Imperial 151: Stickledown Success

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Against all the odds, a small coterie of Oxford shooters assembled in Bisley over the course of the last week for that highlight of any target rifleman’s year: the Imperial.

Shooting kicked off for Russell Woodger, Michael Horrell and Bruce Winney with the pre-Grand on Friday 11th September, this year consisting only of the Century and Admiral Hutton. The Century saw some good shooting from the Oxford contingent, with Bruce scoring a 50.7v at 500 and Michael the same at 600. With numbers small but serious, prize lists were competitive, with the last Tyro in scoring 96.6v, a good three points ahead of their equivalent in 2019.

Friday evening saw Thomas Nightingale arrive ahead of shooting on Saturday. A bumpy start (what correction to make from a cross-shot sighter, anyone?) proved the wisdom of the others in using the pre-Grand for blowing out cobwebs, but he warmed up in time for the Daily Telegraph at 500 yards, where a 75.8v saw him place as the top Tyro and top under-25.

Conditions continued to warm up across Sunday, giving the shooting a thoroughly July feel – not entirely to this correspondent’s satisfaction. Those better able to cope with the heat used light winds and clear mirage to their advantage – Bruce, with 49.8v, was the highest 49 in the Alexandra, in a striking 54th place, while Russell showed himself master of 900 with a 50.8 in the Duke of Cambridge.

Monday saw a changing of the guard, as Thomas was replaced by George Twinn. Some things remained the same, however, like Russell’s ability to get possibles – the Wimbledon delivered a neat 50.6v. Nor did the dreaded Corporation hold any fears for Michael, who put in 50.5v, or Bruce, who followed him onto the prize list with 49.3v.

Next year’s President Joel Haines was a new arrival for Tuesday, shooting target rifle for only the third time, and self-coaching for the first time ever. He quickly proved his worth however, where a tidy 47.4v made him Oxford’s second highest scorer in the Lovell as he shot long range for the first time, and secured him a place on the prize list. While Joel mastered Stickledown, Russell was showing himself to be as capable at 300 yards as at 900, with 50.5v in the Times. And with the final shoot of the Grand, Russell also cemented himself as winner of the Peter-Hoblyn Aggregate, the combination of Hopton and Grand Aggregate for Under-25s – congratulations!

The end of the Grand Aggregate saw an ‘unofficial BUCS’ being calculated, with university shooters’ scores rallied up to produce a ranking. London’s Charlie Dart, who had been shooting spectacularly throughout, claimed victory on 687.82v, but Bruce — celebrating his best ever Grand — and Michael weren’t far behind in third and fourth place with 682.72v and 678.71v respectively, while Russell came in seventh with 673.55 – excellent scores all round, and testament to some superb shooting from students this meeting. Thanks as well to Bruce for doing the legwork of compiling scores and publishing the results!

With individual shooting temporarily over, the team assembled in the North for a pre-match dinner on Tuesday evening — your correspondent enjoyed his lamb shank, as well as the minestrone, chocolate cake and cheese that pre-and succeeded it — and woke up early on Wednesday for something rather different: team shooting. The morning kicked off at 300 yards on Century for the Chancellors’, and light winds gave the shooters few excuses for failing to drill the middle. Russell’s 50.7v got things off to a good start, with Michael and Bruce both only a point behind. 500 yards saw Russell prove his consistency, with another 50.7v, though 600 saw him drop a whole one point to finish with a highly respectable 149.16 – the highest score in the match. The peculiarities of the pandemic meant Oxford had struggled to assemble a full team this year, with shooters unable to make it due to combinations of quarantine, shielding, or being on the other side of the world, so the match was shot as our seven against the seven highest scores from a Cambridge eight. Sadly double Varsity success proved out of our grasp this year, as Cambridge’s eight put in an excellent 1167.141v, with their top seven beating our 1000.97v (if only we’d had three more vs…) by 24 points. Congratulations to Cambridge University Rifle Association and Small-bore Club once again! Well done also to shooters Russ, Michael, Bruce, Dom, George, Joel and Thomas, and to Bruce, Michael, Russ and Thomas for coaching, and thanks to Kate Foye and Sam Hunting for their services as adjutant and register keeper. Perhaps most exciting of all was Michael Horrell’s 147 combining with his 219 in August’s Hopton to earn him his full blue – massive congratulations!

The victorious long range team

As we headed up over the hill after lunch however, things began to pick up. The calm of the morning had given way to tricky, fast-changing winds which required hard work from shooter and coach alike, with quick shooting and long waiting the key to success. Itchy trigger fingers had to be ready to pause as the inevitable ‘waaiiting…’ cut in from the coach just before a shot was fired, but thankfully Oxford’s four had what it took, and delivered victory in the Universities Long Range match, with 383.29v pipping Cambridge A’s 380.28v. Had we entered the concurrent Imperial 151 match, we would have won it (note for next year…), and our average score was only a shade of v below that of the English team shooting the Mackinnon at the same time – certainly something to be proud of! Congratulations to Russ, Thomas, Bruce and Michael and to coach John Webster!

With team shooting thus completed, and honour on all sides, OURC and CURA came together for an enjoyable Chancellors’ barbecue on Wednesday night – though some degree of restraint had to be exercised, whether because of work the next morning for some, or the resumption of individual shooting for others.

Indeed, Thursday saw St George’s, in which Russ, Bruce and newly arrived Harriet Vane all got through to the second stage, with Harriet narrowly missing out in a spot in the final in a tie shoot. Keyed up though, she was ready for success the next day, when some superb shooting carried her all the way to the Queen’s Final! With a reduced cut of only 50 finalists this year, this was certainly an achievement. It was also to be Harriet’s first long range shoot in three years: cue hastily working out some zeros over a quick lunch at Fat Tony’s. In the event, she acquitted herself well (of course), with 71.7v at 900 and 69.6v at 1000 – the latter not helped by two points lost when her sling came undone mid-shoot! With her scores adding up to produce 288.28v, she placed 37th overall – a very creditable return to the shooting scene indeed! Massive congratulations as well to alumnus Oliver Spencer, who came second in Queen’s Final, with a stunning 297.37v!

And with that, this Imperial was over. Queen’s night passed with socially-distanced aplomb: the winner’s chair carried around camp by a golf buggy this year, after the initial parade and prize giving, and then all that was left was to tidy up, empty the fridges – and write this report. See you next year!