Big Game Rifle
Big Game Rifle is a rifle shooting discipline that aims to foster the collection, preservation and use of vintage and modern classic large-calibre big-game rifles, particularly those of British origin, including black powder and early Nitro cartridge firearms. The discipline includes eight categories of matches and the courses of fire within these are largely determined by rifle types and eras, shooting times and shooting positions. The matches aim to simulate field-shooting conditions to improve the shooter’s firearm skills in the pursuit of large and dangerous game.
The Big Game Rifle discipline commenced in Melbourne in 1983 following several years of SSAA members discussing the founding of a club that would look after the interests of large-calibre sporting firearms. They wanted a club that would foster the collection and preservation of classic big-game rifles and the use of both classic and modern big-game rifles, as well as give these types of firearms a political voice in an ever-changing legislative scene.
The first SSAA Big Game Rifle National Championships were held in Victoria in 1989. Nowadays, Big Game Rifle is shot in all states and territories, and international interest and contacts have grown. This culminated in 2006 with the first international Big Game Rifle competition in Brisbane, followed by competitions in the United States in 2008, the United Kingdom in 2010 and South Africa in 2012.
When Big Game Rifle shooting began, a lot of discussion was devoted as to how to categorise the various types of firearms and what events to shoot. The first issue noted was recoil; it was recognised that recoil affected the accuracy of shooting and the amount of shooting possible in one session. Another issue was double-barrel rifles shooting against single-barrel rifles. It was felt that although doubles had an advantage in ‘snap shooting’, they lost out to singles in longer range accuracy.
There are now three general groups: One, Two and Three, with each group defined by projectile diameter, projectile weight and muzzle energy. The number of shots fired in competition decreases from Group One to Group Three to take into account increasing recoil. Additionally, each group has a number of slowly aimed shots and a number of rapid-fire shots to mitigate the differences between rifles.
To reflect the typical field conditions in which big-game rifles might be used, no slings or rests are permitted in competition. Scope sights may be used, subject to a points penalty. The emphasis is on offhand shooting and the use of open sights. As big-game rifles were often traditionally used in tight, dangerous situations, two speed events were conceived: Charging Animal and Special Snap. In addition to this, two categories for older firearms were created: Black Powder Express Rifles and Bore/Ball Guns. While these were the first Big Game Rifle events, as the discipline has developed, it was felt that double rifles needed a separate event. This evolved into two events: Stalking Double Rifle and Stopping Double Rifle.
The SSAA Big Game Rifle National Championships now comprises eight events. At state and branch levels, events have been expanded to include a diverse range of rifle categories and other shooting events, including:
- Classic Cartridge: A showcase event with pre-1939 rifles and cartridges.
- Pot Rifle: Most sporting rifles, including rimfires.
- Rook and Rabbit Rifle: Early smallbore black powder rifles for small game.
- Light Black Powder: Typically American lever-action cartridges.
- Light Nitro/Hunting Class: Most centrefire sporting rifles.
- African Plains Rifle: Rifles such as the 7mm and .300 Magnums, which shoot out to 200 yards.
There are also events for firearms made by specific makers or from specific geographical areas include Holland & Holland, Jeffery, Westley Richards and many other British, European or American makers.
Some unusual formats emphasising particular skills or firearms include:
- Hayley’s Hop: A Zimbabwe Professional Hunter skills event.
- Stopper, Group Two and Three: A short-range rapid-fire event for large nitro rifles.
- Stopper, Black Powder: A short-range rapid-fire event for large black powder rifles.
- Old Bull: An event for shooters 45 years of age and older with the rifle to be older again.
- The India Shoot: An event that uses the same format and targets as those from 19th-century India.
Big Game Rifle comprises eight categories. The course of fire includes differently timed shots and shooting positions in each category, which is fully set out in the rule book.
One early issue was where to start Big Game Rifle categories and how to define them. It was felt that all military calibres should be excluded and that sporting rifles only be used. In the end, Group One started at the .330-calibres and covers up to .375. Group One requires a minimum bullet diameter of .330, minimum bullet weight of 165 grains and minimum muzzle energy of 2900 ft-lb.
This group covers the .400- to .485-calibres and requires a minimum bullet diameter of .400, minimum bullet weight of 400 grains and minimum muzzle energy of 3900 ft-lb.
This group encompasses the largest of the big-game-stopping rifles, beginning at the .485-calibres. Group Three requires a minimum bullet diameter of .485, minimum bullet weight of 525 grains and minimum muzzle energy of 5300 ft-lb.
Black Powder Express
These cartridges range from the .400- to .577-calibres. They are distinctly different from the military and target cartridges of the black powder era, which typically used a heavy bullet propelled by a fairly small powder charge, giving a low velocity and curved trajectory. Conversely, Express rifles used a large charge of black powder propelling a light bullet to deliberately flatten the trajectory and ease the problems of holdover when stalking. Black Powder Express has a minimum calibre of .400, a minimum case capacity of 110 grains of black powder, a minimum velocity of 1600fps and bullet weight in accordance with the original loadings. Loads may be full black powder, pyrodex or duplex (of at least 80 per cent black powder). Jacketed bullets may only be used with full black powder.
Bore Guns and Rifles
These were the real big-game and dangerous-game-stopping rifles of their day. Typically, they were 12-, 10- or 8-bore firearms firing large charges of black powder and using a round ball or conical lead projectile. This category is a great spectator event, with huge volumes of smoke combined with tremendous muzzle flashes. This category also includes any bore gun or rifle with full rifling or patent rifling, as in Paradox (rifled choke) or semi-invisible rifling for ball and shot. Smoothbore ball guns are permitted, provided they are specifically designed for ball and have sights fitted by the original maker. The minimum bore is 16-bore, it must have the maker’s fitted sights and it may use black powder or nitro loads with factory maximum or equivalent reloads. Projectiles must be of a traditional design such as round ball, bluff nosed or Paradox and must be bore riding. Shotgun slugs, such as Brenneke slugs, saboted projectiles or similar modern developments are not permitted. Firearms of modern manufacture in keeping with the spirit of the event, such as the Greener GP, may be used.
Stalking and Stopping Double Rifles
These two groups encompass all centrefire double rifles. In the early days of Big Game Rifle, the doubles were mainly of British origin, but since about 2000, there has been an increasing surge of new double rifles from Europe. These are in both the traditional side-by-side configuration and the popular European over-and-under style. Stalking Double Rifle requires any centrefire double rifle with a minimum calibre of .228, while Stopping Double Rifle must meet the Group Two requirements or above. If using a bore gun or rifle, it must be 12-gauge or greater.
Charging Animal and Special Snap
These are rapid-fire events and require a Group One rifle as a minimum. At the National Championships, only the Charging Animal event is shot. The course of fire uses targets at 75, 50 and 25 yards. It was recognised that some ranges may not be able to accommodate targets at 75 yards, so the Special Snap event, which is fired at 25 yards, can be used as an alternative.