Fly Records, Improving Scores and Lifting the Bar

Michael Bell

With the 2014 Fly “Season” now over, it is time for all of us to reflect on what we’re up to with our shooting practices.

It might be the time to have a good think about what we want from next years events and how we are going to go about getting it.

Many will be setting goals for next year with a view to higher scores & finishes while others might be happy to be more relaxed in their approach and go with the flow and enjoy the social side of the sport.

Regardless of individuals’ mindsets, I believe there’s a good story to be told… one that could help motivate shooters to understand what’s possible in this sport… if the effort is put in.

 29th October 2011 was the date & Batemans Bay was the place. 25 or so enthusiastic shooters assembled to participate in a registered 500 metre “Fly” shoot.

The conditions were overcast with little or no breeze & there was the threat of some rain but our spirits weren’t dampened. We were all keen to get on with it.

The shooting started & it was obvious early that this might be a day of good scores, although no-one could possibly predict just how good!

By about the end of the “C” target people were starting to get excited about the results with some very good targets being shot by quite a few shooters. We got some rain but the wind behaved itself. The gentle breeze switched from one side to the other but was generally predictable & quite light. A few shooters experienced some vertical dispersion but many were simply peppering away at the centre of the target. It was quite funny to see people walking about with huge grins on their faces…a stranger might have thought there was something in the water!

At about this time it became clear that 2 shooters were not only doing very well but were on the verge of something quite special. Two things needed to happen…. the wind needed to stay away & the shooters needed to keep it together.

When the shooting was over and the dust had settled there was a kind of peculiar quietness about the place, as if we didn’t really know what to think or say. In the end Anthony Hall had shot his 6 BR in the light rifle category to an Australian record scoring an amazing 274 .03 which eclipsed the previous record by some 20 points & Les Fraser had shot his 300 WSM in the heavy rifle category to an Australian record with a staggering 283.03 beating the previous high score by some 18 points.

Simply put…it was unbelievable,… the bar had been raised and raised by a massive amount.

The story doesn’t finish there though…in fact it’s only the beginning. On that day Les Fraser, Anthony Hall, Michael Bell, Dave Groves, Rob Small, Dave Purcell, & Mick Farr all shot scores over the 250 point mark, and an additional 6 shooters scored between 240 & 250 points.

Les Fraser

Anthony Hall

I believe this was a defining moment in “Fly” shooting. We all witnessed just what is possible when conditions are favourable. We all came to understand the incredible accuracy our equipment is capable of and most importantly we now understood that when we spray our shots all over the target the issue is likely to be the driver & not the rifle…. in other words…no more excuses!!

The possibilities were now endless…. if our rifles, when tuned correctly, can do this in calm conditions then surely all we need to do is learn to read the conditions properly and maybe we could all regularly score 250 or more… even when the wind is up!

Anthony’s Light Gun Targets A to E

Anthony Hall’s Light Gun record targets

 Les’s Heavy Gun Targets A to E

Les Fraser’s heavy gun record targets

So…what have the scores been like since that day in Oct 2011?

Was that day really a “defining” moment in our sport as I have suggested? I’ll go the facts & you can make up your own minds!

In the 3 seasons since 2011 scores between 240 – 250 have been posted on 45 occasions… scores between 250 – 260 have been posted 17 times,… scores between 260 – 270 have been posted 14 times & the 270 mark has been cracked 4 times.

This means the 240 mark has been exceeded 80 times in the last 3 seasons!!

I’m now thinking if you haven’t yet shot 240 then that, more than likely, should become your goal….

We are probably going over old ground here ( which I’m sure doesn’t matter ) but the question remains.. what does it take to shoot consistently high scores at 500 meters?

Who better to ask than the two high score record holders themselves in Les Fraser & Anthony Hall.

Both shooters are convinced that it all starts in the loading room & both go to great lengths to prepare their cases with all brass fully sorted by weight. Primer pockets are uniformed, flash holes are all checked & necks are turned…just a skim for Anthony who likes to keep neck clearance of his loaded rounds to about 2 thou.

