Getting back into the habit

Since the end of the 2016 hunting season I have been making an effort to shoot more regularly. Fortunately there is a winter high-power league, and a regular small bore practice events happening on alternate weekends, so I have been taking advantage. When I first moved to the USA I bought a “brick” of 500 rounds of .22LR match ammunition, and to my shame it took me until the end of last year to use up. When I was regularly shooting in Scotland I would probably go through at least that much in a couple of months, so I have some catching up to do. Last year however I bought two new bricks of SK match, and with all the shooting I have been doing I have already got though one: things are looking up. My scores have also been improving, and although I am shooting on the NRA 50m target, not the international (which is somewhat more challenging), I have been pleased with my groups and scores.

Here are a few examples of recent targets. They are not my best targets, but they are representative.

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On the high-power side of things, I have also seen some improvements. My offhand (standing) scores have steadily improved, and the last few weekends I have managed to get all my 10 shots onto the scoring area (5 ring or better), and occasionally even into the 10. My best score was an 88/100 a few weeks ago.

My sitting rapid is going well, mostly because I can now get into position without feeling like I will break, and this last weekend I shot a decent group. It would also have been a decent score if it was centered on the bull. It wasn’t though, but I take what victories I can.

Prone rapid is going okay, and although I haven’t managed to recreate my early successes (several 100/100) I came pretty close this weekend with a 99/100. Here is a picture of the group.


There were actually 12 shots recorded rather than 10, since I forgot to switch the system into match mode after my two sighters. The high 9 was one of the sighters (honest).

In an effort to get better at offhand, easily my worst position, I have built a small 10 meter air rifle range in my basement. In truth is it probably only 9 meters, because that’s the furthest I can go between the foundations, but for practicing my technique it works great. I am borrowing a junior CO2 powered air rifle for that, and I built a target box with a steel back plate to keep the ricochets down.

Here’s me in action:


The air rifle weighs considerably less than my high-power rifle, which I will try to correct at some point, but I hope the practice will be worthwhile anyway. The state championship is happening at the end of the month, and since I plan to enter the 3P event I will try to spend as much time in the basement as I can before then.


Low temps = Large groups

On New Year’s eve I ventured out to the ranges at Minneapolis Rifle Club to do some shooting (well I wasn’t going there to crochet was I).

I had hoped to get in some practice on the small bore range and then do some comparative load testing for the Swing, as well as test a hand load for my new handgun. In the end I realized that I should have just stuck to the small bore. Ideally I would have gone to the range the day after boxing day as it was the warmest day that week, but since we had people staying and had planned a couple of nights away over the weekend, New Year’s eve was the only day I had free.

I left my house just after 9am accompanied by my friend from school, Beth. I had preheated the truck so it was relatively comfortable for the journey, but unfortunately no one had preheated the roads and I nearly came a cropper on a slip road just minutes after setting off. Fortunately I managed to keep it on the road and away from other vehicles, and once I had rediscovered traction and a heart rate approaching normal I proceeded with a little bit more caution. The rest of the journey was pleasantly uneventful.

The small bore shooting house was already on the way to warming up when we arrived, and after a little while we were able to begin in relative comfort. I had remembered my full fingered glove and a blanket to put under my mat for extra padding and so the problems were limited to a little numbness in my right hand from the cold air coming through the shutter. This made effective trigger control increasingly difficult to achieve as the shoot went on, but regardless I came away with some half decent groups (see picture below).

50 meter small bore target. Dec 31st 2013

50 meter small bore target. Dec 31st 2013

Considering this is only the second time I have shot small bore since I came to the US, I am quite satisfied.

Shooting small bore. Dec 31st 2013

Shooting small bore. Dec 31st 2013

New Year's eve small bore shoot.

New Year’s eve small bore shoot.

I finally found a good reason to grow a beard.

After shooting small-bore I decided to go over to the general purpose range to test some .308win loads.

