10 rifle shooting challenges to educate, challenge and inspire us on our shooting journey. From Andrew Venables at WMS Firearms Training.
When was the last time you sat down, looked at your rifle with a smile and thought, ‘Wow, did I really do that?’ What are the challenges in shooting that raise your pulse, and make you start planning and looking through the savings accounts?
Some may be once in a lifetime experiences, others can be achieved at the bottom of a garden or at a shooting range.
I am privileged to be able to put a big, fat tick in the box of many people who come to train with WMS.
Sometimes, it is the training and practice on our steel targets that provides the full package, but often the training is the route to success in some long dreamed of hunt or shooting challenge.
So, what are the things that define success and experience when shooting a rifle? If we are to make a list of them, they should be commercially available, not just for the privileged few, sustainable and ethical.
Some will involve hunting, others are simply challenges in the art of the rifle and indicators of excellence and skill when shooting.
I haven’t listed these in any particular order, so please prioritise as you choose and feel free to delete any of them and add in your own ideas in their place. The important message here is simple: make dreams come true and get out and enjoy your shooting.
1) Stand up and shoot tin cans with an air rifle
The best way to learn how to shoot is as a youngster, using an airgun safely under the guidance of an experienced adult. If we fail to pass on this essential element in the development of rifle shooting skills, we risk the sport fading away into one practised only by pensioners, without any young blood coming into the sport.
I had more blameless fun with my Webley Mk3 air rifle, a can of Eley Wasp pellets and recycled contents of the kitchen bin than I have likely had since. It taught me how to shoot properly, kept me out of the wrong company at the bus shelter, made me responsible for my actions and led to me harvesting my first rabbit.
You are not too old – get an airgun, some empty tin cans, a safe space and a few mates. See who can hit the furthest tin, do it all free standing and you will all be better shots after half an hour of cheap fun. Bet on the results and you may also be richer.
2) Shoot targets at long range with a .22 rimfire rifle
The second most accessible way to shoot rifles is with a .22 LR. The challenge is to see how far away you can hit targets. Many people think these rifles are only good for 25-50m target shooting. In truth, we regularly engage our steel targets at 80-300m and boy, is it fun.
Find a safe place to shoot, shoot at reactive targets such as clay pigeons, balloons, and steel plates which ‘ding’! Use the rifle you have, and if you don’t have a .22 LR, get one. After airguns they are the next best way to practise and encourage new shooters.
3) Hunt a rabbit with one of the rifles mentioned above
There is nothing better than the thrill of success after you have planned and executed a successful hunt, and one of the most accessible mammals to hunt is the humble bunny.
I still get the same buzz from stalking and cleanly harvesting a rabbit for the pot now as I did when I was a teenager. Remove the paunch immediately, head for home when you have one or two for the pot and enjoy the rewards with a glass of crisp white wine.
4) Take the plate test with a centrefire rifle
Whatever you shoot, take a plate test. Buy a pack of white paper dinner plates, these are usually about 20cm in diameter with a raised edge and the flat bit in the middle where the food goes. If you want to make it harder, buy side plates.
To test yourself, staple some plates to some short sticks stuck in the ground against a safe backstop, walk away to the appropriate distance, turn around, load and fire. I suggest you fire three to five rounds and do it perhaps twice, then evaluate.
You might try free standing at 50m, kneeling at 100m, sitting at 150m and prone at 200m. Test yourself in the positions and at the ranges you normally shoot, if you hunt: no bench rest; no sandbags; and try it soon after the brisk walk to the firing point.
Success is defined by the holes on the flat, centre portion of the plate. Practise until you are 100% accurate, then you are ready for the hunt.
5) Ambush some corvids
Whatever rifle you shoot, if you want to test your skill as a shot and a hunter there is no greater challenge than setting out to cull some crafty corvids. You need a safe place to lure them in and to shoot at a range that is sensible. If you use an airgun this may be in the trees, if you use a rimfire or centrefire rifle it should be on the ground with a backstop.
