Our Communications Officer Sam Talbot is a man on a mission - to shoot several of the SSAA disciplines, learning as he goes. In this first instalment of the series, he takes us through the process of buying your first firearm and setting it up.
The shooting sports is one of the most interesting and diverse sporting pursuits in the world. The SSAA alone offers more than a dozen disciplines, with many more sub disciplines and different competitions within each of these. While the overall goal in each discipline remains almost the same - hit the target - the equipment and rules used in each discipline can seem otherworldly to one another.
For example, a veteran Action Match shooter would probably be totally lost if their semi-automatic handgun was switched for a muzzle loaded rifle from the 1880s and they were told to hit a target 800 yards away. Similarly, even the best 5-Stand shotgun shooters can look ridiculous trying to hold steady while aiming at metallic silhouettes with a lever-action rifle the first time.
With so many disciplines all so different, understanding the rules of each one and getting the right equipment can be overwhelming, even for experienced shooters.
With this in mind, I decided to work my way through the SSAA disciplines and, in the process, show you what it takes to get started and give you a feel for what they’re like. But before I start I need to get my first rifle, which is what I’ll talk about this month.
I was fortunate to grow in with a family of shooters. My family have been duck hunters in South Australia for generations, and my dad hasn’t missed a duck season in more than 40 years. His affinity for shooting eventually spread to my mum, who began joining in when dad went clay target shooting. Soon after, clay target shooting became a family affair, with both my older sisters occasionally shooting but also working as ‘trappers’. That meant manually pulling back the traps all day for the handsome sum of $30 (this was just before the introduction of automatic traps and clay throwers).
Being the youngest in the family I also started shooting as soon as I was old enough, spending every other Sunday shooting Sporting Clays. As a junior I was fiercely competitive and played a number of other sports, but shooting always felt different compared to the team sports I played. As a junior I roughly maintained an A-grade shooter handicap and took my sport very seriously, whether in competition or practicing Down The Line or Skeet.
However, like a lot of young people, I drifted away from shooting towards my late teens, preferring team sports or partying - or both - on weekends, rather than committing a full day to the range. By my 20s I had moved to Adelaide for University and committing the time, energy and money to shooting wasn’t possible. While I would still go for a shot when I was home, organising the storage of a firearm and ammunition was too much hassle to seriously pursue while living in the city in rented accommodation.
SSAA Gun Sales to the rescue
The primary shotgun I used growing up was a trusty Miroku MK11 sporting shotgun. Unfortunately, since I left home my mum, who is about a foot shorter than me, took a liking to it and cut about 5cm off the stock, making it a perfect fit for her but unusable for me.
Since then my skill level has reverted back to basically ‘beginner’ - I haven’t shot regularly for eight or nine years - so a brand-new replacement would be an unnecessary and expensive extravagance. Luckily, there are a wide variety of affordable second-hand firearms to choose from on SSAA Gun Sales.
With my background in shotgun shooting, I’m fairly confident of being able to borrow a shotgun from someone and shoot decently with it. I’m much less experienced with rifle shooting though, so I decided my first firearm should be a .22 rifle. Another factor in choosing a .22 rifle is they can be used in quite a few SSAA disciplines, and they tend to be a bit cheaper, especially at beginner level.
After searching on SSAA Gun Sales, I came across a CZ 452 ZKM 2E which was used but still in good condition for $500. The previous owner told me he also bought the rifle second hand and had used it to learn how to shoot, but has since moved on to a larger calibre he goes hunting with. Interestingly, this is a similar model to what’s used in the SSAA Victoria Youth Training Scheme, a good sign I was on to an appropriate rifle. I ended up getting the rifle for $500 plus $80 postage.
Putting it together
The next thing I needed was a scope, as the first couple of disciplines I plan on shooting are 3-Positonal and Field Rifle. There’s a plethora of scopes available in the market and, to make it more confusing, they all have similar-sounding specifications. Fortunately, I had SSAA National Chairman for Field Rifle, Matthew Boots, point me in the right direction by suggesting something with at least 18 power magnification.
