“Kokoda” tags, Black Powder, Trainer Rifles and Tin Hats – Shoot Report 31/10-1/11 2020

Rankin Springs

31st October 2020 – 1st November 2020

2020 will be remembered as a year that has challenged us all to reflect on what we take for granted and what defines our new “normal”.  How do we preserve and strengthen the things we enjoy most for a changed world? For the LERAA family and community of like-minded 303 obsessives, this weekend’s festivities and competitions were a shining light beaming out from the dark tunnel that has been 2020. We are back…and doing what we do best!

With forward parties arriving on Thursday afternoon and taking possession of the Rankins Springs range from our gracious hosts, campfires were sparked and works commenced to turn the Rankins Springs range into LERAA HQ. A bit of weeding and range tidying was completed to help out our hosts during their busy harvest time…and the excellent growing conditions for weeds. The weekend would be the familiar combination of competition, comraderies, great food, laughter, communing with Dave and honing plans great and small, for the strengthening of our growing Association and the place of Lee Enfield rifle shooting in Australia’s competitive shooting landscape.

With our members travelling to the central heart of NSW, they were greeted by a landscape that was bursting with life. Greenery and rich fields were dense and ready for harvest. With recent Spring rains the red dirt had grudgingly given way to sprouting grass and an array of native and non-native flora that captured the eye. As members and friends descended on this weekend’s LERAA HQ, it was a race against the weather gods to make camp and set-up before a brooding and darkening sky let loose its La Nina induced deluge. The campsites of the early arrivals were bustling. Murgatroyd’s, McGill’s, Hales, pale legged Kiwis and Woodys, the arrival of the Taj McCrudden was quickly followed by first drops from the threatening skies. The ensuring downpour greeted the unlucky as they arrived, dampening campfires but not extinguishing the excitement of being reunited with old friends, making new acquaintances and re-establishing the bonds that make this unique association what it is.

Daybreak Saturday 31st October. As is tradition, the LERAA red bearded rooster strode his domain, making loud his rousing call ‘Moooorning!!!!’. The committed has risen early to set up the range, targets and complete the behind scenes details that make these events run.  People roused, some tossed and turned, some coming to grips of the previous night’s merriment. Through bleary eyes, the camp of swags, tents, camper-trailers, pop-tops and Taj Mahal’s came to life. The previous evening a practical reminder to some and a fresh lesson to others of who is Dave and whether it’s a warning or a challenge. With breakfast made and bodies nourished, the morning progressed to the raising of the Australian flag and LERAAs own colours. The LERAA family, members young and old, new, and established crowded around for photos that testify to the growth and strength of numbers we now enjoy. Every one representing a promise to keep the Lee Enfield and the .303 calibre alive and present on the great ranges of our nation; except for ‘He, whose name shall not be spoken’, who keeps rambling and muttering about M39’s, moist raisins and other odd-ball Scandinavian garden stakes.

In keeping with our commitment to recognise and honour the sacrifices made in campaigns that now inspire our courses of fire, a humble, thoughtful and sincere recounting of the Kokoda campaign by Brett brought all in attendance to a quiet reflection. The horrors, loss, heroism, and all enduring mateship of those few who stopped a tide of darkness in our countries most desperate hour made clear for all gathered. Our commitment to remember and honour those who served, lived, and fell for this country and our allies reinvigorated. Lest We Forget.

Registrations and paperwork were completed, equipment scrutineered before we all moved to the Range shelter. The excitement of competition and the chase for the coveted Gold Tag began to rise! Typified by new and seasoned .303 shooters alike checking zeros and elevations, or just hoping to find the paper, driving all into a buzz. Amongst the contenders a few were ready to stand out and make a mark, a few hoping to make an upset, some looking over their shoulder to identify their ‘Competition’, but lurking quietly, a master was awaiting his chance to do what came ever so naturally. Rounds counted, barrels wiped, sights blackened, competitors stepped to the mounds for opening details.

The opening crack of 303’s across the landscape, as native to this great land as a sulphur-crested-cockatoo’s squawk, signalled that competition was off and running. The faithful nudge of brass butt-plate against shoulder (or collarbone) heralding the release of 174gn projectiles down range, the anno horribillis that has been begins to fade away. The smell of burning powder with a hint of cordite, the warmth of sun on our backs and good friends indulging in a common passion setting the mood for the morning.

A twist on the day saw scores withheld from view and competitors left guessing and eagerly squinting down range, earnestly trying to validate perceptions of where their shots landed. The stark reality of what landed on paper some 200yds away became known only to a trusted stoically silent few. The demanding LERAA Kokoda Tag Course of Fire; Standing deliberate, kneeling (a.k.a. the ‘Simmo Sit’) rapid and kneeling snap pushing competitors in both stamina and accuracy. Bayonets on…bayonets off, people were trying to remember does my point of impact rise or drop and by how much? With confidences in POI vs POA being tested and ambitions for gold tag glory being stoked the crescendo and the revelation of who would be taking home the gold tag drew nearer.

