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Gong Guns

By Phil Day

In the last ten plus years shooting steel targets has become popular for fun or practice – it’s a great way to hone your shooting skills and compete with your mates.


Fundamentally a “gong” is a free-hanging hardened steel plate attached to a frame that rings out a rewarding “bong” sound when it’s hit. Plates range in size from a couple of inches square out to 15-20” but generally 8-12” is the norm as this represents the kill zone of a red deer. Target distances range from 200 out to 2000 plus yards.


A solid gong stand with a very well used piece of steel, located at 500 yards.


The beauty in shooting steel is that you don’t need to be obsessed with hitting the bullseye the way you do in target shooting. Hitting dead centre is always the goal but it’s not essential – a hit is a hit and the plate will “ping ‘n’ swing”. It’s also great practice for long range shooting and reading the wind, plus you can just keep shooting as there’s no paper to replace. You just need to give the steel a quick paint every now and again – blow it over with a spray can (primer white being the best for coverage) and you’re good to go.


The black Tikka is a T3x in .223, fitted with a wide fore-end and and steeper/larger pistol grip insert (one of the advantages of the new T3X stock). It also has a Kalix Teknik adjustable cheek piece and a tactical bolt handle. The beauty of the T3s is that they can be easily accessorized.


A closer view of the Tikka T3x’s Kalix Teknik adjustable cheek piece


However, the joys of gong shooting can also be a downfall – shooting lots of rounds off in quick concession can be hard on chamber throats and barrels especially if you’re using a super quick monster hunting rifle. It’s still very useful for testing your hunting guns but care should be taken not to get ‘em too hot.


Any rifle can be used to shoot steel but if you get bitten by the bug or like to have a rifle for every occasion then a dedicated gong/target/heavy varmint rifle becomes a really good investment. Most major manufacturers have these rifles in their line up and for this article I’ll be looking at factory rifles that are reasonably cheap to buy, run, fun to shoot and capable out to the 1000-1200 yard mark.


“Any rifle can be used to shoot steel but if you get bitten by the bug or like to have a rifle for every occasion then a dedicated gong/target/heavy varmint rifle becomes a really good investment.”


Why off-the-shelf and not a full custom I hear you ask? Well firstly, price! Custom rifles are very expensive and have terrible resale value. You don’t build a custom rifle to sell. Secondly – waiting times for one to be built can be many months or longer. By the time your custom rig is finished and ready to shoot your plans or priorities may have changed and buyer’s remorse can set in. “Flash Harry” custom guns are cool but for most people going down to your local gun shop and grabbing something off the rack will do just fine.


Let’s pick a calibre. If you want something cheap to run and accurate for shooting out to 600 yards then the .223 is hard to beat. They have no recoil so they’re easy to shoot all day or for a novice to learn with. With a suppressor fitted they are quiet too and there’s plenty of good cheap ammo available such as Belmont’s bulk stuff, which can work out cheaper than loading your own.


If you want to stretch your legs a bit further then you’ll need some more grunt. Something running high, slippery BC (ballistic coefficient ) pills is what you’re after; large 6mms, 6.5s and 7mms, or .30 cals in a fast-twist barrel are the way to go. Anything from a .243 through to 7mm Rem Mag or .300 Win Mag will see you right. Larger calibres with their heavier projectiles will buck the wind better but are harder on both your shoulder and your wallet so you need to weigh up what’s the best balance for you.


It might seem an awesome idea to have a 1500–2000 yard big hitter, but in reality it takes large cannons with high BC .30 to .375 cal projectiles to be accurate, repeatable and competitive at such long ranges. They can be expensive toys to “buy ‘n’ run” and don’t really fit with what I want to cover in this write-up.


The set-up doesn’t have to be flash. Any piece of painted steel plate will do the job, although with heavier calibres steel thinner than 6mm will get punctured at closer ranges.


There’s endless shapes, designs and construction materials when you’re talking rifle stocks, but for a “gong gun” what it’s made of – timber, composite, injection-moulded or metal, isn’t really an issue. What’s important are the fit and shape. Let’s look at what I think is important. Hunting rifles are designed to be fired while you’re standing with either open sights or smallish powered scopes, whereas a gong rifle is shot prone or sometimes off a bench and normally wears a large target or varmint style scope. This is why the design is so important.


“Remember that not all rifle stock designs will suit you. You need to try before you buy especially where chassis styles are involved.”


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There are two main designs – the classic and the chassis. As the name suggests the classic has the characteristics of a standard rifle design but it’s normally beefier with many more adjustment functions. A chassis system is normally constructed of metal, alloy or carbon fibre and usually features a free-standing pistol grip and a far more tactical appearance.


You need something that fits you properly, so here’s a couple of things to consider:


LOP (Length of pull) – this is basically the length of the stock between your shoulder and the pistol grip.


Comb/cheekpiece – this is where you rest your cheek to look through the scope. With larger or higher mounted scopes you normally need a bit of extra comb height so an extension or an adjustable cheekpiece is useful.


Pistol grip – normally larger or with a steeper angle than a standard hunting rifle. Some are free standing and others feature a thumbhole design. Remember that not all rifle stock designs will suit you. You need to try before you buy especially where chassis styles are involved. Don’t get talked into buying a mega expensive chassis that doesn’t fit you properly.

Another T3x in 6.5x55 with a GRS laminated stock, an SRNZ suppressor and a Nightforce SHV 5-20x56 scope in Tier-One rings.


