View Full Version : Want to go to England to Shoot? (A belated range report)

April 6th, 2011, 08:55 AM
As part of my post-retirement activities I’ve been cleaning out the attic, and ran across some mementos, photos, and the program from one of the best shooting experiences I’ve ever had. Since I found the Range Diary part of the forum, I thought this might be slightly entertaining for others and a vehicle to finally summarize my memories of the event into a written record.

*Want to go to England to shoot in the British Reserve Forces Skill At Arms Meeting, representing the US National Guard?* That was the phone call I got in early 2000. There was no hesitation in answering yes. Then they made it better by telling me it wasn’t out-of pocket, and that I’d be on orders and paid transportation, lodging, meals, and even a salary. I’ve never admitted until now that I probably would have paid THEM for the privilege.

To back up a little: I had been on the LA National Guard Shooting Teams for a number of years starting with Highpower with the M14, then transitioning to Combat Rifle competitions with the M16, and had already been to several of the NG range-operations, shooting, and coaching schools. Our LA teams had been going to the NG National Matches for many years and we had been successful as a team, not #1, but not last either, and constantly improving. Several of us had been individual winners and in the top 3 in national events, and I had even started earning leg points. I didn’t (and still don’t) think I was a very good shooter, just competent, persistent, and thoroughly enjoyed it. As I got older and my eyes aged I found that I had to start coaching to still make the team because my scores weren’t in the top 4 anymore, and those soldiers that I was once training and leading were now shooting much better than I was, but that’s another story.

The NG Marksmanship Training Unit was putting together a team to compete in international competitions, and my name got pulled out of the hat for this one. Just to complicate matters I tore the meniscus in my knee shortly after the phone call, but was able to have corrective surgery before the match and didn’t have any problems (at least in the running portions of the match).

In August 2000 we flew to Atlanta where the team met up, then made the 8 hour flight to London Gatwick airport, arriving at 6 am. We rented a car (strange to drive on the wrong side of the road) and drove to Bisley Camp where we would be staying. Bisley is the home of the British NRA, is the UK’s national shooting center, and the equivalent of our Camp Perry. We stayed at the London & Middlesex Rifle Association clubhouse (three restaurants, two bar areas, outdoor veranda overlooking Century Range, member and guest accommodations, constructed originally in 1906 and recently renovated) but competed at Pirbright Army Training Center (British Army Basic Training) which is located nearby and shares some of the same range fans. Our awards presentation and end-of-competition dinner was at the Bisley NRA Pavilion.

No trip is complete without playing tourist so we immediately took a high speed train in to London, then later a second trip. Interestingly, one transit ticket price included 24 hour travel on the trains, on London subways, and on London double-decker busses. In a very short time we hit Waterloo Station, Trafalgar Square, Harrod’s department store, Hamley’s toy store, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, museums, St Paul’s Cathedral, and a boat ride on the Thames. Of course we had to try all the different foods and adult beverages to maintain our strength. Returning to Bisley we prepared for the competitions.

April 6th, 2011, 09:00 AM
We were a 10-man team, pulled from all over the country. We started on a Friday night with a welcome ceremony and an introduction to British weapons. Because of highly restrictive British gun laws we were not permitted to bring our own weapons into the country. Everyone would use the same British issue weapons. They had all supposedly been sighted in by one Regimental Sergeant Major and would be left on line for each relay. You shot what was on your point and couldn’t adjust the sights. We all later agreed that the RSM must have been cross-eyed. The only positive part to this plan was that we didn’t have to clean the weapons afterwards. There was a platoon of British soldiers at each range that would have this privilege. Since we had never handled British weapons, we got a hands-on class that evening on how to disassemble/reassemble, function check, and fire each of the weapons type.

