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Service rifle shoot at Waiuku

I’ve never had good luck with a shoot at Waiuku. I’ve been to the range twice before and both times been hit torrential rain and gales, making shooting uncomfortable, if not impossible. Well, third time was the charm as I attended the Waiuku service rifle shoot this Saturday past.

Firstly, let me say that Waiuku has great facilities that enable a wide range of shooters to enjoy themselves. It’s also one of those rare clubs where pistol, rifle and shotgun are all welcome. However, I’ll leave a review of the range for another post. For clarity’s sake, this isn’t the same Waiuku range were ASRA does their winter shooting (The Farm).

On to the shoot itself. Well, it’s a 45 round shoot which I was hoping to do with my .303, until I realised that morning that I only had 20 rounds in the safe. With an abundance of 7.62×39, it turned out that the trusty SKS would get a work out this morning.

Service rifle shoot

If you’re into your military surplus rifles, going along to a service rifle shoot should definitely be top of your list of things to do. With everything from WWI Lee Enfields, through to Mausers and AK47s and AR15s, every major armed conflict in recent history was represented.

The shoot was run in two details and as previously mentioned, was 45 rounds. This consisted of a Trinity and Action M match and a 10 round sniper shoot.

The Soviet weaponry and rusted casings are reminiscent of the Nicholas Cage movie Lord of War.
The Soviet weaponry and rusted casings are reminiscent of the Nicholas Cage movie Lord of War.

The trinity shoot is 5 rounds each in the standing, kneeling and prone positions. With no sighters or spotting scopes, you’ve got to know you’re rifle well. The SKS performed well, but was shooting low – which was more me than the rifle, as my wife was shooting too high with the same gun. One thing I may consider doing in the near future is replacing the front sight post with a skinnier one that doesn’t blot out the entire target. Those rifles that were scoped were limited to a magnification of 4x.

After those fifteen rounds, targets were checked, which is when a few of us actually got to see where our rounds were going. For myself, another shooter with an unsighted SKS and another with a new suppressor on his AR, the results were less than stellar.

The next ten rounds allowed us to compensate where we needed to, but the faster pace and movement involved in the Action M shoot means you can’t spend too much time trying to compensate, especially with open sights at 100 metres.

An Action M is usually shot in 60 seconds (at least it was when I last shot one at the Auckland Service Rifle Assn), and consists of 2 rounds prone, 2 rounds standing, one kneeling – reload another 5 round mag or clip – one kneeling, 2 standing and 2 prone. It’s 75 seconds for bolt actions, which is okay if you have a removable box magazine or stripper clips. However, when I shot this last with a Swedish Mauser and no stripper clips, it was certainly challenging. The rules for different types of matches are made by the NZ Service Rifle Association.

In light of the range of rifles and abilities present on the day, and the generally non-competitive nature of the shoot, no strict timing was done, although everyone went as quickly as they could.

SKS on bipod
The sniper shoot allowed for rests or bi-pods. Handy hint; your car’s floor carpeting can be used if you forget your shooting mat.

The last ten rounds was a sniper shoot which allowed shooting aids, such as rests, bi-pods and spotting scopes – this is where many people were able to turn the tables – despite the smaller targets. Having someone spotting for you is also very helpful when you’re on iron sights.

Although I didn’t place highly, I did enjoy the day and seeing all the old relics shooting (and their rifles too). About a third of the shooters were from HSSRC, so there were some friendly faces, and a few us enjoyed shooting some silhouettes with the rimfires on range 2 afterwards. All-in-all, for $20 and the cost of ammo, a good day was had all round.

Finishing the day off with some silhouettes at 25, 50, 75 and 100 metres was good fun.
Finishing the day off with some silhouettes at 25, 50, 75 and 100 metres was good fun.
Shooting a sporterised Husky M38 at Deerstalkers Auckland range.

Get started shooting: How to get an A Category licence

While you might go to the range or shoot a .22 on someone’s private land – under immediate supervision – to get your first taste of shooting, if you’re serious about owning or shooting firearms, the next step is getting your A Category licence. Here’s a quick guide on the process, what to expect and what an A Cat licence entitles you to do.

What firearms can I own with an A Cat licence?

There are no restrictions on the amount of A Cat firearms you can own. They’re not registered against your name, and you can go buy one from the store straight away, assuming you have your licence and all the associated safety measures in place.

