The United Kingdom has a long and proud history regarding shooting sports. It also has some of the strictest laws in the world regarding the use or ownership of firearms. I speak regularly with people who would like to give target sports a go but dismiss the idea as they assume it would be impossible. So is it possible and how does one go about it safely, legally and responsibly? I hope to point you guys in the right direction and provide links and resources here for the new shooter.
What are your reasons for wanting to try shooting
The legal requirements in the UK stipulate that new shooters must become probationary members of a target shooting club if they wish to take up target shooting. I rather like this as it prevents people who do not stick with shooting from owning firearms. As such the club you join at first has the job off assessing you as a viable candidate for a firearms licence. They will of course be interested in your motivation. Personally I wanted to shoot rifle for as long as I can remember. As a child I loved mechanical things, tinkering with old watches ect. I also loved science. Rifles seemed to be a combination of both. Precise engineering and applied ballistics. The idea of propelling an object accurately over distance was very appealing. Equally I could have become interested in rocketry but alas my pockets were not deep enough!! If you are motivated by the violent application of firearms then shooting in the UK is not for you. Self defence is NOT considered a reason to own firearms. In fact there is no legal defence you could have for using them in that manner. If you were woken by burglars in the night you would need to unlock safes containing guns and ammunition taking several minutes at least. If you have that long then climb out of the window and run! You may also be interested in hunting animals or pest control, those are valid reasons but I do not have the knowledge to discuss those as I do not do either of them.
Because firearms could be used to commit violent crimes your character plays an important aspect of viability. If you have a history of criminality or psychological issues then you are likely to be turned down. In fact the first club you attempt to join will have a CRB check run on you and let local police know of your intention. Previous offences may well scupper your chances immediately. If you have a record you should seek advice on eligibility from your local police authority. Psychological medical history is a rather tricky area. You may find any episodes of recorded depression, anxiety or disturbed behaviour prevent you attaining an FAC. Again if you have such history you should seek advice from the police or a solicitor. Although in life we are told not to judge a book by it’s cover, in reality we often have to. If you are able to attend a day with a shooting club be aware they are going to be assessing you all the time. If you are loud and rude you will not likely be invited back. The main problem I have seen with “new guys” is they often have an inability to listen. They have spent several years playing computer games or paintballing and imagine that they are knowledgeable and proficient before they start. Your instuctor/s will be looking for you to be humble and attentive. A “know it all” attitude will not get you far.
Joining a club
So if you have not stopped reading yet and feel you may fulfil the criteria then the next step is to find a club and arrange to attend. The first question you must ask yourself is what type of target shooting you wish to do. Many clubs specialise in one discipline, it would be pointless to join a clay shooting club if your aim is to shoot long range rifle! This is where England’s main shooting body – the NRA (National Rifle Association) can help. They should be your first port of call as they can advise you on clubs in your area and the different shooting disciplines they cover.
The NRA also have a shooting club, the NRASC, and many clubs use Bisley (the home of the NRA) as their base or primary range. Bisley is a beautiful, historic, huge shooting facility in Surrey. It has multiple ranges out to 1200yds and many club houses as well as a hotel, cafes, training buildings, gun shops, most of which are in quaint colonial style. It feels a bit like stepping back in time! If you live anywhere near to Bisley then I would strongly suggest making the NRASC your primary club. I would also suggest all shooters join the NRA as yearly members. Joining is relatively cheap and grants you insurance and legal help as a bonus.
You may not live near enough for the NRA to be a viable option or you may just prefer a smaller, cosier experience. Local clubs tend to be run by avid target shooters who give up their time for little or no financial gain. They must be trained by the NRA to instruct or operate as range officers so they are proficient. The fact they are giving up their own time lets you know they have great passion for the sport. Good news for the inexperienced new starter as all the instructors I have met are keen to pass on knowledge to progress target shooting as a whole in the UK and keep it safe. Phone or email your local club and ask them what they can offer you. Arrange to go for a session and see what you think. The first session will deal with safety and etiquette at the range. Do not ignore it as “small print” or waffle. It is absolutely vital you understand and demonstrate the required safety protocols before you will be allowed to use a firearmfun
wherever you go your instructors will have been certified by the NRA..
Despite all the rigid rules and regulations if you persevere and listen you will ultimately be rewarded. Shooting targets is not only huge fun but it also has a fantastic social scene. Shooters are a very helpful friendly bunch and I have lost count of the amount of wonderful people I have met at clubs/comps/ranges. My father used to love taking me shooting. He didn’t even shoot himself he just thoroughly enjoyed meeting and being around honest, decent, interesting people from all walks of life.
A new shooter enjoys a warm brew and some good banter after a cold morning on the range. He proved to be a great shot because HE LISTENED!
I hope this helps some of you, if you have always wanted to try shooting then seize the opportunity. Get onto the NRA or your local club and sign up!
One of Orions excellent instructors putting me through some drills..