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What, me shooting? Not interested

By local resident Jet

shooting range
Taking aim on the firing range
Image courtesy of Jet
It was Easter Saturday and, as sometimes happens, the weather was exceptionally mild and sunny.

The telephone rang, and I answered it to my fishing mate Angus, who told me that he was going shooting with one of his friends, and asked whether I wanted to join them.

The idea of shooting didn't appeal to me one little bit. The thought of old boys in plus fours, or combat gear, depending on their predilections, had always seemed rather silly.

However, I never turn down an invitation (I don’t get many) for anything, and I agreed to the trip, protesting that in no way did I want to be seriously involved in firearms, and saying that the last thing I wanted was to shoot as a hobby.

A short time later my friend picked me up and off we went to collect his friend on route to the range in Essex. As we loaded the rifles and associated paraphernalia into the car, I wondered with interest what lurked within the carrying cases. I was soon to find out.

We arrived at the range, and having signed into the club, we entered a huge field tent, which formed the safety area and firing point of the club range.

There were a dozen or so members chatting, and tucking into tea and fry ups, while others on the firing line were shooting at targets 50 metres away. This was getting interesting.

Having been told about basic safety procedures, and with ear defenders on, a .22" calibre rifle was handed over, and for the first time in my life I fired a real rifle.

Now this was fun, and not as easy as I thought. Why for instance was the card unmarked after I had fired and the sand disturbed by missed shots? All was explained to me. I had to squeeze the trigger, not pull it. Things were getting better.

My inquisitive nature was drawn to someone shooting what appeared to be something out of a John Wayne film. This of course was a 19th century Cavalry Carbine.

After my session with the .22", I was offered a semi-automatic copy of a M16, which fired a magnum round. The experience was getting even better, although with the recoil it was hard to see where the bullets ended up.

Then the crowning moment out came an American civil war percussion pistol. After watching the complex loading procedure, I was invited to fire it into the sand at the back of the range. The bullets went in a six ft circle around the target. All I could see was the gun smoke.

That day I saw many firearms, including muskets and big game rifles, the latter were so heavy that it was impossible to keep the muzzle up.

At the end of an enjoyable day, we cleared up our cartridge cases, and paid for our ammunition.

For the next month I debated what to do next. I didn’t want to travel so far as the Essex club, but where to look?

The answer was the good old internet, and having mailed a club in Hertfordshire, I was invited over the following Saturday.

I was apprehensive going somewhere strange for the first time, but when I arrived, I was treated as if I had known everyone all my life. I spent the day there, and, having signed in, was offered shots with various rifles.

Did I want to join? You bet, try to stop me. Thus started the long haul towards a firearm certificate (FAC), and owning my own firearms.

I just hope no one ever invites me to go sailing.

© Jet - November, 2003

The following are some practical details about taking up shooting.

Target shooting in Britain

The following illustrates the different disciplines of sport target shooting available in this country

Due to the large variety of firearms and ammunition available, the articles will tend to concentrate on the more common forms of target shooting practised in clubs.

These will include:

  • The Small Bore Rifle
  • The Gallery Rifle/Carbine
  • The Full Bore Rifle
  • Muzzle Loading Firearms.
Concluding this feature will be a guide to joining a club, and obtaining a Fire Arm Certificate.

This article will not include air-powered weapons, or sporting shotguns, which are not classified as firearms. Nor will it include anything connected with hunting.

The intention is to enable non-shooters to appreciate what target shooting involves, and to hopefully clarify any misconceptions.

Above all, the writer hopes that non-shooters will be better informed after reading the feature, and may even consider taking up the sport.

Shooting clubs

Target shooting is carried out at club premises. These are licensed by the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office.

Clubs may have either internal, or external ranges. The distances commonly shot are between 25 and 50 metres. There are longer distances of up to 1,000 yards at specially constructed ranges, such as Bisley Camp in Surrey.

There are various types of target used, but the most common is a simple card with graduated rings, which score towards a bull’s eye centre. Scores are usually 10 shots per card, with a maximum score of 100 being possible.

Competitions can be club, inter-club, or national based, and are sometimes time-based i.e. ten shots in ten minutes.

Shooting clubs have a social atmosphere, and competition is always on a friendly basis. To ensure fairness, a handicap system is used, so that a beginner can compete fairly with an experienced shooter.

