The Man Who Saw It and Snatched It
4x European FTR Rifle & Former World Champion
RUSSELL SIMMONDS – A few years back, I came across an article that read as follows:
“Russell Simmonds has ascended to the highest level of World Competition in just a few seasons. Using an affordable rig that is “low-tech” compared to many F-TR rifles used in international matches, Russell shot brilliantly to win the 2009 F-TR World Championship, held at the famed Bisley Range in England. Shortly after that impressive victory, Russell won the 2009 British League F-TR Championship AND the European F-TR Championship – both for the second year in a row.”
You seem to be going at it again Russell! I’m glad to have you on rifletalks.com with us today after your superb performance at Bisley’s Europeans this year.
2021 GBFC Individual European Championship results (source: https://gbfclass.com/2021/09/22/2021-gbfca-europeans/)
|Russell Simmonds||483.37v||Tony Marsh||490.42v|
|Simon Gambling||482.36v||Joe West||487.58v|
|Adam Bagnall||479.35v||Lance Vinall||487.48v|
|Simon West||474.27v||Gary Costello||487.47v|
|Mark Webb||473.36v||Dehane Cownley||485.43v|
|Paul Crosbie||472.29v||David Lloyd||485.41v|
|Peter Dommett||471.38v||Alan Baldry||484.40v|
|David Rollafson||471.35v||Gianfranco Zanoni||483.44v|
|Steve Rigby||471.31v||Paul Harkins||483.43v|
|Matt Jarram||470.37v||Gareth James||482.44v|
How long have you been shooting FTR Russell now?
Hi Rod, I started shooting FTR back in 2006 I think. (Like Ferruccio Cataldo, Italian FTR league winner, Russell is another 308win veteran)
Since then Russell has harvested a few titles. So it goes without saying, we would like to understand how such excellence, form and consistency is created.
Why is it that you’re still hooked to the venerable 308win?
It’s a fantastic cartridge and I know a lot about how to tune its performance for the results I want.
Man I got no doubt! It’s a pleasure to see you on the ranges, I’m aware you remain firmly grounded in basics without being carried away by too much bling that this sport can bring with it. That’s excellent news for new comers to this sport. Bling won’t harvest medals but what works for you Russell and why?
You’re right, I’ve never been in to the latest trend or bling bits, I know what works for me and I have always had the old adage, if it isn’t broke why fix it? Over the years I have altered things and now have a great but fairly simple set up.
That’s exactly why I’m happy to have this chat with you. You provided me with some great advice from the get-go.
Tell us about your rifle, what has changed since your last string of winnings you’ve had?
I have changed the stock, going form a metal chassis to a Joe West thumbhole laminate stock. It took me a little while to get used to it but I absolutely love it now. It tracks back so well, I also use a different bipod now going from a carbon fiber one to a Seb Joypod, again it took me a little while to adapt to it but now I wouldn’t change it for the world. I don’t tend to use the joypod function that much as I normally control my scope elevation via squeezing the back bag still, just like I used to when I started off using the Choate stock and a bean bag!
Basics o basics!
I have also changed scopes now and use the Vortex Golden Eagle. Love that scope, very clear optics, I still shoot on a fairly low power which I always feel helps me so I can look at mirage easier and also have less of a chance of shooting on the wrong target as I can easily see the target number.
Building Russell’s rifle
What do you look for when building a rifle and why?
For me it has to start with an accurate barrel, personally I have had all my big wins using Trueflite barrels, the first one I got in 2008 shot like a demon winning me the British and European championships in that year. In 2009 I got another one that shot even better, the most accurate barrel I’ve ever owned. I took that to the World Championships and it helped me win that, and also retain the British and European Championships again.
I went away from them for a few years and did ok but as soon as I went back to them I started winning big comps again. A good gunsmith is a must, ask around other competitors and find who they are using, you will soon get a good idea of who to use.
What do you reckon are the most important 3 components of a rifle build in order of priority? 1, 2, 3
This is part taken up with the question above, stock is important, a good stock will track back nice and straight allowing you to stay focused on your target, watching the target to go down without even moving your eye from the scope. I like to have a simple routine, once I have taken the shot I will watch for the target to drop, then I will put my wind on my plot sheet waiting to mark fall of shot on the target once it comes back up.
I like Barnard actions and have used them from my first rifle custom build back in 2008, they are a very strong action and smooth, everything is easy to take apart and clean so they work for me.
I know you’re an excellent wind reader. I once was at the butts marking your 600yd target at Diggle and there was not much where to append the spotter disc after your string of 20+2rounds. Thank goodness for electronics!
What do you look out for? In one of your courses, you had a very methodical approach to wind. Tell us about it and do you still do wind classes?
I will still do wind reading courses, I run them when I have 2 or 3 people who want to do one. I always run them at Bisley normally during the week. I think I still have the same way of dealing with winds, I always try to pick upwind flags ideally 2 or 3, sometimes if we have mirage and light winds I will concentrate on the mirage more, and just before I take the shot I will check quickly to make sure the flags are in agreement with the mirage. I tend to shoot better in light tricky winds and these are the conditions we had during the Europeans this year. The last stage shot at a 1000 yds was my ideal conditions, light tricky winds building and dropping off.
I was lying 3rd at this point so know I had to have a great shoot. My sighters were a V and 5 so that immediately put the pressure back on to my competitors, all the way through the shoot I just got in to a good zone and could see what was happening. I clicked for every shot making small adjustments concentrating on trying to stay in the 5 ring, for the first 5 shots, then the next, and this carried on until shot 19 when I had a high 4 on a drop off. Shot 20 was back in to the 5 ring so I felt it was a great shoot and for me, I was very happy which doesn’t often happen. When the wind blows hard, other people can call the wind better so it’s something I am constantly looking to improve upon.
