I applied for the F-class open team that was going to go to Canada in 2002 not knowing how I would go. I was 27 at the time. I had an open rifle that was made up from an old school shilen bench rifle. I had this chambered in 308 and it booted like a cow. It was to light in weight, but did it shoot! I managed the first 10 shot possible at 300 yards in Australia using the 10 ring f open targets. This was before electronic targets, so the target was pulled between shots.
I received notification sometime after applying for the Aussie team. It was decided by the NRAA that it would be a goodwill team as there wasn’t enough applicants…..because of this we couldn’t have the Australian Coat of Arms on our blazers and would receive no support.
The captain was Nick Simms and the Managers were the Larkin boys.
I decided that I would need a better set up than what I had….and I was running out of time. I looked at getting a Stolle action but it was going to be a long wait and also expensive….the dollar was worth about 50cents US at the time.
I decided to get a Barnard action but wanted one that was left bolt right port, so Barnard made me one! I got a Mastin stock but wasn’t happy with the shape I specified, so ordered another from Mastin, from memory a 1414 anschutz style stock but the trigger guard set up so the trigger could be removed without having to undo the bedding screws and interfere with the zero of the rifle. Also the 16x mark 4 scope I was using was a good scope but not the best for f open(reticle was large), so I ordered a new 35x leupold competition scope with a 1/8 dot reticle……this was a lot better to use.
I decided on going for 6.5/284 but with the shoulder bumped back about 2mm, this gave fantastic neck tension. I picked the ‘284 chambering because of the good vibes that were coming out of the US that I was reading about in Precision Shooting magazine. My gunsmith made the reamer and chambered 2x 28” maddco 8 twist barrels, one for the rifle and one as a back-up in case of the sudden death of the first barrel.
I set about sizing shells, neck turning and getting everything ready to go and tune loads up for the barrels. I fire formed about 150x shells for each barrel and also got loads ready for each barrel.
All tuning was initially done at 100x yards and then fine-tuned at 1000x yards. This was done on my mate’s farm at night time when there was no conditions. A load that looked good at 100 was dead set useless at 1000. It would be sub moa at 100 and about 70mm wide and about 600mm high at 1000. To make powder, primer, projectile combination work at 1000 was a matter of changing just the powder charge by .1-.2 of a grain. I had the loading gear set up next to me on a table in the middle of a paddock at midnight to do this. There was about 1kph of wind and about 1/2moa of mirage running right to left. Each barrel was done on separate nights. Once tuned the barrels would consistently achieve 1/2moa at 1000. I used redding dies, harrels thrower, rcbs priming tool and a lee hand press…..nothing to flash. I never goofed around with seating depth just seated into the lands from the get go. The difference between .1-.2 grains at 1000 yards is amazing to see….the change was instant with both barrels.
Once in Canada I met most of the team for the first time. I had never shot with the eastern state blokes till Canada as I live 750ks from Perth and was also working fifo overseas in PNG at the time. This left me enough time on leave to tune the rifle, get gear ready and practice. Practice consisted of firing about 10 or 20x shots a day most days for about 4-5 weeks plus the local club shoot.
Once in Canada the first thing we did regarding shooting was pick up reloading components and also fit and zero our scopes. Zeroing of the rifles was done at a private shooting range in Stittsville. It was a very impressive range. There was an onsite gun shop that was better stocked than any that I have seen here in WA.
While setting up our rifles and shooting them I got a bollocking (proper like!) from Nick because I didn’t know how many grains of powder I was using. And I didn’t! I told him I didn’t really care so long as the gun shot. This didn’t go down well!
The Larkin boys then proceeded to chew me out a bit more and wanted to know if I had checked my velocity, all this time with me saying it was midnight when I set the rifle up and wasn’t really bothered with that stuff at that time of night.
They checked my velocity with the chrony from hell. It was huge this thing!
All I could do was stand back and cop an ear full.
The chrony was set up for a RH shooter and I am LH so Andy had to shoot the rifle for me. For five shots the velocity averaged 2961fps for a SD of 1fps. Between my highest and lowest shots there was 5fps difference from memory.
Nothing more was said about how I set up my rifle!
The range we were allocated at Stittsville to zero our rifles was 300 yards long. There was a vehicle track alongside the range from 0-300 yards. This track was surfaced in 9mm brass the whole way. For 1x meter in front of the firing point, brass and live ammunition was 300mm deep and the width of the firing point (about 30 metres). Lots of shooting happens in North America!
