At last - Paul wins Queen's Shoot

PRECISION: Paul Savage displays his Swiss-made rifle with which he won his title in South Australia. He makes his own cartridges for the firearm.

PRECISION: Paul Savage displays his Swiss-made rifle with which he won his title in South Australia. He makes his own cartridges for the firearm.

Paul Savage lay in wait like a cobra, his rifle coiled within a specially-made sling.

Gently squeezing the trigger – bang – he fired off bullseye number 85 out of 90 shots.

After 30 years of trying, the Port Pirie marksman won the Queen’s Shoot, the highest individual award in South Australia.

“You sort of go into a trance while aiming at the target because we have to stay so still,” he said at his home on Weeroona Island.

“We use a sling on the rifle that holds the firearm up, together with your skeletal mass – if it is set up properly, it won’t move.

“The Lower Light venue is one of the difficult ranges in Australia.”

Fittingly, Mr Savage was treated like royalty after winning the premier shoot.

Holding his rifle, he sat in a custom-built chair that was carried by bearers into the presentation area where he received his Queen’s badge.

In keeping with the heritage of the event, a bagpiper heralded his arrival. “It was a bit surreal,” he said.

There is a great sense of history involved with the Queen’s, but that is typical of the sport – shooting is steeped in connections and traditions.

“The Port Pirie club was founded about 1880 and is one of the oldest in South Australia,” he said.

“I became involved in 1972 through my woodwork teacher Geoff Howland who was at Port Pirie Technical High School.

“In those days you could go out and shoot rabbits, but now they think you are a mass-murderer if you shoot rabbits.

“I was aged 14 when I joined the club and was mentored by a huge amount of people because I was the youngest member and they were really old – in their 40s!

I was aged 14 when I joined the club and was mentored by a huge amount of people because I was the youngest member and they were really old – in their 40s!

Paul Savage. Queen's title-holder

“Anyone can do it. There is one shooter aged 95 and people in wheelchairs, woman and a 14-year-old from New South Wales.

“I am happy to say that my fellow clubman Jake Stauwer won the Queen’s in 2011.

“There is huge history surrounding the event. It is known as the Queen’s while Queen Elizabeth is reigning.

“Angus Bain, of Napperby, won it in 1933 with a score of 333. He was my mentor when I started with the rifle club.

“Every town had a rifle range back in the day. When Don Bradman became famous, he was called the ‘Perc Pavey of Cricket’ because Pavey, of Victoria, was the greatest rifle-shooter in the world.”

With his love of rifles, Mr Savage was once keen to join the military.

“I put in for an apprentice carpenter role at Portsea in the early 1970s, but you had to be a wizard at maths,” he said.

“I have always wanted to be in the military because I love firearms. In those days, everyone had a rifle. My Dad used to keep boxes of bullets in the sock drawer. He got rid of his rifle when I became too inquisitive.”

Later, when he was old enough, Mr Savage used go with his mates to shoot foxes and sell their skins.

“I didn’t like the blood. I didn’t like shooting things any more. I was more of a ‘greenie’ than people who want to do that sort of thing,” he said.

As a self-sufficient sportsman, Mr Savage makes his own bullets for competition.

“There is no better sport in the world for friendship … it doesn’t matter whether you are a garbage man, lawyer or politician. It is just like a family,” he said.

Mr Savage is the 2015 Sportsperson of the Year and that year represented Australia in competition in the United States.

His magnificent firearm was imported from Switzerland where “every person has a rifle”. “They have the lowest crime rate in the world. I think every man, woman and child has to go into national service every couple of years,” he said.

“It is the only country that has never been involved in a war.” 

The rifle weighs 5.7 kilograms and is a single-shot .308 bolt-action weapon.

“Rifles have not changed. They have just become a bit smarter,” Mr Savage said.

“When I started, we just had the same ammunition as a ‘grunt’ had when he went to the Vietnam War.”

At this point his wife Deb commented: “He makes bullets; I paint. We are very happy living in our shack, doing our thing.”

She recalled the “armchair” ride that the regal bearers gave her husband.

“I was crying. I didn’t even like rifle-shooting when he started,” she said.

Mr Savage, when he is not making cartridges, is busy building a stone wall outside his shack on the island.

The couple has a beautiful view of the sea and, in the distance, Port Pirie with the smelter’s stack dominating the skyline.

It is a far cry from the hallowed ground of Bisley in the United Kingdom where the biggest shoot in the world is contested.

The program features a brass band that marches ahead of the winner who is adored by thousands of fans.

“It has been happening for 200 years,” Mr Savage said.

The champion marksman has already been mooted as being on target for his second Sportsperson of the Year trophy, surely another treasured bullseye.