by Jonathan Branch
SSAA Big Game Rifle includes a number of core and supplementary matches that make it well suited to shooters looking for an opportunity to use classic hunting rifles in a target event designed specifically for them.
The Big Game Rifle group of matches are based around the use of classic and/or historic rifles, with an emphasis on double and magazine items in classic calibres. That being said, most sporting rifles of any action type can be employed in a number of the supplementary events, so owners of lever-action and pump-action rifles such as showcased in Colonial Action or single shots, like the iconic Australian .310 Martini Cadet rifle, can be used in some events.
In NSW it has not been easy to establish Big Game Rifle, because very few ranges can accommodate the calibres that are required. Most NSW shooting ranges are limited to a calibre of 8mm or smaller, which prevents any of the core matches of Big Game Rifle being shot. Historically, for the last decade or so, the Windamere Shooting Complex, near the town of Mudgee, has been the only range in NSW on which all the Big Game Rifle events could be fired.
However, this was to change in 2016, when the NSW Firearms Registry decided to impose an 8mm calibre restriction on that range, creating a situation where there was no venue in NSW approved for the core Big Game Rifle events. This restriction was put in place shortly before the 2016 Big Game Rifle State Championships, forcing organisers to alter the program to non-core supplementary matches only. The restriction was lifted on August 14, 2017, too late to tweak the program for the SSAA NSW Big Game Rifle State Championships, which were held on Sunday September 17, 2017. So the 2017 competition went ahead featuring only supplementary matches, not core categories.
Yet the flow-on effect of only being able to run supplementary matches may have proved beneficial for the occasion. The groupings chosen for the State Championships were Pot Rifle, Stalking Double Rifle and Light Nitro. A competitor can shoot the Pot Rifle match with any centrefire rifle above .22 calibre and Light Nitro with a rifle of 6mm (.243) or above. These are the sorts of rifle that most recreational shooters will have in their firearms safe and the word went out to many SSAA members that they could participate with rifles they already owned. So a record 24 competitors turned up on the day armed with all sorts of firearms, including .310 Martini Cadet rifles, a sporterised Martini-Enfield .303 and a plethora of bolt-action sporters including Lee-Enfields and classic Mausers. For many it was worth turning up just for the opportunity to look at all the interesting rifles on the rack.
The shooting took place on picturesque Range 1 at Windamere with the NSW Big Game Rifle buffalo targets set up at 100m, 50m and 25m to enable five shooters per detail. The first event was the Pot Rifle match and for this the Cadet rifles and lever-actions were as common on the firing line as the bolt-actions.
The second scheduled match was for the Light Nitro class with calibres used varying from .243 Winchester up to .300 Winchester Magnum and all shades in between.
The third and final event of the day was the Stalking Double Rifle. Not many of the shooters at this State Championships own a double-rifle but there were a few available for loan so those who wanted to have a go could try their luck. The loan double-rifles were Baikal side-by-sides in 30-06 and though they lack the sophistication of a London best gun, they proved to be fun to use and serviceable enough.
With so many competitors, most of whom wanted to shoot all three matches, the State Titles was still continuing as the sun dipped below the large hill at the back of Range 1. The Big Game Rifle medal awards and Annual General Meeting took place after sunset.
The Big Game Rifle group of matches provides an opportunity for enthusiasts to use and enjoy the classic hunting rifles of old, whether the rifles be antique or of modern make, but built in the classic style. These matches are designed for magnum calibres, so they do not put excess stress on the rifles, limiting rapid fire to a couple of two round strings, with a full course of fire requiring 10 to 20 shots depending on the specific match. This is a discipline that provides excellent and realistic training for hunting marksmanship and rifle handling.
In recent months the SSAA Silverdale range in Sydney has been approved for some Big Game Rifle competitions up to Nitro Group 1 and monthly shoots are now being held there. The Windamere Shooting Complex is located about four hours drive from Sydney and once again is approved for all classes including Nitro Groups 1, 2 and 3 with energy levels up to 8600ft/lb thanks to the tireless efforts of Mudgee Branch Treasurer, Andy Prowse.
Andy put in a great deal of work in research and preparation of the documentation and plans to have the Windamere Shooting Complex re-approved for Big Game Rifle. The newest range to gain approval is Rankin Springs (SSAA Griffith) with permission to shoot Nitro Groups 1, 2 and 3.
Special thanks to NSW Discipline Chairman Ben Doherty for a match well run and a great day of shooting for all. Thanks also to Ben’s wife Jeanette, who manned the laptop as scorer.
NSW BGR State Championships 2017 medal awards list:
Gold: Mick Toovey 174.01
Silver: Andrew Prowse 161.00
Bronze: Adrian Shields 160.01
Gold: Ben Doherty 167.00
Silver: Mick Toovey 157.03
Bronze: Cameron Chiessor 151.00
Stalking Double Rifle
Gold: Don Mackay 89.00
Silver: Mick Toovey 73.00
Bronze: Andrew Prowse 46.00
Big Game NSW Champion
Gold: Mick Toovey 404.04
Silver: Don Mackay 387.01
Bronze: Andrew Prowse 342.00
Big Game NSW Ladies Champion
Gold: Jeanette Doherty 229.02
Silver: Eleisha Meredith 118.02
Big Game NSW Veteran Champion
Gold: Don Mackay 387.01
Silver: Andrew Prowse 342.00
Bronze: Jonathan Branch 307.01