We all fired about 900x shots each at the Connaught Range in Ottowa, Canada over a period of 3 and a bit weeks for the Teams events, individual events and Long range championships. In the time period we had 2x non shooting days were we looked around the place. The range was about 1k wide and was shared with lots of other users…….RCMP, military rifle shooters, cadets and pistol shooters. While there I had a good burst on a MG 42 and numerous goes of AR 15’s. Also shot a Garand……..they are heaps better than a grotty old 303!
The first 2 ½ weeks consisted of the Canadian long range championships and Queens-prize etc. I finished 8th out of approx. 130 f open shooters for this. I won numerous bronze gongs, a gold one for the provincial team shoot (WA team: Tony Whittemore, Wayne Lancaster, Bill Hallam and myself) and also gold for the Governor Generals prize. The Governors prize was shot at 900 meters and was only for the top 10 shooters from the Grand agg. I finished equal first with Keith Cunningham and then had to go into a shoot off for the gold medal. It was a bit nerve wracking but I managed to get it together and won it!
The F open world championships were a hoot. They were long distance…700-900 meters. I shot with people like Carlos Hathcock, Emil Preslik, JJ Conway, Skip Talbot, Larry Bartholom, Tracy Short and Keith Cunningham
I managed to win one range outright in the individual championships….the last range of the event 20x shots @900meters and also won a silver gong coming second to Bill Hallam for the Tuesday daily aggregate.
All shooting for both the individual championships and the Canadian Long range championships was shot in pairs. You were paired with another shooter and he fired a shot and then alternately you fired a shot……20x shot matches took some time! (similar to Bisley style shooting) You were allowed a timed 7 minutes to get your gear onto the mound and set up and then 2 minutes per shot. Because you took it in turns every shot was virtually a sighter. If you were paired with a slow poke it tested your patience. Also, the person you were paired with could be shooting full bore and was never the same person twice.
We shot the teams event over one day and Australia did very well coming 2nd to the US. Bill Hallam coached each shooter.
When the team shoot was broken down into individual scores Wayne Lancaster (AUS) and Larry Bartholom (US) finished equal 1st and I came second. Bill Hallam did an epic job of coaching the Aussie team.
The main rifle rig encountered was a Stolle fitted with a Jewel trigger in a Macmillan or Shehane stock. Most barrels were Kriegers in 6.5/284. A few blokes had 260 rems but they dragged their heels a bit compared to the 6.5/284’s at 900 meters. There were 2x main scopes in use: Leupold 8.5-24x50’s and Nightforce. A lot of the better US shooters had NF because they won them as prizes. Most of the Leupolds had been doubled by Premiere.
Things I learned:
A well-tuned, fresh barrelled rifle takes some beating
A top quality barrel that is worn out ain’t worth jack to you
Tuning at the max distance you will be shooting at takes all the guess work out of the rifle and fills you with confidence like no other (out of all the shooters at the event only the WA shooters could say with authority what their rifles could group at 1000)
Fixed scopes are easier to use than variables and have one less thing to go wrong in them and also when you go down to shoot it is one less thing you have to focus your thoughts on. Fixed scopes are also heaps lighter.
300mags are hard to handle consistently over a long event
Your scope must be properly centred for windage
You must know where your zero elevation is along with your come ups.
Set your elevation back to zero once you have finished a range
Aim off, don’t wind off for conditions………it is to slow a decision to wind
Sledging takes many different forms and is a real thing
The marketing of some scopes is of a better quality than the product that they are trying to flog you
Don’t pick a cartridge that Lapua don’t make brass for. There are other good brands of brass but availability will always haunt you
Beware of the man with one gun. VERY few people can pull off using different rifles/calibres for different distances consistently. Bill Hallam did pull it off beautifully and managed to come 5th in the individuals. Also humping an extra rifle up and down a range that is 1k wide gets to you.
Harris bipods can be very competitive….even in F open. Keith Cunningham used one and finished 3rd in the Individual championships.
The brass you use needs to last the distance of the match (for us it was 900x shots) so that you are not fire forming half way through
I also found the 1/8 dot reticle to be easier to use than the busy reticles available. I find that busy reticles distract your attention away from the centre of the target.
If I had my time again I would pony up and buy the Stolle because you would have better primary extraction, better resale, and a better trigger set up(be able to fit a light jewel)
It was a great education going to an event like this. It was expensive even though we stayed in barracks on the range. I took my father with me as moral support and also assist in reloading! We all had a great time and would love to go back one day with my wife to Canada.