It is a surprisingly warm November morning. I tug on my DPM jacket and wonder if it’s too warm for this- I pull my short magazine Lee Enfield (SMLE) out of its slip, stuff some ammunition in my jacket pocket, and walk over to the group of people milling around. At this point it starts to rain and becomes quite miserable. I struggle into my waterproof and join the group. We have assembled at Bisley camp for the second civilian Service rifle (CSR) competition of the season. CSR has it’s origins after the war when civilians competed with soldiers in military practices using the Lee Enfield 303 no 4 rifle. As the army moved to the L1A1 self loading rifle (SLR) the civilian competition continued and evolved. Nowadays shooters use modern, ergonomic, magazine fed, straight pull AR15 type rifles, or shockingly accurate 308’s with bipods and powerful scopes. As I look around wistfully most shooters have a Bradley Arms rifle. Www.bradleyarms.com
One of Mark Bradleys ARs
There is usually a good showing of 303 toting riflemen, but on this occasion I am one of only three and the only one with an SMLE. There’s a small amount of ribbing at my choice of weapon, which I take in good cheer. I like my old blunderbuss which I bought from C&G.Www.cgfirearms.com
The gaggle of people are listening to an all important safety briefing from the staff. We have all heard it all before, but I believe in positive reinforcement so I listen keenly. I am buddied up with Paul from GunsZen. He’s the arch-blogger – who has brought his SG AR15.http://www.southern-gun.co.uk/ We know each other and take safety very seriously- so it’s a good combination. Names are called and people are told to disappear into the butts or go to the firing point.
Paul and I end up on the firing line. The course of fire is quite detailed so Paul has printed it up- : as he is reading the paper, the lady in the lane next door kindly explains what is coming next. She is clearly an expert. And then it starts- A “huns head” appears -and we snap a shot off and drop to one knee. Then seconds later the tiny head appears again to be shot at. At every stage every shooter is allowed to have sighting shots for his rifle. We fall back from 100 yards in stages.
Paul with his SGC AR
At some stage our target frame jams so Paul and I are split up to be squadded elsewhere. I end up with very competent gentleman with a .303 Jungle Carbine.
“Does it really have a wandering zero?” I ask him.
“Well, er, yes” he admits smiling “ I hate to think what it will do at 500 yards”.
But he is also a crack shot. To my shame, he outshoots me on almost every stage with his short barrelled rifle. When I mention my admiration of his skill he replies quietly: “I shot in the army”.
The author with Enfield at the ready
All too soon the shooting part is over and we are relegated to the butts. I think I have shot reasonably (for a 303) – even out to 500 yards.
We walk behind the range to the overhanging earth bank called the mantlet. A series of no 11 12 and 14 targets lies on the ground or in the counterbalanced target frames. Basically all they are is a series of “huns heads” of various sizes. The first of which is like a large lollipop which we hand hold on the command of the butts officer. While I am not a novice in the butts, there still is something quite unnerving at having high velocity bullets pass 4 foot above your head, with a crack- and then splash into sand 20 foot behind you. It becomes even more interesting when the rifleman is using a 308 and the bullets pass through the wooden shank you are holding up.
The commands are given by loudspeaker:
and then two seconds later:
The butts officer moves us back and forth along the target face-
“Lefft – Left left – taaargets aaahhhp”
“centre, centre centre- taaaargets ahhhp”
working the targets in the butts
It’s also quite fun to work in the butts on a competition – as you take the satisfaction of knowing that you are creating the unpredictable shooting environment which makes the CSR so exciting. Someone is not as enthusiastic as me and my oppo- and the butts office screams:
“Number XX faster on the up”
Paul is not doing the afternoon so I am permanently resquaded with the gentlemen with the Jungle Carbine. Our first practice is at 400 yards and I come dreadfully unstuck. We run forwards 25 yards and throw ourselves down in the prone position. I cannot see the target numbers. So I lift my body up and try and count- but when I lie down with the 303 I am so low that I really cannot see anything except the bank. I fire off a shot and realise that this is pointless so I clear my rifle and stop.
At the end of the practice I protest but the Range staff explain, quite politely that I am wrong.
”The target was presented, and you could have shot at it” says the range officer.
“But I could not see any of the target markers not even the tops- how can that be safe”
“Look I’m not trying to be nasty- but prone from 400 yards is difficult, everyone is in the same boat. Those with optics can just about see the tops of the boards”
The competition rules are clear indeed, and while I am disappointed I agree with him.
“Ok well I will do as you say- I will comply”
Perhaps the RCO takes pity on me and I am allowed a re-shoot along with someone else;
The targets are raised again!
