Selecting Rifles

Printer-friendly version

 

The full-bore/ small-bore divide

Small-bore rifles

Gallery rifles

Full-bore rifles

 

Buying a rifle is not as easy as buying a shotgun, simply because there are far fewer dealers who specialise in target rifles, so be prepared to travel to buy. Don't forget, that one of the best sources of information about rifles are the members of your club.

 

The full-bore/ small-bore divide:

When the NRA was first formed its role was the promotion of the use of the contemporary armed service rifle: the Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle, a muzzle-loader of .577 calibre. Thanks mainly to the work of Sir Joseph Whitworth, the optimum calibre of the black powder muzzle-loading rifle was determined at .451.

Consequently followers of ultimate accuracy adopted the 0.451 calibre, using rifles designed and built by Whitworth or Rigby. As a result, the Victorian shooter found himself presented with two calibres, 0.577, (the standard P53 Enfield rifle calibre) and .451 the Whitworth calibre. It was not long before .577 became the accepted full-bore calibre, whilst .451 became the small-bore.

In around 1890 Britain adopted the .303 inch cartridge as the standard military calibre and soon after received a drubbing in the Boer War by farmers armed with Mauser bolt action rifles. The inevitable enquiry determined that Britons lacked rifle practice. Thanks to Lord Roberts the NSRA was formed and .22 ranges sprang up all over Britain. As a result today we have the National Rifle Association (NRA) - claiming governance of full-bore shooting (essentially any cartridge excepting the .22 rimfire), and the National Small-bore Rifle Association (NSRA) which is the governing body for .22 rimfire and airgun shooting. So .22 rimfire is small-bore, whilst any other (centre-fire) cartridge is now called full-bore. To make things confusing, there are many .22 calibre cartridges that are centre-fire, high velocity and vastly more powerful than the .22 rimfire, even though they fire the same calibre bullet as the .22 rimfire. The current NATO rifle cartridge is the 5.56mm/.223 Remington, which - whilst of smallbore calibre - is definitely a full-bore performer if loaded with the right bullet and shot from a suitable rifle, when it can succesfully shoot a target at 1000 yards. This is compared to the accurate limit of the .22 rimfire, which is only around 100 yards.

 

Small-bore Rifles:

Let’s split this into conventional small-bore target rifles, and lightweight sporting rifles.

Conventional small-bore target rifles:

In the UK the vast majority of small-bore target shooting is 25 yard prone competition - best done with a heavyweight prone stocked rifle.

Manufacturers in Germany dominate the sport; perhaps the most successful maker is Anschütz whose rifles have been leaders in world-class competition for years.

Small-bore rifles will shoot accurately for years with very little maintenance, so buying second hand is not usually a problem. However, if you want to buy new, consider Anschütz, Feinwerkbau, and Walther.

If you are looking for second hand there are models available from many makers:

  • Anschütz
  • Feinwerkbau
  • Walther
  • Unique
  • Valmet
  • Remington
  • BSA

Some of these might be quite old, and this should be reflected in the price; however if you are buying new, budget up to £2000.

All of these rifles are single shot, bolt actions, except for the BSA, which is instead a unique English made Martini falling-block action.

Models II, III, IV and V were supreme hand built examples of Birmingham gun making. Sadly, BSA lost out to Anschütz and Co. because they did not keep up in the marketing stakes; they did not offer thumbhole stocks, adjustable cheek pieces, or butt plates.

 

Lightweight sporting rifle:

These competitions are shot standing with a lightweight magazine-fed rifle. Some are shot against the clock.

By far and away the most popular rifle for these competitions is the Ruger model 10/22 or its derivatives. There is a whole industry making 'go faster' parts for these rifles. In fact it is possible to buy a Ruger 10/22 that has no Ruger made part in it!

These rifles are popular because:

  • They are cheap.
  • There is an endless range of custom parts available.
  • The basic design is sound.

Other makes and types:

If you do not want a semi-automatic rifle, bolt-action sporters from BRNO (or CZ) are very popular.

These sporting rifles have been on sale for more than 50 years, and early models are beautifully made. Trigger tuning kits are available – not that there is much wrong with the standard trigger.

Given a minimum of care and attention such rifles will work for decades. Brand new they are around £300, although £150 or so will get you a good second hand example. These rifles additionally have integral scope rails, so fitting a scope is easy.

 

Gallery Rifles:

The MOD defines a gallery range as one where the shooters engage fixed targets from fixed positions. Hence almost all ranges that civilians are permitted to use are gallery ranges.

However, the common interpretation of a gallery rifle is one that is shot on or in, a shooting gallery. In other words rifles that can be used at short range in a 'shooting gallery' - i.e. an indoor range.

With the passing of the 1997 Firearms Amendment Act came the prohibition of 'handguns' referring to cartridge-firing pistols and revolvers. As a result many pistol shooters opted to use rifles chambered for the cartridges they had used in their pistols and revolvers.

These short-barrelled pistol cartridge firing rifles (or carbines) are manually operated, either by lever or bolt action, and are usually chambered for one of the following cartridges.

  • .38 Special
  • .357 Magnum
  • .44 Special
  • .44 Magnum
  • .45 Colt
  • .45 ACP
  • 9mm
  • 44/40

 

Lever action rifles:

Everybody who has ever seen a Western will be familiar with the Winchester rifle and modern versions of these guns are still available. The modern Winchester (or American Repeating Arms) made versions are available in .38, .357, .44 and .45 chambering - all of which are suitable for gallery-rifle competitions.

If you are looking at a Winchester, consider the AE (Angle Eject) Version, as this permits the use of a telescopic sight.