Firearms that are considered A Cat compliant are basically rifles or shotguns that are manually loaded. This means pump actions, lever actions, bolt actions, etc. You can have any features you want on these guns, as long as the overall length is more than 762 mm (30 inches). Anything shorter than that is considered a pistol, and will require a B-endorsement on your licence – which is a whole other story.

This means you can shorten your barrel, or have it in a bullpup configuration, whatever. There is no real minimum barrel length, as long as the overall length is over 762 mm. Which makes sense, as the issue with handguns is conceal-ability.

You can also own a semi-automatic sporting rifle or shotgun, but there are restrictions on these to make sure they don’t fall in to the MSSA (Military Style Semi-Automatic) category, which is governed by an E-endorsement on your licence.

In order to keep your semi-automatic firearm in A-Cat compliant condition, you’ll need to make sure:

  • The magazine holds 7 rounds or less of centrefire or 15 rounds or less of rimfire ammo
  • The mag also can’t “appear” to hold more than the above
  • The butt isn’t collapsible, telescoping or folding
  • There is no bayonet lug present
  • There is no flash suppressor
  • It doesn’t have a free-standing “military style” pistol grip

The pistol grip is the latest addition to the MSSA restrictions, and has been met with a cold-shoulder from the shooting community. Essentially it made a whole lot of unregulated A-Cat firearms illegal and meant people had to modify their rifles or dispose of them. New rifles or shotguns are now usually provided with thumbhole or Dragunov-style stocks.

SKS with Dragunov stock
The SKS my friend Nick is shooting here would be illegal with a free-floating pistol grip instead of the Dragunov-style stock

What do I need to do get my firearms licence?

Well, there’s the obvious stuff first. For those with criminal records or histories of domestic or other violence, a licence to hold a potentially lethal weapon isn’t exactly on the cards. The police firearms officer will do a background check on you, and they’ll also ask to interview two referees. If you’re married or otherwise attached, one of those referees will have to be your spouse, while the other must be a non-related person you’ve known for a couple years or more. Those referees are basically to attest to the fact that you’re a fit and proper person to own a firearms.

However, before you’ve even done this step, you’ll have to sit a test that shows you have a solid understanding of how to safely store and use hunting or sporting weapons. Start your study by asking your local police station for a copy of the Arms Code or get it online. Once you have a thorough understanding of what is involved in the responsible and safe ownership and operation of firearms, you can apply to sit the test.

The test will be held at your local police station, and is facilitated by volunteers who have a wealth of practical firearms experience. They’ll take you through the main points of gun safety, including how to carry a gun in the field and ensuring the firearm is made safe before and after use. There’s a short video and practical demonstrations of how to hold, load and unload a rifle or shotgun.

After all this there is a multi-choice test, for which you have to get almost all of the answers right in order to pass. If you don’t get it right the first time, you’ll have to study up some more and attend another information evening before you can sit the test again.

Once you have your proof of having passed the test, you can go to the local post shop and pay for your licence. The cost is $126.50. You’ll need to get proof of payment along with passport photos to the police. At this point you’ll arrange for your safety check to be done at home. Talk to the police or your local arms officer about what the safety standards are.

For an A Category licence, a good standard is to have a lockable safe with separate ammo compartment (bolts and ammo must be stored separately so as to make the firearm inoperable). These can be picked up for a few hundred bucks on Trademe or other websites, and are usually supplied with expanding bolts and pre-drilled holes so you can secure the safe to either a concrete floor, or the walls and floor if you’re securing to wood (say, inside a closet). The firearms officer will check to see if the safe is actually securely fastened – it’s no good if a potential thief could just lift it up and take the entire safe away, guns and all.

Once you’ve sat your test, paid for your licence and supplied photos, had your referees interviewed and safety checked, it’s just a matter of time before your licence arrives in the post. It could take a few weeks or more, depending on how busy they are – so don’t freak out! Also remember that your licence is valid for ten years and will have to be renewed before it expires if you’re to keep your firearms. Which reminds me…

Choosing a calibre for a secondary AR-15 upper?

Best upper for AR-15

So you’ve bought your first AR-15 and you’re super excited by the fact that you can swap in just about any upper you want to create a whole new weapon. But which is the best upper to choose? While the .223 is a great round, it’s not the be-all and end-all of rifle shooting (nothing is), so what about about a different calibre?

Here’s my take on what you can achieve my swapping out the upper on your AR-style rifle.

How about a .22LR Upper?

