The distant rumble of rifle fire which forms the musical accompaniment to the Summer for the residents of mid Surrey must have been mistaken for jungle drums.
Whatever the source of the lure which landed a record number of OFs at Bisley’s Imperial Meeting this year, it was effective. Such has become the enthusiasm for OF shooting in recent years that this year we were able to field no fewer than three teams for the Blue Riband event of the season – the Public Schools Veterans.
One of the most enjoyable shoots of the OF Rifle Club fixture, the ‘Vets’ pits us against Old Boys from pretty much every school who fielded a team in the Ashburton, shot earlier on Thursday 13th July.
The blinding heat and parched savannah of Century range only matched in luminosity the grins of no less than 10 OFs who had pitched their tents ready for nine solid days of the Meeting. With Bisley being the exact negative of golf – it has only one hole but 18 clubhouses – the seasoned drinkers with a shooting problem that make up the OFs were beaming more broadly than the ice cream vendors.
Despite some notable success from the school there was one disappointment in that the College, for the first time in any of our long memories, had failed to muster an eight and so were not entered for the "Ashburton".
Our "A" team was outstanding, dropping only 6 points out of 250. In particular the triumphant return to the Chocolate & Blue of Suffolk skipper Andy Gemmill, who made the final of last year’s Queen’s Prize, showed his early form with a near perfect 50.9.
Though this was to be the first of numerous superb performances to come in the following days from Gemmill, he was only barely able to confine his pique at the incompetence of wind-coach David Argent who spinelessly converted the shooter’s second sighter, a bull 5. Having put the rest effortlessly into the dead centre V-bull, Gemmill is denied the plaudits of a perfect 50.10.
However, such was quality of the competition this that this was rewarded with 8th position, a full 4 points behind the winners – the ever-tedious Greshams.
The "B" team were conspicuously B, underachieving with 228 ex 250, Tom Chapman showing his talent with a creditable 44 despite a miss – unfortunately cross-shooting onto the adjacent target (it was a V-Bull, too). The winners with 245 (guess who? Zzzzz) and placing just above mid-table at 15th place.
The "C" team scored a solid 225 – with Nigel King stamping some long-lost authority over the side with a stunning 49.3, placing at 13th position, whilst in the Aggregate Competition for all three teams we came 7th.
A spectacular achievement from all our shooters, especially James Brocks, who hadn’t shot since the same fixture twelve months previously. The Medal for the Day was won by Nigel King, who enjoyed the benefit of our new handicapping system, which ensures a fairer distribution of prizes and just rewards for truly magnificent performances.
The patent Burnip-matic OFRC scoreboard
But this is only the start of the Imperial Meeting, and following some first-night enthusiasm on the verandah of the North London Rifle Club, the OFs appeared filled with enthusiasm of not very much breakfast, at 0730 to shoot in the Astor County Challenge.
The Club was given the honour of representing our parent county Suffolk in this prestigious competition. Firing two sighters and seven to count at 300, 500 and 600 yards, again our performances were solid, putting in 600 ex 625 to be worthily, if slightly disappointingly, placed in 17th position, just 11 points behind the winners. Gemmill held up the side with an aggregate 104.16. Happily, the winners - yep, you guessed it, step forward Greshams – had failed to read the rule book and were disqualified for fielding too many A-class shooters.
Thereafter the meeting concentrates on individual competition, and consistently excellent performances from Gemmill and Sandy Walker (at just 19 surely to be the finest shot of his generation?) were rewarded by high placings in the Grand Aggregate. Nobody was to be disappointed: Burnip shooting beautifully to be placed 48th in the St Georges competition. He and Walker (26th) were rewarded with X-class status – effectively the top 100 shots in the UK, whilst McDowell, who also qualified for the second stage of St Georges along with John Halahan and David Argent eventually lost his cherry and Tyro status after four years of unrewarded banging away. Halahan overcame early doubts about his form to produce some really consistent shooting – rarely dropping more than two points even at extreme range.
Showing that team shooting requires high levels of fitness, David Argent sips beer, Halahan selfishly consumes the team’s last snout, whilst McDowell rummages fruitlessly in the Eskie for another tinnie.
The Meeting is not complete without the OFRC barbeque. Using meagre resources, Halahan and McDowell managed to feed the five thousand (well, ok, maybe 25), and all without setting fire to the tinder-dry campsite. Shooting, wearing a canvas jacket, sweatshirt and a hat in temperatures into the mid-90s, is testing to say the least and required – to avoid becoming one of the 32 dehydration casualties during the week - imbibing massive quantities of liquid. As usual the OFs proved to be world-class in this area.
Steve McDowell douses the excitement after losing his tyro status
An impromptu, irregular, unorthodox, but highly enjoyable afternoon activity was invented by the OFRC, called the Magpie Challenge. Stretching to the limit the definitions of at least 20 range regulations, this required 10 rounds fired in one minute, standing, at 200 yards from .303 rifles of vintages between 1917 and 1941. Open to all who cared to attend, a carefree afternoon was had blazing away into the sandy butts. The prize was won by a passing matelot of the Royal Navy target rifle team, who showed that the Senior Service still knows a thing or two about shooting, even if it no longer has any ships.
Have at yer!
The week finished with the Parting Shot. Last year the OFRC yeilded gold, and so pride and honour was there to be defended. But sadly it was not to be. Though dropping a mere 10 points were finished just out of the medals in fourth place. No prizes to those who guess the identity of the winners – who with the weight of their trophies must have broken an axle on their way back to Norf**k.
So a magnificent meeting ended: the OFRC is going from strength to strength, with an increase both in numbers of participants as well as quality of performance. Hopefully this experience can be passed onto the College, who currently seem to be in need of assistance to continue the shooting tradition.
But one day soon an OF is going to win something big: watch this space.
A selection of happy OF Shooters
Mehta, J Horton, Jack Meynell, Brocks, A Horton, Burnip (Capt), Mrs Mann, J Mann, King, Podd, Gemmill, Smith.
Kneeling: Halahan, Curtis
Missing: (whereabouts unknown) Walker, McDowell, Argent