“The TASCO 6-24 is a great all-purpose scope for a beginner right up to mid-high range competition. You can probably find one for less than $200 second hand. Then you can look at upgrading to a Bushnell or Leopold for the higher levels - that will cost anywhere from $600 to $2000 for a decent one,” said Matthew.
Luckily, I was able to find the exact scope Matthew recommended on SSAA Gun Sales, a Tasco High Country 6-24x40 for the excellent price off $195 including postage. The previous owner also used this scope on a .22 rifle for target shooting - another sign I was on the right track. Throughout this process I have found that if you are willing to ask for advice, it’s amazing how helpful and friendly our shooting community is and how keen they are to offer.
We have a problem
Having acquired a rifle and scope, one important detail was left that I hadn’t thought of - how I would mount the scope to the rifle. I ended up finding and buying mounts built specifically for my rifle, and was careful to make sure the rings were the right diameter for my scope. Despite my care this is where I hit my first snag, which I have since learnt is a common mistake for new shooters tyring to fit a scope to a rifle.
It turned out the scope was too big for the mounts, causing it to hit the barrel due to lack of clearance. SSAA National Wildlife Officer, Matthew Godson, discovered this only after we attempted to fit the scope. This wouldn’t be a problem for a smaller hunting scope, but my larger 24 power version didn’t quite have enough clearance to fit snuggly in the rings. I could see light shining through the gap where the scope should be locked into place.
After a visit to the local gun shop, we picked up some new mounts for $80 and were able to attach the scope without a problem. The new mounts and rings had the advantage of already being joined, saving time and effort by turning two pieces of equipment into one. The last step was to secure the scope at a reasonably comfortable distance from my eye when mounted on my shoulder.
This whole process was done without any fancy equipment and I am far from an expert. But as you will discover throughout this series, if there’s an easier or cheaper way to do something, I will no doubt be doing it that way!
With my new rifle finally in one piece, it was time to head to the range and get it sighted in. Since the scope was only eye-balled in I had no idea how accurately it would shoot, however I did take care to make sure it was as level and straight as possible. Because of this, 25 metres was more than far enough away as a starting distance.
My first challenge at the range came just from creating a clear picture through the scope. After much winding on the scope and some more re-positioning back and forward, I eventually had a full clear field of vision down the scope without any dark spots. The main trick to this seemed to be winding all the way to one end, then slowly winding the scope back until the focus became crystal clear.
I took the first shot from my new rifle with the cheapest ammo we had - Winchester T22, with the hope of finding some sort of indentation on the paper to then make adjustments from. This turned out to be wishful thinking and the scope was slightly less well fitted than I had hoped.
After a few more shots that disappeared into the dirt without troubling the paper, I eventually hit the target. It wasn’t a bullseye or even the circle I was aiming at, but it was a start! With a breath of relief from seeing the first hole appear I spent the next few shots drastically clicking, up-down and left-right on the scope, while getting ever closer to the middle of the target.
Ultimately, I wanted to have my rifle zeroed in at 50m not 25m, so the priority at this stage was on just getting the horizontal correct, rather than the vertical. Once the horizontal grouping was consistent I put the target out to 50m and followed the same process. I also switched to a slightly more expensive ammo - the STI - which made a noticeable difference in performance. I ended up shooting a fairly respectable grouping at 50m and that was enough for me to consider the rifle sighted-in.
As you can see in the pictures, I was only using a front mount to steady the rifle, which no doubt affected the overall accuracy and how well the rifle was ultimately sighted in. With just a jumper tucked under the butt of the rifle the results won’t be perfect, however I’m confident the rifle is sighted in well enough to get me started and that my own performance will be a limiting factor well before the rifle is. Plus, this way I can use the excuse that my rifle wasn’t 100 per cent sighted in at future competitions!
Now with my rifle properly sighted-in, it’s time to tackle my first discipline - SSAA 3-Positional shooting. I look forward to reporting my progress next month and hope you’ll join me on this journey through the SSAA disciplines.
Everything to get started:
Rifle: CZ 452 ZKM 2E - $580
Scope: Tasco High Country 6-24x40 - $195
New and higher mounts - $60
Winchester T22 ammo x 2 boxes - $7
STI standard ammo x 2 boxes - $11