I run forward and look down the barrel again. Now I cannot see the target, the sun is shining on the target which is moving gently in the wind and the brown target becomes invisible on the brown sand. The. It appears as the wind drops and disappears. I cannot “not fire” again, having held up the entire competition, so I look down the barrel and squeeze the trigger. I wait until the wind moves the board and fire again. Somehow I get off10 rounds.
“Wash wash” shouts the scorer. In other words, I have scored nothing and delayed the day. Now I feel really stupid.
“Don’t worry” the guy in the lane next to me says ” I could not see an effing thing, and I’ve got optics.
“But you got 7 target on”
“That was luck mate” he guffaws. I feel marginally better. Then I glance down at my sights, they are still set to 500 yards. That explains most things. But more importantly a lesson is learned. If the target comes up- it’s tough- shoot at it or be damned.
My new found oppo with the Jungle carbine has similar vision problems, but he gets 4 out of ten on target, so he proves it can be done; The kind lady (who is shooting 10 out of 10 on most serials) comes over and gives me some invaluable advice.
“When you cannot see the target numbers, look at your pegs, they are colour coded and you just follow the red or yellow up to your target” . This shows the true spirit of the CSR competition. People will not let you suffer- there is nearly always someone willing to help or give advice.
The rest of the practice goes better- and I get I to the rhythm of using the 303. The key is to take aimed shots and not to go for speed. I only get 5 off and get 4 on target in one serial. I think this is awful, but my oppo washes out on that practice. Its a combination of relief and annoyance when the scores are read out.
One of the targets used in CSR
All too soon we are in the butts again. On the first serial, the two shooters on the left both fire on the same target showing that even with optics the 400 yard mark is complicated. This makes for yet another reshoot. The wind picks up again and our target starts to waggle. The sun shines on it and then off –
“We should, stabilise that” I say.
“leave it” mutters my oppo- “they didn’t do us any favours. “
“Indeed” I chuckle and sit on the bench under the mantlet as the bullets pound into the sand.
The best place and the worst place to be are the butts. If you have a know it all for an companion, you cannot get away. You have to sit there and listen while he talks and talks until you go mad. Or if you have a lazy companion he’ll just watch you while you haul the frames up and down. But on this occasion I am blessed with a hilarious oppo who tells me stories: there’s a clever chap to our left and the veteran expert lady on our left. The time in the butts passes quickly and we say our goodbyes. I walk back to the Landrover, pack away the SMLE and DPM jacket. It’s not been my best CSR; but it is my first with the SMLE.
The CSR competition is arguably one of the most exciting events run by the NRA. It turns competent shots like me into very very mediocre shots when the heart is pumping and the target is about to disappear. It encourages good marksmanship along with fitness and a cool head. There are no two ways about it- it would be much easier with a lightweight 5.56 rifle with a good telescopic sight. But I stubbornly refuse to use my AR 15 until I have mastered the .303. They used to do it in the past- and so why should I not try. The words of an old British army sniper ring in my ear “the Enfield is very unforgiving if not used right”. By used right he means pointed in exactly the right direction.
Oh well until the next month it’s back to the ranges to practice.
Know and Go:
The national rifle association organises the CSR winter season at Bisley camp. You will need a shooters certification card to take part. You will also need to enter the competition and pay the relevant fees. Full details at NRA.ORG.UK
Bisley camp is situated at BrookWood / Bisley near junction 3 of the M3
Most people use .223 AR15 rifles for CSR. The most popular seems to be the baR15. Contact Mark Bradley at Bradley arms http://www.bradleyarms.com/ his rifles are reputed to be excellent by their users. Mark also supplies 5.56 ammunition at the best prices that I can find.
There are other companies who make AR15’s. Lanner Tactical make very accurate rifles as do southern gun. Www.lannertactical.com www.southern-gun.co.uk . Beware, it takes ages to make a new .223 so buying second hand is a good idea.
For those of you who insist on making life a challenge, excellent 303’s are made by C&G firearms. They use unissued barrels to make up almost new rifles that are shockingly accurate. Although they are unforgiving- see above. Www.cgfirearms.com
You’ll need a stout jacket with pockets or a magazine holder and a belt.
A cheap option is to visit Fultons of Bisley, buy a £350.00 7.62 l42 Enfield and have them chop the barrel down to 20 inches. Add a picatinny rail £130 and a cheap Nikon scope £200 and a Harris tripod £80. Buy a second magazine, have it fitted and you have a very cheap practical optic rifle. Remove the tripod and keep the scope down to 4x and you have a service optic rifle. http://www.fultonsofbisley.com
No matter what rifle you use, the key to CSR is practice.