Elite shooters from Australia and New Zealand vied for supremacy during the 5th Pacific Regional Shooting Championships held at the SSAA Majura Range in Canberra from November 7 to 16. The championships are staged every two years at a chosen venue within the Pacific region. The first event was unveiled in Brisbane in 2006 and since then, it has been shared between Australia and New Zealand.
There was early disappointment with the news that Samoa and New Caledonia would not be sending any competitors to Canberra due to economic and logistical reasons. But if anything, that served to cement the rivalry between the host nation’s shooters and the visiting Kiwi contingent. Contests involving Australia and New Zealand are always intense in any sporting arena and the ‘duels’ that unfolded over the days on the Majura range proved to be typically feisty, but in good spirit.
Competitions contested at this year’s Pacific Regionals included:
Rifle Metallic Silhouette, which included Smallbore Silhouette Rifle Heavy, Smallbore Hunting Rifle Light and Air Rifle events
Benchrest, which included Rimfire and Centrefire Light and Heavy events
Scoped Rifle, which included NRA Smallbore 3 Position Any Sights and SSAA Centrefire 3-Positional events, and
The championships offered competitors a variety of challenges: from uncomfortable heat to torrential rain, to technical malfunctions and unpredictable winds. The conditions were especially trying for the NRA Smallbore 3 Position Any Sights and Benchrest Centrefire competitors, with the heat putting particular pressure on our neighbours from across the Tasman. However, there were some excellent scores posted throughout the championships and a lot of fun had on and off the range.
Experienced and respected New Zealand competitor Brenda Perry proved a formidable force from day one in the Scoped Rifle events. With more than 30 years experience, Perry took home no less than three gold medals from NRA Smallbore 3 Position Any Sights events. “I’ll just do my best. I do find it easier to shoot in the rain though, because we’re used to it,” said the modest Tokoroan, taking the advice of range officer Darius Krivanek and draping a damp cool towel around her neck to help her through the hot and draining conditions.
Perry’s teammate Rod Hill, from Wellington, came to compete with a homemade stock that he proudly displayed, which proved just as effective as the Anschutz and other impressive scoped rifles. Forming the New Zealand B team was Jason Graham, from Rotorua, and Ian McFetridge, from Tokoroa. The Australian contingent was a diverse group: from bright-eyed Western Australian Kiara-Lea Totton at just 16, to seasoned and renowned South Australian competitor Rod Frisby.
Windy conditions threw a spanner in the works for the competitors and range officials as the day progressed, with a rather large gust lifting the targets off the ground, in-turn affecting the backing boards that couldn’t be clearly matched with the shots recorded on the targets. A re-shoot was declared by match director Kaye McIntrye, which all competitors took in their stride to their credit.
It was New Zealand who tasted gold first, winning the NRA Smallbore 3 Position team event with a score of 2328.90 from Hill and Perry, including a coveted score of 200.13 in prone from the Kiwi’s only female competitor. The Australia A team duo of SSAA Field Rifle & 3-Positional National Discipline Chairman Matthew Boots and Frisby took silver with a score of 2319.82, helped by a top score of 386.12 in standing from Boots. Youngster Alex Payne, 17, from South Australia, shot his prized Anschutz rifle to secure third place in his first international appearance, helped by fellow South Australian and Barossa Valley resident Daniel Tarbard who posted a combined score of 2288.93.
Payne wasn’t the only youngster competing for the first time on the international stage. Jordan Rawlings, 18, from South Australia, also employed the headscarf look and blazed through each round, shooting a 200.13 in prone in his first shot of the competition - equalling Perry’s efforts. “Once I get into position I know is right, I get away as many shots as I can until one drops,” he said of his fast approach, always first off the line and never taking the full 20 minutes available to competitors. The day was a personal success for Rawlings, who smashed his previous personal best by 30 points. This was applauded by his supportive teammates, along with the cheery New Zealanders.
