Return to outdoor target shooting with Andy McLachlan

Andy McLachlan recalls what it was finally like to head back outdoors again with his air rifle once the Covid-19 restrictions were eased.

Andy’s friends Paul, Ian and Dave use a combination of makeshift benches to replicate their club’s indoor conditions outdoors

I am sure that everybody reading this magazine would have been just as pleased as I was when the government decided to slightly ease up on the full lockdown restrictions that had been placed upon as us all and allow limited contact with fellow sports enthusiasts, providing of course that the necessary social distancing measures were in place.

I don’t know about you, but a couple of months of enforced isolation and being away from the things that keep me sane (well, a bit) have certainly reminded me that the sports we all enjoy really do form a very important aspect of our lives that we have perhaps taken for granted for a very long time.

The freedom to just turn up at a shooting range for a bit of airgun fun, or chucking fishing tackle in the car and driving somewhere wild and beautiful for some fishing of one type or another have spoiled us to expect that such freedom will be forever ours to enjoy. As we have recently discovered though, we can never take anything for granted.

Living on my own now as I do, I must admit to getting a bit lonely from time to time during the lockdown period. I do not have a particularly wide circle of friends, but those I do have have helped me to remain sane with text messages and phone calls when we would discuss the pre-Covid-19 days when the world was a much larger and freedom-providing place than it is now.

Let us all hope that some of the brilliant work being done by the teams of scientists all over the world provides us with a vaccine that will finally allow some semblance of normality to return.

All members turning up to shoot at the Turton range ensured they adhered to proper social distancing practices

Anyway, enough of such ponderings! As a member of an airgun club with its own outdoor rifle range, once the lockdown measures had been slightly eased with government instructions indicating that sports such as shooting, fishing and golf could recommence, providing of course that strict social distancing measures were followed, the first thing we at the Rivington club had to do was confirm with our landowner that it would be acceptable for us to once again use his land for target shooting purposes.

Our club secretary, the Blackburn elf Ian Jones, then spent a few days receiving confirmation from both shooting bodies such as BASC and the club insurers that we would legally be able to shoot within the set of guidelines laid down by the government and that our insurance policy would remain valid.

Once Ian received confirmation that we were legitimately allowed to recommence our outdoor shooting activities, it was then just a matter of confirming to the membership that our range up on the West Pennine Moors was once again ‘live’.

It was made very plain to each individual member that social distancing measures, the regular use of hand cleansing and basically keeping your distance from any fellow shooter would be very strictly adhered to.

I don’t know about you, but I am already used to keeping my distance from other people, and I cringe when I see video footage of the crowded conditions that were very much a part of many people’s lives pre-virus. It is surprising how individual perceptions can alter so swiftly and the new normal becomes embedded within our own individual world.

Following a risk assessment of the conditions that would allow members to attend the outdoor range being agreed by the management committee and formalised, our members were contacted via our online forum to advise them when we would be allowed to shoot and what would be expected of them when there.

Andy takes a shot at a distant target with the help of his trusty Black and Decker Workmate, but the wind had other ideas

As we are a relatively large club, many of us anticipated that we would see lots of fellow members up on the range that first day. We didn’t, however. Maybe this is due to many of the membership not feeling comfortable with mixing with others while the main lockdown was still in place.

This turned out to be a blessing, as the reduced number of members present allowed the social distancing measures to be much more strictly managed with plenty of space between individual firing positions.

As a now confirmed aficionado of long-range indoor target shooting, I had elected to take along my old Black and Decker Workmate to act as a bench support, as did a few other members. This certainly helped me to position the gun, but if I am honest, it is not all that comfortable, and will have to be reconsidered if our shooting remains outdoors only, as it is at present.

We were already discussing suitable solutions for both the rest itself and seats that would allow suitable height adjustment for superior gun handling. We could of course have just shot from the prone position, but due to the various physical disabilities of some of us it was felt that the bench was the best idea.

These bench considerations do not apply to our more serious outdoor shooting members. Using both HFT and FT rigs, they shot the short course of fire that they had laid out to maintain their outdoor shooting skills. Talking of which, it was really shocking having to deal with a proper changeable breeze once again.

Some of the FT shooters enjoy the outdoors once again, setting up a short course of fire to let them catch up with their practice sessions

For those of us who have been using our air rifles to try to produce tiny groups at fifty yards plus when indoors, any attempt at tight grouping at a similar distance outdoors was frankly a complete waste of time as the wind swirled and made a mockery of our careful shot calculations.

One of my friends, Paul Wray, commented that the skills that were required by top FT and HFT shooters to knock down targets in such conditions had to be seen to be believed by mere mortals like us. Very true indeed!

We also agreed that the use of wind flags to advise the shooter just what is happening downrange would be a good idea for the future.

What was more important than any resulting accuracy considerations was the fact that everybody present enjoyed themselves, until we all got a bit cool in the wind and decided to retreat from the hill for a nice warm brew from our flasks.

Time had flown by as it tends to do when you are enjoying yourself, and we agreed to attend another day shooting our air rifles outdoors. Let us all hope that we will all be in a position to enjoy our hobbies at some time in the near future and that we are able to enjoy our freedom without restriction once again when the time is right.

More on target shooting from Andy McLachlan

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