EXTREME LONG RANGE SHOOTING STORY – MEET BILL TATHAM
EXTREME LONG RANGE SHOOTING IN THE MEDITERRANEAN
Extreme long range shooting with the 33XC cartridge enables Bill Tatham to conquer Extreme Shot Italia III out to 2000meters.
October was the month of EXTREME SHOT ITALIA III, one of the up and coming light ELR matches in Europe shot in Sicily out to 2000m /2187yards with .338 cartridges. With live streaming and international running commentary, Extreme Shot Italia raised a lot of interest. In a country like Italy where spectator sports are very popular, we quickly noticed this was being watched by some 40,000 viewers worldwide over those 3 days.
We also some new faces to the podium, our friend Bill Tatham whose determination and data gathering marathons paid off big time seeing him in the lead at the 1 mile run and also at the 2000meter stand securing his 1st Place together with his spotter Godfrey Pisani who did a great job together keeping those rounds faithfully on the 70x80cm plate even at 2000meters. Today we meet Bill for a head to head interview.
We originally met Bill Tatham a few years back at Bisley Ranges UK, one of the first shooting ranges I had the pleasure to visit and shoot at for a few years and which provided much of my rifle shooting formation back in the UK. Bill is also a members of the Artists Rifles club at Bisley, a fervent NRA supporter and ex British Army man who later went on into finance after leaving the army. He is one of the most passionate rifle shooters that I know, consistently pursuing his passion and drive for rifle shooting, handloading and getting the absolutely best kit and training he can find as well as sharing this info with us. That makes him a special shooter in my books. He also has a meticulous data gathering process and has an excel sheet for about everything in his life especially his rifles.
Bill’s Accuracy International Rifle setup during load development in Sicily. Italy.
Most competitors in Extreme long range shooting come from other disciplines, what I call feeder disciplines. Some come from Fclass where their meticulous approach to handloading, ammo testing and building very precise rifles lends itself well to ELR. Others come from tactical or PRS where at some point, taking longer shots have triggered a keen interest in Extreme long range shooting. Moreover, the lack of flags on PRS type stages makes these feeder disciplines great preparation for ELR. They are also disciplines that push the shooters and their equipment into various shooting stages which I believe mentally prepares them for the game of ELR. ELR shooting involves exceptional knowledge of handloading and testing practices, in depth knowledge of rifle systems and optics, huge wide open spaces which carry no flags as well as excellent communication practice between shooter and spotter. Unlike Fclass and PRS, the intro of the spotter makes this a two men job and therefore a team work. It is also one of the more costlier disciplines in the shooting world given the highly specialized equipment, ammunition requirements, optics as well as the need to travel long distances to shoot long distance.
TARGETS at Extreme Shot Italia III, Extreme Long Range shooting competition
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Bill lives in Malta, a small independent island state, an archipelago of 3 very small islands just south of Italy popular for remote financial services, software and digital economy which houses some of the biggest international tech and remote online casino companies in the world. Malta use to be a British colony till 1979. It changed its gun laws in 2004 when joining the European Union moving away from a very restrictive colonial gun laws to modern EU laws which favored and supported the use of target shooting. This gives a common framework for EU shooters to travel and practice across different borders similar to a US shooter moving across states with his firearms.
The lack of shooting facilities on the islands is offset by the proximity to Sicily which provides ample shooting spaces due to its highly rural environment as well as widespread love affair with firearms. Sicily is also the largest island in the Mediterranean and is home to Extreme Shot Italia ELR competition. Sicily is probably the only island in the Mediterranean with such Extreme Long Range shooting facility in a private setting.
(editor’s Note) When I visited the North Western Region of Trapani, an idyllic region on the coast surrounded by some of the most amazing seaside towns and villages, I was amazed by the open spaces and the possibility to run an ELR competition there. That was the ‘aha’ moment and from then on together with the help of 4 other Sicilians, we got the ball rolling to enable Extreme Shot Italia to take off and provide shooters the possibility to train, practice and compete in a friendly environment. This is the only private range in Italy at the moment where 2000m can be practiced and we are committed to see it grow. we are expecting a great turn out for Extreme Shot Italia IV (45 teams) It is a beautiful thing to see that Sicily is helping new shooters get into ELR, this year we received shooters from Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, France, Italy, Malta, Germany, Switzerland, Lithuania and the United Kingdom. Most of these countries have something going at inception stages and visitors like these are crucial for the discipline to grow this side of the pond.
HIT STATS 1640m – 1 Mile plate.
Remember these are for 29 teams under timed conditions of 12mins.
Shot 1 – 14%
Shot 2 – 31%
Shot 3 – 41%
Shot 4 – 34%
Shot 5 – 48%
HIT STATS 2000m FINALS –
These stats were collected across the top 10 shooters/spotters that made it to the 2000m final stage on Sunday.
