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Going full bore

Masterton resident and retired veterinarian John McLaren will fly to South Africa in March to compete as part of the New Zealand team at the long-range rifle world championships.

It will be far from a novelty for this veteran, who is in his 45th year representing his country in what he describes as a “friendly, lifelong sport” that has brought him accolades, adventure and “an international community of friends”.

Now in his mid-70s, McLaren was about seven years old when he first picked up a gun – a slug gun – “shooting into a target in front of a bookcase in the garden at home”.

He honed his skill as a schoolboy at Scott’s College in Wellington and then at university: “I just kept up with the sport, really,” he said.

Being chosen for the New Zealand long-range team in 1979 was a “really exciting” moment for McLaren “because there are lots of people around you who had vastly more experience, but you know, I was shooting really well and so I qualified to shoot”.

His 45-year unbroken membership with the team has taken him across the globe, including England [19 times], Canada, America and Australia, and bagged him one silver and five bronze medals.

“You meet marvellous people,” McLaren said. “I’ve got friends from all around the world that I team up with and meet. It’s a sport of affection and patience, but once you develop a skill in shooting, it’s quite competitive. You can comment with the shooter next door – you’re not trying to beat them, you’re not on either side of a net or anything. It is a friendly, lifelong sport.”

McLaren mastered long-range rifle shooting at the international level alongside running his busy Masterton veterinary practice, The Animal Hospital, and raising three children with his wife Jan.

“When I look back, I can’t believe how he could fit rifle shooting into the scenario plus three children and he was a good dad,” Jan said.

As a sole practitioner of his practice “he worked from dawn to dusk”, she said. “The phone went all day long. He was a one-man band. He was an old-fashioned vet, who’d go to Tinui to look at a cattle beast and then return to a waiting room full of small animals. And this was before cellphones, so then he’d get another call and have to go to Riversdale or something, all on the same day and he never complained. He just loved his job.”

For McLaren, how he fitted it all in is simple: “If you’re mad enough and have got passion enough, you make time,” he said.

“I would practise inside using a spot on the wall. It’s a matter of perfecting the technique to shoot and once you do that and you start competing, then it’s just in your blood. Your desire is such that you make time.”

Most recently, McLaren topped the leaderboard at Wairarapa’s open rifle championships for the 11th time in his competitive career.

Shooting with a large 7.62 calibre full-bore rifle, he scored an impressive 148/150 over distances of 800, 900 and 1000 yards, including 14 centrals [hitting the inner bull’s eye on the target].

The competition was held at Masterton Rifle Club’s new range at Longridge Rd in Wainuioru, which McLaren, with his friend Geoff Smith, helped establish.

“We got support from local farmers who brought the diggers; we had posthole borers. We dug the holes and we planted the posts. We set up the framework so that our target sits in front of drums full of rubber chips so our bullets, which are made of lead, stay inside the drums,” McLaren explained.

As well as contributing to the rifle shooting community, McLaren continues to keep up his veterinary skills.

“I am retired, but I still do some practice. I operated on a horse yesterday, for example.”

McLaren expects stiff competition at the world championships in South Africa’s judicial capital, Bloemfontein, where he will compete in individual and team contests: “We’ll be very lucky” to bring home silverware, he said.

But with nearly five decades of experience under his belt, McLaren remains cool, calm and collected.

“This range in South Africa is going to be wide open. You just have to adapt. When there are several hundred shooters there, you can’t guarantee anything. You just do your best and carry on.”

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