Rawlings’s teammate Totton also held her own among the more experienced teammates, with her father John present as a supporter and also competitor in his own right for the individual events. “I enjoy shooting, it’s fun, and I want to prove to my teammates that I should be here,” the junior Totton said, with her and her father’s positive attitude despite the challenging conditions and strong field of competitors embraced throughout the whole competition.
Sounds of the local birds sung out in symphony with the gun shots across the Terry O’Brien range as day two of the competition got underway, with cooler conditions and afternoon showers more suited to the New Zealanders. It was each competitor for themself as the individual events took place, with Perry again impressing and posting two scores over 200 in prone. Fellow New Zealanders McFetrdige and Graham followed suit, also scoring two 200s in prone, producing an equal score of 400.24 each. Boots made sure Australia had its share in 200s, posting a score of 200.17 in prone. But the two 200s were not enough to secure medals for McFetridge and Graham, with Boots, Perry and Frisby taking out gold, silver and bronze respectively with scores of 1180.64, 1165.55 and 1162.46.
Youngest competitor Jordan Robinson, just 14, from South Australia, competed in the individual events and also recorded a personal best in her first international appearance. The keen shooter had also competed in the Rifle Metallic Silhouette event held a few days earlier.
Day three saw changed conditions again, along with firearms. SSAA 3-Positional Centrefire 60 shots was on the agenda for the final day of competition, to be played out among a backdrop of downpours that caused minor flooding, bogged cars and unpredictable wind changes. The conditions once again proved favourable for the New Zealanders, with Perry taking out gold in the individual event with a score of 586.13 including 200.06 in prone, followed by fellow New Zealander Hill with a score of 581.05. Boots once again secured a place on the podium with a 575.12. This was despite technical issues, with his scope requiring innovative fixes and generous extra practice time granted by fellow helpful competitors. “While the conditions were challenging and I had a few firearm issues thrown at me in the Centrefire match, I went in focused and took my time,” said Boots, adding that “it wasn’t the first time” he had troubles with his rifle during competition.
For the team scores, Perry and Hill were unbeatable with a score of 1167.18, followed by Australian A team Boots and Frisby on 1147.22, and New Zealand B team McFetridge and Graham securing third with 1111.12.
Despite the New Zealanders proving difficult to beat, the coveted 2-Gun individual gold medal was won by Western Australian Boots, who well and truly overcame adversity to post a total score of 1755.76, closely followed by Perry and Hill. The New Zealanders seized gold in the 2-Gun team standings, with Perry and Hill topping the table on 3495.108 followed by Australia’s Boots and Frisby, and quiet achievers Payne and Tarbard.
Boots praised the New Zealanders for their efforts, saying “their sportsmanship was second to none” and giving them “full credit” for their impressive results. “The efforts of the three Australian teams overall were great considering the conditions and some really good scores were shot by all,” said Boots, before offering some final wise advice: “If you go into a match with the right attitude then nothing can stop you, but if you go into a match with the wrong attitude, then nothing can help you.”
Rifle Metallic Silhouette
On day four, it was the turn of the Rifle Metallic Silhouette shooters to display their skills over 80 shots in each section. In the opening Smallbore Silhouette Rifle Heavy section, the chicken-shaped silhouette targets were set at 40m, with pigs at 60m, turkeys at 77m and rams at 100m. For the lighter Air Rifle outings, the distances were in yardage, with chickens at 20 yards, pigs 30 yards, turkeys 36 yards and rams 45 yards.
This time, there was a full complement of three New Zealand teams taking on a trio of Australian combinations, as well as two Australian youngsters entered as individuals - Melissa Dean (aged 19) and Jordan Jenny Robinson (14).
Robinson hails from Elizabeth in South Australia and was accompanied and supported by her father Paul, who explained how his daughter made her way into shooting. “It all started when we went to a Schutzenfest carnival, which is run by the German Club in Adelaide, in 2010,” said Paul. “Jordan had a go on the shooting range there and she has been shooting ever since.