Lapua doesn’t yet make WSM brass and so Les is forced to take extra care with his Winchester cases as they are nothing like Lapua when it comes to consistency.

Now that the cases are ready it’s time to tune a load.

Both shooters choose to molly coat their bullets. The rules of “fly” shooting allow 3 sighters per target so neither shooter wants to have to clean mid match and be forced into using valuable sighters to re-foul their barrels.

Les tried various projectiles but settled on the lighter 190 HPBT Sierra Matchkings which work a treat in his Maddco 1:10 twist barrel while Anthony uses the much revered 103 grn Copperheads made by Ken Melgaard.

Both shooters develop loads at 300 meters and are looking for sub 1” groups in moderate conditions at this distance.

Les’s WSM, by his own admission wasn’t great as a grouper until he added significant weight via metal bag sliders on both the fore & rear ends which balanced the rifle and turned it into a tack driver.

Anthony used 30.3 grains of 2208 at the time the record was set but increased his charge little by little as the barrel eroded.

Les used 68 grains of  2213sc to set his record.

Please Note…both shooters molly coat their projectiles and are using match chambers and have worked up to these loads…these loads should NOT be used with naked projectiles. Additionally, please consider that different powder LOTS will almost certainly generate more or less pressure.

As always, start with 10 -15 % reduced loads & work up!

Anthony uses the CCI BR4 small primers in his Lapua BR cases while Les uses the CCI BR2 in the WSM.

Cases are full length re sized each firing, Anthony using Redding dies which are beautifully matched to the BR case. Les however uses a custom die set for the WSM which were made by his gunsmith at the time the rifle was built. Both Anthony’s & Les’s rifles were built by John Giles.

Once the sub 1” at 300 is achieved and confirmed (bearing in mind the conditions) both shooters are confident to head to a match.

Having this confidence is a very big part of shooting high scores. We’ve all been to matches and had shots go wide of the mark by a significant degree. As Les says, when you have confidence in your loads you can be sure it’s the conditions that are in play and not the rifle and so the decision making is that much easier.

As important as it is to consider the detail when loading, we must remember that loading is only the beginning. A projectile has to move through a lot of air on its way to the target 500 meters away. Reading the wind and rifle set up are paramount. Anthony has strong memories of the record setting day and recalls that he was “zoned in” on the flags and watching for the slightest change in the tails or the propeller speed on his flags. Often he was able to wait for the flags to position themselves identically to the way they were during his sighter shots but on other occasions he was “holding off” marginally to adjust for the small differences in the breeze strength or direction, confident his practise & preparation would see him through.

Les also well remembers the day & recalls how beautifully his big WSM was gliding over his bags. “ I do a lot of bag work before each detail by moving the rifle back and forth on the rest trying to ensure the cross hairs return EXACTLY to the point of aim”. Les also places a lot of emphasis on mind control and recommends a number of books on the subject including those written by big name shooters Nancy Tomkins and Lenny Basham.

In essence, it appears both shooters have similar attitudes to how they approach a match.

Both shooters have a “no stone unturned” approach to preparing their rounds.

Both shooters believe in the importance of reading the conditions and so they practise often with flags in place.

Both shooters agree that one good target won’t get it done, it’s a five target match so don’t get too excited over a good early target…see it through to the finish. Have a plan & stick to it is the highly recommended approach!

Most importantly, though, both shooters turn up at a match with the sole intention of WINNING!…. Perhaps this is why you have hardly ever seen either shooter out of the top 4 at any match!

Righto Guys & Gals…I hope this has helped a little to motivate you. I’m sure that collectively we are all shooting better and will continue to do so, but I also think we have a way to go!

Not to poor cold water on our improvements but I’d like to finish with a sobering thought about the 600 yard Nationals recently held in the USA.

70 shooters attended…210 sub 2” groups and 11 sub 1” groups were recorded.

I know “fly” shooting is a different game with a much greater emphasis on score but the fact remains that only 2 shooters have EVER shot sub 1” (5 shots at 500 meters) in Australia. It can be done…the bloody yanks have shown us that….So….lets get on with it!

All the Best For Christmas & the New Year.