Cinema-quality backdrops and instant feedback offer an unique chance to practise your rifle and shotgun technique before facing big game. Michael Yardley gives indoor shooting practice a go
Indoor shooting practice is invaluable to refining your rifle and shotgun technique before facing big game. Michael Yardley tries a few impressive facilities, with cinema-quality backdrops and instant feedback on entry point and barrel line.
Are you going on a boar hunt? Wild boar are a demanding and potentially dangerous quarry, making practice and preparation a prerequisite to any trip. Read all about the wild boar before booking your flights.
INDOOR SHOOTING PRACTICE
I have made a number of visits to the Holland & Holland (H&H) indoor rifle range since it opened in 2017. I have shot virtual deer, boar and African big game using my own and H&H’s guns and been much impressed with the facility. Apart from being a lot of fun, it is a wonderful training aid and helped me in particular with my forward allowance on driven boar, which was about 20% less than it needed to be on most shots (I was often aiming at the nose when they were on the trot but needed to be about a foot in front). It also reminded me just how seriously buffalo need to be taken at close range, especially when there is more than one beast in view.
Working as a professional shooting instructor, I have long had an interest in shooting simulators and have tried many, intended for civilian as well as military and police applications. There is a significant number of ‘Schiesskino’ ranges intended for civilian rifle shooters in Germany and Scandinavia, but they are a scarce training resource in the UK. Installing one is a major capital investment because it is a live ammunition system, so a dedicated indoor range is required for it (and had to be built in this case). Eight of H&H’s instructors are now qualified in its use.
The Holland simulator is located in a ventilated basement area of the company’s luxuriously appointed new pavilion. It is a physically impressive installation and, like most projects the firm undertakes, extremely well done. The firing point is at 25 metres (the only range used) and passed up to .500 calibre Nitro Express. The backdrop/target screen – on a large roll as one might see on a photographic set and which may be periodically replaced by rolling it down – is an impressive 10 metres by three metres. It gives the impression of a shooting ‘CinemaScope’ when in operation on the darkened range.
At the firing point, up to four people and an instructor can be accommodated. To one side there are gun racks and an air line to cool down hot barrels (essential, if you want to do a significant amount of shooting with the same gun). Behind the firing point is a computer gallery where most of the high-tech equipment is situated. There is a glass petition that allows anyone in the gallery to view the range area. How does it all work? Essentially, by means of a controlling computer, projector, cameras and a laser.
The fired bullet goes through the paper screen onto which the backdrop scene and target image have been projected; then, it passes through a rubber curtain and on into the backstop. Meantime, cameras behind the firer will pick up the bullet in flight and the puncture point on the target is illuminated with a laser (which is also positioned behind and above the firing point). After your shot, the film pauses for three seconds and you can assess the shot. The system, which is of German origin, is recalibrated annually to make sure the red dot visible to the firer is precisely where the bullet strike actually was. It’s all very clever. In practice, you take your shot at boar or buffalo and the system freezes, indicating exactly where your bullet struck by means of a red dot on the target.
How is safety managed? At the firing point, by the instructor who gives a comprehensive briefing to all users. At the terminal end, as a fired bullet passes through the screen, there are ballistic blocks and ‘crumbs’ (about the size of your thumb), reinforced concrete and soil to impede the projectile’s progress. The majority of the bullets go into the easily renewable blocks and crumbs – there is a fine for hitting the floor or walls and evidence of at least a couple of accidental discharges down range but way off target. Lead and copper fired downrange is harvested from the stops once a year.
The system offers hundreds of scenarios. The staff at the Shooting Ground are still exploring them and developing new ones. The basics of a session are explained thus by H&H online: “Everything from a single boar trotting across a woodland clearing to a whole sounder in full gallop. You pick your target and shoot with a rifle and full power ammunition. The bullet penetrates the screen, the film pauses for three seconds and a laser illuminates your hit and then the film rolls on. You reload and shoot twice more and the sequence is over. If you are shooting with friends, each of them would then have the same sequence, after which shooter one has a new scenario. The hard drive can store thousands of film clips of everything you are likely to want to shoot.”
