Have to travel miles to enjoy the sport you love? Why not consider starting your very own airgun club? Mark Camoccio reveals how…
When I moved in 2001 from London to Lincolnshire, where I now live, it soon became apparent that the locality was something of a black hole where outdoor airgun competition was concerned. I spoke to the local police, who were extremely helpful – they even provided me with a booklet highlighting all the shooting clubs in the district – but after a grand tour of most of them, I soon realised that Field Target venues were thin on the ground.
TIME FOR ACTION
At this point, you can of course either give up and take up basket weaving, or do something about it. Thankfully, I chose the latter route and, after several years of persistence, plus help from a great bunch of locals along the way, I now have my own club up and running and some 25-30 members strong.
So what are the considerations, and how do you go about starting your own club?
Perhaps the hardest part is finding a suitable venue. My rural Lincolnshire surroundings, with an abundance of farmers in the vicinity, were always likely to offer something. But wherever you happen to live, don’t give up hope: you never know what opportunities may be nearby… sometimes right under your nose.
Of course any prospective venue needs to be safe. With that in mind, don’t forget that the law states that shooting an airgun has to take place at least 50 feet from the centre of a highway. Where a prospective club is in mind, it’s also vital that the backstop is borne in mind – either a solid earth bank where no shot can get through, or a sufficiently long field after you take trajectory into account.
Bear in mind that an airgun pellet will travel several hundred yards when fired from an elevated gun, and the safety aspect should never be underestimated. Local footpaths and any route where the general public can stray into the firing line, must be factored into the equation at all times. Safety has to be key!
Hard work and persistence are the name of the game, and cold-calling on landowners can be a disheartening process. But remember, it’s a numbers game. Call on 10 venues, and maybe one will be willing to accommodate – or if they can’t, they may know someone else who will. My set-up is very fortunate in that a very obliging local farmer lets us use one of his fields for free. Many landowners will expect some form of rent from the club, which can be an awkward situation: you need funds for a club venue, but funds won’t come without the membership. Explain this and request that a trial period be offered for free whilst the club establishes itself; after a stated period of time, when adverts have gone out and membership has grown, some rent can then be paid.
When you cold-call a landowner for the very first time, it pays to dress accordingly. Turn up looking like Rambo, with a sheath knife on show, rifle strapped to the back and in full-blown camouflage clothing, and you can seem overwhelming and just a little presumptuous. Not everyone shares our enthusiasm for shooting, and you don’t want to upset anyone who may be easily offended.
So tone things down and don’t wear any camo; instead, look smart and approachable. By all means bring the gun along, but leave it in the car. If the landowner is interested in seeing the type of equipment you use, you have it there, to explain that safety is top of your list and of paramount importance, and that this will be drummed into any prospective members. Then you stand half a chance.
In short, it’s all about reassuring the landowner, and impressing upon them that you are a reliable, safe and decent individual who has thoroughly researched the whole idea. A key piece of this jigsaw at the early stages is getting insurance in place, and letting the landowner know that you have done so, and that everything is watertight should an accident happen.
Several companies exist that offer dedicated policies, specifically aimed at airgun clubs. For my own club I used a company called Bluefin Sporting Insurance, which has just changed its name from Sporting Insurance Services: it has specific Airgun Club policies. Also check out the key UK shooting organisations, the National Smallbore Rifle Association (NSRA) and the National Rifle Association (NRA): both, I believe, offer their own alternatives.
The main initial outlay for the club after insurance will be investing in a set of quality knock-down FT-style targets and some practice spinner targets. I’d always recommend the top name brands, such as Nockover Targets and Flop-Over Targets, as these are British-manufactured, properly made and tested, and about as reliable as it is possible to get. Cheap unreliable targets are the best way to put off the membership, making them a false economy from the start.
What you decide to charge as club fees will be partly dictated by the circumstances in which the club finds itself. My club, as mentioned, doesn’t have to pay any rent, so we are able to keep fees to a minimum. We have our targets, and day-to-day running consists of paper targets, tape, paint and of course the year’s trophies. I currently charge £36 for adults and £26 for juniors, and offer a family membership (mum, dad and unlimited kids included) for £50. I know these are low, and I also don’t charge subs each time, as we simply don’t need large sums sloshing around the bank. If you have to cover rent, your fees will have to be worked out accordingly, but try to keep it lean. I’ve got wind just recently of shooting clubs with vast sums in the bank, and this can just lead to unrest among the membership, as various parties vie to spend the money on pet projects.
I would advise you to charge a little over what you need, and even reduce fees where and when possible!
CLUB ADMIN ESSENTIALS
Place an Advert!
A simple advert placed in the window of the local newsagent can work wonders, and will hopefully generate some interest. Don’t give too much away initially, as it may attract the attention of unwanted parties. If someone is keen enough to respond and call the contact number, they could be hooked already.
Set the Constitution
To keep everything official, every club needs a Club Constitution. This will lay out everything from safety, to the appointed officers: Club Chairman, Club Secretary and the Treasurer. These members will be appointed at the club Annual General Meeting (AGM). Organisations such as the BFTA (see list on page 50) will have draft constitutions to amend and use.
Club Day Signing
To satisfy insurance, it’s normally required that all members sign a book on club day. This shows a record of how many members were on site, and can be useful as a record.
FEEDBACK AND SAFETY
The club Annual General Meeting (a chat, drink and a meal down the pub does us fine!) is the perfect opportunity to gauge feedback and check that all are happy with how things are going. Ask for ideas, and let the appointed officers, Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer have the final say in the case of any problems or disagreements that may arise.
Above all, keep things fun and, of course, safe. Supervise newcomers and instruct on all aspects of gun handling from the start, and it will stand everyone in good stead for the future.
For more information on running a club and some useful contacts, take a look at the following websites: