Comment: The No.8 replacement is good – but is end of an era

23 March 2016 – The purchase of Savage Arms’ FVT to replace the venerable .22″ No.8 Enfield in cadet service is good for the future of cadet shooting, though a bad one for the British (and Continental) firearms industry.

Sources tell UKSN that a “surprisingly” high number of manufacturers entered the competition for the new rifle, and it’s disappointing that the chosen product is American and not British.

It is a surprise that one of Germany’s long-established firms, such as Anschütz or Feinwerkbau, didn’t win the contract. Anschütz in particular is the beginning and end of modern precision smallbore target rifles in the UK, and offers a range of junior training rifles which can mount the most advanced accessories in addition to the basic items required by the cadets.

From the top of my head, I can’t think of any British companies that make new .22″ bolt action rifles – or a British rifle company that could produce 10,000 rifles in a year. Accuracy International might have been able to produce a high quality product but what the cadets need is quantity, not quality.

Accessorising is now possible

UKSN predicts a small market will grow for accessories designed specifically for these rifles, in much the same way as Parker Hale provided after-market sights for the No.8.

(Incidentally, how many cadet units these days realise that the PH5D and 8/53 sights on their No.8s actually belong to their units and not the MoD? All those items were approved for fitting but privately purchased. Take them off your rifles now, before they’re withdrawn – tell the armourers to put service sights back on; the parts for those are still in the system – and you could easily raise £150-£200 per PH5D unit if you sell them off.)

The rifle will be capable of mounting a rail of some sort (update: no it isn’t!) and it’s not hard to buy a rail online and fit it with a screwdriver. Will we see cadet units fitting scopes and entering lightweight sporting rifle competitions? Perhaps, though it’s very unlikely. UKSN thinks the notoriously risk-averse MoD will probably ban the use of all civilian sights other than the issued ones.

In stock and on target

While the wooden stock of the Savage is a nice choice on aesthetic grounds, it makes little sense from a maintenance and support standpoint: modern military armourers simply aren’t trained in woodworking as armourers of old, who also maintained the .303″ No.4 rifle, were. That said, the 7.62mm L81A2 target rifle is a wooden-stocked rifle maintained by contractors – it features modern composite bedding – so perhaps the UK-spec FVT will go down that route, too.

Changes the new rifle will make to the cadet marksmanship syllabus are not yet known. What we do know is that things like grouping standards probably won’t change: the No.8 barrel was a masterpiece of the rifle designer’s art, thanks to its heavy profile and tapered rifling; despite around a million rounds fired over 65 years the vast majority of No.8s are still capable of grouping within ¾” at 25yds. Off-hand, it would be a severe test of shooting ability even with a modern rifle to group tighter than that.

An issued rifle capable of being used with modern targetry, rather than tin hat targets copied from half a century ago in the days when everyone used blade sights and .303s, may help cadet shooting align itself to civilian shooting again. Making cadet shooting relevant to the modern age is vitally important – as is helping cadets take the sport up in the civilian world.

With the new rifle cadets could even compete in civilian competitions alongside civilian shooters, if ministers continue ordering MoD pen-pushers to stop obstructing cadet shooting.

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