WMS Firearms Training – Historic Rifle day Review.
I recently attended WMS Firearms Training for their well received Historic Rifle Day. This enthralling day is hosted by Andrew and Helena Venables, with Military Historian, Mark Khan assisting with historical detail on each rifle we would go on to use throughout the day.
The day begins at WMS HQ in the hills outside Ystrad Meurig, Wales (just 25 minutes drive from Epic!). Once everyone in our group of 4 had arrived, we were briefed on the day’s activities. We all signed our lives away, really very willingly, and enjoyed a historical introduction to the practices of sniping, as originally implemented by Major Vernon Hesketh-Prichard (1876-1922) during the First World War.
Having left the briefing room two cups of coffee later, we travelled to the range, located in a remote valley the other side of Pontrhydfendigaid. At this point, it was clear that the day would be interesting, having gathered this from the initial briefing alone, however it did not give anything away as to the amount of time I would be getting with my hands on impressive historic rifles.
The shooting began with .22 Scoped rifles, which were pleasant to operate with very little kickback when fired. They were also suppressed, and so made minimal noise. Considering the tiny calibre, the results were impressive and it was a relaxing way to settle into the day. Andrew and Mark then ran us through the variations in ammunition we would be shooting that day, putting it into perspective, the comparative might of the guns we would soon be tutored on.
Mark outlined the varying developments in manufacturing across this range, from the robust looking 45-70 Government cartridge used in the Browning 1886, with its heavy blunt lead bullet, to the sleek brass jacketed modern NATO rounds on the right.
After our comparatively cuddly orientation with the .22 rifles, we were run through the slick lever action of the Browning 1886 45-70 Rifle. The machining and finish of this was simply stunning. Andrew explained that in the field, the action was liable to jam when exposed to dirt and dust, but when kept clean, its function was as good as its form.
Once run through operating the firearm and dry firing it several times, it was time to fire it at a target in the adjacent quarry some 200 metres away. This was our initial target range, which would be increased throughout the day across a series of 3 different ranges.
The power and brute force of the Browning made for a fun beginning to the historic rifle experience, and we were all able to place rounds accurately on target with the expert instruction provided by Andrew throughout the day. After the Browning, we then progressed through the Mosin Nagant 7.62×54, Mauser 48 8×57, Schmidt Rubin 7.5×55, the S.M.L.E and its improved Lee-Enfield .303 No. 4 replacement.
We also fired the much more modern, but iconic AK-47, and were able to take turns field striping and assembling this weapon, showcasing its basic but incredibly functional design.
The Moisin Nagant, the staple of the Red Army in WW2, was agricultural in feel, compared to the other rifles in use on the day, with very little trigger feel. Despite this, it worked flawlessly and its open sights were easy to gauge accurately. Designed to be fired with the Bayonet fitted this rifle seemed basic, but entirely functional and reliable.
Mark and Andrew had dropped subtle humorous hints that their personal favourite of this group of historic rifles was the Lee Enfield No 4. It was to my great surprise that the next rifle the Mauser K98, which I was expecting to be a beautiful engineering triumph, did not live up to my expectations at all.
We fired it using original specification steel cased rounds, as would have been provided to Germans fighting in both world wars. I would not have survived long in such conditions with this rifle. Its action was stiff, sticky and relatively un-intuitive. It did however shoot accurately. Apparently with brass cased rounds it performs much better, but for me, it was surprisingly rough.
The Swiss made Schmidt Rubin was the next Rifle to be tried by myself. A straight pull design, this required significantly less skill on my behalf to work properly. It worked flawlessly and I am sure as Mark suggested in his talk regarding the history of this rifle, it would have performed well in battle.
From my untrained perspective it made much lighter work of things than the previous K98 I had been using. Aesthetically, the mechanism looked incredible. Most of my shots were on target with this rifle from the start. As Andrew pointed out, being able to comfortably use a firearm is an inherently important part of getting accurate results from it.
Next we moved on to the S.M.L.E and the Lee-Enfield .303 No. 4, very similar of course with the earlier rifle having a shorter barrel for use in trench warfare. My expectations were not high for this rifle, despite hints at its superiority from both Andrew and Mark. If I am honest, I mistook this for some sort of patriotism towards the British rifle.
As it would later turn out, I was quite wrong. Having considered the timbered appearance of the Lee Enfield to look unrefined and positively frumpy, if that term can be applied to firearms, this for me, turned out to be the best rifle of the day by some considerable margin.
My opinion regarding the timber on the rifle quickly changed, as in the flesh the timber is of good quality, and the rifle looks magnificent. When it came to firing it, again, it proved brilliant. Its aperture sight was nice, and the bolt action was as smooth as butter.
In my genuinely unbiased opinion, this really stood out for me as an outstanding rifle. By the end of the day, I had even managed to hit targets with it, at an incredible distance of some 850 metres. A job made very easy by the modern Steel Core Cyclone sniper rifle also used on the day, making it all the more impressive that a relic, whose design dates back to the turn of the twentieth century, could still meet the mark.
The final shots of the day were fired on WMS’s long 850M range. This spanned an entire valley, and looked to be an impossibly vast distance for a bullet to cover accurately. Andrew ran us through the procedure of setting up the shot with the modern sniper rifle. An incredible piece of kit, after wind measurements were taken with Andrew’s highly accurate anemometer finger, we set the sights of the Cyclone rifle to compensate. Using this method it was possible to obtain hits on the first try, across a substantial distance.
It was a different, altogether more satisfying story with the open sighted Lee Enfield No.4. With two people spotting through telescopes we were able to reign in shots on the target. Finally, after 3 shots, I managed to obtain a satisfying hit on a metal pig, of all things. The sense of achievement was great. At this point in the day we were allowed to pick any rifle to use on the long range targets. I always found myself using the Lee Enfield No.4.
For a novice like myself, whose only previous experience of firearms was shotgun trap shooting; this day was tough on the shoulder. The K98 in particular seemed to have some sort of vendetta against my shoulders muscle structure. All the same, this had little bearing on how incredibly fun the day was.
I would recommend this day for anyone with the slightest of interest in these historic weapons. From militaria and history buffs to someone that once had an air pistol as a youth, whatever level you are at, you will get a great deal out of this experience. I personally yearn for another go with a Lee Enfield No.4, which is I feel testament itself to the quality of the day, put together and organised by WMS Firearms Training.