At the start of Freshers I thought that you know what, I’m going to try something new this time around. I fancied a non-threatening step out of my comfort zone. Ultimate frisbee was my first pick, but the rain was quite threatening and didn’t want to get wet, which ruled that out. I considered sailing or kayaking but remembered that the sea is absolutely bloody freezing over here (though it is at its warmest right now), but my fun-to-chance-of-drowning ratio was unacceptably high. When I saw an FXU Rifle Club taster day coming up, I figured that this might be my last chance to do something quite different.
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely had the ‘army phase’. I did the occasional air rifle shooting, and tried the strange sport of airsoft for quite a while, before deciding both were a bit infantile. Despite living in the middle of rural Warwickshire, surrounded by rolling farms and being close to quite a few estates, I somehow missed the traditional rural rites of clay pigeon shooting. Perhaps that was a blessing… The FXU Rifle Club promised something very different. Actual rifles. Real bullets. Everybody fancies themselves as a marksman, right?
I agreed to go and paid my notional £11, and we soon had a quiet, awkward motley crew of students in the back of the minibus… and 2 friendly FXU staff members! I don’t know if being quiet and awkward is a prerequisite of going shooting? I guess you aren’t supposed to be visibly happy about it, as people might get the wrong idea. Upon arrival at Truro Rifle Club, we had a considerable safety induction to ensure that we all knew how to shoot and handle the rifles safety, ran over the club rules and discussed the future of the club. It struck me that the rifle club seemed to want some new blood, so to speak. The club is set in what looks like an old quarry, providing the steep protective banks which are a necessity so you don’t end up killing people in the local area. A lot of rifle clubs I have seen tend to be set in old quarries, and there certainly isn’t a shortage of quarries in Cornwall! The 15 of us were split into smaller groups of 5, and whilst one group was shooting, the other got to view the facilities. There is a much longer 50 metre range, which looked like an incredibly long distance away, especially without the use of a scope. Apparently iron sights are the name of the day.
When it was finally my go, a lot of things were going through my head. I was definitely nervous and there was a child-like anticipation about what I was going to do. This was new territory, and slightly taboo territory at that in modern British society. The guns were locked on a shelf on a wall, and you had to unlock them and then place them on the floor next to your firing point. With a red flag locked in the breech, it was completely and utterly safe. Lying down next to them, I was struck both by how light the rifles were in comparison to their look of wood and ironmongery, and also how different they were to anything I had handled in the past. Previously I had been used to the rugged, hard lines of airsoft assault rifles and the ergonomic, almost attractive lines of air rifles, but these were a different beast entirely, made completely for accuracy from the ground up. I wouldn’t say they were attractive, but they felt comfortable in the hand.
Lying prone, with the barrel of my rifle resting upon a little stand and with the stock comfortably rested in my shoulder, I removed the red flag from the breech and inspected the tiny little .22 bullets for the first time. They really are quite small, but there is no doubt that they could do some serious damage in the wrong hands. I pushed the bullet forward into the breech, cycled the bolt firmly forward and for the first time I had a live rifle in my hands. The iron sights took a little getting used to, as they were quite basic and far detached from the luxuries of scopes that I had enjoyed in the past. The premise is that you line the black centre of the target with the middle of your sight so that there is an equal space between the sides of the target and your sight. If it is equal on all sides of the target, then theoretically it will e heading towards the bull. We were allowed 5 shots on each target, and 10 shots in total for each round of shooting.
The first shot was an experience. A loud crack resonated through the ear protectors, the tiniest little kick in my shoulder, and a thwack at the other end told me all I needed to know. There was a huge mental rush and then a wave of focus as I tried to get the next shot in the right place. I couldn’t see what my shooting looked like, but for the next 5 shots I was feeling more in tune with the rifle. I held myself perfectly still, regulated my breathing properly and truly, truly focused. The next 5 shots went by in a blur. We made the guns safe, and then walked down the range to inspect our targets. My first grouping was a little ropey, but my second featured 3 shots in the bull, and two one band away. Pretty bloody good for my first time. Needless to say, I was quietly thrilled with my efforts, and proceeded to try not to look to happy in front of everyone for the next few minutes while I awaited my turn again. Instead I engaged Rob Gofton on cricket and what the FXU is up to this year… I keep forgetting that you should probably avoid talking about work when someone is away from their day job! Sorry Rob!
For the second round of shots I tried to be even calmer still, and focused incredibly hard. I tried to relax as advised but with a live rifle in my hands, I found that considerably easier said than done. Having adjusted my sights to my coach’s suggestions, I sent the first 5 down range in quick succession, and he said that they were good and then told me to adjust my sights again… Back to exactly how they were the first time around. Muppet. The next 4 shots felt very good, and I knew I must be close to what I was aiming for by my coach’s occasional expressions of interest in my shooting. He seemed to be cut of the ‘You earn respect’ generation but in this instance it was definitely a good thing. I liked his style. Anyway, I sent my fifth shot down range and he gave me a satisfied indication of my performance.
Again, we made the guns safe, and we checked out targets. My first 5 were a little high and to the left, but both groupings were really quite tight. When there are no individual holes, because the bullets have hit so closely together that it looks like one larger hole, you must have done something right! We got to keep our targets, and enthused at the thought of finding a new sport, we headed to back to Falmouth with our heads held high and the words of an FXU chap telling us that there is money available through Sport England to buy some fancy rifles for the club. Happy days…
Truth told though, i was mentally exhausted. Concentrating so hard for short period was incredibly intense and it left my body and my mind completely taught. It was honestly akin to my mental tiredness when i scored my hundred earlier in the season… but achieved in just 15 minutes of shooting, and not 2 hours of batting! I was in serious need of a therapist, but thankfully I found some Ben and Jerries in the freezer which is the definitely the next best thing.
Was it enjoyable? Yes, in a very different way!
Would I go again? Definitely, though over time the cost might be a bit much for me. I genuinely think that the intensity of concentration required will help me focus in exams and when batting.
Was it safe? Completely. At no point was there every any risk to anyone whatsoever. I arguably felt safer than I do playing cricket, or riding the bus from campus to Falmouth. The people at the rifle club were experts, and whilst they had a vested interest in getting us to attend they were professional and treated safety with the utmost importance it deserves when shooting a potentially lethal weapon.
Do you ‘get’ shooting’? Definitely. The mental rush, the smell of cordite and the loud report of a rifle. It is more than a little exciting. You should try it!