Whilst one can shoot almost continually, as long as ammunition is available, the reality is that a typical session will comprise of perhaps three to 10 cards, which will expend 30 to 100 rounds. Sometimes, as in many sports, it is possible to have a good day watching others and just being sociable.

There is absolutely no requirement to compete, and an individual can quite freely enjoy shooting for pleasure. Competing does, however, improve accuracy, and most people take part, to a greater or lesser extent.

Bolt action .22 rifle 2002
Bolt action .22 rifle 2002 (see below)
Image courtesy of Jet
Unlike most sports, there is absolutely no hierarchy, although to compete at national level one does have to qualify.

Target shooting can be practiced at any age, subject to supervision. It is also one of the few activities, which men and women can practise on equal ground.

Above all, it teaches discipline, and instils safety to the individual. The main requirement however, is that a person is absolutely health and safety conscious at all times. This is backed up by constant supervision by experienced non-shooting members. Target shooting is the safest sport that can be carried out. It has to be!

The small-bore rifle

The most common small-bore rifle is the .22” calibre, which most people will be familiar with, having at least seen them at fair grounds.

This type of rifle comes in various forms, which are classified depending on the method of chambering the round.

These methods are:-

  • Bolt action, where the round is chambered by operating a turn bolt..
  • Underlever, where a round is chambered by operating a lever.
  • Semi-automatic, where rounds are fired and chambered when the trigger is actuated.
Bolt action rifles can be single shot, or more usually, magazine fed. Underlever, and semi-autos, are magazine fed. Magazines can hold between five and 25 rounds.

The .22" calibre semi-auto is the only calibre of semi-automatic rifle which is legal in this country.

Fully automatic rifles are not legal in any calibre.

The typical range that targets are shot at with this rifle are between 25 and 50 metres. The extended range is up to 200 yards, but with a four foot plus “drop” at this distance, together with the decline in velocity, accuracy is severely compromised. Typical muzzle velocity 1,000 feet per second.

Competitions can be shot free standing, sitting, prone, or with the rifle rested in some way.

Typical sights can be “open” i.e. a rear notch and front post, telescopic or optical.

This is the most popular type of rifle. It is inexpensive to purchase, and the ammunition is very cost effective. As a guide, between three and 10 pence a round, depending on quality.

The ammunition used is called “rimfire.” This is because the firing pin strikes the rim of the cartridge case and ignites a volatile chemical, which in turn ignites the propellant charge. The charge burns, and the expanding gases power the bullet.

The gallery rifle

Following the ban on conventional pistols in 1997, this type of firearm made up the gap left for those who wanted to continue to shoot pistol calibre firearms.

Winchester under lever carbine 1894
Winchester under lever carbine 1894
Image courtesy of Jet
It is typically the underlever type, which is commonly seen in cowboy films with the familiar name of Winchester -- although there were and are other manufacturers. The ammunition is contained within a tube magazine, which is mounted under the barrel. Working the lever (racking) feeds a round up to the breech whilst at the same time ejecting a spent cartridge case.

This type of firearm became popular in the 19th century, as it offered a compromise between a cowboy's pistol and the cumbersome long-range rifle.

The shorter design, which is referred to as a carbine, was more practical for saddle mounting and for use in wooded areas, where a long barrel was a liability.

They are referred to as pistol calibre carbines, as they used the same ammunition that the cowboy carried on his gun belt. This ensured that the correct calibre was immediately available for use in either gun.

These rifles are used in exactly the same way as the small bore .22”, but use much more powerful ammunition, which has a heavier bullet. Typical calibre are .38”, .44”, .45”, plus the .44” and .357” magnum which is still used today. Typical muzzle velocity is 1250 ft/sec.

This type of rifle can also be chambered for more powerful bullets and is used in the USA for practical hunting. These are not suitable for club ranges due to the higher muzzle velocities and energies generated.

They are interesting to use being practical firearms, which need more care to shoot accurately than the .22” due to the recoil produced.

These rifles are moderately priced, and the ammunition costs between 22p and 40p per round.

The ammunition used is called “centrefire.” The firing pin strikes a primer situated centrally in the base of the cartridge case, this explodes and ignites the propellant charge, which drives the bullet.

The full-bore rifle

This class of rifle has nothing to do with the diameter of the bore. It is classed based on the muzzle velocity and energy produced. Typically 2,500 feet per second plus.

