Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Midnight Sun rifle Challenge pt5

We gather for the briefing, theres about 60 of us. My waist comes up to somewhere just above their knees. They are clearly the descendants of war parties that crossed oceans in river boats, and more recently conducted guerrilla warfare against the nazis. The Norwegians are also clearly a nation who like their Gucci gear, none of the budget crap kit you see at Bisley, nary ‘a Hawke scope in sight, Delta is the entry level scope, the excellent 525i Kahles are very popular, so are Nightforce, the Hungarian IOR are growing in reputation, and as you’d expect Schmidt & Bender are on top of the posher rifles. Most people wear MSA Sordin ear defenders. Ulfhednar are capturing the market for bags. As I don't generally move in circles where the government is picking up the wardrobe tab, I’d never seen so many people wearing Crye Precision combat clothes in one place. Look it up. Its called Crye because you will when you see the prices. Double bastard nice kit though. 

On the rifle front: Tikas and SAKOs from next-door Finland, a couple of Accuracy Internationals, some rifles built on Remington actions, and lots of STR’s. Sauer sell two target variants of the 200, the Scandinavian Target Rifle in 6.5x55 and as Sig Sauer the Sharp Shooter Gun 3000 mostly seen in .308. Over half the competitors are carrying STR’s. Due in part to a genius barrel system, where with two gauges and a spanner you can rebarrel it at home, they sell shit loads of them up in Scandiwegia. Several company’s sell aftermarket 6.5x55 barrels for them including: Shultz and Larson, Heym, Blaser and now in the US Benchmark offer a 6.5CM . For the true nerd there’s a rare, and spendy, 22LR kit for indoor practice when the mercury solidifies and even Vikings are calling it a little chilly. The fashion these days is to ditch the laminate stock they come with and put them in a chassis. Just another grand. For added kudos amongst aficionados you can re-chamber to 6.5mm AI aka SwedeMoor.

The competition takes place in two valleys, one wooded with birch, aspen and rowen, the other windswept and incredibly long. We get the long valley for  the first 10 hours. It’s quite a schlep. The stages involve walking up and down the valley, shots are 100 to 1200 meters at hubcap sized targets. Snow lines every hollow, its windy and overcast, but not cold, there’s tarmac road.
The shooting positions are nearly all prone, and involve lying on the thumb-tip sized gravel left from construction the road. Those knee and elbow pads just keep looking better and better. 

The views go on for ever. once we’ve been walking for a hour It dawns on me that my kit strategy is way off the mark. I’ve dressed for Highland Stalking where you’re walking over rougher terrain at slower speeds, carrying a much much lighter rifle, negligible amounts of ammunition,  and no pack. Without fail the people who had been before or just knew what to expect, didn’t dress for the cold, [once you’re bobbing along you don't need to], just for the wind. When we stopped for any length of time they wrapped themselves in Jerven blankets issued during their military service. Lots of competitors and the marshals also wore the Jerven parka. An excellent piece of kit totally un-marketed outside Norway.  Some people wore those money-no-object hiking trousers that seem to have a magnetic attraction to barbed wire. The smart money wore Snickers work pants with their legendary knee pads. Most people reduced unsprung weight by wearing the lightest hiking boots possible. Apart from a lunatic fringe in wellies, but more of him later. In the last ten years Ultralight Hiking has totally changed walking boots, removing all that weight from each step certainly looks like a great idea. 

Vorn rifle-scabbard packs that carry butt-down had a lead over Eberlestock ’s barrel-down design. But a good third of the field didn’t bother, just a well padded sling and a little daypack for the windproof jacket, Jerven bag, 125 rounds, and mini stove. There’s water at every stage so that’s a kilo saved off your pack. 

Puffing along my rifle seems unbelievably heavy, as do my boots. I’m probably as unfit as my kids tell me, and worse still I’m battered from the last few days. The thin dry air is dehydrating me like a Serrano ham. 

The chaps we were squadded with seem a bit bemused by our presence, and in retrospect I can’t say I blame them. I’m dressed as though I intend to take a nap under a tree in the falling snow while waiting for the deer to turn up. OMR is rocking a mix of beach fishing gear and work boots, with a balaclava that’s a vigorous defence of function over style. Our level of preparedness is apparent at the first stage. 
Where when we eventually catch them up, they look to be gathered for a hillside picnic, I park my pack just before it parks me, and have a little lie down, reprising my pilates-class impression of a divorced walrus after the tide has gone out.

The first stage is the farthest flung, and covers ranges from about 500 and something to 1100 and something, shooting off a tripod. 

The Marshal issues instruction and shows us a print out of the targets locations, we take it in turns looking for them though a spotting scope while a French elf not much older than my daughter looks on with a bemused expression that says ‘Old blokes what part of this can possibly be fun for you guys?”

The fats and salt of a sandwich reanimate me and once the targets are announced the squad take out neatly laminated sheets carefully recording every click the scope would need down to 5m increments.  OMR and I have hastily knocked up data hand written of scraps of paper now stained with sandwich grease. Ours is in 50m increments. 
The top boys all have custom turrets or at least turret tape. You know your range, you turn the scope’s turrets to that marking and you’re, if not bang on the money, not far off it. With hindsight set to 20/20 I’d also shoot the data table to verify every single range increment. 

And take wind reading lessons. Lots of them.

I put a strike on the score sheet. Go Team GB. Probably the high point looking back. 
All stages are against the clock, the targets are usually hard to find through the scope, often I’m not the only one to time-out without completing the course of fire. A pair of 10 power binos or a draw scope would really help. 

For the next ten hours we walk back down the valley, then back up the valley, then back down, then….you get the idea. 

More to come
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