By: Colin Armstrong

I was talking with some new shooters the other day, and one theme came up over and over. They kept saying they cannot afford to get into competitive practical shotgun (open class) shooting because they cannot afford £5,000 ($6,948 as of publication) for a gun and the extra kit required to get started.

Thinking back on my own shooting experience, I realize there is a prevailing misconception that you cannot compete unless you have the same kit as the guy winning everything.

I was one of those people when we were still allowed to possess handguns in the U.K. I shot with an old Browning hi-power and was doing okay with reasonable scores, but never made the top 10. The guys I was shooting against all had Glocks, so I figured I had best get a Glock, too. I did, and guess what? My scores went down in a big way.

The Glock did not fit my hand in the same way. It did not come on line as naturally for me as my old Browning, and the trigger feel was different. I persevered and relearned my hold and got used to the Glock trigger, and my scores improved to about where I had been before I changed guns. It was about then that an old shooter took me aside and gave me some great words of advice: “You have to find what works for you,” he said. “Forget the other guys and look at yourself.”

Now I shoot open class practical shotgun with a Vepr 12. I don’t compete in IPSC (International Practical Shooting Confederation) matches as much as I would like, as funds are currently limited, and like many new shooters, I cannot afford to spend a lot. But as I explained to the newcomers, you do not have to spend a lot to get started and have fun. And we do shoot for fun, after all.

A top-class, box-fed, open class shotgun (the most popular type in the U.K.) can cost you £5,000, but I got my Vepr 12 for about £1500. I purchased a few extra mags at £80 each, so in total I spent £1,900 on the gun. I shot a few club comps and practice days and had a good time, beating a lot of others with similar equipment.

A year or so later I spent £150 on some upgrade parts and began tweaking and tuning the gun, getting it to cycle a bit faster. I added a new trigger group – another £120 spent – and then again, about a year later, I converted it to fully ambidextrous use, as I favour shooting from both shoulders depending on the course of fire. (I personally think more competitions should specify weak shoulder shooting more.) I plan to have new thin wall chokes fitted into my gun later on, which will cost me £350.

The addition of a left-hand cocking handle and the ambidextrous extended magazine release

The total cost of my gun over the four years I’ve had it has come to £2,520, and it is now, in my opinion, as good as any on the circuit in which I compete. It does help that I am a registered firearms dealer and engineer with access to the correct tools and equipment, and I was able to spread the cost over four years. In that time, I still shot club comps and friendlies and enjoyed myself very much.

Shooting competitively can be done on a budget, though people are still convinced you need to buy the most expensive equipment. What you really need to do is find the gun and gear you’re comfortable using. My gun fits me like a glove, but my best friend cannot shoot it because it is way too short in the stock, the cheek weld is too high, and the pistol grip way too narrow for him. I am in the planning stages of building him a gun, and whilst similar to mine (being a Russian-designed gun based on an Armsan SR-S1), it will end up being almost a completely different gun.

Like me, my friend has tried a number of open class shotguns available in the U.K., among them the Typhoon F12, the Bora 99, and UTAS, all of which you can find in the top 10 places in IPSC matches here. He did not, however, like any of them for one reason or another (and neither did I), so had he simply looked at the gun that was wining the matches and bought one of those, as many people do, he would not be very successful.

There are many upgrades almost any shooter can make to a Russian-designed gun. Trigger groups just drop in, and anyone can polish rails, bolt heads, and hammers; it just takes time and patience. Cutting off the shrouds that hold the factory hand guards on takes care, but is not terribly difficult, and fitting a new tubular fore-end is easy enough, though there are a few jobs that are not so easy, too! A good gunsmith can make and fit a left-handed bolt handle at a sensible cost and cut and thread a barrel to fit a muzzle break.

As I’ve said, and it bears repeating, you do not need to buy the most expensive gun on the market, the one that is winning all the competitions. Though some guns are, of course, better than others, it’s the person behind the gun that makes the biggest difference on the competition floor. It’s vital, if you’re serious about becoming a successful competitive shooter, to try various gun models and work out what fits your style. And remember, there is nothing wrong with buying a base model and working on it yourself over time to improve it. In fact, I’ve found this process very satisfying indeed.

Colin Armstrong is a project manager, part-time gunsmith, and competitive shooter writing from Swindon, Wiltshire, U.K. Contact him at [email protected].

Photo Credit: Colin Armstrong