Shot 1 – 0%
Shot 2 – 20% (2 shooters)
Shot 3 – 10% (1 shooter)
Shot 4 – 30% (3 shooters)
Shot 5 – 20% (2 shooters)
Bill Tatham and Godfrey on Day One from 500m to 1300m
Bill Tatham on Day Two from 1400m – 1640 Meters
Bill Tatham + Godfrey Pisani Live at 2000m
Commentary: Jay Dvorsky and Nicola Salvador from Armeria Regina.
Notice the Adjustable bag rider here.
How did you get into Extreme Long Range shooting, which line of the shooting sports did you come from before moving to ELR?
I fell into the discipline purely by accident because some of my other fellow shooters in Malta expressed interest in ELR. Previously I shot competitively at Bisley at 1000 yards full-bore and at greater distances (1500m) on some of the military ranges available to shooting clubs in the UK.
Which are the most important ELR matches in the US today in your view?
I would guess Ko1M & Ko2M but I am not that familiar yet.
Have you won any ELR matches you can share with us?
Extreme Italia III 1 Mile & 2000m competitions.
Below: An afternoon training session in the hot and dry landscape of Sicily in the Summer months where temperatures soar above 40 Degrees Celcius or 100 + Fahrenheit.
How often do you practice shooting beyond 1500m and what’s your favorite training round?
4 times a year at Trapani in Sicily.
Which one of these describes you best?*
How important is the spotter when making these Extreme Long Range shots?
Very important as depending on the conditions, I cannot always accurately see all of my impacts. However I believe that control & primary responsibility rests with the shooter and not the spotter
Can you share one ELR experience that really got you going in the sport? (success stories, a moment you remember well or a training experience that you remember)
I am ex-military and like to collect and shoot military rifles. Since the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan most militaries have been emphasising long range sniping and have introduced larger more powerful rifles & calibres such as .338LM, enabling us as civilians to emulate this trend to shooting competitively over considerable distances, leading to my interest in ELR shooting!
Bill practicing in Trapani Sicily on a late summer afternoon with his 338Lapua Barrel.
What do you look for when you set out to build an ELR rifle?
I want a heavy military style platform, but with a high quality custom barrel & muzzle brake. Military rifles offer plenty of opportunity to attach accessories like the Speed Tracker, Adjustable Bag Riders etc.
What rifle are you currently running for 2-mile shooting and can you share some info about the rifle build?
Accuracy International AX Multi Calibre MK II with a Bartlein 33″ barrel in 33XC with a Terminator muzzle brake.
Below: A barrel chambered in 33XC in a Desert Tech SRS A2 making it a compact offering the same size of this Surgeon Rifles in 308Winchester.
Bedding: Is the barrel bedded forward of the action or is it the action only?
No the action is not bedded ,although the action is bonded to the chassis.
Which scope are you using for ELR?
6-36×56 Schmidt & Bender PM II
How far out can you get with your setup before mounting a prism device?
This must be Bill’s 5th Accuracy International Rifle in 300 Lapua Magnum.
How do you dial in the elevation required for 2 mile shots?
Zero offset system + dialing in
Adjustable mount plus dialing in
Adjustable base + dialing in
Offset, dial and holdover
Are you using an offset Zero system at 100m?
What do you look for when picking a barrel for this sport, how important is velocity and barrel length for you?
I prefer Bartlein barrels and want one long enough to ensure 100% powder burn but not excessively long due to the weight strain on the action.
Above – 1MOA target at 1200m proved to be one of the most challenging shots during the entire string of competition.
Do you anneal your brass and if so how often?
Do you find yourself trimming your brass regularly on these big calibers?
I anneal brass after every shot but only trim cases if absolutely necessary.
What’s your bullet of choice and how do you test your loads? Short range tests, long range group test, (ladder testing, round robin, any other method?)
I use the Berger 300 grain Hybrid OTM which is widely available. Aside from a 10 round ladder test to identify suitable nodes and a test of groups at 100-300m, I do not do as much load testing as some of my colleagues.
What’s your powder of choice?
Do you change the charge weight of your loads in winter/summer to maintain the same velocity/node?
I have been using RS 80 for many years and regularly change the charge weight according to environmental conditions and barrel wear.
ELR rounds can be hard on barrels and wear out the throat pretty fast increasing freebore. Do you chase the lands to maintain the same bullet seating depth as the roundcount increases?
I change barrels before I have to chase lands
I prefer a long jump in my loads, so barrel wear has less impact on my loads.
Furthest Distance shot to date and how many rounds to connect?
2000m and it usually takes 1-3 shots to adjust.
33XC Cartridge Conquers the Sicilian Hills.
How many rounds do you get for competition before you dump that barrel?
33XC has a reputation as a real barrel burner but I am hoping to be able to get at least 650 accurate shots from my current barrel.
Do you use a mandrel to keep your neck tension consistent or bushing style dies?
Where do you see the sport heading? Do you feel we have more control over 1&2 miles shooting performance today from what you see at the matches?
We need more long distance ranges and more local/national competitions in Europe, but I feel that the sport has a very positive future because of the fun & challenges of shooting out to these extreme distances.