Results for this vaunted and well competed event marked returns to form, well earned places in unique match conditions and affirmations of true skill at handling the venerable SMLE No.1 Mk.III and the .303 British cartridge. The Bronze tag was awarded to El Presidente, Woody Mylo. Silver tag honours went to the man whom we trust to maintain, repair and renew our beloved rifles, Mr T-Bone himself Tom Laurenson-Smith. It was wonderful to have Tom from T-Bone Shipwrighting establishing his first appearance at a LERAA shoot, as talented shooter and another man to beat. With the LERAA family gathered closely, the awarding of the Gold tag represented a remarkable return to form for Graham ‘Murgo’ Murgatroyd and affirmation of his enduring stature as a 303 shooter, whatever the conditions.

The main event shot and won, the opportunity for LERAA’s newest and growing competitive disciplines of trainer rifles and Black Powder took to the range. The new disciplines were warmly welcomed and gave younger members a greater opportunity to participate on a much more comfortable, competitive footing. The humble but eminently reliable Martini .310 Cadet proved an instant favourite.

Kaboom! The bellow of smoke and burned sulphur swept the range marking the arrival of LERAA Black. A grand and unmistakable proclamation. The mighty .58cal projectiles and the remarkable accuracy on demonstration reminded us all that classics never die; they just step away and wait for their next time to shine. With LERAA Black being captained by black powder enthusiast Simon Hale, a growing contingent of ‘stuffers’, the presence of black powder at LERAA events will be assured.

Where’s the Dog, Major and Wal? You can’t take the Kiwi out of a Kiwi! I can hear Dave Dobbyn warming up!

An often-unconsidered strength of any organisation is its ability to generate, inspire, manage, and capitalise on divergent opinion of those who passionately seek to see it grow. With the firearms cleaned and locked away the crack of a cold one, the clink of ice, the stirring of tea and coffee and cracking of a fine scotch, the clubs meeting was drawn to order. A successful meeting yielded several ideas and directions for the association and re-focused efforts to take tangible steps towards a range development that is well into the planning phase. A helping of milk tart, emblematic of Murgo’s native South Africa, fed the masses in attendance at the meeting. A special thanks to Brunnies Biltong & Bakes of Griffith for the delicious milk tart. It is suspected that the Taj McCrudden’s pantry dwelling butler was put on notice and that this unique and tasty desert was to become a staple for all future expedition menus. Provisioning plans are under way.

Day break Sunday November 1st. LERAAs red bearded rooster, shaking off the revelry of the Saturday night just been, sallied forth to draw all from their sleeping bags (in the case of the Taj McCrudden Egyptian cotton sheets, Goose down pillows and other luxury accoutrements), reminding us that the .303 had not completed its reign over the range. Sunday saw the Tin Hat event, with targets set 300yds and array of target rifles chambered in .303. The ‘as issued’ SMLE would be in for a challenge today. Humble battle rifles, replete with original barrels and battle sights, took on the improved and enhanced No.4’s, H-Barrel SMLEs, aperture sights and improvements enjoyed by later rifle shooters that dominated the full-bore shooting scene well into the late 1970’s.

With the first range down and people sensing the challenge and difficulty of shooting from the elbows a distinct set of eager competitors emerged. A race was on and it was only going to be won through a ruthless application of marksmanship fundamentals. Forgoing my Austrian made Hubble telescope for an honest Aussie made aperture sight, I was reminded of the basics that I had learned and arguably forgotten from my start as a full-bore shooter shooting some odd-ball, modern .30 calibre round that has a small following. Being in the red dirt feeling only the tension of a sling, control of breath and movement and a focused steady hand and trigger pull on the remarkable trigger typical of the Short Magazine Lee Enfield Rifle, I permitted myself the opportunity to reflect on everything I had in the moment. Whatever the outcome, this was a great day.

The results, well-earned and impressive scores, reminded all that marksmanship and its basics are alive and well within this little community. With the reckoning of the score board, I was humbled and well and truly reminded I would need to earn my accomplishments on a LERAA range against talented and consistent competition. With results in hand and my expectations cooled, bettered on V counts by some Italian bloke, looking way too young for his age, I was left only to be impressed by the likes of Peter Maher, El Presidente, Tom from T-bone and that damned handsome Italian bloke with their shooting consistency across the weekend. The performances of these fine shooters, however, were overshadowed by a gentleman in his pet discipline. Graham Murgatroyd, in a sweep of the 303 events, led over two stages and won the Tin Hat Trophy in a convincing and decisive manner. Fine reward to complete a ‘Birthday’ celebration tour of Hill End, Condobolin and Rankins Springs for the Murgatroyd family.

The end of events brought with it a collapsing of tents, the clatter of equipment being packed and a steady trickle of friends departing for home, back to the hustle of the day-to-day grind. Departing with a weekend’s worth of mud, dirt, gun powder, campfire smoke and bindies fresh on our skin, our community parted and committed to the next great event in 2021.

Thank you Paul Simmo for your fine report and Michael Gill for the excellent photography !