Helena and I are back in the saddle after a very different sort of Christmas break after being asked by an enthusiastic and well equipped group of hunters and target rifle shooters in Pakistan to attend the Fourth Nawab Shabbir Ahmed Chandio Long Range Shooting Competition, organised in honour of our host’s late father.
You know a trip is off to a good start when you are whisked from limo to business class lounge, to comfortable flights with great food and then you are met on wrong side of immigration control by your hosts and military men in peaked hats. We were fast-tracked through passport control, our bags were collected by minders and we stepped out into the warm Karachi sunshine and into our Land Cruisers, closely followed by our host’s security personnel. The steely eyed team piled into their truck, blue lights flashing and Kalashnikovs slung for the short trip, to our host’s Karachi residence and a quiet lunch and rest before our trip into the Sindh tribal areas.
Helena was quite overwhelmed by the VIP treatment. Having visited Pakistan twice before, I had an idea of what to expect; guests are considered a blessing and are treated royally in Islamic countries.
Our journey North, via Nawabsha to central Sindh and our host’s home area was a riot of colours, noise, new smells and life, every lorry painted brightly with images of flowers and partridges mixed among religious statements, decked with ribbons, polished chrome and multiple aerials. The journey was at times entertaining with horns blazing and lights flashing as our convoy dodged through the gauntlet of overtaking, road works and evening traffic. This is not a journey visitors can, or should, make by simply hiring a car and a sat nav, which made it all the more special.
The highway shrank to a two-lane road which reduced again to a single track in places as we neared the shooting area and farm on which our host’s compound is based. Horns blasted, guards stepped aside and the steel gates swung open to reveal a brightly lit and very comfortable set of buildings, with our room in the centre. It was 10pm and after refreshments and introductions we were told diner would be served at midnight, or soon after. Now we were really on “local time” and in the full embrace of this vibrant yet troubled country.
Our arrival in Pakistan was two days after the terrible massacre of school children in Peshawar, an incident our host, his family and friend’s condemned, and just as the three days of National Mourning started. Despite these terrible events, everyone we met was happy to see us, hugely hospitable and we never felt threatened in any way. On the contrary people were grateful that we had come to see Pakistan and look beyond the headlines at the reality of everyday life, which is very different from the bad news the media focuses on.
The five days before the shooting competition were filled with a mixture of providing training to our host’s son, brother and friends, answering innumerable questions about all aspects of shooting as well as zeroing some of our hosts many rifles and scopes. I am often reminded of the old saying “Fear the man with one gun.” Having many guns can dilute the capacity to focus on single solutions, actions, handling, trajectories and these factors make shooting under pressure more difficult.
It wasn’t all work though; we spent a day duck shooting on a massive lake, 40k long and 5-10k wide. Boatmen from a local fishing village punted us out to raised machans set out in the enormous reed beds, the home of countless duck of many species. Our spot was more flown over and around than into, hence my bag of 9 passing duck for perhaps 40 shots. The top gun took 96 for 200 odd shots which is good shooting by any standard. I can’t blame the gun as I borrowed, a Blaser F3 12b shooting local Shaheen cartridges with 32g No4 shot which went off with an impressive bang, bringing down a few spectacular duck.
On our return to the shore I was stunned to be presented with an enormous garland of fresh roses, a traditional Sindhi gift to an honoured guest. After the bag was laid out, picture taken and people thanked we were off to a feast at the local village with a fantastic array of local dishes to include barbequed duck, duck livers, curried fish from the lake, roasted goat including the brains and eyeballs for honoured guests and the ubiquitous roti bread to scoop it up with.
On the morning of the competition I was asked to participate myself, which I was of course happy to do. The Blaser LRS2 tactical .308 rifle I borrowed proved capable of shooting a two-inch group at 600 yards; sadly the group was in the wrong place and thanks to an unnoticed loose bipod I put in a couple of flyers which sealed my fate and meant I didn’t make it through to round two. Happily my young protégé, Monnium, shot a perfect 50 with a 2.5 inch group in exactly the right place despite a tricky wind while his uncle Burhan scored a 48 in the first round and two hits on the 850 yard Urial target in the second round to achieve second place.
Or, rather he would have done so if he had not drawn second equal with an astonishingly talented 14-year-old boy, also shooting a Blaser LRS2. Burhan then generously ceded 2nd place to the lucky lad who was later presented with the prize of a brand new Sauer 202 rifle. First prize was a Blaser LRS2, of course.
The day after the competition we drove up into the hills to look for Chinkara Antelope, had a chance at a Blandford Urial which did not bear fruit and ended the day with a splendid barbeque in the desert surrounded by villagers and goats, minus the one we ate. Christmas Day was spent back at the ranges zeroing scopes, sorting ballistics and going through a small portion of our hosts remarkable rifle collection.
All too soon it was time for the trip back to Karachi and our flights home. On the way back, I realised that in three trips to Pakistan, I had not been able or even allowed to spend a dollar of my own money, such was the generosity of my hosts. I return this as best I can when they visit the UK and come shooting with me at WMS but even so I am left blinking at the kindness and warmth of my hosts and friends on these trips. Now that Helena has experienced this first hand I can see we will be back, to do whatever we can to spread the good news about this remarkable country and its people and culture.