Fixed- and scope-sighted rifles can be employed. The database allows for the use of all popular calibres and simulated ranges up to 200 metres (achieved by making the projected target smaller). You can use you own rifle if you want. Standard rifles included in the basic charge of £150 per person per hour are: .308 Blaser R8s with both Swarovski telescopic sights and Aimpoint red dots; Sauer 101s and 404s, and a true left-handed Sauer with Swarovski scope. There is even a .22 semi-auto for ‘plinking’. On request, Holland ‘demo’ rifles in various calibres are available at extra cost (£50 per hour). You may chose from .308 and 7×57 bolts; a .300 round-action double with open and telescopic sights, as well as bigger bores; a .375 H&H magazine rifle; a .375 H&H flanged Royal double; .400 and .465 bolt actions; and a tempting .500 NE round-action double.
Holland & Holland chief instructor Chris Bird notes: “Most customers are doing serious and specific practice, especially with boar… the standard formula we have evolved here is to start with muzzles safely pointed into the ground below the boar. Mount the rifle into the belly of the beast. Now, your upper-body rotation is beginning because the mark is moving. One must rotate from the boar’s belly into the kill zone… not the snout [forward of it usually]… keeping the body upright as you rotate. Look for the eyeball as a datum and them apply the right lead for the speed, distance and angle of the shot… in behind the shoulder is usually the perfect shot. Just like going out and practising at clays off a high tower, it is apparent that even experienced shots get great benefit from going down there and getting their eye in.”
The vast majority of misses are behind – or at least behind the point aimed at – as one might expect (leading to virtual gut shooting). A more upright stance is required than when shotgunning, with more right-hand power. The whole body needs to rotate through the spine rather than leaning forward. Elevation issues are also commonly encountered; a lot of people who are using this system for training and improvement are wing-shooters who tend to lean into the shot as part of the gun mount, which may create elevation issues with a rifle leading to misses both low (initially) and high.
Chris Bird is a keen and experienced stalker himself. He especially enjoys recreating realistic woodland stalking situations on the simulator, as well as more exotic fare. “There are a couple of scenarios that are very useful for instruction. For example, in teaching people when not to shoot because there is no safe backstop, and there is also an excellent summer roebuck in the rut crossing a ride. It will stop, look at you and you then have four seconds to make the shot… exactly what happens for real. So we get the client set up on sticks steadily, I will cough, as I would in reality – they will always look – you are on your animal and take your shot without any excess movement.”
Is it useful? Most definitely, yes. I enjoyed the woodland scenarios for deer, the boar scenarios were particularly good with regard to learning effective forward allowance ‘pictures’ – the medium is ideal for imparting them – the life-size African big game at close range reminded me of the real thing and how easily it can go wrong in a rapidly developing situation. Anyone who shoots a sporting rifle should invest in a visit to the Holland simulator. Those hunting boar or planning a safari would be mad not to take full advantage of this outstanding system. Considering the capital cost, charges are reasonable: from £150 per hour per person; from £225 per hour for four people; from £375 for two hours for five people. There is no corkage if you bring your own ammo.
THE MARKSMAN SYSTEM
Eastern Sporting’s Marksman ST-2 simulator, which opened about two years ago, is another remarkable new training aid based at one of the South-East’s best-known and fastest-growing gunshops. Surprisingly realistic, it can simulate many game and clay situations, not to mention being useful for rifle shooters, too (stalking and driven boar shooting scenarios are part of its capability). At £45 an hour for one to four people, it is excellent value – significantly cheaper than most forms of live firing but no less enthralling (or addictive).
Unlike the magnificent H&H simulator, the ST-2 system does not allow for the use of live ammunition. Instead, a camera is attached to the barrel of the gun and projectors put an image (background plus a moving mark) on either a large 6.8 x 3.4 metre horizontal screen to your front or a narrower, vertical screen for high-bird/driven work.