Lee Enfield No 1 rifle 1952
Lee Enfield No 1 rifle 1952
Image courtesy of Jet
These rifles are generally bolt action and are either military or sniper-based firearms.

Due to the high power of these rifles they are unsuitable for most club ranges.

Specialised ranges do exist however, and distances shot vary between 100 to 1000 yards.

This type of rifle can be shot accurately by using open sights after much practise, but it is common for telescopic sights to be used at long range.

The most common full bore rifle is the Lee Enfield .303” in its many forms, which is familiar as the standard issue service rifle in the first half of the last century

There are, however, many modern rifles, which are designed for military, or hunting use, and which are used for full bore target shooting.

These rifles come in a variety of imperial and metric bores from .223” to the metric 7.62 mm NATO round used by the military today.

They are very enjoyable to shoot, despite their high recoil, and at distance both elevation (vertical) and windage (horizontal) deviation must be applied.

These rifles can be purchased for a moderate sum, especially the surplus Lee Enfield. Modern rifles are quite expensive, and it is not uncommon to pay £2,000 for a high quality one. Ammunition varies between 22p and 40p per round.

For long-range shooting, one would not expect to fire more than 50 rounds in a session.

Muzzle loading firearms

American black powder percussion revolver circa 1860
American black powder percussion revolver circa 1860
Image courtesy of Jet
This is a specialised discipline of shooting, which is based on traditional rifles either smooth bore or rifled and pistols.

Unlike conventional firearms, which use a propellant to drive the bullet, this type of firearm uses black powder, more commonly known as gunpowder. This is an explosive. The powder is introduced into the barrel or chamber, and a ball/bullet is then rammed on to the charge to form a compressed round.

The charge is ignited by use of a flintlock, a percussion cap, or rarely, a matchlock.

Black powder rifles can be very powerful, and are generally used at specialised ranges due to the high muzzle velocity.

As well as rifles, percussion revolvers can be used with black powder. These are historic style firearms, which are very similar to the type used in the American civil war.

These revolvers have gained in popularity following the ban of conventional handguns in 1997. They allow people to shoot revolvers in a historically accurate way, without contravening the spirit of the conventional pistol ban. They are suitable for normal club use.

Black powder revolvers are quite accurate, and are shot at distances between 15 and 50 metres.

Typical calibre is as pistol calibre carbines. The bullets are generally round ball. A special license is required for using this type of powder.

These revolvers need special care and cleaning due to the soot produced. They are, however, enjoyable to use despite needing considerable practise.

So, you want to take up target shooting?

The first thing to do is approach a club via the NRA (National Rifle Association), a specialist magazine, or the internet.

All clubs are private, and by invitation only.

Upon being accepted as a probationary member, an individual will have to demonstrate their suitability by regular attendance, and display a willingness to learn. Above all, they must be safety motivated.

Fully supervised instruction will be given. After completing a satisfactory period of between three and six months, an individual will be invited to join that club as a full member.

The next step is to apply for a Fire Arm Certificate ( FAC) via the police. This will entail submitting references, medical evidence, and a check on criminal record. If this is satisfactory, a police visit will be made to access the candidate and the security of the premises.

As long as all is in order, a certificate will be issued. This will take time, and about nine months should be allowed from joining a club to being allowed to possess a firearm.

One cannot just have any firearms one wants; there must be a reason for holding certain firearms.

The sale/purchase of firearms and ammunition is strictly regulated. Security must be absolute.

It must be remembered that it is a criminal offence to even touch a firearm unless one is signed into a club, or/and has a FAC.

All these regulations are to safeguard everybody. They are quite fair. By the time one has been issued a FAC, one will be quite competent, safe, and responsible.

It must be understood, that any breech of safety, or behaviour not appropriate to the sport, will result in club expulsion, the police being informed, and the firearms taken away forever.

I hope that having read this feature the reader will have a greater understanding of the fascinating world of sport shooting.

Like any activity worth doing, the learning and interest never stops. If you decide to take it up you will also meet dozens of new friends of impeccable character from all walks of life.

Note: The author would like to thank Richard for the photographs, and wants to make known that all rifle images were posed with un-loaded firearm, which had been checked by a third party. Photographs taken in front of the rifles were taken by timer as it is not acceptable to point a firearm towards anybody at any time. Jet

© Jet - November, 2003

Other features by Jet
A quiet fishing trip - or perhaps not - September 2003
The private pleasure of flying - January, 2003

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