I intended to compare three loads: my standard long range load comprising 46gr N-140 behind a 155gr Sierra Match King seated to 2.850 inches. My new 300m Special load of 40gr N-140 behind the same 155gr SMK also seated to 2.850 inches. And the 300m Special load but with the bullet seated 15 thou from the lands (I recently invested in an OAL gauge). I have all sorts of questions in my mind about the performances of these loads that I can’t answer effectively in competition conditions.

Unfortunately these questions were not going to get answered that day. The temperature was down around zero Fahrenheit and although I was well bundled up it wasn’t long before I was feeling it. My first shot knocked the snow off the roof of the shelter, which was entertaining, but then I was unable to group better than about 2-3 inches. Considering I was shooting at 100yds it readily became apparent that no useful data was going to be accrued that day, so we moved on to load testing for the Glock. I won’t go into detail except to say that the load still needs a tweak.

Below is a photo of me shooting my Glock. Well bundled but I still managed to hit the paper.

Handgun load testing Dec 31st 2013

Handgun load testing Dec 31st 2013

I will return to the range on a warmer day to test those loads. Results will follow.

Small-bore Amore

I first shot a small-bore rifle with the Air Cadets when I was 13. It was a No. 8 rifle, designed to simulate a Lee Enfield. Not long after that I joined my first target shooting club, Henley Trinity Hall Rifle Club. It was while I was a member of that club that I bought my first firearm, an Anschutz 1907, which I have used ever since.

Since then I have become involved in several other shooting disciplines but small-bore has always formed the core of my shooting activities, and so it has been especially frustrating that this was the discipline I have had the most trouble getting back into since arriving in the USA.

I moved to the USA in May last year (2012). My guns were shipped from Glasgow at the end of April in 2012, and so I estimate that the last time I fired my Anschutz was about 1 year and 7 months ago.

This interregnum was finally brought to an end last weekend in the form of a 50m English Match.

In the end I almost didn’t go. My rifle needed some work to get it back into action, the butt-plate was folded down after shipment and my sights were set up for 25yds. However George Minerich promised me time before my detail to set the sights, and the night before I fiddled the butt-plate into an approximation of its proper position, and so I felt I could give it a go.

The range is an enclosed building with shutters that open during shooting, much like the 300m shooting house I have mentioned previously. The building has a heating system and in winter only very small doors need be opened to poke the barrel through and limit heat loss. The shooters lie on raised platforms that can be moved around for position or pulled out the way for standing shooting.

I had to borrow a shooting mat as the only one I own is designed for full-bore shooting on grass and so lack any real padding.

September 2013 English Match (firing point)

September 2013 English Match (firing point)

September 2013 English Match (shooting house from down range)

September 2013 English Match (shooting house from down range)

My detail was due to start at 1pm, however when I arrived at 12:15pm I discovered a prone detail already in progress and was informed that due to a higher than expected number of entrants an early detail was started after the morning 3p match. The detail progressed quickly however so I didn’t have to wait long for my turn.

I was particularly impressed with the high number of juniors present. This event was held as a test to gauge its potential for possible future fixtures and I think it proved a success.

September 2013 English Match (target frame)

September 2013 English Match (target frame)

The weather when I arrived was blowy with fairly heavy rain, however by the time my detail started the rain had stopped and the wind had calmed significantly. As you can see from the photos my targets are barely wet, whereas the targets of those shooting before me were soaking when they brought them back.

I think the easing of the weather for my detail was a contributory factor to my final result, which was better than I had initially hoped for, although it was lower than I would have hoped to perform in ideal conditions.

Below are photos of my targets.

September 2013 English Match (target 1/3)

September 2013 English Match (target 1/3)

September 2013 English Match (target 2/3)

September 2013 English Match (target 2/3)

September 2013 English Match (target 3/3)

September 2013 English Match (target 3/3)

I was slightly confused when I saw the results. The highest scorer is called “Match Winner” with the next placed referred to as “First Place”, which is where I came. So in my mind I came second, although first does sound better.

September 2013 English Match (scoreboard)

September 2013 English Match (scoreboard)

Click this link to read the match report: September 28th 2013 Match Report

I had a great day and it felt good to have my Anschutz back in action.

Handguns you say?…..Interesting….