Well, not the worst idea actually. If you want a cheap way to practice with your AR or to introduce younger shooters to the sport, using 22LR ammo is a great and inexpensive way to do it. However, there are some conversions that use your 5.56 barrel – don’t do it. It can work, but it won’t be a satisfactory way to shoot either caliber, and it requires more work.

Rather, spend the money on a full upper and magazine, like this one from, which will work with any milspec receiver. Although, to be honest, for not much more you could buy an entire .22LR AR-type rifle.

7.62×39 anyone?

Okay, let’s be honest, I’m a big fan of the humble 7.62×39 Soviet cartridge. It’s cheap and dirty and does the job. But, would I put it through an AR upper? Not really to be honest. While the AR platform is great. there’s not much reason to get it to shoot cheap Russian ammo.

If you want a cheap way to shoot this calibre, you can get a Chinese SKS for a third of the price of a 7.62×39 upper, and again, you have a whole new rifle to enjoy. You also won’t feel nearly as bad using it as a knock-around bush gun.

AR-15 in .300 BLK

If you want 7.62×39 ballistics in an AR-15, .300 BLK might be the way to go. Developed for spec-op military applications, this round is AR-friendly. It feeds from a standard STANAG magazine with no modifications, and without reducing the capacity, so at least you can use your current AR mags.

If you’re looking for something novel and interesting to shoot, which is designed for the platform and actually useful, the .300 AAC Blackout could be the answer. It is more expensive to shoot than any of the other rounds, and would probably necessitate reloading to make it a viable addition to your safe.

Which AR-15 upper should I choose?

Well, my personal preference would be to have one completely milspec rifle for service rifle competitions, a 20 inch barreled set up for 3-Gun, and perhaps a .300 BLK upper to enjoy shooting something a bit different.

But hey, that’s just me! What would you choose as your ideal black gun set up?

Brand new 7.62x39 PPU ammunition

Reloading for SKS or AK – is it worth it?

The SKS is one of very few semi-automatic centrefire rifles that allow for cheap and cheerful shooting in New Zealand. The rifles themselves are amongst the cheapest autoloaders around and the steel-cased ammo is a bargain compared to other centrefire rounds, as detailed in a previous post on the venerable 7.62×39.

However, what about reloading for the SKS or an AK? is it worth it? Every armchair shooter in the world will want to quickly chime in on why it’s simply not worthwhile reloading ammo for these rugged rifles. Here’s my take on it.

You will lose some brass

There is no question about it. With almost any semi-auto rifle, you should be prepared to lose a few casings. Even bolt action rifles in military service rifle matches will sacrifice some brass here or there for the sake of speed. But the SKS really loves throwing brass away. The video below perfectly illustrates what I mean.

However, even with the brass being flung in every possible direction known to man, you will still get a healthy return if you have patience (and the grass isn’t too long). The majority of your shells will land between 1 and 3 O’Clock, within a few metres of your shooting position – but not all of them. On my last trip to the range I shot some brass-cased PPU with some friends, and we recovered 55 out of 60 ejected cases. That’s over 90 per cent of your brass coming back to you – not bad.

The other option is to have a brass deflector or catcher attached, but these render your rear sights useless. Therefore, this only really becomes possible with a scoped SKS, which, as we all know, is not the most worthwhile pursuit in the world.

You will damage some brass

Again, this is a given. Autoloaders are hard on brass and the SKS is no exception. There are extractor marks from rough ejection, and if you’re shooting over a concrete floor, under a roof or near any kind of structure, chances are your brass will hit it and could possibly get dented.

At the end of the day, a small level of attrition is to be expected – it’s the cost of doing business with the SKS or an AK.

It is not a super-accurate rifle

Look, handloading is not going to turn your 1 – 3 MOA SKS into a 1/2 MOA super rifle. It just won’t. Usually handloads can be made to be incredibly accurate, and this works because you develop ammunition that is suited to your rifle’s chamber. The SKS is an intermediate-cartridge fed battle-rifle with very loose tolerances, which aid its reliability. Remember, cheap, reliable, accurate – you only get to choose two.

If you’re reloading the 7.62×39 for a CZ bolt action or a  modern semi-auto, then you’re talking about a whole different ball game.

The economy isn’t quite there

The price of 7.62×39 ammo means it’s not really worthwhile buying brass-cased stuff, plus your other components and dies. It will end up costing about the same in the long run, and your accuracy won’t be much better.