Let’s talk handloads
The melting pot for any serious shooter. I was lucky enough to jump on one of your courses some 13 years ago and you helped me start out with reloading even before I got my first rifle. That was great tuition there! Many years later, what has changed in your reloading room and processes Russell? Any significant upgrades? I know you advocated for items which really worked without being dragged into the arms race.
That was a long time ago Rod! I basically still have the same processes, again I have upgraded my kit, I have new set of A&D scales which are amazing, they will measure to the nearest kernel so I think my ammo consistency will improve more. As before I spend a lot of time prepping the cases, full length sizing, neck trimming, weighing and batching.
For bullet seating I now use a Sinclair hand press and Wilson micrometer seater die.
Russell’s Bullet Choice
Your bullet choice: do you perform any enhancements on bullet like trimming or meplat pointing? Some shooters are nuts out there, is this infatuation real or otherwise?
I used to do meplat trimming and pointing using the Hoover system. However when I went to Raton I took a load of prepped heads that were trimmed, pointed and batched for weight. They were for the Worlds and the Nationals there. While there I’d brought a box of Berger heads and used them for some of the Nationals straight from the box and I soon realised there wasn’t really any difference at all. From that point on I stopped doing it.
Do you start your rifle build with the bullet in mind?
No not really, whichever bullet I use I will always use the same components.
Wood or chassis and why?
When I started, I used a plastic Ultimate Sniper system stock, it worked well but was too short really and apart from making me ache a lot it didn’t track well at all. From then on I went to a metal Dolphin stock which fitted me well and tracked better, I used that for a few years and then moved on to a wooden Joe West stock which tracks the best of all and I think it torques better so it always stays on target.
Your powder of choice?
RS powders work for me well. I always loved the Hodgdon powders but as we cant get them I moved on to RS and am happy with them.
Do you adjust powder charge according to the season to maintain your sweet node? It doesn’t get really hot here you know but it does get somewhat cold!
No I don’t. I just work my loads up and get to a reasonable speed that I want and stay with that.
It goes without saying, your scope is your rudder and you manage to stay ahead of the wind pretty well to snatch the Euros! 12 years later do you still dial all your windage?
Yes I dial all my windage and write down every shot. I have a rubbish memory so I wouldn’t be able to remember where i’d aimed off 🙂
Last word to our rifletalks.com audience, what’s your single best recommendation for those that like you, seek winnings and are very passionate and driven about this sport?
Keep practicing, keep trying to improve with every shoot you do. Don’t be too harsh on your self when it goes wrong which it will, instead try to learn how you could have done it better. Enjoy it, I got too serious with the shooting, I hated loosing and lost the love for it. After a break for a few years I started again doing some club comps which are always a good standard and just enjoyed them, from there I found the love again and wanted to shoot and practice more.
Any interest from your side in ELR Russell? There’s a craze out there about it. We ‘de be happy to hook you on wind duties for Raton!
Id love to have a go at it, not sure how I’d go shooting the big calibers but think it would be fun. The wind reading would be another huge thing to learn over the vast differences that you shoot at.
What do you think is the largest stumbling block for European shooters and how can it be overcome in your view?
I believe it will be the lack of ranges or land where we can practice on, that will be hard to sort, but like everything else, if I was trying it I’d need to practice…. a lot!
Your Questions Answered by Russell Simmonds himself!
We received some questions for you Russell. Your tips were well received! Our readers asked what bullet and powder do you use and what twist rate do you select? Interestingly I believe the Italians are hooked on the 200x bullets and many have gone down the heavy bullets route to go back to something lighter.
Hi Rod, Yes I still use 155.5 Bergers. I do anneal after about 3 firings as I don’t have an annealer myself. I’m using small primer brass.
Wow ok still on the light weights even though many went with 200grs. Interesting. Why is that?
I’ve tried the heavies and my team-mates have all tried them. We all found one day they work, the next they don’t. You get elevation with them. You don’t get that with the lights. One of the team GB shooters asked me what I was doing with my elevation problems during the Euros.
I replied I’m not having any issues. The gun was shooting less than 1/2 moa elevation at a 1000. You won’t get that with heavies.
You can use any twist rate from a 10 to a 14. I started using a 14 and they were lasers. My latest barrel is a 13 twist and that is amazing. I use RS powder normally 52. I have always shot against the heavier bullets when using my 155 and majority of time will come out winning. Every time we’ve tried heavies, we find what you gain on wind you will lose on elevation which is why we stick with the light bullets.
Why do you think you get vertical with heavies? Are they too heavy for the powder charge, twist rate?
I’m not 100% sure but I believe it’s to do with wind direction. Any slight headwind or tail wind induces elevation maybe to do with long bullet lengths?
Curious to know if this would also be the case with a 300wsm shooting heavies. Or is it only on 308win shooting bullets ‘out of its class.’
Not really sure Rod. I believe the Americans and Canadians got them to work not sure how. To me, what you may save on windage you may lose on elevation, so I stick with what I know works. And I proved it by beating everyone that was using them at the Euros, the last top gun comp I was second and again a lot of people were using the heavies then too.
Ye I guess that says it all, the proof is in the shooting. That’s a lot to reflect about! Is there any difference between how UK shooters train and the Americans?
Obviously, these are mine and my team mates thoughts after trialing the heavies. I recently shot with a good team GB shooter and he said he was waiting for the elevation flyers! Not sure how Team GB trains now. I’m not part of it.
If there’s anything else you would like to ask Russell about his 308win FTR magic, drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org
We hope this head-to-head with you provides a subject of discussion to many shooters internationally. Share this interview with others