Kiwis Compete in the South African Combat Rifle NationalsBy Steve Goodman
- 4th Dec, 2019 Dec 4, 2019, 12:00 AM
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Team member Steve Goodman was there, and won a gold…!
In late July 2018 the advance party of the NZ Service Rifle Association (NZSRA) team arrived in South Africa to shoot in the SA Combat Rifle Association (SACRA) Nationals. After a couple of days in Johannesburg, we drove over to the Natal area to spend two days on a game ranch, and the following days visiting Boer and Zulu war sites; the iconic Rourke’s Drift, Isandlwana, Spion Kop and Colenso.
The following Friday we were back at Johannesburg meeting the second half of the team, then onto our accommodation in Pretoria. We were then advised that we’d been invited to shoot in the Gauteng North Combat Rifle Assn. match to be held the next day. We were up early and off to the Piet Joubert range 50ks north of Pretoria to shoot in the Jaap Gouws memorial shoot, run every year to remember shooters who’ve died in the preceding year.
There is a moving ceremony with all shooters lined up on parade. The names of the departed are read out and a ceremonial drink is taken by the officer commanding, while the drinks for the departed are tipped on the firing mound. Next Amazing Grace is played while a lone shooter fires a mag full of ammo at the backstop. The South African shooters take this very seriously. Then it was on to the competition.
Most of the NZ shooters attended and we did quite well, several ending up in the top ten and collecting a lot of medals on the way.
After the shoot it was back to the Gauteng North clubhouse for beer and a BBQ then prize giving. At the same time that we were service rifle shooting, another nearby range (the Bisley range) was being used by F and FTR shooters. Judging by the big prize giving it must have been a major shoot, and several shooters I was able to talk to were using NZ-made Barnard actions.
After a few days off, combined with visiting gun shops, it was time to drive to Bloemfontein for the main event, preceded however by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) champs.
The first day of competition started bright and clear with not a cloud in the sky, however the temperature when we arrived at 6.30am was barely above freezing point and the wind ensured it stayed cold most of the day. Ten matches were shot and at the end most NZ shooters did well, with some collecting medals. Several NZ shooters finished in the top 20, with one placing t 4th overall.
When the SANDF wanted a .223 rifle, they looked around and settled on the Israeli Galil as they would be operating in a similar harsh, sandy climate. The SANDF bought a couple of thousand of them, then obtained the rights to build their own, which they designated the R4.
SA police have the shorter barrelled version called the R5. There are civilian semi-auto only versions also used by SA shooters, designated as the LM4. All shooters are supplied their ammo by the army and as such they must all shoot the Galil, R4, R5, or LM4. Shooters with optics shoot in X class, open sights shoot in A class, and beginners shoot in B class.
“The New Zealand team shoot a mixture of 20-inch barrelled AR15s and 16-inch barrelled Lewis Machine Tool AR15s with both the Elcan Spector and ACOG scopes.”
Both Lesoto and Botswana also use the R5 rifle in this 5.56mm competition, although Botswana’s standard issue firearm, like most of the African continent, is the AK47.
The Royal Dutch team use the Colt Canada C7A1 which they’ve upgraded with an adjustable stock and integrated free-floating upper extension. The same upper is used for both carbine and rifle with the heat shield used to extend its length. The barrel is the standard government profile and the rifle is fitted with a C79 Elcan scope. The trigger is standard M16 with ambidextrous safety and an oversized mag release button.
The New Zealand team shoot a mixture of 20-inch barrelled AR15s and 16-inch barrelled Lewis Machine Tool AR15s with both the Elcan Spector and ACOG scopes.
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South Africans take their shooting sports very seriously, with many disciplines enjoying a strong following. Service Rifle – or Combat Rifle as it is called in SA – is no exception. SACRA have an unusual structure in that it is not civilian as it is here in NZ, nor is it strictly military.
It is funded by the military and traditionally aimed at, and run by, both full time and reserve military and police personnel. Members and participants are traditionally from the military, police and corrections service. SACRA’s genesis was a break-away from traditional Bisley shooting by these three services in 1975.
The annual culmination of provincial and unit competitions is held in Bloemfontein and is open to foreign participation by invitation. These invitations go out to militaries across the globe and to our NZSRA.
Civilians as part of structured clubs are also invited. This trend seems to have been initiated some years ago by a South African expat who had then just arrived in New Zealand and is still very active in NZ Service Rifle. He got NZSRA’s first team there, and has been on every team since. NZSRA shooters are proud to participate in the only military shooting competition civilians can attend.