“We went up to the Para Range and they were very helpful, so we just took it from there. But she’s still learning and doing fine,” he said. Indeed, Jordan has made such progress that she has competed at junior level at interstate and national meets, and sporting the SSAA Para Range’s colors during the Canberra event, she can seemingly only get better.
At the other end of the experience scale stood canny New Zealand shooter Geoff Brewer. The 62-year-old has travelled to compete in Australia so often that he calls our country “a home from home”. “I’ve come here so many times that they can’t get rid of me,” said Brewer. But he also emphasised the serious side of the event when he said “We don’t come here to be second.”
Brewer is based in Auckland and has travelled widely during his shooting career. “I’ve been to America quite a few times and those ‘cowboys’ over there are very good…I went to the State Championships in Louisiana and the American Nationals in 1996 and 1998 - those were magic trips,” he said.
Teenager Dean carried off the winner’s medal in the Smallbore Heavy Rifle Individual section with a score of 72. Runner-up was Australia’s Dann Suthern on 69, from New Zealand’s Nicola Matheson on 65. The teams’ title went to New Zealand A (Matheson and Allan Murray), who tallied an aggregate of 125. Next was Australia B (Anthony Finn and Chris Dale) on 123, and Australia A (Suthern and Alex Brace) notched 118 for third.
Matheson collared top spot in the Air Rifle Individual with a tally of 73. Suthern followed on 68, ahead of Dean on 66. The Air Rifle teams honours went to Australia A (Suthern and Brace) on 133. Second was Australia B (Finn and Dale), whose 128 bettered third-placed New Zealand A (Matheson and Murray).
Dean came out on top again in the Smallbore Hunting Rifle Light Individual section on 72, which saw off Finn’s 69 and Dale’s 64. Australia B (Finn and Dale) was the best team with an aggregate of 133. Runner-up was Australia A (Suthern and Brace), with New Zealand A (Matheson and Murray) managing 115 for third.
For the 3-Gun Individual, Dean walked away with the winner’s medal by clocking a 210 aggregate. Suthern secured second spot with 201, while Matheson’s 198 earned her third position. In the teams, Australia B was the aggregate victor with 384. Next was Australia A, with Suthern in tandem with Dean. Third berth on the ladder belonged to New Zealand A (Matheson and Murray), which registered 365.
Matheson, from Auckland, was pleased with her performance, as she had been battling an acute migraine for much of the event. “You always travel in hope, so it’s nice to win something,” she said. Matheson completes every round of her shooting with a gentle peck on the barrel of her rifle. A rival commented on this ritual and she simply said “You gotta give your gun some love”.
Dean, from Adelong and the SSAA NSW Tumut Branch, had also been hampered by illness, which made her success all the more commendable. She was overcome with an allergic reaction and had to be taken to hospital for tests the day before the action started. “We’re not sure what it was, we’re still waiting for the results of the tests,” she said at the halfway mark.
Dean had been assisted by her granddad Graeme Whatman, a shooting stalwart, acting as her spotter. Les Armitage, one of the range officials who had travelled from Ipswich, explained how a shooter and the spotter can form a unique partnership. “Sometimes, a good spotter can be a real advantage to a shooter,” said Les. “Some are so good they make it look easy.” Armitage also gave an insight into the Trans Tasman fervour. “These shooters have all known each other for many years, which only increases the rivalry,” he said.
Looking at the results, Suthern, of Berridale, NSW, admitted that he sets himself high standards and was disappointed to miss out on top spot in the heavier gun bracket. When asked if he was pleased with second spot, he gave a wry smile and said simply “No, not really…My best chance of winning was with the heavy gun.”
The Air Rifle section threw up extra problems because of the fact that it was spread over two days. So the shooters signed off during a hot, steamy afternoon then returned to complete the task over a brisk, fresh morning as kangaroos bounded around the paddock on the approach to the range. Brisbane’s Anthony Finn took a philosophical viewpoint. “You really need to make the best of the conditions,” he said. “Don’t dwell too much on theory. After all, in golf, Seve Ballesteros only ever used one club when he was a kid, so the story goes. You just have to take things as they come.”
