The home of long range target shooting in South Africa


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Early Origins:

On 6th April 1652 Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape where he established a settlement and eventually built a castle.

On Monday, 5th August 1686, instructions were issued from the Castle, detailing the rules and regulations of a shooting competition to be held at Stellenbosch from the 1st to the 14th October, 1686. This is the first reference to an organised sports event in South Africa.

The origin of the shoot comes from Middle Age Europe when parrots, geese and probably other birds were used as targets for shooting events at village fairs. Later clay and wooden replicas were used instead of live birds and it seems obvious that Governor Simon van der Stel had this tradition in mind when he introduced the "papegaij" as the target to be used.

This proclamation from the Castle would give the citizens an opportunity to exercise their firearm skills and so encourage a state of military readiness in the event of any requirement in this direction. T

he rules of the match were numerous and fairly complex. The entry fees were 2 shillings (about 10 current South African cents) for locals from Stellenbosch and 1 Rixdaalder (40c) for others, whilst there were several prizes for shooting off various parts of the parrot's body.

The person who eventually shot down the body itself received a prize of 25 Rixdaalders (about 10 SA Rand) together with entry fees and other emoluments, and was escorted home by all the competitors.

Of course, skill-at-arms competitions were also regular features amongst the indigenous peoples of South Africa. Fullbore shooting therefore claims to be the oldest organised sport in South Africa, and SABU grew from these origins.

Onwards to SABU:

It was, however, only since the beginning of the 20th century that rifle shooting in South Africa was placed on a somewhat organised footing. Rifle clubs were formed in the different provinces, regional and inter-town meetings were organised and technical improvements to both rifles and ammunition made target shooting in this country a most popular sport, drawing supporters from all quarters.

Since the days when the Brown Bess muzzle loader was used as a target rifle on several ranges in South Africa, followed by the breech-loading Enfield and the useful Martini Henry, fullbore rifles have undergone great technical changes. Today, with the conventional and magnificent .303 service rifle having being replaced by the remarkable 7,62 sporting rifles, rifle shooting is still a popular recreational activity in the sporting field all over the world.

How Old is SABU?

SABU has four "birthdays" and opinion is divided on the date which should be regarded as its official birthday.

14th April, 1928. At a meeting chaired by Major-General Brink, the decision was made to recommend to the Minister of Defence that autonomous provincial associations be abolished and be replaced by the South African National Rifle Association.

1st July, 1928. After accepting the recommendations of the meeting held on the 14th April, the Minister of Defence issued instructions for the formation of the South African national Rifle Association, effective from 1st July, 1928.

16th January, 1929. The first official Council Meeting of the South African National Rifle Association was held and officials appointed.

7th October, 1929. The first National Championships under the control of the South African National Rifle Association were held in Cape Town.

18th August, 1930. The second National Championships were held in Bloemfontein.
Based on popular vote SABU turned 50 on 1st July, 1978 or on 16th January, 1979.


As early as 1905 Robert Bodley, probably South Africa's greatest marksman of all times, won the Daily Telegraph Cup at Bisley, England. In 1912, a South African team, captained by Robert Bodley, won the Colonial Prize at Bisley.

In 1920, the South African team, again led by Robert Bodley, won the coveted Kolapore Cup with a record score of 1 111 points.

This team also competed in the Olympic Games in Antwerp and was engaged in a terrific struggle against the American team in the long-range shoot for the World Championships. The two teams tied at the end of the match. A shoot off was called for and again the two teams were level pegged. A second shoot off was ordered. A big crowd gathered behind the contestants and excitement rose to fever pitch as first South Africa and then America took the lead. The Americans eventually won the match. The SA Team won the Diploma of Merit.

In 1924 Dave Smith took a South African team to Bisley, England, and the Olympic Games in Paris. The members of this team wore green blazers with a Springbok as badge on the pocket. Until recently, this blazer was the official wear for Springbok marksmen in South Africa. (It has now been replaced by the new South African Protea colours.) The 1924 team really put South Africa on the world shooting map. They won the Kolapore Cup, the Mackinnon Cup and the Colonial Prize at Bisley.

In 1928 the South African National Rifle Association was formed in Bloemfontein and in 1929 the first South African Bisley (National Championships) was held in Cape Town and yearly thereafter, alternately in Bloemfontein, Johannesburg and Pietermaritzburg. This pattern was followed until 1937 when the venue became centralised in Bloemfontein. The only exceptions were 1971 when the National Championships were again held in Cape Town on the (then) new Van der Stel Rifle Range at Bellville and 1994 to 1996, when the General De Wet Rifle Range at Bloemfontein was unavailable due to military commitments and the Championships consequently were held at Pretoria, Cape Town and Kimberley.

In 1936 SABU sent its first Springbok team overseas to Bisley. The members of that team - L.D. Busschau, J.E. Johnson, and the brilliant Robert Bodley (the captain of the team) - astounded the shooting world by capturing the first three places, in the order mentioned, in the prestige match of the Bisley, the King's Prize. J.E. Johnson, in a practice match shortly after the arrival of the team, shot a possible 105, the first Springbok marksman to achieve this. The team won the Mackinnon Cup (900 and 1000 yards) and was beaten by 9 points by England in the team match for the Kolapore Cup.
The first international shooting contest in South Africa itself took place on the Hamilton Range in Bloemfontein on 22 November 1937. It was a three-cornered contest and South Africa, captained by Robert Bodley, won the match with a score of 1 601 points to Southern Rhodesia's 1 587 and Great Britain's 1 571 points.

