The most scenic firing range in the world?

If you’ve been in the military, you probably know firing ranges are fairly grim places. Usually located in the middle of nowhere, devoid of life and even in middle of summer, it’s probably pouring down with rain. Being told you’re going to the range is usually accompanied with a platoon-wide groan.

The only redeeming point is that you get to fire a bunch of automatic weapons… legally.

This week I was invited to Switzerland by Zurich-based Rheinmetall Air Defence to watch the firing of its new 20mm naval cannon called Searanger 20 (we’ve got the full rundown here). Now as keen as I was to see a 20mm cannon let rip at 1,000 rounds per minute, the prospect of being on a cold and wet range didn’t particular excite me.

The company even advised me to bring a warm jacket and an umbrella, never a good sign.

The bus took us south from Zurich to Studen, where the range is located, taking around an hour. As we headed further south, the industrial scenery of Zurich was replaced by the incredible mountain ranges of the Swiss Alps, covered with the first snow of the year. This was the first sight that greeted us as we departed the bus, a real-life Bob Ross painting:

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Ok, not bad. Not bad at all.

We had our usual briefings about the testing centre, located in a valley close to the 2,092m-high Fluebrig mountain range. Interestingly, Rheinmetall own the valley area, but actually shares it with a golf club. That means the two parties have to agree on specific firing days months in advance and when firing occurs, it shuts down half of the valley, meaning the course becomes 9-hole instead of 18!

But hey, if you love the boom of medium-calibre weapons and the smell of cordite during your morning round of golf, this is the place for you.

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So back to the firing. We’d been warned during the briefing that the weather is usually ‘abysmal’ during most of the year and that if it isn’t raining, it’s probably snowing. Again, not a good sign. After the briefing we got back on the bus and travelled up the valley pass to the range itself. Not expecting anything particular special I was pleasantly surprised to see this view before me:

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This day just got a whole lot better and, incredibly, the rain and snow had held off and the sun was shining. Happy days.

Although my range experience has been limited to places like Catterick in North Yorkshire, I can pretty much say that this is the most beautiful I have ever seen. Mountains with mist rolling off them, forests turning orange and red for autumn, and a huge 20mm cannon – what more can you ask for?

The firing involved three details; first would be five single shot rounds at a 2x2m target, second would be a 10-round rapid fire shoot at 200 rpm on a ‘ship’ target, and the final shoot would be a full burst of 18 rounds at 1,000 rpm. All would be carried out at a range 1,000m.

Here’s Mike Gerber, Rheinmetall’s product manager for naval guns, explaining what the shoot would involve:

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This was my first time seeing a medium-calibre weapon being fired up close and it was impressive. Being in the vicinity of a weapon firing at 1,000 rpm, with the thump of the firing in your chest and head, certainly causes an adrenaline rush. The deadly accuracy of the weapon was also impressive, you really don’t want to be on the receiving end of the Searanger 20 – it will ruin your day pretty fast.

Here’s a shot of the target after the second firing, all ten rapid-fire shots hit and had a surprisingly small grouping for 1,000m.

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And that was it, in true Swiss fashion, we were hurried onto a bus that was leaving at precisely 4pm and shuttled off to the airport. Nevertheless, not a bad way to spend a Tuesday afternoon.

This leads me to my last question; is this the most scenic firing range in the world? Can anyone beat this? I’d like to know and maybe we can visit there next time.

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