Formed informally, the committee is a group of target shooters who belong to disparate NRA affiliated clubs. They meet regularly to enjoy discourse and long range shooting. So named after a black and white photo resembling a meeting of a soviet collective farm, the committee is dedicated to safe shooting and a bit of science. Within the committee, there are 3 (or so) select members that make up the Politburo, a cadre of hard core shooters who meet in snow rain and sun, (usually drizzle) to bounce metal projectiles off metal targets. Today, they explore the WMS facilty in West Wales.
It is a little known fact that Great Britain has a surprising number of long range shooting areas. Many of them are military ranges, access to which is restricted to affiliated NRA clubs, and governed by the requirements of HM Armed Forces. This can lead to shoot cancellations when the nation is militarily active. The benefit, however, of club membership is that range fees for the ultra-long ranges are cheap.
Shooting on Military ranges however requires good self-spotting skills to see the strike of the round on the target, or the use of tracer ammunition. Tracer, which while cheap, is less stable than target ammunition and harder to acquire. Apart from that you need to keep a steady eye on the target and watch for the splash of the dust or the movement of the target. If you are firing at something metal, then you will occasionally get a spark with the strike off the rusting hulk.
There are, however, a handful of private, professionally constructed and properly insured ranges that welcome target shooters and conduct courses. One of these ranges is WMS firearms whose HQ is based in Ystrad Meurig in west Wales. Having paid out £200 each, we had been sent a bunch of information which amongst other things gave us the location of the Red Lion, a pub/inn on the edge of the Cambrian Mountains. We needed to get to the Red Lion, stay there and then meet the people from WMS the next morning.
Following a postcode on a satellite map to the inn, we knew that it was not in Ystrad Meurig but another village. The road left the A44 and curled through hamlets and down into deep forested valleys, only to climb relentlessly to a peak from where we could see yet more hills before plunging down into another valley. Eventually we arrived at the Red Lion.
“What a drive” said Andy.
“Yes” Agreed Nick “absolutely amazing”.
While he had arrived we really had no idea where we were. So after we’d checked in to the Red Lion I asked the barmaid where we were. She thought we were asking how to pronounce the village name.
When she understood that in reality, we were wondering where on earth we were this drew some chuckles from the staff and clients alike. We were politely informed by the other clients that we were in Pontrhydfendigaid
(For those who are interested this is approximately pronounced Pontyventraguide.).With the help of an OS map and the help of some of the patrons, we worked out that while Pontrhydfendigaid was remote, it was only a dozen or so miles from the town of Aberystwyth.
Everyone in Pontrhydfendigaid happily speaks Welsh over their coffee or in the shop. The only phone network that works is EE.
Considering that we had intruded on their quiet and rather idyllic village with two grumbling landrovers and a KIA, the locals were more than friendly.
Armed with loads of local information, we had a leisurely dinner and went to our rooms. Using a digital radio, I could just about get Radio 4 and the news. Nothing much in the world had changed since we had left.
The next morning, the true scale of the beauty and desolation of the Cambrian Mountains becomes apparent. It is hard to explain in words, the contrast between the deep moist valleys, large stone cottages, winding narrow roads and then the explosion of colourful fields that cover the lower hills. Only to give way to bleak grass covered blunt peaks scattered with sheep.
There is some mist and a slight drizzle as I wander off for a short stroll around the village. A series of larger stone houses dominate the centre of the settlement. I wonder if these were the houses of the more affluent many years ago. Smaller, but very brightly coloured terraced houses, edge the village before coming to the church and war memorial. This is so personal an affair that it gives the address or farm of each of the fallen. I stare at the names. I always find War memorials humbling, a silent tribute to the failure of our leaders to communicate.
As I walk around the village teenagers assemble at the bus stand to go to school; vans start up and head off towards Tregaron or over to some farm. I feel as though I am intruding on someone else’s world and take very few photos. That is until I drop into the shop to buy a paper and snack where the staff and clients are overwhelmingly welcoming. Fairly soon, the politburo finds itself back in the shop, as we have made what Andy calls a “tactical schoolboy error”. We assumed that breakfast started early. We were mistaken. So after coffee from our room kettles we all buy lunch from the village shop.
At WMS, we finally meet the people we have been talking to for the last 3 years. Andrew Venables is a charismatic man whose experience is extremely varied, Helena is cool calm and very organised. She’s also a journalist and needs to conduct interviews while we go out shooting. WMS is a multidiscipline organisation that trains zoos, hunters and government employees in wildlife management and safe culling. When they hear of our tactical schoolboy error, we are fed toast while we fill in the requisite forms.
Finally, after all this time, it is time to load up our kit into the vehicles. Nick and Andy load up Andy’s Landrover while I jump in with Andrew Venables in his Ford 4×4.
We have arrived with no real expectations; save those we have gleaned on the internet. We are expecting one pit with some targets and a drive back to various firing points. Andrew Venables leads us back through Pontrhydfendigaid and drive off up through some farms to WMS area number 2. This is our first of a few firing positions. Nothing could have prepared us for the array of targets available to us from this first firing position. To our right is a pit area or quarry with some steel targets visible at 300m. In front of are steel deer and foxes and to our left a lone steel figure 11 stands 700m away. In the distance are some gongs at 1000m.
What I find most impressive and challenging is a small river bed with a series of wildlife targets that require dynamic positioning. The distances start at 50m and work their way up to 250. Each target is specifically placed to ensure that the marksman has to change his position as he walks up the narrow gulley. I have a go with the L42A1 and find myself half sitting half lying on the side of the gully with the rifle resting upon the grass. It’s stirring stuff and takes all my energy and patience to get a first shot hit on a metal deer. This course of fire is clearly and cleverly designed for the stalkers who have to hit their quarry every time with the first shot, I marvel at the dynamic nature of this range.
