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Advanced rifle handling with Bushwise

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Bushwise trainer Darryn Murray describes advanced rifle handling training scenarios and safety. ARH is an important part of becoming a trails guide.

“The name is Bond, James Bond….”

Hopefully we have all heard this line at least once in our lives? 

“James Bond, licence to kill…”

Well, when field guides are trained to use a rifle in order to conduct guided bush walks, we teach them the exact opposite! The first few rules that are taught include walk as though you are unarmed, don’t have the mentality of “Oh well, I have a rifle I can get myself out of any situation,” and lastly “you DO NOT have a licence to kill”.

Bushwise trainer Darryn explains safety in advanced rifle handling

Photo by Louise Pavid

In our advanced rifle handling (ARH) procedures and training, guiding students are taught how to use a rifle safely and competently, but most importantly, ONLY ever as a last resort.

Before being on a firing range with rifles and ammunition, students must pass written assessments and show that they fully comprehend the use and safety of this equipment. It is a big responsibility to carry a rifle in the bush, so it is essential that students have the necessary knowledge before undergoing practical training.

Each of the practical exercises will be explained below, along with an explanation as to why these specific ones are chosen.

Exercise 1: Blindfolded loading and unloading

The students are trained to load and unload their rifle with a blindfold covering their eyes. They have an allotted time of 14 seconds to load three dummy (non-live) rounds of ammunition into a bolt action .375 calibre rifle (or larger). The timer then stops and they are instructed to unload the weapon, check and then declare the weapon safe to the range officer, all while being blindfolded.

A Bushwise student practices shooting at a target in advanced rifle handling lessons

Photo by Leonard Doors

The reason we start this way is to teach the students that they need to be able to load the weapon without looking to see where the ammunition is. In a dangerous situation, there isn’t enough time to look anywhere else but at the danger in front of you.

As a guest you would be comforted knowing your guide is trained to react quickly and efficiently, without fumbling for ammunition or taking time to load the rifle.

Exercise 2: Grouping/accuracy 

The second exercise begins with the student being handed live ammunition by a qualified range officer for the first time during the assessment. The instruction is to fire five rounds at a stationary target 12 metres away. This doesn’t sound very far but nerves and pressure are always a tricky thing to deal with on assessment day. The target that the student is aiming at is roughly the size of a CD (10-12cm diameter). 

This is done firstly to see if the student is able to fire a weapon, and secondly to see the accuracy of the shooting on a target. This exercise is not timed. I’d like to emphasise that this is all done in a safe range with highly trained and experienced instructors. Safety is a priority for field guide training in all aspects of their curriculum and especially with rifles.

Exercise 3: Distance

Students prepare for an advanced rifle handling practice assessment

Photo by Louise Pavid

The third exercise is to fire three shots at three different targets, one at 12 metres, one at eight metres and one at 4 metres. This exercise is timed as well as scored according to the points that the student receives for each shot at the three distances.

The reasoning behind this exercise is to simulate having to reload and fire at targets accurately in a pressure situation, but also to simulate having to shoot at a target that is approaching the shooter.

Exercise 4: Immediate action drill

The immediate action drill begins with the range officer loading two live rounds and a dummy round, in any order, into the student’s rifle magazine and placing it in a safe carry condition. Safety carry means that the rifle cannot be fired – if the trigger is squeezed, nothing will happen, as there is no cartridge in the chamber. 

The student begins the exercise by chambering and firing three rounds. When the dummy round is fired there is a soft clicking sound. At this point the student has to canter the rifle 900 from their shoulder, to safely eject the round onto the ground and continue with the exercise. Once the first three rounds have been fired, the student reloads three more rounds into their magazine, and fires one more to complete the activity.

This exercise is put in place to simulate a malfunction with the rifle or ammunition while out in the field. It teaches the student to clear the problem and carry on as one would when out in the bush in order to protect their guests.

Exercise 5: Buffalo targets

Darryn and a student standing next to the buffalo target

Photo by Leonard Doors

The second to last drill is two life-size buffalo targets placed at eight metres and four metres. The student has three rounds in their magazine. On the command “fire”, they have to fire a round at each of the targets, hitting an area roughly the size of a CD on the forehead of the paper buffalo targets.

This drill is not only about accuracy and speed, but also about the time constraint of eight seconds and the two scoring shots which will determine a pass or fail. The reason behind this drill is to teach the student to fire at different distances, in a short space of time on a “lifelike” target.

Exercise 6: Lion charge

For the last exercise in the assessment, the student simulates walking with guests behind them as though doing a bushwalk. The life-size lion target with a scoring zone on the head is set up on a sled and attached to a motorised pulley system.

As the student approaches the pulley system, the range officer starts the motor and the lion comes “charging”. The student needs to react quickly, shout “LION CHARGE” and fire the only live round in their magazine at the target when it is approximately five metres away. The rest of the exercise is completed with dummy rounds. The student fires a second shot as insurance, reloads two dummy rounds to fill the magazine again, the third shot is the coup-de-grace, before checking the corneal reflex, declaring that the animal is dead, putting the rifle back into a safe carry state and leading the guests out of the area.

A student prepares her rifle for target shooting

Photo by Louise Pavid

This is the most realistic scenario of the whole process. All the other scenarios lead up to this in terms of difficulty, pressure and nerves. The target approaches at roughly 10 metres-per-second, giving the student little time to think, but just to let instinct take over and do what they have been trained to do.

None of the different exercises the students go through is to turn them into James Bond. The whole idea of the advanced rifle handling training is to make sure the guide and their guests are prepared should something go wrong while on a bush walk. Guides should never have the attitude of “I have a rifle so I can just shoot my way out of any situation” – it is very much the old adage of rather to have it and not need it, than to need it and not to have it!

As part of the Bushwise Professional Field Guide course, students participate in advanced rifle handling theory and preparation for their Apprentice Trails Guide qualification. Apply now and start your new career journey.


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