Target Shooter: Age over beauty

Andy McLachlan has a blast from the past with the Sportsmatch GC2, a veteran PCP that proves older rifles can still hold their own today.

Andy lines up a long shot with the GC2 during a visit to Rivington Riflemen’s outdoor range at Turton with his son James

A reader recently contacted our editor Mike requesting that I try to compare classic airguns with today’s all-singing and dancing target rifles.

In addition, the reader also suggested that it would be a good experiment to see how regular target shooters would progress using equipment that they did not use on a regular basis.

This would be fine for an informal shoot, but serious target shooters would not be happy using a gun and scope combination with which they were not totally familiar.

A classic target rifle for outdoor airgun competition, and one which won many trophies in its time, was the famous Sportsmatch GC2. Revered in many target shooters’ memories, it was one of the first regulated hand-built guns that allowed shooters with the necessary talent to reach formerly unachievable levels of accuracy.

The Sportsmatch GC2 was a collaboration between the late John Ford of Sportsmatch and the late Gerald Cardew. I found reference to the rifle in the fourth edition of The Airgun Book by John Walters.

He describes the gun as follows: “Though not as revolutionary as some of its rivals (Theoben Sirocco and Air Logic Genesis), the first guns have been beautifully made of first-class materials.

The trigger is comprehensively adjustable and complements the muzzle brake, intended to minimise ‘muzzle flip’, while the superbly made thumbhole-pattern walnut stock gives superb handling characteristics.”

The GC2 first made an appearance in 1987. The hand-built quality of this precharged pneumatic target rifle was reflected in the purchase price of £850, and appeared as a competitor to the Air Arms Shamal. Further information regarding the development of the gun was within Gerald and Mike Cardew’s excellent book ‘The Airgun from Trigger to Target’.

Cardew describes how he was approached by John Ford of Sportsmatch, who requested that they develop a rifle that was capable of developing constant velocities and “therefore make the rifle consistent enough for field target competitions.

We tackled the problem by developing a mechanism which might be called a ‘refilling, dump’ system. The charge from a secondary reservoir is fully charged at each shot, but that air is replaced from a main reservoir every time the gun is re-cocked.” 

I can also remember reading all sorts of positive reviews of the gun in the airgunning press at the time, and it wasn’t long before the GC2 was taking a high proportion of competitive field target victories as it quickly established itself as a benchmark for a top-end hand-built target rifle. 

I have to admit that as I spent most of my free time wandering around various shooting permissions armed with a .22 Weihrauch HW80, I read in wonderment the level of performance that the gun was capable of in the hands of a skilled shooter. 

With all of this in mind, my friend, Rivington club secretary and impish elf Ian Jones agreed to lend me one of his four examples of the gun, GC2 number 075, complete with a period Leupold target scope for a short loan period. 

Andy’s friend Ian Jones uses GC2 number 75 at the Rivington indoor range – it had a left-handed stock, but a right-handed action

I was again struck by the quality of the finish and the workmanship, but more importantly the beautiful balance of the gun when hefted into the shooting position. The gun was a ‘leftie’ with a right-handed cocking action that would allow me to explore its true potential compared with
my current outdoor target rifle, a Steyr Sport LG 110. 

Being used to the loading methods of modern PCPs, the series of actions required to load a GC2 takes getting used to. The charging button located at the rear of the action is pushed fully home until the spring-loaded cross bolt engages into position.

The pellet is loaded into the breech and the cross bolt pushed to its original position. A couple of seconds is needed for the separate pressure chambers to fill with compressed air, hence the loading of the pellet at this time. The gun is ready to fire, and a touch of the straight-bladed match trigger sends your pellet off.

The process is more difficult to describe than to do. Somebody like me, with the manual dexterity of a house brick, was pushing and clicking away. The 8.4 grain JSB Exact pellets I had chosen to use for the exercise found their mark, and the ability of the gun/scope/ammo combination to land one pellet on top of each other at up to 40 yards had me looking twice at my Steyr.

I am not an excellent shot, but I can now well believe that guns like the GC2 in the right hands are more than capable of allowing a skilled shooter to win at the highest level of competition. 

Shooting the gun just inspires the shooter with confidence. The whole gun feels ‘measured’, and allowed me to post some incredibly tight pellet groupings that nearly matched the performance of my Steyr.

Shooting pellets at targets indoors is fine for zeroing purposes, but it is obviously essential to use the gun outside, when the added variables of wind and ranging a target have to be taken into consideration.

Such places exist at any outdoor airgun club, and Rivington club’s outdoor range at Turton nestles on the edge of the West Pennine Moors. The range is spread out and allows the shooter to experience what wind blowing in three directions at once can do to the wary shooter’s pellet placement and aim points.

In order to be able to draw a fair comparison of the GC2 and the Steyr, I first attempted a round of 20 HFT targets that we had positioned in varying locations around the course upon arrival. 

My eldest son James is a far better shooter than I ever was, and using my Steyr, I attempted to at least match his scoring as we tackled the usual HFT course challenge of unknown ranges and ever reducing killzone diameters on the knockdown targets.

Following a brew, we once again settled into another round of HFT, this time with me using the GC2 for direct comparison. James has never felt even the slightest bit interested about shooting classic guns before, as to him, it’s just about the ability of the gun to accurately deliver a pellet on target, with him presuming that new equals better.

Sportsmatch may be best known for its scope mounts, but the GC2 was another example of the company’s attention to detail and craftsmanship

He did appear interested in the GC2 however. Handing over the gun and explaining the loading procedure, he commented on the superb balance of the gun before taking a few shots at some distant targets on other lanes. 

Sure enough, the targets soon started to drop on a very regular basis, and when he handed the gun back to me, he commented that it “shoots a lot better than I thought it would’’. 

I continued to use the gun for the rest of our round and must report that the score I recorded was the same as I achieved with the latest version of a Steyr target rifle. I am sure that better shooters than I would have scored higher.

I can honestly say that the Sportsmatch GC2 is one of the nicest guns I have ever used. Superbly built and finished, genuinely outstanding balance and is at least as accurate as a modern PCP target rifle.

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