I enjoy shooting, all sorts of shooting, and so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that being now resident in the “land of the free” I might find myself drawn to some “freedoms” that were not previously available to me.

In this case I am talking about handguns. Handguns have been banned in the UK since the late 90s (with only a very few limited exceptions), and so my experiences of shooting handguns there were limited to a small amount of target shooting with a Ruger .22 pistol when I was about 15. I have fired a few handguns since I started visiting the USA but these have been only brief encounters.

So having begun to settle in to my life here I have inevitably started to think about expanding my repertoire of shooting to include handguns. This began as casual searches to see what a gun would cost and when I realised that they are not really very expensive I started to think more seriously about the possibility.

It was at this point that it occurred to me that although I have fired a handgun several times and am pretty familiar with their workings I have never been given anything other than the briefest instruction in their use. So I determined that before I considered going shopping for guns I should go shopping for lessons.

Bill’s Gun Shop & Range offers a variety of classes from beginner to advanced and have several locations around the twin cities. I found a class that in only 4 hours on a Tuesday night would teach me what I needed to know in order to not shoot myself in the foot.

The Basic Handgun Familiarisation class was taken by John Burniece ( who was very competent, clear, and pretty entertaining. He showed us the basic operation of several styles of pistol including a thorough explanation and demonstration of how to correctly render a handgun safe. He also covered the correct grip and trigger pull and so on. After about two hours in the classroom he took us to the range where from five yards we all fired five shots from three target grade pistols: a .22 Ruger, 9mm Springfield Armory XDM, and a double action Smith & Wesson revolver in .38 Special.

The Ruger was naturally very easy to shoot with clear target sights and the Springfield was fun and not very challenging, but the revolver was more difficult. The double action trigger with about a 10lb trigger pull demanded significantly more concentration to hold steady and fire without pulling shots. Until then I had all my shots in the ‘X’ ring but four of my shots from the revolver were grouped further to the right in the 10 with one way out in the ‘8’. We used the same target for all three guns but it is just possible to identify the gun from the hole it made in the paper. See my pictures below.

Basic Handgun Training Target 25th June 2013

Basic Handgun Training Target 25th June 2013

Basic Handgun Training Target (close up) 25th June 2013

Basic Handgun Training Target (close up) 25th June 2013

You can just see the holes made by the .22 Ruger right in the middle. The 9mm made the holes round the left side of the ‘X’ ring and the .38 revolver are at 2 o’clock with a flyer in the 8. I would say it was not bad shooting but I can’t let myself get too excited about a good group at fifteen feet.

With this class under my belt I am now confident enough to take the next step towards buying my own gun, so watch this space.

No shooting, just (web) surfing.

Things are much the same. I have still not done any shooting, although I am starting to perceive of a time in the near-ish future when I will. I have submitted my claim for the damaged items in my shipping, but have yet to hear anything about that, fingers remain crossed.

Although I am busy with the rapidly approaching start of my Masters degree I have begun thinking about replacing all the ammunition that I was forced to leave behind when I left Scotland. On the whole I think ammunition is cheaper here. The components for reloading certainly are cheaper, although not necessarily the brands I was using before, namely Lapua.

With cases it is possible to get some very cheap stuff, but I doubt it would all perform, and it is not immediately obvious what the direct alternatives to Lapua are at the match level of quality. So I cannot determine what the options are. That said the Lapua cases are only a bit more expensive than some of the stuff I am seeing (which may imply that those are the alternatives) and with the consideration of case volume variation between brands it may just pay to buy what I know.

Bullet heads are a little different. Here the Lapua Scenar I am used to is significantly more expensive than the obvious alternatives such as  Sierra Match King and Hornady A-Max that I know of. I know a bunch of people I shot with in Scotland used those bullet heads so I would be happy to try them out. When I am a bit closer to buying I will make enquiries of people who may be able to give me more advice.

The other issue is finding a source. In Scotland I used to buy from a couple of shooters who bought in bulk then sold on at very competitive rates compared to high street and on-line retailers. So far I have seen some good prices on-line (except for the hazardous materials handling surcharge for powder) but need to make enquiries to see where the people who know buy from.

