Organisers were keen to put on a good show as the SSAA National Benchrest Championships returned to the Jim McKinley Range near Canberra for the first time in 14 years over Easter. Canberra weather can be fickle at that time of year, but shooters were blessed with reasonable temperatures and no rain for the duration of the competition. Shooters hailed from most states and it was good to see some new faces among the usual suspects.
As has been the procedure for some years, Experimental Class was the opening event and 30 shooters were on the line. This is the event where the return-to-battery rail guns are used, but there were plenty of conventional Benchrest rifles contesting as well.
Experimental requires 10-shot groups and from the first relay there were some remarkable efforts. Steve Sori put down a .218 to set the pace, but Ron Sinclair came back with a .205. On the third relay David Kerr shot a .208 and it looked like the rail guns had it all to themselves. Not to be outdone, John Wyatt piloted his Benchrest rifle to an outstanding .181 on the fourth relay, and no-one managed to better that. The yardage went to Kerr with .2772 from Alex Chryss on .2920 and Graham Keppie on .2930.
Out to 200 yards, and still the tiny groups kept coming. To keep 10 shots at less than 0.5" at this distance takes a bit of doing, but Roger Marshall and Kerr managed this on the first two relays. It was on the fourth relay that Keppie really nailed it with a remarkable .321 group, and no-one could live with that. However, the longer aggregate went to Darren Parsons whose .3580 held off Keppie on .3646 and Paul Sullivan on .3755.
Winner of the Experimental Class and the Ron Marsden Memorial Shield for 2015 was Keppie. The bulletmaker from WA scored .3288 to pip Brendan Atkinson on .3421 with Kerr just behind on .3428.
|Top 10 Experimental|
At the lighter end of the Benchrest scale we have the Sporter Class rifles, which must weigh a maximum of 9lb. The lighter weight does not seem to have much of an effect on accuracy, and on the very first target Ann Brummell punched in a near screamer group of .107, which no-one bettered throughout the morning. It was not for want of trying, as the small group on each relay was less than .2. Groups are one thing, but aggregates win matches and a new face in Les Fraser scored his first Hall of Fame point with a win at the shorter yardage. His .2536 edged out Bill Jupp on .2596 and Ean Parsons on .2694.
It was another afternoon of superb shooting as all the small groups for each relay were well under 0.5" with a tiny .254 shot by Stuart Foate the best. This assisted Stuart to a yardage win and the Alan Peake Memorial Trophy, with .2900 from Ean Parsons on .3078 and Murray Hicks on .3168. The grand aggregate and the Den-Lo Park Shield went to Fraser on .2857 from Ean Parsons on .2886 and Stuart Foate on .2902.
|Top 10 Sporter|
Light Benchrest Rifle
Sunday and Monday were the final qualifying events for the Australian team to go to the United States, so many shooters were keen to improve their position in the 2-gun aggregate. Once again, the shorter yardage was littered with tiny groups much less than .2, but on the C target John Huckel put down a nice .097 for his first screamer group. Groups like this are hard to achieve and no-one managed a better one that morning. Meanwhile, Thomas Spang shot four under .2 and one just over for a great aggregate of .1914, which was followed in by Peter Fleming on .2248 and Ean Parsons on .2340.
It was a day for small groups, and they continued at the longer yardage. On his first target, Fleming produced a .207 and try as they might, no-one could beat that. Fleming was enjoying a purple patch that day and won the aggregate with .2103 from Stuart Foate on .2162 and Spang on .2448.
After some 30-plus years of competing, Fleming won his first National event and the Top Gun Manufacturing Shield, as well as his first Hall of Fame points, with .2176. It was a close-run affair with Spang on .2181, but Stuart Foate was a distant third on .2410.
|Top 10 Light Benchrest|
Heavy Benchrest Rifle
There was plenty riding on this match. Predictably, all of the small groups in the relays were well under two-tenths of an inch and the best of these was a lovely .097 shot by Les O’Rourke, from Victoria - it was the best for the yardage. The aggregate was a good battle, but Atkinson emerged on top with .1952 (the second .2 aggregate for the weekend) followed by Robin Elton on .2068 and Spang on .2138. In fact, you had to go down to 21st place before someone exceeded the .25" mark.
With the last aggregate up for grabs, there were some serious faces on the line. The first target produced a stunning .176 shot by Benchrest National Discipline Chairman Fergus Bailey and he was pretty pleased with that. Although they tried hard, no-one shot a better one during the day. The aggregate produced some outstanding shooting and Kerr set an unofficial new National Record of .1773 in winning the yardage. Second was Hicks on .2108 and Darren Parsons on .2166. The grand aggregate actually went down to the last shot of the match, but Kerr held on for a win and claimed the new Catalyst Legal Shield with .2052 from Atkinson on .2062 and Hicks on .2182.
|Top 10 Heavy Benchrest|
It was a fine achievement for Hicks to win the 2015 Championships. Back in 1989, his father, Ross Hicks, also claimed his first 4-Gun Championship on this range. Thanks must go out to all the competitors, who made the Canberra event such a splendid occasion. Now the shooters will be looking ahead to Monarto in South Australia, which is due to host the 2016 Benchrest Nationals.
|2-Gun Top 10|
|3-Gun Top 10|
|4-Gun Top 10|