A more prolific maker of lever actions is Marlin - a U.S. maker, who have been producing lever actions for over 100 years. These rifles are probably stronger and simpler than Winchester, and with their flat top actions are ideally suited for scope use.

Some time ago Marlin decided to adopt a system of 'micro groove' rifling for their barrels. This works well with jacketed bullets, but less so with plain lead bullets - just the kind of bullets we want to use for short range target shooting. The solution is to use the hardest lead alloy bullets you can.

Happily Marlin seems to have reverted to deep cut (Ballard) rifling which is better suited to lead bullets. Marlins are available in a variety of calibres and barrel lengths.

Rossi and Puma of Brazil make some nice Winchester type rifles, some in stainless steel.

Ruger produces a .44 Magnum lever action, that uses their unique rotary magazine.

The Italian gun industry has several makers who produce copies of historical Western guns in original chambering, or in 'modern' pistol calibres. Famous names are Uberti, Pietta and Pedersoli amongst others. Whilst these guns are faithful reproductions of American originals, they are mostly not suited for mounting a telescopic sight.

 

Bolt Action:

The UK laws have resulted in some custom built bolt action rifles which are chambered for pistol calibres. Armalon Ltd, (run by Peter Sarony a noted pistol-smith) built such rifles based on heavily modified No. 4 Enfield actions. Usually calibres are 9mm Parabellum and .45 ACP.

The rifles are modified to accept pistol magazines and have short barrels and modified woodstock. Scopes can be fitted and the No. 4 Action can be modified to cock on opening, making it very slick to shoot.

 

Calibres:

There is not much to choose between any of the gallery rifle calibres. If you are going to shoot any great volume you should consider hand-loading anyway. Experience suggests that the .38 special/ .357 magazine loaded to .38 Special pressures does not perform very well in longer barrels. Best results come from hard lead bullets and small charges of fast burning powders.

The .44 Special/ Magnum does much better, but still needs to be loaded with modest charges of fast powders. Round nose, flat point or 'Keith' style semi wad cutter bullets work well. For reliable feeding from a magazine stick to magnum cases.

The same comments apply to .45 Colt (or Long Colt) versions.

Buying second hand:

What to look for:

  • Check that the rifle feeds cartridges from the magazine properly.
  • Check for consistent trigger function.
  • Make a key careful inspection of the bore. Like revolvers, small charges can result in bullets left in the bore, which cause damage when the next round is fired. If the bore seems to have a dark ring in it walk away.

 

Full-bore Rifles:

Full-bore shooting is an increasingly popular aspect of Club shooting for many reasons:

  • The range of disciplines available is greater. Target, Match, Service, Sporting, Veteran, 300m ISU, F-Class, Benchrest, Muzzle-loading etc.
  • Technically it is more diverse. There are different calibres, rifles, ranges and cartridges.
  • It is shot outdoors at long ranges. A as result the shooter needs to understand his rifle and cartridge combination capabilities, how the elements affect the shot, and how to compensate for this.
  • You can hand load your own ammunition.
  • RTSC travels to a full-bore range (usually Bisley) for a full day of shooting. The very act of traveling to a 'distant' range makes the day more of an event.
  • 2011 saw the introduction of camping weekends at Bisley. This makes for a full weekend of shooting and an opportunity to socialise with Club members.

 

Here's a quick roundup of the type of competitive full bore rifle shooting done in the UK.

Target Rifle (TR):

This, the most popular full-bore rifle shooting discipline, was introduced in the 1950s and was originally designed to enable lpeople to compete with modestly priced equipment. In the early days, many competitors had their old .303 target rifles rebarrelled in 7.62, but those days have long gone - today's target rifle is a high cost, high tech piece of kit.

The formula is:

  • Calibre is to be 7.62mm NATO or .308 Winchester.
  • Rifle weight and trigger pull are specified.
  • 'Iron' or aperture sights only - no telescopes.
  • Distances usually 300 - 900 yards, sometimes longer.
  • Rifles shot prone, no support other than a sling allowed.
  • The latest 5.56mm NATO (Or the civilian equivalent .223 Remington) is also permitted.
  • Ammunition is usually issued by the match organisers and as such can be very variable.

Match Rifle:

The 'Formula 1' of rifle shooting:

  • Shot at 1000, 1100, 1200 yards.
  • Rifles can be heavier than for TR.
  • Calibre is still 7.62 NATO/ .308 Win but hand loading is permitted.
  • Scope sights permitted.
  • The front shooting hand may be supported on a rest.
  • Prone or the 'back position' can be used

Service Rifle:

Shot with the current service rifle. AS UK subjects are not permitted to possess or use semi-automatic rifles, most of us cannot take part unless we use a rifle converted to manual operation.

Versions of the M16 US Rifle and its clones, built as 'straight pull', manually operated guns are very popular.

Some competition also allows the use of any suitable bolt action, magazine-fed rifle; the so-called 'tactical' rifles are appropriate.

Veteran:

Competitions designed around veteran bolt action military rifles. These are usually shot prone at shortish ranges.

'F' Class:

A relatively new format, shot prone at all ranges, using any rifle (as long as it is safe) any calibre, any sights. The rifle may be rested both back and front. Hand-loaded ammunition is permitted.

Originally conceived to allow people whose eyesight was declining to continue to shoot, in the beginning 'F' Class saw many people simply attaching a telescopic sight to their trusty target rifle.

Now sadly, 'F' Class, to some extent has degenerated into a competition to see how much money can be spent on having a dedicated 'F' Class rifle built. To counter this development the NRA has introduced 7.62 'F' Class where guns are limited to 7.63 NATO calibre which helps to keep the cost down.

 

Back

X