On the subject of shotgun ammunition; in Scotland I was enjoying shooting clays with 21gram (3/4 ounce) 12 gauge loads. They were very nice to shoot with, and since I’m not in it for world records it is nice if I can avoid a broken shoulder. From the few places I have been to so far, the most common weight for clays seems to be 1-1/8 ounces or about 32 grams. 50 rounds of that would leave me without the use of my arm for a week, based on previous experience. I do have a recoil pad that I can add to my shotgun, but it changes the fit of the gun. I know 3/4 ounce loads do exist but I am yet to learn where it can be bought in this area.

I am confident I can get Lapua Center-X at a good price here so I am actually not worried about that.

If you read this and have any related suggestions feel free to comment. I would appreciate any pointers.

‘left-out-in-the-yard’ sale

I arrived in the USA about two weeks ago and so far it has been good. This weekend I have been camping: I got a couple of ticks and a lot of mosquito bites, and someone let me drive their Ford Mustang….which was nice.

Also this weekend we partook of that popular American tradition of going to garage sales. For those not familiar, a garage sale (also known as a yard sale or a rummage sale) consists of collecting everything you don’t want/need anymore onto tables in your garage/driveway/front yard, putting more or less reasonable prices on them, and then waiting for people to come and buy it. We must have gone to 15. We managed to find a few bits of stuff we liked, mostly priced between .25 cents and 3 dollars. I found a wood working plane and some saw horse brackets, and there was some kitchen stuff.

At one place which was more of a barn than a garage, I was wandering around looking at tables of rusted screwdrivers and things when I came across a table of guns. I wasn’t expecting to see this, and from what other people said it is not a normal thing to see at a garage sale. There were a couple of BB guns, a 12 bore shotgun, a 20 bore shotgun with a second rifled barrel, and a .243. The shotguns were of a good make and the rifle was a Savage. I don’t remember what all the prices were, but the 20 bore was priced at $300. The guns didn’t appear to be in particularly good condition, they had surface rust on the barrels and the woodwork was worn. The shotguns were a good make, but I didn’t think that would justify the price considering the outward condition, you have got to wonder what the insides look like.

There was also some ammunition on sale, boxes of shotgun shells for $5 a box, two boxes of loose .32 & .22LR. I was in a large shop the other day where I saw some ammunition (stacked on the shelves like loaves of bread, some things will take more getting used to than others), and they were selling 12bore no. 7.5 shot for just under $6 a box, so I wasn’t going to buy what looked like vintage ammunition for almost that. I ended up buying a ‘Skill’ jigsaw for $5, but I made sure it worked first.

So far as I know my guns are still in a warehouse somewhere in the UK with the rest of our stuff. I think I will wait till they get here and I have a better idea what I am going to be doing before I let myself get tempted by garage sale guns.

Follow up

Since I wrote this post I have visited a large superstore and seen the same brand of 20 bore with the same accessories in brand new condition for less than $300. I am vindicated in my skepticism. Also since I wrote that post, I have been to a much better garage sale where we bought a pair of goofy side tables for $6.

Just because it is being sold in a garage sale doesn’t mean it is cheap.

How it started

I met my wife in 2003 when I was at university near Brighton in the south of England. She was on exchange. We had chatted a few times and then were set up on a sort of date by a friend of ours. It seemed to work and we started what we thought was a holiday romance. 

At the time I was shooting 25 yard small-bore prone at a club just down the coast called Alpha Rifle Club. I had been shooting the discipline for about nine years by this time, originally starting in the Air Cadets, then joining a small club in the town where I grew up, then moving to university and joining Alpha. During this time I had acquired a Firearm Certificate and then purchased a rifle. It was (and still is) an Anschutz 1907 in .22LR.

When my wife returned to her land across the sea a few months later we thought that was the end, but after several months of long telephone calls and sending mix tapes, followed by one short then one longer trips westward by me, she was accepted onto a Masters degree and we found ourselves sharing a tiny flat together in Glasgow.

Now almost a decade later we are married, and about to make the return journey and have a go at living in the USA.