Andy McLachlan discovers new skills and hand-crafted guns as he visits a popular range in the north of England
Recently wishing to set zero on a couple of my rifle combinations, I decided to attend the Bolton Gun Club’s Leigh 54-yard indoor range. This facility is ideal for zeroing guns and is obviously popular with shooters travelling to it, both locally and from long distances, to sample both the comfort of a nice steady benchrest and of course typical north-western hospitality.
On the day I had for company a friend from the south-east of England. Andy Simpson is well-known on the national UKAHFT and the Southern Hunter circuit of shoots, and is responsible for setting some memorable HFT courses.
Andy shoots an ISP Airstream as his gun of choice in HFT competition. He is more than happy with this rifle and produces consistently good scores with its Nightforce scope on board. Having tried the gun myself recently, I can only confirm that it is a pleasure to shoot. It would have to be said that Andy is not known for the cleanliness of his gun stocks, and the walnut of this ISP’s handle displayed examples of dried mud from several regions of the UK! The action is clean and working perfectly, though. Maybe most of us are just tackle tarts!
Not only Andy’s Airstream was present, however. ISP has for a good few years now been producing what must surely be very close to one of the most desirable of all airguns. The ISP Spartan is a single-shot PCP, hand-crafted by Shaun Hill in the Midlands. For all intents and purposes, it is the clone of a mega-expensive fullbore firearm and displays all the physical attributes the discerning shooter would expect to find on a top-money centrefire. The action is beautifully engraved, and case-hardened along with the bolt, the stock displaying what must be at least grade-five walnut graining in its perfectly oiled finish. The gun was that pretty I didn’t know whether to shoot it or just run away with it!
Deciding that I wouldn’t get away with an escape bid, I shot several pellets with the Spartan and managed to hit what I was aiming at. The gun is certainly not intended as a replacement for a target rifle, and with this gun’s 20-odd shot capacity, it would certainly make an ideal companion for a spot of gentlemen’s hunting, along with a cravat, a floppy hat and of course a bottle of red wine following the evening’s rabbit hunt. It was a truly beautiful object, never mind a serious shooter. I have only ever seen one other example of a Spartan previously, and that was about 10 years ago. I can understand why the gun remains so popular with discerning air gunners who appreciate the genuine hand-built quality and beauty of something that is the airgun equivalent of a Purdey shotgun, although costing tens of thousands of pounds less.
Shaun Hill at ISP makes each individual gun to order, with each commission dependent upon the customer’s precise requirements. I will have a Spartan of my own one day. I don’t know when, but I will!
Anyway, back to reality. Having swiftly re-zeroed both my Venom HW 80 Lazahunter and my Anschutz 9015 target rifle, Andy and I started chatting to one of the club’s regular benchrest shooters. Jim O’Neil is a manufacturer of some superb benchrest equipment, including adjustable bipods and rear stock rests designed to make life easier for the committed benchrest shooter. He does not manufacture items commercially, but produces bespoke products for himself and his friends in his own workshop.
Jim was shooting his Rapid Air Weapons TM1000/Vortex combination and producing his usual excellent results. I asked to take a peek through his new Vortex high-mag scope and could not believe how clear the image was at high magnification. The reticle was centred by a dot that could allow placement of each individual shot around the circumference of the two-millimetre bull if you wished – and of course had the skill to do it.
Benchrest shooting is not something that I have partaken in yet, but I can certainly understand the attraction of attempting to score the perfect card and the long periods of concentration required to achieve a good score. Jim highly rates both his TM1000 and his new Vortex scope, and spends a lot of time thinking about his sport and ways that he might improve his own performance further.
Once again, I was reminded that competition shooting does not have to occur in the open air to remain enjoyable and skill-stretching. Jim is one of many shooters who excels at getting the modern target air rifle to perform at its maximum, and some of the scorecards he had shot that day proved that he doesn’t often miss the 30-yard target. I will be writing a more detailed article about Jim and his benchrest shooting companions soon, as I reckon it is the type of shooting that many fellow air gunners have not considered, due to lack of knowledge and possibly locations that are able to provide the opportunity for competing in a benchrest shooting league, either club- or postal-based.
For me though, all I could think about on the journey home was how I could raise the funds for a Spartan. Kidney, anybody?