It’s nine in the morning on a cool summers day in West Wales. The wind blows over the tops of the hills and down the winding valleys. We pull into a pub car park and a man steps out of his crew cab pick up.
“Gentlemen good morning” he says and shakes our hand. Bob is our instructor today. Shooting is a needlessly touchy subject in the Uk and this is the public domain, so out of respect for Bob’s privacy, we’ll call him “Bob.” He glances at his watch and looks around.
“Well no one else made the RV, so let’s go”. We pile into our shared car while he leads us off down the road. We drive along the narrow road until we arrive at a gate. We then set off up an off-road track and through a series of gates, some of which fly a red flag. We seem to keep climbing and climbing until we come to a piece of flat dead ground atop a valley. There is a cowshed on our right and a Shackleton hut in front of it. Two sea containers sit in the middle of the dead ground at an angle. We pile into the hut. Someone produces coffee and we are sat around a large table. We fill out some paperwork and listen to a short but very sensible safety briefing from a director. After some more chat about the state of the world, we are taken out to the weird looking containers containers- which turn out to be very comfortable, very warm firing points. We are offered benches or lay flat runner mats, Paul and I choose the mats and Sammy goes for the bench firing piont. He unpacks his green monster. A single shot 308 with a barrel that is measured in feet not inches,
Sam’s green monster!
After much rummaging around for kit, and the opening of ammunition boxes various I grab my “plastic fantastic”. As far as I am concerned it’s a straight pull M16, but the world insists on calling it an AR15. I don’t really like it, but it’s cheap to fire and very accurate at short ranges.
We are given the go ahead to fire out to 200 yards so as to check our sights. Paul and Sammy use their 308’s while I blat away with gay abandon. I’m well into my second magazine, and a few metal plates, when Bob chuckles over his telescope.
“You really can get through some ammunition can’t you”
“Just getting the feel of my new rifle” I snort back over the butt and keep firing. But as the third magazine goes in I remember that I have foolishly only brought 200 rounds of 5.56 ammo. I rather bashfully clear it, have it double checked and put it away. Instead I bring out my staple, a Canadian .303 no4 rifle with a Walther barrel and Nikon hunting scope. Everyone I know laughs at this set up; the purists think its disgusting and the wannabe sniper mob think it’s ancient. It’s zeroed at 300 yards, so I have to undershoot closer, which is easy. The targets ping in the near distances and it’s all good fun.
After we have got the “blatting” out of our system Bob starts to gives us targets with challenges. Some serials and some further and further away, until we are shooting at 800 yards. By now, are now shooting very slowly and selectively. Sammy hits a clay pigeon that’s a disk 2.5 inches wide.
Far out on the other side of the valley is a small grey indentation. A scrape on the side of the hill. To it’s left and right and inside it are what seem to be incredibly small targets. This is the 1000yard range. Paul and I move slowly out to this and ring the gong. The next challenge has to be the 1200 mark. At this stage we are pushing the 7.62 ammunition out to its farthest useable level. Paul has loaded his own, with a charge that mimics the British Army sniper round and his scope is 24 x. His remmington barks and with a couple of ranging shots, he is on the target.
Remington 700 in .308
My old 303 is a different proposition. I have long held that the 303 will go further than the 7.62 but it is probably less controllable. I don’t have a bipod, so I rest on an ammo box and bean bag. I squeeze the trigger through its long double pull and watch the Slovakian bullet fly down the range. My 14 times Nikon scope is designed for hunting, but it was cheap, it works, and it’s mine. (I am not about to spend £1600 on an Enfield genuine scope, nor am I about to spend the same on. Leupold.) The lesser magnification allows me to see the round burn across the valley and yet I see the mud splatter as it hits marginally low.
Bob directs me to add a couple of clicks – which I do. And hold my breath. (I am really not a maths man like Paul who is scientific and brilliant about his shooting. I am old school. Fire and watch, deviate slightly fire again). As soon as my breathing steadies, I dig my elbows in deeper and squeeze off another round. The bullet flies slowly off across the valley. I see no splash,
“Bollocks” I mutter and wonder if I am so high, that I am in the peat.
“Hit exclaims Bob”
“listen” he commands- and we all fall silent. After a few seconds the faint ringing of the metal plate wafts back to us. The metal target is swinging. I am incredulous. So I try again.
“Hit” shouts Bob.
I reload the old no4 and fire again.
“Hit- “ he chuckles from his seat and stares at me. “You’ve got a two inch group at 1200 yards”
I simply don’t believe him- and clear my .303 have it checked by Paul, place it on the ground and scramble over the RCO’s chair. I ask if I can see and look through the cheap but effective 48x scope. There are three clear markings on the gong. I simply cannot believe it- all I can do is rib Paul with how my 70 year old rifle with factory Slovak ammo can go so easily out to 1200 yards. He response by laconically ringing the gong at 1200 yards with seemingly no effort. In case you dear reader are thinking that I was the best shot on the day, you are mistaken. Sammy outshot all of us. His green monster stopped working, and so at the age of 72 he took my M16 effort and zapped the tiniest targets at 800 yards. Paul, being scientific and smooth in his shooting out shot me by a point or two on serials. But I was quite happy with my group.
Bob ran a small service rifle type competition for us before lunch. Lunch consisted of sandwiches made by me- and copious coffee. Bob has his own and we chat away about life in general. Bob is clever man, who has done alot- in addition to this, he is probably the best spotter I have ever met. He has an ability to guide in, even the most useless shooter such as myself.
After Lunch we are driven out to to the overwater firing point. Here all of us are all over the place. Bob smiles as we shoot down at a radical angle on unknown distances into a lake. After watching us shoot high and wide, Bob stops us and intervenes. He gives us a couple of very small top tips. As soon as we know what we are doing wrong and how to mentally calculate the drop and distance, we start sinking the bouys and ringing the gong on a semi submerged boat. This is fast shooting in serials, there is no time to adjust sights. It is all about mental adjustment and snap shooting. Paul is the clear leader at this game with his long barrelled heavy M16, but I try to give him a run for his money with the 303.
The AR15 down into floating targets..
The wind picks up and we were running low on carried ammunition, so we backtrack to the sea container and our ammo boxes. We do one final short competition before breaking for final tea, biscuits and a debrief. Bob gives us some more “top tips”, and then goes to clear up. We fill in our logbooks, and run over some figures.
“Not bad for a 70 year old rifle” concedes Paul. But he can afford to be magnanimous; he’s done well.
We drive out a different way, and see large parts of the range dedicated to hunting training. Bob leads us out of the gate, waves and we head off to clean our rifles and get some dinner.
“We need to come back” mutters Sammy- no one disagrees.