Despite the result hanging in the balance overnight, both teams decided to convene for a social get-together at the Eagle Hawk Hotel. The rivalry was forgotten for a while in a refreshing show of unity. Across the modern, hyped-up sporting landscape at the top level, it would be hard to imagine such conviviality in other codes. Again, Finn had an observation. “We all help each other out,” he said “Even in America where there is a lot more money at stake, the same spirit prevails.”
As the action hotted up and things reached a climax, the teams took time out to honour the Remembrance moment at 11am on November 11 with a minute’s silence in tribute to both countries’ fallen.
When the business was concluded and medals duly handed out, it was left for SSAA Tasmania President and range officer Andrew Judd to sum up proceedings. “It is all about the teams at these championships,” he said. “It is about building bonds between the Pacific countries. We hope we can keep it going into the future.”
As the Rifle Metallic Silhouette ranks moved out, the Benchrest Rimfire contenders took their places the next day. The scene had shifted to a range decorated with fluttering flags alongside swirling propellers interspaced between bobbing probes ahead of distant targets at 50m. All this was to help the shooters gauge the wind speed as they took aim. There was only a solitary New Zealand team to tackle the three Aussie pairs. However, there were 10 well-credentialed individuals and word was that the field was wide open. The shooters had 30 minutes to take their shots at 25 circular targets with a bullseye. They also had many targets down the side of the card to use as testers while the wind changed direction and speed.
“Who’s the favourite?” pondered Jaegan Peet, who lives in Revesby, NSW, but has retained his Melbourne club membership. “Anybody. I reckon it’s between about 10 guys depending on how they perform on the day.” Robin Cox, from Newcastle, conferred with this forecast. “There may not be many here, but the ones that are, are top performers,” he said.
New Zealand’s Graeme Smith, from Nelson, has been to nine World Championships since he started shooting in the 1970s, but even he admitted the conditions were tricky. The glaring sunshine and sapping heat combined with the blustery gusts down the gullies of the range meant that scores were lower than expected from such an elite crew.
Joy Harrison, from Armidale, NSW, was wary of the conditions, but outlined her strategy. “It doesn’t matter how many meets you go to, there is always something to learn,” she said. “You have to treat the flags like a clock as they change color [orange on one side, green on the other] with the wind. It’s best to get as many shots off on similar colors as possible…I always try, but I get tense and can’t always do it.”
Harrison said that every course has its vagaries and compared knowing a certain range well as being akin to a football team cashing in on having home ground advantage. “All courses have their vagaries and here, the heat haze coming from the ground becomes almost like a mirage,” she said. “The scorched earth patches here make it harder than plain grass because it makes things happen that you think shouldn’t…But some of the bush shooters are like wily old foxes - they just go to whatever range and quietly do their stuff. No fuss or talk,” she said.
Richard Lightfoot, from Melbourne, liked to ease the pressure by giving some of his rifles names. The one he was using had been dubbed ‘Mulga Bill’ in reverence to AB ‘Banjo’ Patterson’s poem, Mulga Bill’s Bicycle, which he promptly recited from start to finish. “The naming of rifles is something more common with American shooters for some reason,” he said. “But I also have a ‘Copperhead’, ‘Red Dog’ and ‘Saltbush Bill’ in my collection.”
Chris Nocente, from Bathurst, NSW, prefers to paint his rifles and the one he was using had a blue and silver chessboard design along the barrel. He recounted the tale of how one shooter colored all his rifles green. “His wife thought he was losing the plot, as he had been in the shed all day working on his rifles, but she thought he was just walking around with the same rifle,” he joked.
Nocente also added that the uncertainty of the Benchrest Rimfire discipline was what made it so enjoyable for him. The results at Majura bore out his claims. After day one, Glenn Seaman led the way in the individuals with a score of 741.039. Second spot was held by New Zealander Smith on 741.037, with Cox third on 739.040. Smith led the teams’ ratings on day one with his Kiwi companion Ian Owen on 1474.064 points. In second position was Australia B (Harrison and Lightfoot) on 1470.066 and nestled in third were Australia A partners Cox and Peet on 1468.066.
