Helping newcomers into shooting

Helping newcomers to get into shooting is vital to the survival of our sport and Mat Manning reckons many of us could be doing more to steer new recruits in the right direction

There is an awful lot of talk in the shooting press and on social media about the importance of encouraging more people to give field sports a try. Given the proven health and social benefits of our sport, not to mention the huge amount of misconceptions surrounding field sports and the people who take part in them, it sounds like a very good idea. I think most of us could and should be doing a lot more to make it happen.

Too many people still regard the shooting community as being a closed shop. While I don’t regard that assumption as ringing true, I really do think that much more could be done to open our doors.

Organisations such as BASC do a great job of promoting shooting and offering people a chance to give it a try, as do many clubs, but I reckon that most of us at the sharp end could make a far greater contribution as individuals.

Those of us who work in the industry are in a great position to help new recruits to give shooting a try. We have contacts on shoots and ranges, and we can assist newcomers with deals on hardware, clothing and accessories.

Of course, there are numerous people in the industry who don’t actually shoot but they all know plenty of shooters and can easily point newcomers in the right direction if they are looking for someone to offer practical guidance.

I think those of us who are able to should make a real effort to take newcomers under our wing and give them a real taste of what it is that makes shooting such a wonderful pastime.

If you’re reading this before the Christmas holidays then it’s likely that you’re about to have a few days off work. It’s a rare occasion when so many of us take a holiday over the same period, which could mean a very useful opportunity to introduce newcomers to shooting.

I know that finding time to do anything other than trundle from one family commitment to the next can be pretty tricky over the festive break but there should still be plenty of opportunities over the coming year.

Apart from passing on and sharing the pleasure of shooting, it is also by far the best way to ensure the future of our sport, as new recruits really are its lifeblood. Too many people have reservations about shooting simply because they haven’t experienced it, don’t really understand quite what it entails and often aren’t sure how to get involved even if they want to.

Giving people a chance to get out and give it a try is the best way to change their perceptions. I have introduced dozens of non-shooters to the sport, some of them very keen from the outset and some of them with a little trepidation – none of them didn’t enjoy it once they gave it a go. I could do a lot more though, and I certainly intend to.

I stopped being secretive about my love of field sports many years ago. Where I might once have worried about offending people by talking about shooting, I now take every opportunity I can to celebrate it, defend it and share it with others.

Interestingly, it rarely prompts a negative response and, surprisingly often, is met with comments such as “do you ever have any pigeons going spare?” and even “could I come along with you sometime?”

Taking along newcomers isn’t just a chance to swell our ranks by introducing more people to the sport, it is also a golden opportunity to ensure they do it safely. How many times have we scoffed at accounts of reckless of gun handling or quarry identification shortfalls among “clueless newcomers”?

There is no excuse for shortcomings when it comes to shooting safely or treating our quarry with respect and I am pretty sure that far fewer people would fall short in either department if only they had the benefit of an experienced mentor during their formative years.

I was very lucky to have family members who were happy to nurture my hunger for shooting sports when I was a young boy, but not all newcomers are in such a fortunate position.

Most of the shooting accidents I’ve heard of can be attributed to the absence of a sound grounding in gun handling and acceptable conduct in the field and on the range.

Shooters who cut their teeth under the guidance of an experienced shot are at a huge advantage when it comes to understanding and adopting safe and responsible habits. I’m sure we’d get a lot less bad publicity if more of us took the time to ensure that all newcomers were safe, responsible shots and good ambassadors for our sport.

So if you can think of a friend or family member who has shown an interest in shooting but hasn’t yet had the chance to give it a go, why not line up an outing with them over the coming weeks?

Whether it’s tin-toppling on the garden range or an afternoon out in wintry woodland, I can assure you that you will give them an experience to cherish. And it isn’t just them who stand to gain – nurturing somebody else’s interest in, and responsible attitude towards, shooting sports can be extremely gratifying.

One shooting experience with newcomers that really sticks in mind is a trip to Scotland with a bunch of friends of few years ago. Of our party of six adults and seven children, my son and I were the only shooters, but I decided to stow an air rifle in the roof box as the owner of the lodge where were staying said she would be more than happy for me to do a bit of target shooting while we were there.

My wife was a bit concerned about how some of our friends might react as I produced a gun bag from the car, but the look on all of their faces was one of delight, and all the children were close to bursting with excitement. Over the next few days, I showed the kids how to handle the gun safely and then let them rip on a bunch of spinning and smashing targets.

Every one of them absolutely loved it, and it wasn’t long before the parents muscled in. Several years on and one of the girls is a keen shooter and her dad sometimes joins me on pigeon shooting trips.

It just goes to show what we can achieve, if we are willing to put the effort in.

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