You need a plan and some bait, such as a dead rabbit or some eggs scattered whole and broken on fresh straw or hay. A few corvid decoys and a plastic owl on a fence post might complete the scene.
Now you must wait, perfectly sighted-in for the killing zone, perfectly camouflaged and perfectly still until a corvid arrives. Be certain of your shot; if you are successful other corvids may come to the funeral. I have never had a second shot at an adult corvid, not in 45 years of rifle shooting, so best make the first one count.
6) Stalk every species of British deer
There are such fabulous locations, brilliant guides and superb hunting and eating to be found on the UK stalking scene. Before you venture abroad, try them all: muntjac, fallow and roe in classic deciduous woodland in England; Chinese water deer in the fens of Norfolk; sika deer in Dorset or Ireland; and red deer, roe or more sika in the Highlands of Scotland.
Whether you own a stalking rifle or not, the opportunity to stalk all of these species exists in the UK and for very reasonable prices when compared with hunting abroad.
Whether this takes you a year or a lifetime, the memories, experiences, people and places will provide more wellbeing and reward than you can imagine. Book that first trip now.
7) Shoot a steel target at 1,000m
It takes about 1.8 seconds for the bullet to arrive and about four seconds for the sound of the ‘clang’ to come back. It’s fun, addictive, a great challenge and accessible. There are an increasing number of places around the UK that can offer this experience. If you need help, ask us.
Fitted with an appropriate telescopic sight, many mid-calibre hunting rifles are capable of doing this with decent ammunition and heavy-for-calibre, pointed boat-tail bullets.
At WMS Firearms Training we never tire of the smiles when clients clang the gongs at 1,000m for the first time, especially if they are using their own rifles and had no idea it was possible.
8) Introduce a friend to shooting
I recently read that most shooters are over 50. I am over 50 and every year we as a company introduce at least 200 people to rifle shooting. Shooting can be enjoyed regardless of gender, age, ethnicity or ability.
Fourteen-year-old boys and girls shoot, pensioners shoot, people in wheelchairs shoot and even blind people can shoot. There are sights available that produce a certain tone when perfectly on target, enabling a blind shooter to compete using their hearing.
Shooting sports are currently growing, so let’s keep it that way. Try to introduce a new person to shooting as often as you can.
9) Go to Africa and hunt
I was 43 the first time I went to Africa to hunt. It was a plains game hunt in South Africa and I loved it. I wish I had gone sooner and more often.
Everything is different and challenges the senses and abilities of those who have lived and hunted in temperate Europe. The sounds, smells, wildlife, scenery and people make the trip incredible and the desire to repeat it irresistible.
I have been twice more since and have been fortunate enough to hunt with some incredible professional hunters and trackers. Properly managed hunting in Africa is sustainable and vital for wildlife and conservation.
If you haven’t stared into the embers of a campfire in Africa, silently reliving the events of the day while sipping a drink, you have yet to experience one of the most fundamental human experiences. It is not what you hunt, it is simply that you hunt.
10) Try driven boar shooting, even if it’s only at targets
We are rather reserved, us British shooters. While our friends on the Continent take part in monterias, driven boar and deer hunts, and harvest the odd passing moose, we prefer to shoot stationary game with rifles.
Whatever your thoughts on this, having the ability to shoot moving game with a rifle is a very desirable skill to possess: wounded deer may need to be despatched, roadside casualties may not stay still, and an invite from a French or German chum to shoot driven boar would be a shame to pass up.
There are now a few driven boar systems available in the UK. If you are planning to join a driven hunt it is essential that you take the time to train and practise, so that you are proficient before finding yourself in a forest in front of a speeding boar or deer. A skilled practitioner can be very effective and the drives can be highly exhilarating.
If you work your way through this list of things to do with a rifle in some semblance of order, you are likely to enjoy success, the company of wonderful people and the experience of being in incredible places.
As a hunter using man-made tools, you will be engaging in one of the oldest recorded human activities and discovering instincts and life skills you never knew you had.