There was a popular song years ago that sang about northern Australia’s wet season. It contained the line “In the wet (in the wet) in the wet (in the wet) it gets about as wet as it can get … and that pretty much sums up the February 8, 2020 NSW Big Game Rifle Group One Championships – it was wet. It was perhaps a brief taste of what Noah experienced, and in the absence of an ark we were all happy the Silverdale range is blessed with a covered firing point.
The fact it was wet and muddy did not much dampen the enthusiasm of the Big Game Rifle aficionados, many of whom extracted their classic and vintage rifles from the dark recesses of their rifle safes to bring them along for a bit of an airing despite the fact that these classics and vintage rifles were going to get wet and grubby, but they were going to be enjoyed as they should be – shoes are meant to be worn are they not?
Among the exotic rifles that were seen at the firing point were an original Mannlicher-Schönauer full-stock carbine, 1970’s vintage Steyr-Mannlicher rifles with their characteristic “licorice twist” barrels: both a model “M” full-stock carbine and a rare model S/T (i.e. “Strong/Tropical”) chambered for the .375 Holland & Holland Magnum. In addition to those were 1930-1950s vintage Mausers equipped with riflescopes that modern shooters have probably never heard of, such as Ajack for example, and in calibres that most have not encountered such as the 9.3x64 Brenneke.
So the shoot was like the rifle equivalent of a vintage and classic car show, except that at a car show you only get to look at the cars whereas at a Big Game Rifle shoot you get to shoot rifles and really enjoy them.
The first event of the day was the adrenaline pumping Special Snap which requires eight shots from a Group One or larger big game rifle in a short 35 seconds. Shooters are only allowed to have a maximum of four rounds in their rifle at any time and few big game rifles are equipped with a detachable magazine so culling belts are the order of the day as this event is designed to provide practice for a problem animal culling situation.
This event was won by Laif Foreman with a 66.01 followed by Ben Doherty with a 63 and then Jon Branch in third place with a 61.
The Light Nitro event is shot at ranges of 100m, 50m, and 25m and the vast majority of the match is shot from the unsupported off-hand position. For this event one can use any rifle of calibre .224” or over that is in a “sporting configuration” that can shoot accurately out to 100m. Heavy barrelled long range rifles are specifically excluded from this event so it requires a sporting rifle of a traditional type. This includes such things as traditional lever actions, slide actions, bolt actions, single shots, double rifles and combination guns.
First place in this event went to Roger Thornback with 156 and in second place came Mark Welsh snapping on his heels shooting a classic Rigby in 275 Rigby to score 155.02. Third place went to Andy Mallen with 153.
Group One requires a rifle of .330” calibre on up firing a bullet of at least 225 grains that produces a minimum of 2900 ft/lb of muzzle energy. As in all Big Game Rifle events the rifle must be in a “sporting configuration” so heavy barrel long range speciality rifles are not permitted.
The course of fire is the same as for the Light Nitro match with targets at 100m, 50m and 25m and includes rapid fire sections at 50m and 25m. The difference with the Group One match is that there is a point penalty for those using a telescopic sight, so those with open sights have a potential advantage.
This event was won by Ben Doherty with a 155.02, in second place was David Burner with a 138 and in third was Jon Branch with a 135.01.
Paradoxically Big Game Rifle includes a match that can be shot with a humble .22 rimfire sporting rifle. This is the Pot Rifle (2) match and it is shot with either a .22 lr or .22 Magnum rifle. The course of fire is for five shots at 50m using any position, another five shots at 50m off-hand, and five shots at 25m off-hand. As the common “meat getter” rifle around camp can often be a humble .22 rimfire this event has a rightful place in the Big Game Rifle range of matches.
This event was won by John Clapham with a score of 137.04. Laif Foreman took silver with a 137.03 so he was literally a fraction of an inch from a gold medal score, while in third place was Andy Mallen with a 131.04.
Big Game Rifle is not really about competing to win medals: it’s about training with the rifles we use in the field and enjoying them. The old saying tells us that practice makes perfect and the benefit of using Big Game Rifle shoots to practice is that people tend to become highly competent with their rifles while they are busy having fun. This was evident in the closeness of the scores for those who didn’t quite manage to be in a top three position: there were a lot of high scores that didn’t get a medal but demonstrated that shooters were well practised with their rifles and highly capable.
As an example of this, in the Light Nitro match the top seven shooters were within a mere sixteen points of each other, in the Special Snap the difference between the first place getter and sixth place getter was just eleven points. And for the Grand Aggregate the top nine shooters all achieved four gun scores over 400 and many below that had scores in the high 300’s. So there was a lot of good shooting despite the ‘Noah and the Ark’ weather.
But since we couldn’t mint a medal for every shooter, although all deserved one, we had to stick with just the top three, which for the Grand Aggregate went to Ben Doherty with a 494.04, Laif Foreman took silver with a 486.04 and Jon Branch bronze with a 463.04.
And after the shoot, the feast
The Sydney Group One championship traditionally finishes up with a venison feast so once the rifles were dried off and packed away and the target frames extracted from their semi-submerged mountings it was time for the dinner and medal presentation. In truth everyone who turned up deserved a medal simply for braving the conditions but all were rewarded by the camaraderie, the fun and the food. And what food it was, including fallow venison dishes of a rogan josh curry and roasted venison shoulder with roast vegetables, followed by a desert of sticky date pudding or fruit garnished pavlova to help it go down sweetly. Suffice to say those of us who had come down from the country were well fortified for our drive home that night and found no need for a top up snack on the way home.
Our special thanks go to Andy Mallen, manager of the SSAA Silverdale range, and to SSAA Sydney for their unstinting support of the Big Game Rifle discipline in NSW.