In 1938 a Springbok team visited Australia and New Zealand, the first and only SA team until 1995 to go "down under". In an international match on the Anzac Range, New South Wales, the Springbok team was beaten by Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. A few weeks later, on the Trentham Range in Wellington, New Zealand, South Africa made amends by beating New Zealand by 26 and Britain by 30 points. Australia did not compete.

With the Second World War intervening, the first Springbok team after 1938 was only chosen in 1952. This team, captained by Gen. F.L.A. Buchanan, won the Kolapore Cup at Bisley. This was South Africa's third win in four attempts. Since 1952 South Africa has competed five times in this match but has been unsuccessful in winning it again.
A year later the first Springbok team visited Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) beating the home side in the Rhodes Centenary Match in a count out. Since then Rhodesia and South Africa regularly clashed on the shooting range, South Africa winning 10 of the 18 Rhodes Centenary Matches in which the two countries participated.

The second three-cornered international match in South Africa took place in 1963 on the Hamilton Range. This was a very evenly contested match in which all three participants, South Africa, Rhodesia and Great Britain, had their moments at various stages of the match. South Africa eventually won by a single point, scoring 1 487 to Britain's 1 486 and Rhodesia's 1 467 points.

In 1956, 1960 and 1964 a Springbok team competed at Bisley in England, winning the Overseas Matches in 1956 and 1960 and the Mackinnon Cup in 1964. The last Springbok team to visit England before sports isolation was imposed on South Africa was that of 1967, which was captained by Brig W.A. Lombard. The Springboks again won the Overseas Match and took second place in the Mackinnon and third place in the Kolapore matches. The team, however, won the Dominion Match (combined totals in the Overseas, Mackinnon and the Kolapore matches).

With the advent of the new RSA rifle and thanks to better sporting-type rifles in general, which were used for the first time in South Africa during the 1971 National Championships at Cape Town, record totals began tumbling headlong. In 1972 South Africa, shooting in Salisbury, shattered the spectacular Rhodes Centenary Match record of 1845 points by a staggering 81 points.

Arguably the last major international match in South Africa before isolation deepened was the 1974 Palma Match, during which South Africa comfortably beat the visiting teams from the USA, Rhodesia and Canada.

Since the normalisation of the political situation in South Africa, commencing in the early 1990s, South African fullbore shooting has returned to proper international competition, having survived on matches against composite and invitation teams in the intervening years. The new era was introduced by the visit of a British Goodwill Team to South Africa in 1992 and a Great Britain Team in 1993. Both were beaten in test matches at the new General de Wet Rifle Range at Bloemfontein, but the latter team turned the tables in Harare in May 1993 by beating the SA touring side into second place (Zimbabwe and Malawi also competing).

The SA Rifle Team to Bisley in July 1993 was fairly successful, winning the Overseas Match and coming second in the Kolapore, which also ensured a first place in the Dominion Match. Pieter Burger became the first ever competitor to score a possible 100 in the Mackinnon test match.

The 1995 SA Palma Team to New Zealand started off well, with third and second places in the New Zealand and Australia test matches, but its inexperience of the modern format of the Palma Match showed with a fifth place out of the eight teams competing. In January 1997, a SA Rifle Team visited Australia for the first time in 59 years, competing in Perth and the Tasmanian Centennial Queen's Prize Meeting.

Various teams from South Africa and its neighbours Namibia and Zimbabwe regularly compete against each other, with individuals from Malawi, Swaziland and Zambia also attending the SA National Championships at times. In 1996, SABU was proud to receive the first ever fullbore team to have toured from Malaysia at the SA National Championships in Kimberley.

The 20th century ended on a high note for SABU, with the successful hosting - at Bloemfontein - of the largest World Championships of International Long Range Rifle Shooting ever, and South Africa wining the coveted Palma Trophy in the teams match. The lessons learnt and hard work put in since the return from isolation finally paid dividends with a hard-fought victory under Captain Anton van Graan, with Willem Botha achieving the highest personal score of 892 out of 900 points.

The World Veterans Championship was held concurrent with the 1999 SA and World Long Range Championships with South Africa coming second to the USA.
From 2000 onwards, international tours to and from South Africa continue apace, with the annual SA Open Championships becoming a destination of choice for many international shooters.

The Free Rifle (F Class) discipline became well-established in South Africa from 2000. The official formation of the SABU F Class Club took place on 21 February 2003. The first Chairperson of the SABU F Class Club is Mrs Cherryll van Niekerk. The SA F Class team won the bronze medal at the first ever F Class World Championships held in Canada, 2002. In 2005 the F Class World Championships were presented in Bloemfontein following the South African Championships and the SA F Class team won the gold medal.

Since 2002, a new class started shooting bisley style. Due to limited number of 303 shottists competing, the first 303 SA Championships were presented concurrent with the Annual Western Province Bisley in Cape Town in September 2004. At the South African National Championships in Bloemfontein in April 2005, an official 303 Class Bisley Club was founded and Johan de Beer was elected chairman. The SABU Council adopted the constitution in August 2005.

SABU has had representatives in the SA teams to the 1994, 1998 and 2002 Commonwealth Games, achieving success in 2002 when Peter Bramley and David Dodds won silver medals in the Fullbore Pairs event, and David silver in the Fullbore Individual match.

In July 2003 at Bisley, South Africa achieved the following successes: -

* Eddie Stigant won the Veterans Individual World Championship.
* The South African Veterans Team won the bronze medal in the Veterans World
* Team Championship.
* The South African Protea Team won the McKinnon Team Match.
* The South African Protea (Palma) Team won the bronze medal in the World
* Long Range Team Championships (Palma Match).