For young shooters and student shooter alike, money more often than not is the greatest restriction to our shooting activities. Let’s face it shooting is an expensive hobby, and it will never get cheaper. In my 10 years as a shooter I’ve seen, for example, the price of a decent, trusty old Lee Enfield No.4 rifle sell for £250 with some as little £150-200, now you will struggle to find one for less than £350. Ammunition has had a likewise increase, 10 years ago Prvi Partizan .303 was around £50-55 per 100 rounds, now it is nearer £60-70. With this in mind, how does someone young, entering the sport do so on a small budget? This will focus primarily with Section 1 firearms, mainly because this is where my experience lies, however, some of what will be stated can be applied universally across the sport.
As with anything, shop around, there are plenty of places you can snag a bargain, and if you buy smartly you can always trade up when the time comes. You’ll come accustom to buying things second hand, whether it be your gun cabinet, guns, cases and other such accessories. Many dealers now have websites that they keep updated, shop around for what you want, there are also the likes of guntrader.co.uk and gunstar.co.uk where bargains can also be found from time to time. Auction houses are also worth looking at from time to time, however, beware of commission and tax, if you aren’t careful and do not factor in these extra costs you can turn what you thought was a good deal to an unnecessary extravagance. Forums and the various online shooting communities are often a good place to grab a good deal, I have personally been fortunate enough to have had such good luck with a couple of my rifles. A good deal can also be found in the most surprising of places. As a student I started to do my weekly food shop at Aldi, it was my local supermarket and it is cheap, however, after a few visits I had already acquired some well-priced shooting accessories, namely callipers, a spotting scope and boxes to store various pieces of shooting kit.
With regards to accessories, there are some items you simply need to fork out on, but where you can try to improvise. Items such as shooting mats need not be a great expense until you decide you want a proper shooting mat, sleeping bag rolls and off cuts of carpet make great short-term expedients. When I plink with fullbore rifles I tend to use a front rest, until recently this has been either my rucksack that holds everything I take to the range or an army surplus ammunition can with a gun bag folded on top, not the best or most comfortable of rest but a good temporary measure. Money can also be saved on targets where appropriate, investing in some target patches if you club does not supply them means the same target can be used until it is literally so shot up it can no longer be patched. These are just some of the items that can be improvised or reused, undoubtedly many more imaginative minds than my own can come up with a great deal more possibilities.
Be mindful of what you actually want in terms of what gun or guns you buy, if you want to plink away with a fullbore rifle from 1-600 yards then a Mosin Nagant is the way to go. The Russian workhorses are some of the best budget fun you can have with a fullbore rifle, with rifles and carbines varying in price from £140-250 they make good cheap and cheerful rifles. Other possibilities include the Portuguese Mauser-Vergueiro in 7.92×57, these are wonderfully smooth and accurate rifles, though not as common as the Mosins they can still be very inexpensive rifles to buy. Alongside the aforementioned surplus rifles there is also the legendary Swiss Schmidt Rubin series of rifles and the later K31, all of which are wonderfully accurate rifles that are usually less than £350 and can, if one is lucky, be found for less than £300. In the realm of fullbore target rifles, older models still perform well if you can find a rifle with a good barrel, the old Parker Hale T4 and 1200TX are both good examples of decent targets rifles that won’t break the bank. For gallery rifle, Rossi lever actions can provide a cheaper alternative to Marlins and there are numerous Ruger 10/22s that can be bought and later modified. Many also forget that for a bit of fun, or for serious target shooting, black powder pistols can more often than not be bought second hand for less than £150. The possibilities and endless, and the list I have provided above may seem long but is in reality only a fraction of what is available to a young shooter on a tight budget if they are willing to look hard enough.
Those of you who have FACs or are applying for one may notice that in the section where you record the acquisition of a firearm it states that a firearm can be leant, this is a good way of being able to use multiple rifles especially if you are a university shooting group, or a group of close shooting friends. For arguments sake, say there are 3 of you, all of you have slots for .22RF, .357/.38 and .303 rifles, but each of you can only afford one rifle, you each select one calibre, buy the rifle and when it comes to a shoot where all 3 of you aren’t able to attend, the non-attendee simply lends his rifle to someone who has an open slot in that particular calibre. It will require a 1 for 1 variation on return to its owner for the borrower, however, it is a good way of having access to multiple firearms as a group. A similar and less formal rule also applies for SGCs which can make the lives of young aspiring clay shooting groups easier.
Unlike many hobbies and sports, with shooting there is also the continual cost after the large initial outlay of money, namely ammunition. Most of the old sweats in the shooting community will tell you that hand loading ammunition is the way forward, it’s cheaper and is often more consistent than factory ammunition. These are all valid points, but for most young shooters hand loading is simply not an option, either the initial outlay for a press and other necessities is too great or there is simply nowhere to house a press. There are two remedies to this, either invest in a compact Lee Hand Press or be careful in your choice of calibres.
For the sake of this article I will avoid the intricacies of hand loading and instead focus on the careful selection of calibres. There are still some forms of cheap ammunition to be had, .22LR for a start can be sourced for around £3 for a box of 50, this allows for basic marksmanship skills and competitive shooting on a tight budget. For fullbore ammunition, military surplus when it is to be had is often a good source of economy ammunition, 7.62x54R, 7.62×39, 7.92×57 and 7.62×51 are the most common and reasonably priced surplus rounds, however, others do appear from time to time. When military surplus is not available there are also a few brands of ammunition which make various rounds at very reasonable prices, S&B and Barnaul come to mind, though not always as cheap as surplus they are usually better rounds with a marginal increase in price.
In summary, shooting is as expensive as you want it to be, within reason. Costs can be managed and expensive items more often than not can wait until fortunes are better in the future. Hopefully this article will show young new shooters that cost does not always have to be a restricting factor in your participation in this great hobby, some imagination, careful research and shopping around can make this sport more than affordable, even on a tight budget.