This year saw a strong representation from New Zealand with 11 shooters. Other foreign guests were the Royal Netherlands Army Shooting team and the armies of Botswana and Lesotho, plus a single shooter from the Belgian Airforce.
NOW, LET'S GET ON WITH THE SHOOTING!
Day 1 (Saturday) of a full week of shooting. It’s tough, but someone has to do it! The six-day SACRA competition is preceded by one day of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) nationals. Most of the serious SACRA contenders see this as a warm-up.
It was actually bloody cold with a wind-chill exacerbating our discomfort to a level that was to set the tone for the rest of the week. Apparently this competition had never been shot in colder conditions. Two Kiwis ended up in the top ten, with another three in the top 20, out of a total of some 200 plus shooters. Monday would see this number rise to about 270 shooters.
Sunday was a day off, so we spent some time shopping for balaclavas and gloves. The typical African travel brochures portraying sub-tropical climes had clearly misled us.
Day 2 consisted of team matches. This day of four-person (yes, there were ladies present) matches is clearly designed to break the ice – yeah, pun intended – before getting into the individual matches proper. International visitors are limited to shooting four matches; the other team matches are local unit team shoots.
NZ fielded an A and a B team, with the A team of Davis, Nootebos, Goodman, and Jamieson winning two golds, one silver and one bronze medal.
Day 3 started with the official opening parade with speeches from high ranking military personnel. All shooters were lined up on parade by province or country and introduced to the General. The New Zealand flag flew proudly amidst the others.
With the high-rankers undoubtedly retreating to somewhere warmer, we proceeded to shoot nine individual matches from 100 to 300 metres, followed by another team match. As in the previous days, the wind was blowing very strongly and it was freezing cold. Three more days of individual matches were to follow.
Day 3 finished with the Zero Club function, where you stand on the bar and explain to the other shooters why you received a zero score. With the large number of targets, it is very easy to shoot on the wrong target, and that is exactly what one NZ team member had done at the South African army champs three days prior. He held his own and shared a good yarn.
Day 4 was more of the same with another nine matches. With no opening parade and no team match to finish, we got home a bit earlier.
Day 5 was even shorter; only five matches today which gave us some extra time to get ready to attend functions. However it wasn’t so cold, but to make up for it we were treated to rain, accompanied by an impressive display of lightning. One NZ delegation attended the Army function, and another attended the Police function.
Day 6. Today was the top 100 medal presentation and shoot. We arrived at the range to below freezing temperatures, and while the frost was melting we lined up on parade in the order we’d finished on the previous day, and were awarded medals engraved with our placing numbers.
This was the last opportunity to move up the ladder board so to speak. The day consisted of one match of four parts, shot from 400 metres down to 100 metres. The second to last shoot is a 400-metre rundown followed by a 100-metre snap that must be shot ASAP while you’re still gasping for breath. NZ did well, with myself getting a gold, and Jamieson a silver.
The day finished with an evening function where medals and awards were presented. The individual matches were won by a young Dutch soldier, who ostensibly got the highest score ever recorded. Our own Davis came third, and Nootebos seventh. Another four Kiwis ended up in the top 20, including two first-timers. A fantastic effort by all.
The international teams for the next day were announced, and one more South African was awarded the coveted green-yellow Proteas jacket. The pride and humility displayed by these recipients is always a highlight of the evening. It is not unusual for a “shottist” to spend 20 years or more fighting for this jacket.
Day 7. The International Match, and the main event for the NZ team. This consists of four matches shot from 400 down to 100 metres. The matches are coached, so each team of eight shooters has a wind coach and a manager. Shooters spot for each other and are allowed to correct the fall of shot. Again, another cold windy day ensued.
The X-Class match was shot between the Royal Dutch Army team, The NZSRA team, and the SACRA team. After a close-run match, the SACRA shooters were first, NZSRA shooters were second and the Royal Dutch team finished third. With that done, it was all over for us, although the locals still had to shoot some interprovincial B team matches.
Nothing left to do but to clean up, warm up, and prepare for the long flight home. However, another highlight of the trip cannot remain unmentioned. Most evenings – when there were no official functions – were spent visiting restaurants where copious amounts of steak, pork and lamb were consumed, washed down with beer. No vegans in our team!
The high quality of the food stood in stark contrast to the prices we paid. The weak Rand is a big bonus for us.