that are mobile representing everything from life sized crows and rabbits up to large game. The hardened steel used will withstand all centrefires in normal civilian use and the distant bong when hit, is an endlessly pleasing report.
Large, sand-filled bunkers are used as both safe backstops and an excellent indicator of misses. Travel around these different target locations, uphill, downhill and across or through valleys is usually done in Andrew’s 4x4 with plenty of room for your gear. For a more sporting-related experience there are countless animal cutouts between 100 and 600 yards all-round the site but the longer ranges tend to concentrate on fewer, larger, target-rich bunkers, mainly down a central valley with some very helpful wind flags lining your bullet’s route. At 400 yards, one of the downhill layouts offers a true `splash` as the 10” plates hang over a small lake!
Simply Good Fun
One of the simplest activities of the day, which Andrew and I both enjoyed, equally, was shooting at deer at unknown range. We just found a target and location we liked where any shooting position was possible with respect to ground coverage. We didn’t range the deer, dial or look at ballistic data we just played an estimation game, aimed off and shot, using a nice compact Remington 700 in .308 to see how it worked out. Hopefully not something anyone would do on live quarry! The target was nicely rusted orange by the atmosphere and bullet hits showed up spectacularly. We shot mainly from a supported standing position and the range ended up at 285 yards. The hits although kill zone, were clearly effected by wind. For what to both of us is a job, we were sporting boyish smiles at the simple fun element of a little head to head competition.
Prone In The Grass
This, like many of the firing points was a flat grassy area and since I thought these were going to be really hard shots to connect with, I was glad of what I have always considered to be my favourite shooting style; prone on grass! Andrew had set up a spotting scope behind me as it was getting hard to see the fall of shot with binoculars. Even though I have shot 1000 yard F-class many times, I have always enjoyed true field shooting more, nothing but a rifle, scope and ammo. I dialed in my elevation and estimate on the wind, and shot. I didn’t see the hits but Andrew could and bong arrived back after several seconds. Even at 20” in diameter with an accurate, long range rifle, hits on my part were not guaranteed as even the slightest of wind variations at this range made feet of windage difference on target.
I will definitely be going back as soon as possible and this time, maybe go a little further back? I’m told a mile is no problem, calibre dependent and 2200 yards is possible although the wind can make these ultra-long ranges an immense challenge. Anyone wanting to visit can contact Andrew to plan their day and I would certainly recommend it.
FOR - An incredible learning environment for any shooter
AGAINST - Location and travel might put you off; don’t let it!
VERDICT - Fun, challenge and an invaluable learning opportunity