Supporter “Auld” has kindly taken the time to give us some facts and figures on .50 cal shooting as well as his own experience and opinions on the recent Home Office consultation.
Well here we are again, looking at another possible government enforced ban of a firearm, one used in the very specialist field of long range target shooting. The .50 calibre rifle. Having shot one of these rifles a couple of times I thought I might attempt to put a bit of an article together telling what its actually like to shoot and a little about the rifle itself. Maybe it will disperse a few myths and legends that have been thrown out there in order to make this calibre a pariah amongst firearms.
I must stress, this article is only based on my personal experience from the first time I shot a .50 cal. I am neither an expert nor a regular shooter of this calibre.
Looking at this rifle, a Steyr HS.50, packed away in its broken down state in a special case, it’s easy to see why the case had wheels. Its big, it’s chunky and it’s heavy… Once assembled the rifle weighs in at around 30lbs and is approximately overall 50inches long. It looks like a beast of a thing and the stories of kicking like a donkey, bruised shoulders and burst ear drums fill me with intrepidation as well as excitement at the thought of me shooting this rifle.
Once everything is set and the all clear has been given to shoot, the rifles owner gets down behind the gun to shoot a few rounds, I lay next to him with the spotting scope, ear defenders and safety glasses on. I am told, “Put your hand up to cover the side of your face” we are shooting large metal targets around 2000 yards away, using tracer to spot the strikes. “ok shooting now he says” BOOM, for a split second I wonder what the hell has just happened, a massive gust of hot air hits me in the face, mixed with bits of shrapnel as the big gun sends the round down the range. “where did it hit” says the shooter, “I have no idea” I reply “I didn’t see anything after you pulled the trigger”…. A few more shots and I am now settling in to my spotting roll and getting used to the air blast and shrapnel. Once zeroed the bullets are hitting the target every time, when you think that target is over a mile away, that’s some pretty good shooting in my book.
Then it’s my turn, 5 shots as this .50 cal ammo cost about £5 per pop. I get down behind the gun and get myself set, put a round in the chamber and take aim at the centre of the target. Gently squeeze the trigger…BOOM. It’s hard to describe what happens to a first time shooter of one of these things when he pulls the trigger. I imagine it’s like being grabbed, shaken and swung around for a second by the jolly green giant. It’s a hell of an experience. Needless to say I didn’t even hit the target. I didn’t hit the target with the next two rounds either. By now I know what’s coming and prepare myself mentally and physically for the shot, the last two rounds are on target. Not the best grouping in the world, but I am kind of smugly pleased with myself that I can go home with 2 strikes out of 5 under my belt from shooting something of the like I have never shot before.
Talking to the gun owner about the rifle and his setup, it’s clear that this is a very specialised shooting sport. The cost of this particular rifle second hand was £4000, plus the cost of a scope that is of sufficient quality to be of use at such great ranges, you are easily looking at £6000 just for a basic setup. That’s a lot of cash, these guys invest small fortunes to practice their particular shooting disciplines. Specialist equipment is required to load your own ammo, an option taken by most .50 shooters, as the cost of factory ammo is so high. Even by loading your own ammo, you can be looking at £5 per round. This equipment is expensive in itself. I am told that the UK .50cal team, who compete all over the world in long range target shooting, use even more specialised gear. Custom barrels, triggers etc. These rifles can easily cost a shooter well into the tens of thousands.
The skill to be able to shoot one of these accurately over distance is something that can take years to perfect, this is not like shooting an air rifle or your average 308 target rifle, it’s a completely different ball game, yes the same general principles apply, but that’s where it ends.
This leads me to the latest Home Office consultation which is looking at banning these rifles to civilian gun owners for several reasons including, the accuracy of said gun over several miles, the materiel destruction capability of the gun and the worry such a gun might possibly fall into the wrong hands and be used for crime.
From my own experience and from talking to professional shooters of this calibre rifle, who, let’s not forget, compete in legitimate shooting disciplines throughout the UK and the world, I would say most of what has been put out there about this rifle is simply incorrect.
Yes it’s a powerful rifle, for sure it is. However, it is not capable of shooting accurately over several miles, it’s a rifle not a missile. Generally it’s considered by those who actually know about it, to be accurate at a maximum distance of around 2500 yards. Now accuracy is in the shooter more than the rifle, it will take someone with a lot of experience to hit a target at that range with one of these. Hardly the sort of experience your average criminal has. Where would you shoot one of these to practice? You can’t just take it to your local woods and pop away. You would have the Army, Navy, Air Force and Police down on your position in no time at all. They are not a stealth rifle by any means. The high cost of ammunition also makes this a bad choice of firearm for your criminal or terrorist, plus it’s not exactly readily available at your local gun shop. Neither is such a thing going to be easily concealed under your coat, its big and it’s heavy.
As for the material destruction capability of this calibre rifle and its capability to destroy tanks and go through reinforced walls, well, it’s not the rifle that has this capability, it’s the ammunition. Such ammunition is not available on the civilian market for purchase. Such ammunition won’t destroy tanks either. What the civilian shooters of this rifle use is normal target ammunition, the same as used on all target rifles, it’s just a bit bigger. It cannot stop tanks, destroy aircraft flying by, or go through reinforced walls. It simply does not have that kind of power.
The .50 cal rifle is a great deal of fun to shoot, it’s a hard shoot and requires practice and expertise to get good with it, just like any form of shooting. It’s a niche shooting discipline who`s participants are dedicated experienced shooters. If you ever get the chance to have a shoot, I recommend you try it. But be aware, you can’t just turn up and have a go. The organisations that shoot these have very strict rules in place, the rifle must be on your FAC and you must be a full member of an approved club, shooting on an approved range for these specific calibres.
I hope this article has been informative and interesting, no, it’s not comprehensive, it’s not meant to be. It’s taken from my experience as a first time .50 cal shooter, as I experienced it.
Happy shooting, whatever you shoot.