A comment on the Facebook UK Fullbore forum a while back interested me. A member of the forum commented that he couldn't stay competitive in fullbore because of cost, and he would be happy to see fully-adjustable stocks, right sights etc... banned from the sport. After some sober reflection, I disagree with his choice of examples, if not some of the sentiments expressed in his post. I do not believe that many of the flash new gadgets that are around have really increased accuracy and frozen out those who cannot afford them.
There is no doubt that costs are rising and it is putting people off the sport; however I don't think the problem is the equipment of shooting, rather I believe it to be the variable costs. Had he singled out increases in the cost of ammunition or targetry as having priced him out of the sport, then I would have agreed wholeheartedly. I don't believe that the equipment necessary to compete has fundamentally changed in at least a decade and you can still be competitive with largely second-hand kit.
I have seen little evidence that the use of an eagle eye leads to any reduction in group sizes for people of moderate or good eyesight (but if you've got some then I'd be very pleased to see it and will publicly revise my opinion on this blog.Either that or mercilessly demolish the analysis. One of the two.) I could be persuaded that they assist the seriously visually challenged. When I made comparisons about a decade ago, I found that my group size was unchanged when swapping between the two. I freely admit that these were not statistically significant as I didn't fire enough shots or perform any kind of detailed numerical analysis. I swapped to a 30mm foresight with a 0.5 Eagle Eye in 2010 because it enables me to have the target and a readable target number in the sight picture at the same time at long range. That said, perhaps I have just exchanged the occasional crossfire at long range for the occasional crossfire at the shorts as I did in the NZ Championships at Trentham in January because I now can't read the target numbers at this distance! A certain former World Long Range Champion and Commonwealth Games gold medallist is known for not using an eagle eye, as are a number of the other very top shots.
Similarly, I have serious doubts as to the advantages of having a fully-adjustable stock. They have been on the market since the late nineties (if not earlier) and yet I can't remember a single member of the World Championship-winning 2007 and 2011 Great Britain Palma Rifle Teams having used one and there are only one or two shooters on the 2015 Palma Team who use one. Similarly, only one of the people in the mix during Glasgow 2014 was using one. If there is some inherent advantage in having one of these, then it certainly isn't showing up at the top of the sport. I use a UK-made clone of a Mastin stock, not particularly cheap but less than half the price of a Gemini.
It is certainly true that without the right kit, you're not going to be competitive; however the kit required hasn't really changed significantly in a long time. I qualified for and shot in the 2006 and 2010 Commonwealth Games, as well as on the 2006, 2007 and 2011 Great Britain Rifle Teams using a second-hand Swing Mk. III in an original "paddle" stock. I do admit to having put a new set of RPA Trakker sights on the rifle when the time between backlash fixes became intolerably short, and my shift to a Barnard in 2012 came about because of worries about malfunctions and a lack of spare parts, rather than a lack of faith in the accuracy of my two Swing rifles.
Better optics? Not convinced here either. While I know of a lot of shooters who have spent a fortune on Leica scopes and fancy scope stands, there are still a decent number of people who operate very effectively with much cheaper options. Having said this, I do admit to having splashed the cash on a Kowa TSN821-M and Ewing prone rifle scope stand back in 2005, but I was living in Atlanta at the time and it cost me approximately half the price it would have in the UK (850 bucks vs. 850 quid when the dollar was 2:1 against the pound.) Up until then I used my father's 60mm scope and the folding stand he had an Bristol University smallbore club back in the sixties.
The one area where I have spent a lot of cash over the years and felt that is has made a difference is on shooting jackets. They are remarkably expensive and can have a quite an astounding effect on the accuracy of one's shooting. Again, though, it is not necessarily the case that a vast amount of money need be spent. Fit seems more important than the precise material, given the number of people who shoot year-in, year-out with delightfully antiquated canvas. An increasing number of people are having their existing jackets retailored by leather shops, tailors and shooting jacket specialists rather than buy new ones. Also jackets made of canvas and cordura are probably as good as those made of leather provided that they are correctly fitted. Even if you do choose to spend 400 odd quid on a custom-made leather jacket, provided that you don't put on or lose too much weight, there's a good chance that it will last you 5 years or more.
I don't think that it's possible to buy yourself medals in TR (yet) simply because the amount you need to spend to get the right kit is not that high and the odds are still immensely stacked in the favour of those with the skills. You still need to point it in the middle, hold it still and squeeze the trigger gently. Long may it continue.
Answers on a postcard please.