Generally speaking you can pick up steel-cased ammo at one of the major gun stores for around $16 or $17 per 20 rounds. If you buy in bulk, you can save a lot more too. Realistically, if you’re cost conscious and like doing a lot of shooting, buying in bulk would be a better solution than reloading. Plus, who doesn’t like opening the safe and seeing a wall of ammunition?

M43 ammo on stripper clips
What to feed a hungry SKS?

But I’d still do it

However, I’d still do it. And the reason is, because I enjoy shooting and I enjoy reloading. Brass cased ammo costs $8 more per packet (if you know where to shop – $15 if you don’t). When thinking about the cost of the brass, I account for the fact that I get the value of one factory pack of ammunition regardless. In other words, the brass is costing me $8 per 20, even though the pack of ammo costs $25, because I shot $17 worth of factory stuff. I say $17 worth of shooting, because that’s what a box of Tula SPs would set you back.

So, I can expect to retain about 18 cases, and I might get 5 or so reloads out of them. Throw in the cost of primers and powder (which I use for other loads anyway), and projectiles. Now, this lot I’m going to reload with Hornady’s Z-Max. In 7.62×39 the Z-Max is a SST projectile, with a different coloured tip according to Nathan Foster – whose research I would definitely rely on.

Why the Z-Max? Firstly, let’s be honest, a green-tipped bullet kind of looks cool. But also, as Nathan’s research suggests, the SST or Z-Max round is probably one of the better choices of bullet for what the SKS is designed to do – wound effectively within a limited range. I could save a few cents per round by going for a soft point projectile from another manufacturer, but I’m keen to give the Hornady bullets a whirl.

As for the cost of the dies – well, hopefully that gets absorbed over time. If not – I’ll just have to shoot some more until they’ve paid for themselves.

SKS on bipod at the range.

SKS front sight tool

The SKS is an immensely popular rifle in New Zealand. Whether it’s for budget-conscious hunting or recoil-reduced plinking, there are plenty of reasons to have one or two of these fun-makers in your gun safe. However, if you’ve picked up your favourite communist rifle and found that the grouping is out, you’re going to need to invest in a front sight tool – something I’ve recently done. Here are my do’s and don’t of this process.

This is what you should do when buying a front sight tool

SKS front sight tool
As you can see I have filed down the inside edge of the tool to fit around the hooded front sight.

You should definitely shop around. How much are they at the gun store – 50 bucks? Forget that. Go to Quartermaster Supplies and pick one up for $20. Most tack-on accessories for milsurp rifles can be found there for cheap. I paid $28, including all tax and couriered to my work. Sure beats paying almost twice as much at some of the big-name stores, and wasting time and petrol too.

You will probably need to file down one edge of the tool. I think these would fit an AK-style rifle without it (don’t have one on hand to check), but you’ll definitely need to shave off one of the inside edges of the U-shaped device, so that it can accommodate the round post-protector ring. This took me all of 5 minutes with a file, and a quick sand to debur. Just one edge is fine – you can flip it around to adjust the other way.

Sighting in should be done with the FORS principle in mind. That is Front Opposite, Rear Same. If you move the front sight to the left, the point of impact shifts to the right. If you raise the post, the POI will move down. If that just doesn’t make sense, check out the video below. This guy explains it fairly well – and it’ll save me repeating myself.

This is what you should not do when buying a front sight tool for the SKS

Do not try and drift the sight across with a hammer and punch. I have – naively – tried this, and not only is it frustrating, but you’ll soon end up with scuffs all over your bluing and you probably won’t move it much in the end. Spend the $28 – it’s worth it.

Don’t adjust your front sight while the gun is loaded. Seriously. Load one round at a time when sighting in if you have to, but don’t put your hand near the dangerous end of the rifle, and your body or face over the action when it’s loaded. Doesn’t that just sound like a recipe for disaster? The best safety is an empty chamber.

Don’t try and sight it in alone, unless you want a long and frustrating day at the range. Get someone on a spotting scope telling you where you’re impacting – it’s easier, and it’s always nice to have company.

You shouldn’t assume one shot is enough to determine where the rifle is shooting. I prefer to shoot a group of two or three before adjusting iron sights on a rifle like this at 100 or 200 yards. If it was a scoped target rifle on a bipod, with a more accurate round, then yes, one shot would be enough to figure out where to move your POA.

