Once a tunnel through which a local bypass ran, it’s now been converted into one of the most prestigious, Home Office-approved shooting ranges in the UK. We sent Simon Everett to find out more about The Tunnel Target Sports Centre and what it offers airgunners…
Just over five years ago, Richard Clyst – a self-confessed shooting enthusiast of many disciplines – acquired an unusual piece of land with a view to developing it into an exotic residence. That site was actually an old road tunnel, part of the main A35 in Dorset before the Charmouth bypass was constructed. Unfortunately, the local planning commttee turned down Richard’s building application – but that didn’t put him off. What did he re-submit his plans for? A shooting range, no less!
Now, on the face of it, you may find that hard to believe – except that it was at the time when Team GB’s Olympic shooting hopefuls needed a training facility for the upcoming 2012 London Games. You see, there were no Section 5-approved ranges for civilian use and the Team GB’s target pistol shooters were having to travel overseas in order to practise – one of the many ridiculous legacies left by the 1997 handgun ban.
To cut a long story short, the plans Richard put forward to convert the old tunnel into a shooting range for the benefit of our Olympic shooters were approved with minimal delay. Not only that, The Tunnel Target Sports Centre (as it was to be called) was also granted Section 5 clearance thanks to the construction of the mother of all backstops – four metres of sand backed by a further four metres of inert soil!
The Tunnel Target Sports Centre was officially opened five years ago, in July 2010, licensed by the Home Office for the use of airguns, small and fullbore rifles up to .50 calibre – and the facility offers ranges up to 100 metres.
While this suits all the target disciplines perfectly, the .50-calibre licence also adds a bonus to the centre’s appeal. Virtually equidistant between Plymouth, Portsmouth and Poole, The Tunnel is ideally situated to cater for the fast-growing maritime security industry, which employs over 8,000 personnel in the UK – and the financial stability this brings has a big knock-on effect for the airgun shooting facilities. Indeed, as far as rifle ranges go, The Tunnel is probably the plushest I have ever frequented!
With an attractive glazed façade and deep pile carpet – Axminster, of course! – throughout the reception, classrooms and social areas, stepping into The Tunnel makes an immediate impression. As the venue is underground, the temperature is more or less constant (and comfortable) throughout the year and, of course, it provides for a totally wind-free shooting environment. I can’t think of many places where airgunners can test their kit right out to 100 yards without any fear of undue interference from the elements.
Most airgunners will appreciate simply being able to shoot on the 25 or 35-metre ranges in such a still scenario – and this is why The Tunnel has seen the airgun side of its membership grow exponentially by comparison with rimfire shooters. Airgunners in the Devon and Dorset area are, for sure, extremely lucky, though word is getting around and airgun shooters are starting to come from all areas of the country to sample The Tunnel’s very airgun-friendly ‘atmosphere’.
The facilities have now expanded to provide a retail shop, which offers competitive pricing on virtually any product you care to mention. The watchword in the shop is customer service, coupled with the flexibility to provide whatever the client wants. There has been a deliberate decision to minimise the stock holding, limiting it to what is actually needed – “the basic requirements to start shooting,” as Richard calls it.
More experienced shooters will know what they are after, so Richard will supply to order for those more specialist requests. On the pellet side of things, Richard finds that RWS is the pellet brand of choice by many shooters. In fact, they support the regional squad.
All the major manufacturers are represented, especially those who specialise in 10-metre target shooting – Air Arms, Feinwerkbau, Hammerli, Morini, Steyr, Walther and Weihrauch, though other makes can be supplied to order. In addition to these brands, The Tunnel Club has its own range of merchandise under the name of PRO TSC for tactical rifle bags, accessory bags and its own array of exceptionally strong, steel targets.
What has really put The Tunnel Club on the map though is its ability to provide maritime security training. Indeed, it has the largest throughput of personnel in the UK. Over 2,500 people a year attend the courses, enjoying facilities like three well kitted-out classrooms and the judgemental suite, where the instant decision-making training and assessments take place. This consists of a simulator of real-world piracy and hostage-taking situations – a grown-up video game if you like
From an airgun perspective, shooters can become full members of The Tunnel Club for just £300 per year, which gives unlimited use of all the ranges (targets and ammo are extra). Another option is to simply turn up and pay on the door – prices start from £7.50 per lane per hour as a member‘s guest (£3.75 for juniors), or £15 as a non-member (£7.50 for juniors). Offering full supervision, the centre prides itself on being able to provide NSRA-qualified range officers. There’s also a great café, car parking and washroom facilities.
Whether you’re a plinker, 10-metre match, FT or HFT shooter seeking a wind-free environment to work out your trajectories, it’s the ideal venue. Even benchrest shooters frequent The Tunnel ranges to calculate the true datum points required for making consistent wind allowances when shooting outdoors – and it’s not unusual for corporate shooting days to be organised here, either.
Richard’s got further plans for his venue – as you’d expect any true shooting enthusiast to have. He would like to develop the remainder of the site, and a woodland HFT course has now already been set up there. This uses an above-ground parcel of land, tucked away in a quiet glade, where gun enthusiasts wishing to travel down to Dorset for a self-contained shooting break can stay in very comfortable log cabins.
With the expansion of the pistol shooting, especially the South West regional pistol squad training and the introduction of new shooters to airgunning and rimfire target shooting, the development of this range is part of the 2012 Games’ legacy.
And from what I saw, it’s certainly a great one, clearly introducing new shooters to the pastime and further the careers of those showing signs of a talented future. But forget our target shooters for a moment – it’s Richard who needs a medal, for bringing such a wonderful shooting facility to fruition!