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New to Shooting?

Here are some comments to get you thinking. (Pure opinion by Bob McMillan)

If you don’t yet have a rifle, don’t go out and buy one until you have visited the range and talked to a few people, tried out different styles and calibres, and discussed your hunting/shooting intentions.

Most members will be more than willing to let you have a few shots.

Not everything you read on the internet is necessarily true, nor is it always applicable to New Zealand.

New Zealand’s game animals are not armour-plated (except some crusty old pigs), so you don’t need something massively powerful.  Our paper targets are not particularly tough either – so think carefully before you get anything bigger than a .223 for target shooting, or a .308 for hunting. (I am going to get some emails about this – wait and see)

Our game animals are not particularly big either, so they are quite hard to see at 300 metres, and even harder to see in the bush.  So you don’t need something that shoots to 1,000 metres, unless you are planning on long range target shooting.

The calibre debate is an enduring and enjoyable discussion topic, about which both good and useless advice abounds on the internet (and many camp fires and rifle ranges).  Think more about the need to deliver enough energy accurately over the practical distance you can see and hit your target.  Then see what calibres will do that, and finally what rifle you wish to use.

Going to buy your first rifle?  This is not the place to recommend one brand over another, but it is the place to think about what style of rifle is most useful and practical.  Let me state right up front that I see little virtue in the AR15 style of rifle for sporting purposes in New Zealand.  And this applies to other military derivatives.  A good bolt action rifle will serve you well for most purposes.  They are simple, robust, reliable, safe when used properly and priced for all budgets.

You get what you pay for.  Time for some anecdotes:

<anecdote>  A friend recently purchased a German hunting rifle (straight-pull action) and a matching European scope, leather case, certificate and all.  The cost was eye watering – certainly more than a new small car.  It is the most accurate hunting rifle I have ever fired; the scope the clearest I have ever seen.  As I write this, she is up in the bush in the rain, hunting.  It is worth every penny she paid, will last a lifetime, and has a heritage value only such firearms offer.

<anecdote>  Another friend proudly presented a purchase from an “expo”; a big-brand bolt action and scope that came with two packets of ammo and a cleaning kit.  Three months later, he has paid more for extra factory ammo than the scope is worth, and still can’t group into a 3 inch circle.  The cleaning kit is a joke – the rod is permanently bent now, and the scope will obviously not hold a zero against such recoil that hollow plastic stocks produce.  Waste of money – you get what you pay for.

So, where is the middle ground?  A good bolt action hunting rifle, properly cared for, will outlive its owner.  Military rifles obviously have a lower life expectation.  Choose a middle ground for your first rifle – sensible stock - sensible calibre - sensible scope.  Pay about $1,500 (in 2018) for the rifle, another $800 for the scope, and your children will have it after you.  Pay less, and Trade Me is the only beneficiary.

Now you have to learn how to use it.

Learning to Shoot

As with driving and sex, some people think they can teach themselves to shoot.  They can, but the results may well be disappointing.  Visit a club – most have a training programme – the better ones certainly do.  Indoor clubs shoot during the week, in the evening, and have the time, patience, and expertise to get you started.  Almost every range officer and senior shooter loves their sport, but loves even more the opportunity to start you off on the right foot.  Take advantage of their generosity.

Bad habits take only moments to form, but a lifetime to eliminate.  There are only three things to concentrate on:  position (posture), breathing, and trigger control.  Purists will berate me for not mentioning the tensioning of the buttocks, the cheek weld, the follow through.  That will come later.  For now concentrate on not feeling stressed, breath enough so your vision is bright (low oxygen makes your vision grey and speckled) breath so your sight picture is predictable, breath so your adrenaline is not making you twitchy. 

The trigger is classed as brilliant, good, or bloody awful.  The more you pay, the better the trigger should be.  A shitty trigger will ruin any rifle.  Whichever you have, practice with it.  Dry fire it (unless it is a rim fire rifle) to your hearts content – it will not break – if it does - take it back.

The Scope

You may well be offered a scope with your rifle as part of a ‘package’.  Be cautious.  The scope is probably there to help sell the rifle, not the other way round.  So the scope is unlikely to be of the quality, durability and functionality that might be chosen if it were purchased on its own.  Ill-fitting bases, misaligned rings and a low quality scope can make even a Blaser shoot around corners.

Beware of excess magnification.  Being able to see the twitching nose of a bunny is no guarantee you will hit it – quite the opposite.  Excess magnification is the curse of the average hunter, who is told, through clever marketing, that magnification is king.  Wrong.  Clarity is King.

Your scope will probably outlive your rifle – particularly if you have not chosen well for your first rifle.  Therefore, get a good one. 

General guidance is fraught with problems, but here goes. 

General game hunting in NZ, 2–7x.

High country, 4-12x

.22 for rabbits and possums at night – I like a 2-7x or a fixed 4x

(I sense more emails coming my way)


A few years ago these were a novelty.  Now they are nearly essential if you are hunting with dogs, or driving a light rifle in a beastly calibre.  Nearly all brands I have reviewed are effective.  Your choice is usually between over-barrel (half of which goes over the barrel), or a can – all of which protrudes beyond the end of the barrel.  Both have advantages, depending on what you are doing.  If you buy your rifle already threaded for a suppressor - good.  If you are having it cut and threaded, caution.  A poorly cut barrel and thread will ruin the rifle as fast as a blunt hacksaw blade, or a gas torch..

Suppressors reduce blast, noise and recoil.  Their design dictates which of these three advantages will most benefit you.  Your choice.

Come out to the range, meet people, discuss and debate – part of the fun of the sport.

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