And lastly, don’t sight in with your plinking ammo and expect it to be spot-on with your good stuff. Sight in with the ammo you need to be most accurate with. The difference isn’t much, but the SKS can sometimes need all the help it can get when it comes to extracting every last bit of accuracy out of it. At least most bullets are of a similar weight and diameter when it comes to the SKS, so there won’t be a great deal of difference.

Corrosive ammo in SKS/AK47

The SKS will outlive us all. There’s no question about it, Simonov created a carbine that will stand the test of time. Unfortunately – it just didn’t stand the test of the Soviet military. Well, not for long anyway, as its Kalashnikov cousin – the AK47 – soon took over. While its history is long and interesting, this post is concerned with the modern day application of the SKS with military surplus ammunition.

As much as the Soviets may have swiftly moved on to bigger and better (and more automatic) things, there are military forces all over the world that have made good use of the robust and reliable SKS. It’s been produced by Eastern Bloc countries and a host of Asian nations to the tune of around 15 million rifles, and has featured in many major armed conflicts. The rugged and forgiving construction of the rifle, ease of maintenance and affordability and abundance of ammunition means it will be around for a while longer with insurgent, rebel and militia factions all over the world. It’s also these three factors that keep it popular among sporting users such as hunters, plinkers and those prepping for the zombie apocalypse.

Benefits of milsurp ammo for the modern shooter

$$$ Military surplus ammunition is cheap and plentiful. If you live in the USA where importers bring in entire containers of disused Soviet arms to sell on to a willing public. Otherwise, it’s about as cheap as the cheapest commercial stuff.

Hungarian 7.62x39 from 1961 (copper wash) and 1971 (lacquer)
Hungarian 7.62×39 from 1961 (copper wash) and 1971 (lacquer)

Long shelf life If you’re storing ammo for “one day” the long shelf life of milsurp ammo probably gets you all excited. I’ve put some Hungarian ammo through my SKS that was head-stamped with 1961 and 1971 dates of manufacture. It went bang.

Steel casings This is a plus or minus, depending on how you look at it. If you’re after some cheap and cheerful time at the range, steel casings keep the cost of your ammo down (whether commercial or milsurp ammo) and also mean you don’t have to scour the range looking for your brass (which the SKS happily ejects in every direction known to man). Of course you’re a good range user who cleans up after themselves anyway, right?

Drawbacks of milsurp ammo for the modern shooter

It’s dirty But then again, if you’re looking at surplus ammunition, chances are the only other stuff you feed your SKS or AK is the cheapest factory fare, which is not much better.

It’s corrosive Well, no need to freak out about that one – we all know that military ammo in 7.62×39 is corrosive. So is 7.62x54R and a lot of 303 British too. Anything that’s been around as long as your father is probably corrosive.

However, all is not lost for the milsurp shooter on a budget. The chrome-lined bore of your rifle protects your barrel from nasty corrosive primer detritus. But the action, gas tube and magazine should still receive a thorough birthday after shooting corrosive ammo.

It’s FMJ Full metal jacket ammo is fine on the range, but it’s no good for hunting. It won’t create enough of a wound channel to quickly and humanely dispatch your game. Species commonly hunted with this round include small deer, goats, wild sheep and pigs. You don’t want an angry boar charging you down because you’ve put a pin hole through its lung. For those that keep spam cans of milsurp ammo next to their crate of SKS rifles ready to arm the family when the rebellion starts, FMJ isn’t your go-to either for the same reasons.

It’s tracer or steel core Tracer is sure fun to shoot, but the novelty wears off after you’ve emptied one or two mags. It’s also very hard to shoot because most ranges (quite reasonably) don’t want you to set their butts on fire. Same goes for forests or other hunting areas – not a good idea. Steel core again, is shunned by many ranges and also causes over-penetration on game and targets. If you’re buying milsurp ammo, try and avoid these two types of ammunition.


For hunting, plinking or “target shooting” with an SKS or AK-style rifle, milsurp ammo doesn’t offer many benefits that make the extra hassle worthwhile. I still have some lying around and will definitely let rip on a range trip if it’s just taking up room in my safe, but I wouldn’t go out to buy milsurp ammo specifically. If you look around and do some digging on the interwebs, chances are you can pick up some cheap commercially produced ammo for the same price as ex-military stuff. While it won’t be any more accurate or clean, it won’t get you in trouble at the range or rust out the gas tube on your rifle.

7.62x39 on stripper clips, ready for use in an AK47, NHM90 or SK
7.62×39 on stripper clips, ready for use in an AK47, NHM90 or SKS.