This year’s National Benchrest Centrefire Championships made a long overdue return to South Australia. The event was held at the SSAA SA State Range, situated at Monarto near Murray Bridge. The occasion was organised by the Adelaide Target Shooters Club, which is based at the Monarto Range. The last Benchrest Nationals that took place in the state were way back in 1998, so many of the current shooters had never competed in SA before.
The moving target backers were provided by Peter van Meurs and are the ones used on the Little River Range in Victoria. With Peter’s guidance, they ran flawlessly for the entire shoot. The Monarto range used for the shoot (Range 7) is a little different to any others on the Benchrest circuit - almost dead flat to 200 yards - and no-one, not even the locals, had ever shot a match on it. So we were curious to see what sort of groups and aggregates the best shooters in the country could produce. Having no curfew at Monarto meant that shooters had all day to practise and in the case of the Unlimited event, we were able to complete proceedings around tea time due to running three details.
Just as a matter of interest, it was calculated that there was probably around $1,000,000 worth of rifles and equipment on the range for this contest. With just a rifle and scope plus accessories running to about $7500, that figure was not hard to achieve.
Good Friday morning arrived with the rail guns on the benches. After a short speech by Tournament Manager Brendan Atkinson, the opening shot was fired by SSAA SA President David Handyside and the 2016 Nationals were underway.
Conditions looked good and straight away some tiny 10-shot groups were recorded. Patience was the order of the day - those who rushed their groups were left with time to ponder lost shots! Murray Hicks put down a handy .193 on his second target for the smallest of the morning and the battle for the aggregate went right down to the wire. Ron Sinclair won it with .2584, from Milan Morrell on .2616 and Hicks on .2688. The significance of this victory was that Sinclair needed just one more point to gain entry into the Hall of Fame.
Out to 200 yards and the winds appeared gentle, but it was all a myth. Many a good group was spoiled with an errant shot or more, but Morrell waited until the last target to record a small group with a .434 - probably a personal best for him. The aggregate was won by David Kerr with a .3104 from Roger Marshall on .3272 and Hicks with .3521.
The grand aggregate and Ron Marsden Shield went to Kerr, with .3018 just edging out Sinclair on .3054 with third going to Hicks on .3105. As Sinclair commented, it was an opportunity lost.
Light Benchrest was the second event and the first qualifier for the WBC team to go to New Zealand next year. It was to be an interesting day with many doing well at one yardage and crashing at the other - consistency as always paid dividends.
One had to shoot a group of .150 or less to even be considered for small group, and Roger Marshall’s .114 was the best of them all. However, the aggregate showed Paul Sullivan nailing it on .2090 from Fergus Bailey on .2156 and Marshall on .2206.
The longer yardage brought a few undone, but little groups abounded. The best of these was a very tidy .230 shot by Mitchell Tallar. This, plus a final group of .317, assisted him to a win in the aggregate with .2253 from Kerr on .2325 and Thomas Spang on .2386
When the computer had digested all of this, it showed a clear win to Kerr on .2304 followed by Spang on .2531 and third going to Tallar on .2573.
Conditions for the heavy event were a little more sporting, but shooters were becoming used to the range and its peculiarities and some outstanding shooting was witnessed.
At the shorter yardage, point one groups came thick and fast. On the B target, Garry Wood managed a .127, which just hung on to take the gong. The aggregate was a blinder, with Craig Whittleton recording a .1878 to win from Hicks on .1948 and Marshall on .2048. In fact, you had to go down to 10th spot before someone shot over .2500!
The longer yardage was attacked with enthusiasm and Bailey kicked off the first group with a .262. That looked safe until the very last target when Steve Sori snatched the medal with a tidy .247 effort, which also earned him a screamer patch (awarded for groups under .250 at 200 yards). The aggregate was a good win for Kerr (again!) on .2279 followed by Bailey on .2354 and Hicks on .2422 for third.
Kerr’s run of wins evaporated this day as Hicks took the grand aggregate win with .2185 from Marshall on .2288 and Whittleton on .2407.
The last day of the 2016 Nationals was set down for Sporter Class - 9lb rifles with unlimited scopes. These light rifles can really shoot and as testament to that, all of the small groups shot in the relays were under point two. The best group of the morning was shot by Bill Jupp with an outstanding .112 - the smallest group for the whole weekend. The aggregate was dominated by Hicks and his .2028 was well ahead of Jupp on .2272 and Tallar on .2402.
The last aggregate for the weekend saw Sullivan nail a small group on the A target with a .239 - no-one went close to that. Tiny groups were everywhere, but the battle for the aggregate went right down to the last shot. In the end, Hicks held on to win the Alan Peake Memorial Shield with .2940 from Atkinson on .2986 and Marshall on .3213.
In the grand total, it was Hicks again with .2484 from Sullivan on .3057 and Tallar on .3067. The biggest result from this event was that Hicks had now amassed enough points to enter the prestigious Benchrest Hall of Fame, just like his father did some years ago.
The 2016 Nationals went off without a hitch. Some great shooting was witnessed, even though it was a new range for all. The smooth operation was helped by the crew from ATSC, Bob Barrie (arguably the best chief RO in the country), Carolyn Jamieson (the best target crew chief around), the SA Scouts on the target crew, Max Coady and Dave Billinghurst doing the scoring, and of course the Tobler family taking care of the catering. Many thanks to all, and see you in Perth next Easter.