Chris Parkin attends the relaunched rifle proficiency course at Riflecraft and finds that even an experienced rifleman could learn a thing or two from it.
When shooters want to take a step up from either airgun or shotgun ownership towards getting a firearm certificate for ownership of their first rifle, confusing ground can lie ahead. Many police forces ask for experience, qualifications or bookings for stalking, or insist on DSC attendance. Worse still, a ‘mentor’ condition may be applied to their FAC. While the DSC is a valuable course, it isn’t a first step into rifle shooting and ownership. It is a deer stalking certificate, not intended to teach about rifles, ammunition, shooting and maintenance, which can be a very confusing subject to the uninitiated.
Step forward Riflecraft, which has relaunched its two-day module one course combining classroom tuition and range instruction to teach shooters about rifles, their use, and how to shoot them accurately and consistently. I went along to see what was on offer.
My fellow students were all shooters looking for more involvement with rifles. Two pupils I spoke to, Brian and David, already held firearms certificates. Realising there was a lot more to discover, however, they were keen to find out what could be achieved beyond their current experience of .22 rimfire gallery shooting and – in David’s case – a recently inherited 7×57 Mauser that had sparked the desire to start deer stalking.
Back to school
Day 1 started off in the classroom with our course tutors, Robert, Martin and Andrew (the owner of Riflecraft). A military sniping background and small arms instruction credentials have given the Riflecraft team all the knowledge required to teach shooting skills, as well as running a shop specialising in rifles. They are all keen hunters, with deer and vermin control at the top of their sporting lists.
We started out with a short safety briefing listing procedures and exit routes in case of fire. Refreshment facilities and toilets were close by a purpose-built classroom, and we made ourselves comfortable for the first talk of the day: safety. We were told that all ‘lectures’ were to include everyone on the course, and if at any time we felt the need to raise a question or required further explanation, we should do so. Going around the room, everyone gave a brief description of their shooting hobbies, level of experience and further desires within the sport. This gave a good clue as to what we all sought from the two days. Safety has to be the first requirement to all shooting, and we covered topics like backstops and checking the bullet’s intended flight path would be clear.
Various tales along the way highlighted how easy it was to make mistakes. Gun safety was the key issue, covering both handling and carrying any type of rifle. Triggers, safety catches, loading and unloading drills, along with hazards such as ammunition selection, the dangers of barrel obstructions, and poor maintenance were described. Simple tricks like taping up the muzzle to prevent debris entering the barrel were strongly advised. We then discussed the likelihood of possible safety issues caused by other people’s use of the countryside, from dog walkers to ‘courting couples’ and the golden rule that you must never shoot at a pair of eyes – the target must always be clearly identified.
Although the subject was never treated lightly, the mood within the room was buoyant and relaxed, with everyone feeling involved. The presentation with all accompanying photographs was clearly projected on the opposing wall, leaving the centre of the room clear to demonstrate any firearm or component right in front of us.
Between each topic, we were given brief comfort breaks and the day began to flow quickly, covering law, equipment, maintenance, ballistics, distance judging, zeroing and shooting positions. Riflecraft were keen to teach us to search out our own answers and not just rely on a shop trying to sell a particular product they conveniently have in stock. We were encouraged to look at the specific needs of any equipment needed to complete the shooting tasks we had in mind and not to get distracted from making informed buys. Being an insider myself, I was very pleased to see that at no point was any product directed towards the attendees or blessed with some holy opinion of its perfection in use. I thought this said a lot about the course – we were clearly here to be educated, not convinced.
It is not possible to cover everything said, but the often mystical subject of rifle barrel cleaning and maintenance was covered in depth. It is a subject that polarises opinion and here it was treated objectively. The way in which different solvents removed specific fouling residues and how chemically, cleaning technology has really moved on from the days of never cleaning a rifle unless it was broken. I know a bit about rifles and was pleased to find matters such as barrel harmonics discussed, which is a constant headache to the uninitiated. Closely associated matters like free floating barrels and correct moderator fit were addressed in detail with questions answered by both product demonstrations and comparisons. Stock designs and materials are a favourite cost-cutting exercise these days, and we were shown every material side by side to observe the comparative weight and flexibility issues associated with the price-function compromise adopted in all brands.
To round off the first day, a stalking rifle was used to demonstrate the fundamental shooting positions of prone, standing, sitting and kneeling, both with and without support. Andrew freely admitted that no matter how hard he tried to improve upon them, the four fundamentals of shooting are exactly the same as when he was taught them in the army. The importance of connecting bone to bone (not floating joints) wherever possible was fundamental, along with a body posture not being strained into place. Closing the eyes and relaxing, then opening them again to see where everything pointed, was a timely reminder that forcing the shot won’t be repeatable as the limbs spring back to relaxed ‘neutral’ postures.
When prone or practising trigger execution with a snap cap, balancing a 5p coin on the tip of the barrel clearly indicates the snatched trigger so many shooters call out as a ‘pulled’ shot. Trigger control goes hand in hand with safety as well as effective bolt operation, allowing a well-positioned and gently squeezed shot to hit the mark. A final 30-minute written test checked on our attention throughout the day, asking key questions about the lectures. This is the first half of the pass/fail testing carried out to ascertain your worthiness for the final certificate.
On the range
After eight hours in the classroom, we got our hands on the rifles. You can bring your own gun or borrow one from Riflecraft for the day and their private 100-metre range has everything you need. We started out checking zero from prone or benchrest, then Robert spent time demonstrating seated and standing shots to Brian and David. Bipod, tripod and quad sticks were all available, and adjustment was encouraged to give the greatest comfort. Seated shooting can be incredibly stable yet often ignored, and the tripod sticks used allowed length/height adjustment. Time spent dry firing gave every opportunity to try different positions for the elbows, knees and feet for when live fire began.
The actual test requires 12 shots: four from prone at 100 metres into a standard DSC-sized target with a 4in bull, four at 70 metres sitting supported, and four more at 40 metres standing supported. Shooters were allowed to go through the whole procedure without hurrying, and firmly familiarise themselves with the associated requirements. Like a driving test, this course won’t teach everything in two days but encourages shooters to grasp the first threads of knowledge and draw on them as far as they like.
The desire to learn is so important and I enjoyed watching my two companions crush their initial group sizes in half with no more than an hour’s tuition. Brian kept on asking for ‘just one more shot’ and when the actual test took place, I’m not ashamed to say he shot better than I did. The standing shots were the most testing and a tip Andrew had shared proved most helpful, suggesting it was impossible to prevent all wobble but concentrating on keeping one axis stable and almost timing the trigger squeeze to coincide with the other worked a treat.
I’m pleased to say all attendees passed and clearly enjoyed all the elements of both days. I’m a very sceptical person but went away reassured that the answers are out there for novices. Riflecraft are keen to promote shooters broadening their knowledge, helping them make informed buys rather than just buying what is easily available but not necessarily suitable. The objectivity displayed was a credit to the tutors, never believing themselves to be infallible and keen for feedback from their pupils. I would thoroughly recommend this course to anyone wanting to learn more, I certainly picked up a few pointers along with a certificate recognised by the police and BASC as real proof of shooting proficiency and knowledge.
Fancy having a go yourself? Book your place on the Riflecraft training course for £300.
Contact 01379 853745 or www.riflecraft.co.uk for more information.