On day two, individual honours went to Peter Armstrong, who chalked up 742.040. Behind him was Seaman on 742.036 and Cox third on 740.040. Harrison and Lightfoot snatched top teams’ berth on 1470.066. Kiwis Smith and Owen snared second on 1468.058, while third were Cox and Peet on 1462.067.
The final aggregate count-up left Seaman as winner on 1483.075. The runner-up accolade went to Cox on 1479.084, and Armstrong impressed to grab third on 1477.073. The top team after days one and two turned out to be New Zealand duo Owen and Smith with an aggregate of 2942.122. They were chased home by Australia B’s Harrison and Lightfoot on 2940.132, and third finisher was the Australia A pairing of Cox and Peet on 2930.133.
Armstrong’s last day surge meant he enjoyed an encouraging finish. “The wind was pretty tricky,” he said. “I was able to get a bit of a handle on it, which I didn’t yesterday,” he added after picking up his award. “But some people found it much more difficult.”
Seaman proved a popular winner of an unpredictable event. He belongs to the SSAA Wagga Wagga club along with his two daughters, Hannah (18) and Emily (14), who also shoot. “We enjoy weekend shoots quite often up in Coffs Harbour or Sydney and Melbourne,” he said.
Harrison again gave her take on events. “Some of the ones you would expect to do well didn’t,” she said. “It just goes to show how tricky it was.”
Seasoned campaigner James Smith, of Blayney, NSW, said “The range got the better of me on both days. It was so even. Any one of the 18 could have won it even after the first day.”
An overcast day greeted the Benchrest Centrefire competitors in day one of proceedings at the Jim McKinley Range. A few familiar faces from the Rimfire event were back again, with the two New Zealand competitors Ian Owen and Graeme Smith fronting up to compete, along with father-son duo Stuart and Anthony Foate from NSW.
The Benchrest Centrefire competition included two classes - Light Varmint and Heavy Varmint - shot over 100 and 200 yards with both team and individual events. Each round saw the scores change dramatically, with the unpredictable wind making it difficult for competitors to easily adjust to the conditions. The Light Benchrest event was the name of the game for day one, with the results after each shoot creating an ever-changing leader board.
“It takes just one wrong shot and you’re back down the bottom again,” said youngest competitor Stuart Foate, with a quick succession of shots his tried-and-tested tactical approach. Others preferred to take the full seven minutes available to them, with the changing winds causing competitors to second guess almost every shot.
Darren Parsons had a successful day, scoring 0.2796 over 100 and 200 yards. He also won gold in the team event with his partner, renowned Benchrest shooter Paul Sullivan. Sullivan, from Queensland, was described as the ‘best Benchrest shooter in Australia’ by some of his fellow competitors and took out silver behind Parsons with a score of 0.2931. Thomas Sprang, from NSW, won bronze, posting a score of 0.3307. In the team event, New Zealand duo Owen and Smith took out silver with a score of 0.3449, followed by the Australia A team of Murray Hicks and Spang, both from NSW.
Hicks and Spang were a force to be reckoned with on the final day of competition as the Heavy Benchrest event got underway in more challenging conditions that saw the aptly described ‘kids playground’ of orange and green flags constantly change in an almost mesmerising fashion. The Australia A team adjusted most effectively to the conditions, taking out gold with a score of 0.3957. They also were champions of the 2-Gun team results, winning gold with a combined score of 0.3592.
The final day of the competition was also affected by rain and wind. The targets were soaked from an early downpour that required strategic placement in front of a fan before scoring could get underway by veteran scorers Max Coady and Dave Billinghurst.
The clubhouse directly behind the range resembled an assembly line that could be described as a metallic Santa’s workshop, with individual areas commandeered by competitors to adjust their rifles and reload accordingly. Camaraderie and encouragement was often heard among the tinkering of machinery.
