Shooting on the Edge of the Mist
Great Britain has a surprising number of long range shooting areas. Many of them are military ranges, access to which is restricted to affiliated NRA clubs, and governed by the requirements of HM Armed Forces. This can lead to shoot cancellations when our nation is militarily active. The benefit, however, of club membership is that range fees for the ultra-long ranges are cheap.
There are, however, a handful of private, professionally constructed and properly insured ranges that welcome target shooters and conduct courses. One of these ranges is WMS firearms whose HQ is based in Ystrad Meurig in west Wales.
The true scale of the beauty and desolation of the Cambrian Mountains becomes apparent when you get close to Ystad Meurig. It is hard to explain in words, the contrast between the deep moist valleys, large stone cottages, winding narrow roads and then the explosion of colourful fields that cover the lower hills. Only to give way to bleak grass covered blunt peaks scattered with sheep.
At WMS, we finally meet the people we have been talking to for the last 3 years. Andrew Venables is a charismatic man whose experience is extremely varied, Helena is cool calm and very organised. WMS is a multidiscipline organisation that trains zoos, hunters and government employees in wildlife management and safe culling. Finally, after all this time, it is time to load up our kit into the vehicles. Nick and Andy load up Andy's Landrover while I jump in with Andrew Venables in his Ford 4x4.
We have arrived with no real expectations; save those we have gleaned on the internet. We are expecting one pit with some targets and a drive back to various firing points. Andrew leads us back through Pontrhydfendigaid and drive off up through some farms to WMS area number 2. This is our first of a few firing positions. Nothing could have prepared us for the array of targets available to us from this first firing position. To our right is a pit area or quarry with some steel targets visible at 300m. In front of are steel deer and foxes and to our left a lone steel figure 11 stands 700m away. In the distance are some gongs at 1000m.
What I find most impressive and challenging is a small river bed with a series of wildlife targets that require dynamic positioning. The distances start at 50m and work their way up to 250. Each target is specifically placed to ensure that the marksman has to change his position as he walks up the narrow gulley. I have a go with the L42A1 and find myself half sitting half lying on the side of the gully with the rifle resting upon the grass. It’s stirring stuff and takes all my energy and patience to get a first shot hit on a metal deer. This course of fire is clearly and cleverly designed for the stalkers who have to hit their quarry every time with the first shot, I marvel at the dynamic nature of this range.
Meanwhile, Nick and Andy have broken out their .338 Lapua’s and are accurately banging away at targets that start at 300m. They quickly work their way out to 1000m and 1300m. This means that I cannot complete the walk up the gulley but have to stop and remain parallel to them.
After some time, the other 2 are consistently hitting targets at 1200m and I feel I too should catch up. I have recently purchased a second hand Remington 700 in .300 Winchester Magnum, this is seated in an old Accuracy International AW stock and it does the job. We are all happily shooting out to 1200m but are soon running out of alternative targets.
We break for tea and then for lunch which can be taken in a strategically positioned sheep trailer. Andrew lays on tea, coffee and milk. After this we change angle and move to another hill which allows us to shoot squarely into the pit/quarry at 1000m (1100yards). I enjoy stretching the 20 inch barrel AR10 out at this distance. To my surprise, it pings off the figure 11 targets with regulartity.
Andy and Nick only use .338’s and so, spotting for each other they quickly work their way through the near targets at 1000-1300 metres. Soon and with some help from Andrew , they are happily hitting the gong at 1500m. Having come this far, I feel I should join them. The Remington 700 comes out again and I try and get shots on beyond 1200m. I have had enormous trouble sourcing consistent ammunition. I have some 190 grain Sierra Match king made by Federal which is accurate but has cost me £3 a round.
Here Andrew comes into his own. He is a truly gifted spotter; one of a handful of people who can almost sense which spot of grass moved and which did not. He allows me to do some Kentucky calculations on the hoof, and use intelligent guesswork to translate Federal Dope (Which I now had) into HPS dope. I stop shooting and take my time, using Istrelok (http://www.borisov.mobi/istrelok/) and a pencil and notebook; I am able to make a ballistic chart that gets me on target within two rounds at successive distances.
All of this is confirmed by Andrew Venables watching the swirl of the descending round and making very accurate estimations of the impact zone he is able to guide us all onto the most challenging target of the day, a small gong on the edge of a waterfall. As soon as we are within 12 inches of the target, the rock gives significant feedback and allows for the minor adjustments to get on target.
In my case I consistently clip the disk at 1600m. I am not bothered. If I am 2 inches off, at the end of three days of shooting (and hundreds of rounds of ammunition), With a sore shoulder and bleary eyes, then I am very happy. I don’t always need to hear the ping.
Andy stretches out and hits the waterfall target repeatedly at 1600m. Andy is the most scientific out of all of us, so Nick and I sit back with a cup of tea while he rings the gong at the mile.
The light is still strong at 5.30pm when we are all almost shot out. Just before the end of the day Andrew Venables has one final surprise. He produces an Enfield no4 Rifle. The world famous .303 has iron sights.
“lets try this at 1000m2 he says.
The no4 is spot on, with the Sierra Match King bullets coming in slightly higher than Mk 7. The big boar in the pit takes numerous hits.
“The 303 is on me” Andrew says graciously when I try and pay for the 30 odd rounds that I have put down range.
The day comes to an end and we transfer our kit back to our own vehicles for the journey home. I will not make the ammo mistake again, I send all my used 300 WIN mag cases to Fultons to be loaded with AMAX 208 grain bullets. “One round one dope for each calibre”. Again something is learned.