We're at home on the range

Shooting is a sport that requires concentration and discipline. And at Felixstowe Rifle Club, members have been shooting targets for generations. JAMES MARSTON tries his hand at the sport.

James Marston

Shooting is a sport that requires concentration and discipline. And at Felixstowe Rifle Club, members have been shooting targets for generations. JAMES MARSTON tries his hand at the sport.

ONE of the oldest in the UK, Felixstowe Rifle Club was founded back in 1900.

Today it has about 80 members and the club, which uses premises in Walton, hosts regular events and competitions and offers specialist shooting for the visually impaired.

Vice chairman of the club, Bill Bond, 60, of Felixstowe, said: “The club first used the army ranges at Landguard Common and during the Second World War it became the Felixstowe Home Guard Rifle Club and we have been at this site since.”

The club has facilities for air gun target practice, rifle practice and black powder weapons.

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Bill said: “Shooting is about competition. It is arduous. You can be shooting for up to an hour and a half in a competition, it makes you concentrate and relaxes you as well. You switch off.”

With members coming from every walk of life and from across the region, the club is very social and friendly - it has its own clubhouse above one of the ranges.

Bill said: “Age and gender don't make any difference in shooting, most of the competitions are open to all and we have members that range in age from 12 to nearly 80.”

Club chairman John Humphries, 75, said: “With shooting you are always striving to improve. There's discipline required. I go into shooting when I did national service from 1950 to 1952.

“We have leagues in the county and country which you can enter as an individual or as a team.

“The ranges are at international standard so you can also have a competition with someone in Australia and send off the results through the post.”

With a 50 yard range with target positions at 20 and 25 yards, a 100 yards range and an air gun range of 10 metres, the club is well equipped.

You can't shoot on your first visit - though it is possible to try your hand at air gun target shooting.

Bill said: “We also have shooting for the visually impaired. The rifles they use have a sensor that senses light from the target and turns it into a high pitched noise.”

They are called acoustic rifles.

Bill added: “The shooter scans the target to get the right pitch before firing. We are one of 16 clubs in the UK that has the facility.”

Bill, who is trained as an international target shooting judge, is also expecting to be an official at the 2012 Olympics.

He said: “We also have two shooters in the club that are in the GB junior team and we provide about a third of the county team.”

Retired HGV driver, Tom Stollery, 67, of Ipswich, has been shooting for 40 years.

He said: “It is a very relaxing sport and it is not too strenuous.

“I've shot everything from a shotgun through to black powder and my latest toy is a long range pistol which uses a 1,000 yards target.

“I also train the visually impaired to use the acoustic rifles, which is very interesting.”

Geoff Smith, 54, of Ipswich, has been shooting since he was 21.

He said: “I was introduced to shooting by my father and I'm a third generation shooter. It tends to be a sport you pass on through the family.

“When you are shooting you concentrate totally on shooting, it is a good escape. You can't think about other things. There's good camaraderie.

“You are in the pursuit of excellence and you're looking for the perfect shot. It is also a relatively cheap sport.”

Owning and handling guns is a big responsibility and there are stringent controls in place.

The club insists on safety at all times and has a number of golden rules:

Never point a firearm at anyone or hold it in a position dangerous to yourself or others

Only load on the firing point when given the all clear to do so and only start shooting on the instruction to do so.

When you have finished firing make sure the weapon is safe - breech is open and empty.

Remain quietly at your firing point until everyone else has finished firing.

Never proceed forward until given the all clear by the Range Conducting Officer.

If unsure of anything always ask.

Student Harry Howse, 17, of Ipswich, is one of the younger club members.

He said: “I've been shooting for a number of years. It is a responsible hobby and it is fun but with firearms you have to be serious and safe.

“I had my first air gun when I was 11.”

A member of Woodbridge School Cadet Force, Harry takes his hobby seriously and has been on a weapon handling course and a marksmanship principles course.

He said: “It is a very social sport, the club has 80 members so you get to know people. If I've had a stressful day I can come to the club for an evening and I can concentrate on something else. It is very rewarding.”

Target shooting with an air rifle is not as easy as you might think. But keen to have a go, Bill and Tom instructed me on handling the rifle and firing the weapon.

The trigger is light, all you need is a gentle squeeze, and then it is a matter of lining up the target in your sights. With my first shot the weapon discharged without me expecting it - and I completely missed the target.

The second time I hit the target - though nowhere near the black central area. The third shot I was in the black circle of the target so I quit while I was ahead.

Also practising in the air gun range was Paul Cuttriss, 41, of Felixstowe.

He was using an air pistol on the ten metre target.

He said: “To shoot well at a high level requires a lot of discipline and commitment. You have to have mental discipline. You have to be able to concentrate 100 per cent and focus on what you are doing as well as be mentally relaxed. It is not significantly different to other sports.

“You've got to be relaxed and focused. You build your own bubble around you and get into the zone - we call it 'shooting in the bubble' when everything else in your life goes away and once that happens it is very relaxing.”

On the 50 yard range Rod Waldron, 66, is shooting with black powder (gun powder).

He has been shooting for 30 years and today is using a replica rifle which was standard army issue in the 1850s.

Wearing ear defenders is necessary as the noise when the weapon discharges is pretty loud.

The black powder has a distinctive smell and after the shot is fired there is a big cloud of smoke.

It is fascinating to watch - though not for the faint hearted.

Do you enjoy shooting? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or send an e-mail to eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

Moon dust smells similar to gunpowder.

The club offers several shooting disciplines including:

Target shooting for the blind

Smallbore target rifle

Air rifle and pistol

Pistol calibre carbine and lightweight sporting rifle

Black powder rifle and pistol

The club has strong links with various disability charities and organisations including East Anglia Blind Association and Optua, as well as helping several pupils from local schools with Duke of Edinburgh Awards.

The club partners a German shooting club in Wesel - Felixstowe's twin town - and arranges visits between the clubs to compete each year.