Phil has adjusted the GRS stock to fit him perfectly. He likes the set-up and always shoots well with it.


While some of you will go “old school” and keep your barrel naked, most of us will want to reduce noise or recoil – this is where a suppressor or muzzle brake becomes part of the set up. Suppressors are far more acceptable if you’re shooting with a group of mates as they reduce muzzle blast as well as noise, however they do have a couple of drawbacks. They get hot very quickly so you start to get mirage coming off them after a few rounds – some people run covers but beware – these hold in the heat meaning things are cooking for longer (it’s a good idea to remove the suppressor between shot sessions). They don’t reduce recoil much – it’s more their extra weight that reduces muzzle jump, but then depending on what calibre you’re running that’s probably not much of an issue on a heavy non-magnum gong gun.


“With practice you’ll soon be pinging to your heart’s content! Gong shooting is a great way to enjoy the sport of shooting.”


Muzzle brakes are the best way to reduce recoil. A well-designed ported brake will soak up large amounts especially on magnums pushing big heavy pills, also they are not effected by heat so much. You will still get some mirage off a hot barrel but nowhere near as severe as with
a suppressor.


By far the biggest downsides of brakes are muzzle blast and noise. They are horrible for anyone unlucky enough to be shooting or spotting next to you. As you would expect, the more powder you’re burning the worse the blast. Trust me you don’t want to get stuck next to a guy using a .50 cal...!


This comes down to budget but in this article I’m trying to keep things realistic so let’s keep the glass around the $2000 max price range.


In any scope reliable tracking is a must. Then come good turrets, glass and a nice usable reticle – it doesn’t matter if it’s first or second focal plane as long as it suits your style of shooting. You don’t need enormously high magnification to shoot steel – it’s nice to have a powerful scope but remember that mirage can be a problem on hot days when you are winding the magnification up.


There’s many good new options on the market lately and here’s just a few: Leupold LRP 6.5-20x50 or VX5 3-15x44, Nightforce SHV 5-20x56, Sightron SIII 4-24x50, and Zeiss V4 6-25x50, Bushnell Forge 4.5-27x50 etc. Don’t forget Swarovski, Sig Sauer and the increasingly popular Vortex models either.


Also keep a look out for a good second-hand unit, there are some excellent buys around especially bullet-proof scopes like the Nightforce NXS. It’s all pointless though without having a good scope-mounting system; a 20 MOA picatinny rail with heavy tactical type rings is a very good option.


Tucked in behind his Tikka 6.5x55, Phil lines up a distant gong.

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As mentioned, many rifle manufacturers offer what they refer to as “Precision” or “Long Range” setups. These are bolt-actions with decent triggers, heavy profile barrels and normally a detachable magazine. The stocks range from tactical classic style with multiple adjustments to full chassis systems with pistol grips and fully adjustable stock/cheek pieces.


Let’s have a look at a few available in New Zealand:


Howa 1500 – while budget priced the Howa 1500 is a very nicely finished rifle with a good reputation for working well and being accurate. Made in Japan, they come in a range of calibres. There’s a wide range of stock options including the APC, GRS or KRG Bravo.


Remington Model 700 – the Hilux of rifles, a good proven action that has endless upgrade options available. Models include the “Long Range”, a good value rifle with a nice Bell & Carlson M40 stock, also the proven Sendero II. While neither have an adjustable cheek piece they fit well. Other options are the Magpul and/or Precision Chassis Rifle which is a type of hybrid, not the prettiest but it has a 5R barrel and comes in great standard cals like 6.5 Creedmoor and .260 Rem.


Sauer 100 – the base model in the German company’s line-up but with a couple of futuristic target style models available like the Fieldshoot and Pantera, offered in a range of cals including the cool 6.5 PRC.


Bergara B14 – manufactured in Spain, these bolt-action rifles are making quite a name for accuracy and good value. There are two gong gun options in the B14 line-up including the HMR & BMP. Although only available in 6.5 CM or .308 they are worth a look at.


Ruger – has a couple of models, the Hawkeye LRT and the Ruger Precision. These are available in Gen II & III models in a wide range of calibres. The Ruger P is a chassis-based set-up that has many characteristics found in custom type rifles. They shoot well and are a good option if a chassis rifle is what you’re after.


Savage – while not the prettiest they are good value and although their AccuTriggers can take time to get used to, every one I’ve owned has been very accurate. The Ashbury Precision is their chassis rifle and there are other LR choices based on the proven 110 & 12 series models such as the great 12 PALMA.


Tikka T3x – the king of the allrounders. The T3X comes in multiple set-ups featuring a great factory trigger. Nearly all shoot straight “outa the box” with factory ammo. There are many heavy barrel options such as the Varmint, Super Varmint, CTR & TAC, so there’s something for all sorts of shooting.


You can always customise one of the above factory rifles to suit your purpose and/or style, or just to be different. It’s nice to add your own bit of character. The main ingredients are accessorizing or replacing the original stock, a new trigger (or working the original trigger), adding a different bolt-handle, or reaming the barrel to a wildcat calibre.


So there we have it, a few good options. Combine these with a decent bipod (like a Harris) or a sturdy front-rear bag set-up, plus decent ear/eye protection and good accurate ammo. With practice you’ll soon be pinging to your heart’s content! Gong shooting is a great way to enjoy the sport of shooting. Spend time with your mates, then why not meet some more firearm enthusiasts and compete in some “Simulated Field” shoots like the ones the Gillice boys run! These are a great way to put your practice to the test.


Safe shooting...




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