Gyroscopic technology is employed to monitor barrel position relative to the image of the moving target. You take your shot and you can freeze the screen image getting immediate visual feedback on where you put the pattern and a detailed breakdown of many aspects of the shot. The degree of data available is stunning. You will see precisely where your barrels went relative to the bird’s line and what part of the pattern you hit with (if you did). Alan Walker of Eastern Sporting notes: “The simulator is a lot of fun as well as being very useful. It’s fundamentally visual, when you are shooting in the field you are often left wondering what happened if you miss your mark. Here you can see with absolute precision what’s going on – where your shot went, how your barrel travelled to and past the bird or target (if they did), any tendency to shoot behind or below.”
The ST-2, which is made in Sweden, is programmed for a vast range of game- and clay-shooting scenarios (the licensed software is updated periodically; Eastern Sporting’s installation has had one update so far). Many variables can be changed by the operator, including the background picture, the target species or type, target speed, height and any element of oscillation required. Game shooters may select pheasant, duck, grouse and other quarry; clay shooters may opt for virtual skeet, trap, Sporting, trap or double trap. You can choose the colour of the clay, one shot or two. Potentially, you could even have the background of your local ground. On all types of quarry you can select shot velocity, choke, pellet and load size (24gm to 36gm), No 1 shot to No 9, cylinder to full, even the material of the shot may be specified – lead, steel or bismuth.
The system is adaptable to almost any gun. From the base computer a power cable goes to the gun-mounted camera. The camera is attached to the barrels by a clamp that can accommodate over-and-unders or side-by-sides of any bore size, repeating shotguns or rifles, semi-autos in any calibre. As well as the lead from the computer base unit to the camera on the gun, there is a thinner lead from the camera to the trigger (in practice, you don’t notice either).
With regard to triggering, the system can operate in two modes. It can listen with acoustic sensors to the gun’s mechanism, ‘firing’ on hearing the hammer drop (and the system is programmed so it will not ‘trigger’ when the action is merely cocked or loaded or when the safety is operated). The second mode of operation uses a microswitch behind the trigger that is physically activated when the trigger is pulled. This is the one most usually employed.
REAL WORLD BENEFITS
What are the real world benefits? Reg Went of Eastern Sporting has operated the system for me several times and has gained much insight into its use: “A lot of people are very surprised when they look back at the barrel line about how much excess barrel movement there is, how much zig-zagging off line there is. Some people miss off line and, of course, many misses are behind, too… but seeing the visual feedback of the frozen image and barrel trace allows the user to adapt/correct quickly their methods and approach to hitting the target.”
The system will provide interesting data beyond line. If someone wants to know pattern in relation to choke size, for example, you can take the shot. You will see a detailed display of the result in relation to the target. You can change the choke to see what would have happened. You can also replace a pheasant shot with a 30gm No 6 to see what the result would have been with a 32gm No 5. Went continues: “The differences are not as notable as a lot of people might think. The key is always to put the lead in the right place… but the extra data is there if you want it. On all live quarry it can give you on a percent bar showing whether you have killed the bird effectively, brought it down, pricked it or missed it completely.”
What can’t the ST-2 do? There is no weather option at the moment, but you can change range and include variable range and angle. Presentations can include birds too low to shoot. Walked-up shooting can be simulated as well as driven. What about quarry speed? The programme accelerates the birds realistically depending on the species. Presentation can be speeded if requested, though this is not the norm. I found this useful, however, with the driven grouse scenario that, when speeded up, became extremely realistic.
This is another brilliant system and I cannot recommend it too highly. It is hugely enjoyable and insightful in use – a real help to your understanding of shooting technique. I have used the ST-2 to teach someone who struggled to hit high birds. He mastered the basic technique after a few minutes instruction from me combined with the immediate visual feedback from the simulator (a skill that was soon transferred to the field). Eastern Sporting is an excellent family gun shop staffed by enthusiasts. The ST-2 has been a big success since it opened there. It is available for bookings out of normal hours by special arrangement.
BASC has a similar system that goes on tour with the association, and others no doubt will appear. If you want a profound insight into your shotgun shooting, book a session soon. I have not tried this ST-2 in rifle mode yet, but my experience on another system suggests that it would be a big help with driven boar, too.