The next morning as we signed in we found that there were some rules that popped up that almost kept some of us (me) from shooting. We were allowed only two 4-man teams, 8 shooters total, from each branch of service. Our NG contingent had 10 people, and by drawing straws I was one of the two left out. We did some heavy negotiating and discovered that there were only two soldiers there from France. So the two Frenchmen and we two leftover NG soldiers became a *NATO* team and were allowed to compete.
My notes show that there were 30 teams representing 12 Countries including the US, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, France, South Africa, Greece, and the United Kingdom. There were 120 competitors and close to 200 support staff.

The first competition was a weapons familiarity drill. Two of the British SA80 rifles, a Browning 9mm pistol, and a Light Machine Gun (LMG) were disassembled and the parts all mixed together. We had to put on gas masks then assemble the 4 weapons out of the pile of parts and function check while being timed. Time stopped when the last weapon was assembled. With our short familiarization the night before, it was a foregone conclusion that the British teams won this competition. We moved from there to a situational combat first aid drill, then to a video/laser engagement exercise. Our coach told us to hold off on shooting until the video enemy got closer, but they changed the scenario and the enemy never got closer so we lost points by not firing.

From there we moved to actual range firing with the SA80 5.56mm rifle, the Browning 9mm pistol, the Light Support Weapon (5.56mm), the General Purpose Machine Gun (7.62mm), and the L115 Long Range Rifle (7.62mm sniper rifle, made by Accuracy International). The rifle and machinegun ranges were from 400 down to 100 meters and included pop-ups, stationary (pit-serviced, like in Highpower), and moving targets. The pistol ranges were 10-25 m and included stationary and moving targets, not to mention shooting clay pigeons off vertical stakes. About half the matches were run-down, meaning that you started at longer ranges, fired a set number of shots, safetied your weapon then ran down to the next closer firing point, repeated until you ran out of targets or ammo (or out of breath). Sounds scary but it was well regulated. By the way, it’s somewhat difficult to get a good sight picture after you’ve run 100m and immediately start shooting. Some of the target exposure times included the rundown where you would have for example, 45 seconds to run 100 yds then fire 10 shots on target before it drops. The Long Range Rifle competition was for group size at 100 yards. I’m not necessarily saying there were extremely good shooters there, but I shot a .50 group with their sniper rifle and came in 53d place. One of the 200 m ranges included video monitors at each position where you could look over and see each of your hits in real time. All the ranges were active at the same time, were short walking distances apart, and operated with walk-on relays. The SA80 rifles are a bullpup configuration and all were equipped with 4x scopes. British soldiers told us they much preferred the M16 if given a choice because of the longer sight radius, although they didn’t see much difference when using scopes.

April 6th, 2011, 09:05 AM
It rained off and on all day which made things interesting. On another positive note, we didn’t have to work the pits or scoring. The training was great, kept you moving from range to range, and let us interact with some of the best shooters I had ever seen. Language was a minor difficulty but everything seemed to work smoothly anyway. The two Frenchmen on our team didn’t speak English, and we didn’t speak French, but didn’t have any problems shooting together.

How did we do? Our USNG “B” team won the International Competition, my NATO “B” team came in 5th, and our USNG “A” team came in 11th. 1SG Greg Neiderhiser from Pennsylvania was the top shooter of the B team, won the National Champion (Roberts Match), the GPMG Match, the Electric Target Range Match, the Converted Gallery Range Match and was also the high individual shooter (Champion at Arms) of the entire competition. MSG Mark Volchko was the high individual pistol winner and MSG Thomas Boyle won first place in the Moving Target Rifle Match and was second place in the Pistol Match. The rest of us hung in there and posted mostly respectable scores. Since I personally didn’t win any matches I must say that the training was great, professionally executed, and left me with lots of enthusiasm for the shooting sports.

Now the disclaimer: “There’s a method behind the madness.” It exposed us to other country’s weapons, combat techniques, training methods, and gave us the opportunity to bring back knowledge to our fellow soldiers when preparing to deploy. It was especially significant when I ran in to a couple of the British competitors and also two of my fellow US competitors later on in Iraq, and we were able to help in each other’s operations. I learned a lot, had a good time, and would go again in a heartbeat.