Meanwhile, Nick and Andy have broken out their .338 Lapua’s and are banging away at targets that start at 300m. They quickly work their way out to 1000m and 1300m. This means that I cannot complete the walk up the gulley but have to stop and remain parallel to them.
“this would be an awesome range to walk up” I say to Andy.
“Especially with the S&W M&P 15/22’s” He agrees.
I have difficulty shooting the smallest targets at 300m and so I pack away the L42A1 and unbag the AR10. The AR is an easier rifle to use and I am on very quickly. I run mid-priced Vortex scopes almost exclusively. (http://www.vortexoptics.com/) While they are not as crisp as the top end brands such as Schmidt and Bender or Kahles, the £500-600 Vortex scopes are excellent value. And I am told the top end vortex scopes do compare exactly with these scopes. I have a 4-16 x 44 Vortex in Milirads on both the L42A1 and the AR10. This means that my brain has less to think about. I always try and dial for elevation but aim off for windage.
After some time, the other 2 are consistently hitting targets at 1200m and I feel I too should catch up. I have recently purchased a second hand Remington 700 in .300 Winchester Magnum, this is seated in an old Accuracy International AW stock and it does the job. We are all happily shooting out to 1200m but are soon running out of alternative targets.
We break for tea and then for lunch which can be taken in a strategically positioned horse trailer. Andrew lays on tea, coffee and milk. After this we change angle and move to another hill which allows us to shoot squarely into the pit/quarry at 1000m (1100yards). I get the L42A1 out again to see how it fares. It is back to its old form, giving great accuracy at 1000m with 147 grain GGG factory military surplus ammunition. Surprisingly the AR10 is also accurate at this distance with a 20 inch barrel and the same 7.62mm GGG.
Andy and Nick are excellent shots. On this day, they have only brought .338’s and so, spotting for each other they quickly work their way through the near targets at 1000-1300 metres. Soon and with some help from Andrew Venables, they are happily hitting the gong at 1500m. Having come this far, I feel I should join them. The Remington 700 comes out again and I try and get shots on beyond 1200m. I have had enormous trouble sourcing consistent ammunition. I have some 190 grain Sierra Match king made by Federal which is accurate but has cost me £3 a round. I have worked my dope out the day before, but I am not spot on with the Federal beyond 1000 yards and my ballistic calculator can only get me in the ball park. As I run low, WMS sells me some HPS 200 grain SMK 300-winmag ammunition. I have had mixed results with HPS ammunition. (https://www.hps-tr.com/en/) it is always extremely accurate but sometimes is loaded a touch light for long range work. In this case, the rounds are both accurate and properly charged. With no accurate dope card and cursed with no accurate feedback on the rounds, I need to make a plan. 1300m is no place to start messing around with “where did that round go”.
Here Andrew Venables comes into his own. He is a truly gifted spotter; one of a handful of people who can almost sense which spot of grass moved and which did not. He allows me to do some Kentucky calculations on the hoof, and use intelligent guesswork to translate Federal Dope (Which I now had) into HPS dope. I stop shooting and take my time, using Istrelok (http://www.borisov.mobi/
All of this is confirmed by Andrew Venables watching the swirl of the descending round and making very accurate estimations of the impact zone he is able to guide us all onto the most challenging target of the day, a small gong on the edge of a waterfall. As soon as we are within 12 inches of the target, the rock gives significant feedback and allows for the minor adjustments to get on target.
In my case I consistently clip the disk at 1600m. I am not bothered. If I am 2 inches off, at the end of three days of shooting (and hundreds of rounds of ammunition), With a sore shoulder and bleary eyes, then I am very happy. I don’t always need to hear the ping (although it is nice).
Andy stretches out and hits the waterfall target repeatedly at 1600m. Andy is the most scientific out of all of us. He has amassed huge amounts of knowledge and is very sensible. He generally brings and uses one rifle, a switch barrel DTA SRS A1. His tenacity is rewarded. He nearly always gets on target and gets the results that he wants.
Nick and I cannot stop ourselves. We have to bring a variety of rifles and enjoy shooting silly rifles such the Lee Enfield 303, Armalites and AK47’s. Nick is more scientific than I am and reloads his own ammunition. I get mine from boxes, but for the precision stuff I use Fultons of Bisley to load my used cases. In my experience Fultons produce consistent and accurate ammunition, in some cases tailoring a specific round for your own rifle. (http://www.fultonsofbisley.
The light is still strong at 5.30pm when we are all almost shot out. Just before the end of the day Andrew Venables produces an Enfield no4 Rifle. The 303 has iron sights and uses HPS 303 (174grain SMK) ammunition. He and I have a good old blast at 1000m. The no4 is spot on, with the SMK bullets coming in slightly higher than Mk 7. The big boar in the pit takes numerous hits. Like a fool I try and shoot a figure 11 target and get within inches, but the naked eye and a kilometre are not a good combination.
“The 303 is on me” Andrew says graciously when I try and pay for the 30 odd rounds that I have put down range.
The day comes to an end and we transfer our kit back to our own vehicles for the journey home. I will not make this ammo mistake again, I send all my used 300 WIN mag cases to Fultons to be loaded with AMAX 208 grain bullets. “One round one dope for each calibre” (from Andy) and no deviation will serve me well.
We thank Andrew and Helena for their input. They have a truly magnificent facility that we all look forward to seeing again. But first we have local Club Shooting, Warcop and Orion and then there is the winter CSR season. That’s the problem with shooting. There is always something more coming up.