Top qualifier Hicks pointed to the clarity from his scope as aiding his success as he took out gold in the Heavy Benchrest with a score of 0.2823 and the coveted 2-Gun for Light and Heavy Benchrest with score of 0.3346. Hicks said “the rain was definitely a factor” in influencing how he approached each shoot. “It’s also about the timing and to sense when it’s the right time to shoot,” he said.
Hicks also won gold in the 2-Gun individual event with a score of 0.3346, with fellow NSW competitor Parsons winning silver with 0.3399 and Owen winning bronze with 0.3640. New Zealander Owen was also among the top scorers, taking out bronze in the Heavy Benchrest individual event posting 0.3830, followed by Benchrest National Discipline Chairman Fergus Bailey, from Victoria, with 0.3927.
Dave Thomson did a sterling job as coordinator for the Service Rifle discipline, totting up the scores with meticulous attention. Dave’s experience as a SSAA member in Victoria for more than 30 years meant that he took things all in his stride. “It’s hard work, but I enjoy being part of the occasion,” he said.
The different firearms regulations enforced in both countries meant that the New Zealanders had to use rifles that they were not as familiar with because on their own turf, they are permitted to participate with self-loading firearms. As such, the Kiwis spent half a day practising with the equipment loaned to them for the competition by their Australian counterparts.
Experienced New Zealand shooter Enrico ‘Harry’ Hoover had no problems with the arrangements. “When the Aussies come to New Zealand to compete, we can loan them what we use,” he said. “And we make sure we offer them the best of the best of the best.”
Some of the rifles used by the competitors have fascinating backgrounds. Hoover displayed a standard British Army service rifle, which he said was a traditional Anzac firearm. “The British have made some stunningly designed rifles down the years,” he said.
At one stage of the competition, Hoover cut a curious figure as he had been forced to wear some Australian team trousers. But as Thomson explained at the awards ceremony, this was due to a “PJ Proby pants-splitting routine”.
In the Australian ranks, Ben Doherty showed off a .303 made by Winchester under contract to the British Government in 1914. According to Doherty, there were about 235,000 of these models produced and his was manufactured halfway through the run. “I bought it off a collector about six years ago,” he said. “It is equipped with volley sights and in effect, in military terms, took over the job that the archers used to do in far earlier times.”
Doherty’s shooting skills certainly shone through in the team event where he and partner Trevor Rock, as the Australia C combination, took third spot in the aggregate title for the Trans Tasman Trophy. The elegant silverware was engraved with the inscription ‘Dedicated to the safe, competitive use of military rifles’. Runner-up was Australia B (Simon Ross and Dan Rajkovic), with the winners Australia A (Greg de Koning and Anthony Wilson).
On the first day, team honours had gone to Australia A (de Koning and Wilson), followed by Australia B (Ross and Rajkovic) second and Australia C (Doherty and Rock) third. Over days two and three, the team winner was Australia A (de Koning and Wilson), ahead of Australia B (Ross and Rajkovic). The New Zealand B pairing of Peter Keysers and Hoover put the visitors on the honours list by grabbing third spot.
De Koning took out the top Service Rifle Individual aggregate award, with Rajkovic runner-up and Wilson third. After day one, Rajkovic had led the way, followed by Wilson and de Koning. Over days two and three, de Koning topped the pile, pipping Wilson, with Rajkovic third.
The championships concluded with a closing dinner and presentation, including speeches by SSAA National President Geoff Jones and SSAA ACT President Dave True. SSAA National Secretary and match director Kaye McIntyre provided a fitting end to the event, leaving competitors, match officials, volunteers and supportive families with words echoing the sentiment of the occasion: “It’s about friendships renewed and friendships formed.”
Range officer Darius Krivanek offered another relevant insight, saying: “I’d rather half a dozen enthusiastic people than 100 people who don’t really care about the sport”, and the 5th Pacific Regional Shooting Championships certainly included a lot of enthusiastic competitors and supporters.
The SSAA looks forward to supporting the 6th Pacific Regional Shooting Championships, to be held in Australia in 2016.