Our resident legal expert, Stuart Farr, is a partner at Taylors law firm and welcomes contact from people in the industry with a problem that needs solving.
Although I welcomed the opportunity to write an article based around the theme of “Why We Shoot”, I knew immediately it was going to be a challenge—for two main reasons.
Firstly, I’d have to openly admit that, in the beginning, I actually disliked shooting… gulp! Secondly, I would then, somehow, need to explain why 40 years’ worth of shooting related experiences rendered the first issue a total irrelevance. Not such an easy task within the confines of an editorial word count.
My first shooting experience was dire, and I hated it. A muddy field; snowing and bitterly cold; totally inadequate clothing; no hearing protection and guns that were either too stiff to open or literally rattled in my hands. I was 11 years old. My father had been asked to join a few friends shooting clays launched from a “sit on” trap from behind a wobbly stack of straw bales in a remote field somewhere I can’t now recall.
I near froze to death and with brittle hands I struggled with the guns, loading, mounting and virtually everything else. I hit nothing. I couldn’t wait to take my bruised upper body home and swore (to myself) I would never do it again. I doubt I am alone!
Fast forward several months and my father— who’s experiences in the muddy field had been far more enjoyable than mine—acquired a certificate, gun cabinet and a Beretta 680 Sporter. He’d been invited to join a local clay club one Sunday morning.
With nothing else to occupy my easily bored teenage mind (and this time much better clothed!) I went along. There I met my first two shooting heroes… Ray (now sadly deceased) and Andy.
Taking me under their wings they taught me to shoot safely, properly and well. I started to hit targets in numbers and then, as the saying goes, “I never looked back”. It was a rubicon crossed.
For some years after, shooting for me was largely centred around learning, practice and participation. Early doors I was “given” (ahem, please remember this is around 40 years ago) a second-hand BSA Meteor air rifle and I immediately set about the task of getting my eye in.
I unscrewed and removed all the sights and “pointed” it at various targets in the wide, enclosed backyard at home. I shot—more or less—every day after school.
Thousands upon thousands of pellets. I smashed cans, ice cubes, pennies and even half pennies. I practiced and developed my knowledge and focus. I absorbed everything I could about shooting and loved every minute of it.
Many more rubicon-style “firsts” and experiences followed in the years ahead. My first shotgun certificate; my first shotgun purchase; my first competition; my first go with a “top drawer” gun (WOW!); meeting another shooting hero, Kate; my first go at Trap shooting; going to Italy and purchasing a factory fitted “top drawer” gun (WOW!); first kill “for the pot” while field shooting; becoming skilled in vermin control; and many more. All of them, in their own unique and individual way, spurred along what had become a lifelong passion for shooting and the countryside.
However, one of the more interesting aspects of shooting for me has been its connections to other things. Over the years my shooting experiences became part of a much more wide ranging and holistic set of topics and interests.
Whether it is wildlife observation and conservation, animal welfare, foraging, firearms law, countryside issues or ethical conduct in shooting and the countryside—all of these subjects now feed directly into my knowledge and have served to broaden my understanding and experiences immeasurably.
They also guide me on the principles that I abide by, especially when it comes to animal and environmental matters. Shooters are not devoid of conscience. Far from it. Many shooters I know are also passionate about the same things as me and possess an acutely advanced knowledge of (and respect for) the natural world around them.
To my mind this only serves to illustrate the positive influence which shooting and other countryside activities can have. In particular, it highlights the duties and responsibilities which the shooting community has adopted over many years.
As a lawyer, being able to bring one’s “hobbies and interests” to work was a boon. I have never been blind to the many problems and criticisms which shooting has been subjected to. Year after year of new and increasingly restrictive legislation, court actions and adverse publicity have done precious little to encourage new people to participate in shooting.
That’s a shame. Even though, in fairness, some of the various legal developments had at least some degree of purpose behind them, the fact remains that too many criticisms were often, sadly, knee-jerk reactions led by the misinformed. Thankfully, the tide now seems to be turning.
The mind boggles at the breadth of variety across the industry. Firearms, ammunition and accessory manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors, landowners, shooting grounds, crafts people, artisans, artists, writers, gamekeepers and butchers to name but a few. The sector is a broad church and therein lies part of its appeal.
It’s a huge community of people. Each participant has something different to offer and those who shoot have the freedom either to skim the surface or delve more deeply into its fascinating depths. I chose the latter and am now fortunate to be able to combine my professional work with my boyhood passion for shooting.
Shooting is also a unique physical activity in terms of its capacity for participation across a broad age spectrum. Young people are easily able to find a level which is appropriate and suitable for them.
For the older generations (like me) maintaining a consistent degree of skill and competence over the years is possible because shooting comes in many different and interesting formats and guises. For my part, I am not sure I shall have the time or stamina for competitive shooting for many more years to come.
However, I take comfort that I am able (and still competent) to sit for several hours in a barn waiting for a single rat. As my physical reflexes diminish in power, experience steps in and compensates for the loss. “You have all the time you need” I can now tell myself. Youthful hesitancy has been replaced with confidence and purpose.
Nature has shown us that over years two creatures can become symbiotic. My relationship with shooting is now much the same. I shoot because of all the knowledge, experience, perspective and fond memories of the people I have encountered.
In return I am able to use those same elements to help and assist others where I can. I stand alongside those who wish to do so the same. I do so with gratitude for the rewarding experience shooting has given me and a warm welcome for all those at grass roots who wish to commence their own life time journey in shooting.