EXCLUSIVELY FOR THE WEB | 5 March 2020 | PROFILE
Age is just a number for this champion
Any other 82-year-old might sit on his stoep reminiscing about better days or discussing his last doctor’s visit, but not Brian Digby. For him, age is just a number. Not only does he still actively participate in target shooting, but in recent years he travelled to Bisley in the UK and came back with cups, medals, and a few firsts for South Africa.
This self-employed builder and target-shooting enthusiast from Eshowe in KwaZulu-Natal has been involved in Bisley shooting locally, provincially and nationally since 1990. He had been part of the Natal A-team, the national Honoris Team and, since 1997, has been included in the South African Veterans Team (over 60-years of age). He was a member of the SA veterans’ team that went to Ottawa, Canada, 2007, where they won a bronze medal in the World Championship.
He regularly attends the SA Open Championship in Bloemfontein and it was at this event that he chanced upon an opportunity to make his biggest shooting dream come true – competing at Bisley in the United Kingdom.
In April 2018, the British Army Rifle Team visited the Eshowe rifle range as part of their tour before the SA Open Championship. They told Brian that if he ever visited Bisley they will welcome him, and just then he decided to go. He travelled there in July of the same year to shoot at the big Imperial Meeting, where there were over 800 competitors from around the world.
Brian on the Century range at 300 yards at Bisley, UK.
Brian with the Chairman's Cup that he won at age of 81.
Shooters in action at 600 yards on the Century range at Bisley, UK.
His new British Army friends made him a temporary member of their club and arranged accommodations for him in their clubhouse. He proceeded to take part in a pre-tournament shoot, the British Army Championships, where he finished second and also came second in their Woods Cup.
But Brian’s shining moment at Bisley was during the Imperial Meeting where he won the Chairman’s Match (15 shots to count at 900 and 1000 yards each) by 3 points. By winning the Chairman’s Trophy he believes he achieved two South African firsts: the first SA shootist to win this trophy and also the oldest South African to do so. In fact, he is one of the oldest SA shooters to ever attend Bisley. When he was there in 2018 there were only 15 other contestants from around the world who were older than 80, the oldest being 95.
Brian returned to Bisley in 2019, again being one of just a handful over-eighties to take part.
It seems there is no stopping this octogenarian. At last year’s SA Open Championships in Bloemfontein he was preparing to shoot in an eight-man veterans’ team at 900 yards, when his heart started to act up. He fired 15 shots, before collapsing and a doctor was called. He admitted that he doesn’t remember the shots, but despite this, he still shot the highest team score – 74.8 out of 75.15.
However, Brian’s first love will always be Bisley: “I love the challenge of Bisley. I shoot Target Class, which is single shot, with peep sights. This means that I do not use a telescope, and the rifle is supported only by a heavy-duty sling around my upper arm. I feel that this is true rifle shooting, as one has to hold the rifle absolutely steady at ranges of up to 1000 yards, judge the wind readings and let off up to 15 perfect shots time after time.”
Brian's 7.62 target rifle.
Brian has three target-type rifles. The oldest one is a .303 converted to the standard calibre of .308/7.62 Bisley calibre. His other two competition rifles have 30-inch stainless steel barrels, and are single shot only with precise triggers, set to light pressure.
“My best rifle is the one (7.62 target rifle) which I took to Bisley. It is 30 years old and I bought it from the estate of Tony Scates who also took part at Bisley, UK, with it. The rifle is nearly as tall as I am.
“The peep sights are highly precise, with 4 clicks to a minute, vertical and horizontal movement on the target. The bull’s-eyes are about 2 minutes across. So, I can actually adjust my shots within the bull’s-eye, which is necessary to compete at top level. The peep sights are iris types, front and rear, with colour filters used in the rear sight, and eagle-eye magnifiers, up to .5 magnification, allowed in the foresight. I need them for my not-so-young eyes.
“We shoot 155-grain boat-tailed bullets for international standards, and accuracy. I do my own hand-loading, as commercial ammo is expensive and not accurate enough for top-level shooting.”
Brian seems to just get better with age (he is even his local rifle club’s secretary), so what is left for him to do?
“I think I’ve reached my ceiling. There is not much more that I can do, but one day, I’ll get a perfect score, with all my shots in the V-bull ring (70mm in diameter, the size of a soft-drink tin). I have nearly done that three times.
“It would be nice to again be part of a team that travels to an overseas competition, but we in the veterans’ class have to watch our bank accounts. To send a team overseas is a very expensive operation. I may also not be able to go back to Bisley in the UK. It was great, but the financial cost was enormous.
“However, I will keep on shooting for as long as I can do so. I also try to help newcomers to enjoy it, because Bisley shooting is great!”