40 years of Sport­ing Gun

Mike Ge­orge takes a look back at the his­tory of Sport­ing Gun.


One of the best things about be­ing a spe­cial­ist writer is that you avoid the te­dious gen­eral jour­nal­is­tic merry-go-round of bray­ing politi­cians, id­iots with crack­pot axes to grind, and self-cen­tred so-called “celebri­ties,” and get to talk to real peo­ple.

What’s more, work is fun – and that’s why I’ve tried to make my liv­ing by writ­ing about coun­try­side sports for more than 50 years. It’s great to en­joy a day’s shoot­ing or fish­ing and call it “es­sen­tial re­search”.

Magazine launch

Now let me take you back to the year 1977…

That was the year pub­lish­ing group Emap de­cided to launch a shoot­ing magazine, to com­pli­ment its suc­cess­ful an­gling ti­tles. But it had one prob­lem: it didn’t have an ed­i­tor in mind. Then some bright spark said: “Oh, Mike knows all about shoot­ing” – and that’s how I got the job.

To pre­pare the first is­sue I was given two months off from my po­si­tion as tech­ni­cal ed­i­tor of An­gling Times. It was a fright­en­ingly short timescale in which to launch a magazine.

My main prob­lem was that, in truth, “knows all about shoot­ing” was the over-state­ment of the cen­tury, and would still be a gross ex­ag­ger­a­tion to­day. Cer­tainly I’d been in­volved in the shoot­ing sports, as well as an­gling, since I was in my teens, but I was at that time pri­mar­ily a com­pet­i­tive ri­fle shooter who oc­ca­sion­ally took a win­ter trip to the Wash marshes, or en­joyed a day’s pi­geon or clay shoot­ing with some pals who lent me a shot­gun.

The only way to make sense of this daunt­ing task was to em­ploy a ba­sic, old­fash­ioned prin­ci­ple of good jour­nal­ism: if you don’t fully un­der­stand a sub­ject, then speak to some­one who does.

That ap­proach wasn’t my idea – it had been taught to me when I was a 17-year-old trainee re­porter. It’s been the phi­los­o­phy of ev­ery ed­i­tor Sport­ing Gun has ever had, which is why nowa­days ev­ery is­sue con­tains ad­vice by around 20 ex­perts on sub­jects as di­verse as coach­ing, gun­dogs and ve­teri­nary mat­ters, le­gal prob­lems, gun tests, fer­rets, stalk­ing, pi­geon shoot­ing, pest con­trol, wild­fowl­ing, and much more.

There were many peo­ple who helped me with that first is­sue, some­thing which proved to me just how gen­er­ous shoot­ing en­thu­si­asts are when it comes to shar­ing knowl­edge.

The first is­sue

One of the first peo­ple I ap­proached was Fred Buller, the pro­pri­etor of the gun and fish­ing tackle shop Chubbs of Edg­ware. Fred was an ac­com­plished gun maker as well as an an­gling ex­pert, and I went to see him on the ad­vice of an­gling le­gend Dick Walker. With help from Fred, and Peter­bor­ough gun­smiths Gal­lyon and

Sons, I was able to put to­gether an ar­ti­cle ad­vis­ing on the pur­chase of a first gun, and it says much about the shot­gun fash­ions of the age in that we picked an AYA Yeo­man side-by-side rather than an O/U. The gun cost £130 new.

Closer to my Lin­colnshire home, I found much-re­spected wild­fowler Alf Hal­garth,

who passed on some very sound ad­vice on safety on the marshes. Another group of shoot­ers, in­clud­ing ex­pert Jim Miller, helped with an ar­ti­cle on pi­geon shoot­ing, while I penned a re­port on the first clay shoot­ing com­pe­ti­tion Sport­ing Gun at­tended – the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships at Bland­ford and Dorset Gun Club.

The event was dom­i­nated by shoot­ers from the Soviet Union, and I couldn’t have guessed then that, in 1989, two years be­fore the Soviet Union col­lapsed, I was to ac­cept an in­vi­ta­tion to shoot on the ranges built for the Moscow Olympics of 1980.

For that first is­sue I got con­sid­er­able help on the writ­ing side from my col­league Melvyn Bag­nall, who, among other tasks, vis­ited two gun clubs to write pro­files on how they were or­gan­ised, con­trast­ing a big club with a small one. And we also ran an ar­ti­cle on prospects for the com­ing game sea­son.

I think my favourite piece in the whole magazine con­cerned a 21-gun sa­lute to mark the Queen’s Sil­ver Ju­bilee, us­ing the old punt guns from the Lin­colnshire washes. It took place in the vil­lage of Cow­bit, only three miles from my home, and was or­gan­ised by my ri­fleshoot­ing friend Ray Tyrrell. Cov­er­ing the event al­lowed me to have a fas­ci­nat­ing con­ver­sa­tion with Ray’s fa­ther, Edgar, who was a for­mer punt gun­ner.

Tech­ni­cal ed­i­tor

The magazine came out on time and sold well, but when I was asked if I would like to edit the pub­li­ca­tion on a per­ma­nent ba­sis, I de­clined. In ret­ro­spect it was a silly de­ci­sion, but it was in­flu­enced by the com­pany’s an­nounce­ment that it would cease pub­li­ca­tion un­less it was prof­itable af­ter six months. I sug­gested that Melvyn should take over. He was pre­pared to take the risk, so the magazine’s early suc­cess was re­ally down to him.

How­ever, things have a way of re­peat­ing them­selves, and in the mid­dle 1980s, hav­ing launched the magazine Tar­get Gun (for com­pet­i­tive pis­tol and ri­fle shoot­ers) I jumped at the chance to join the then ed­i­tor, Robin Scott, as his as­sis­tant. I quit Tar­get Gun be­cause the Emap sold it to an ex­tremely small pub­lish­ing house, and it turned out to be a wise de­ci­sion in the long term be­cause Tar­get Gun even­tu­ally folded due to panic changes to firearms law fol­low­ing the Dun­blane atroc­ity.

I con­tin­ued as Robin’s in-of­fice as­sis­tant un­til 1995, when I moved to Scot­land and be­came the magazine’s free­lance tech­ni­cal ed­i­tor. Now, at the ripe old age of 76, I’m still writ­ing tech­ni­cal ar­ti­cles – and still hav­ing fun.

The high­lights

One of the early high­lights in the 1980s was in­ter­view­ing the clay shoot­ing cham­pi­ons of the day, and get­ting to know some of them very well. I re­mem­ber an ar­ti­cle I did with Ge­orge Dig­weed when he first came to promi­nence as an English Skeet cham­pion, and ad­mir­ing the shoot­ing of Stuart Clarke, the most stylish shooter I have ever ob­served.

I also wanted to do a se­ries of ar­ti­cles on the qual­i­fi­ca­tions shoot­ers could seek, and I thought the best way of do­ing the re­search was to at­tempt to gain the qual­i­fi­ca­tions my­self. And that’s how, in April 1988, I be­came a CPSA-qual­i­fied club safety of­fi­cer.

Then, in 1991, I did the BASC Pro­fi­ciency Award Scheme course, thanks to my good friend Ste­wart Og­den who was a Sport­ing Gun con­trib­u­tor at the time. And it was Ste­wart who in­structed me on the BASC Pest and Preda­tor course, the cer­tifi­cate for which I hung on my of­fice wall dur­ing the six years I was ed­i­tor of our lo­cal news­pa­per, the Banff­shire Jour­nal, in par­al­lel with my free­lance Sport­ing Gun role. If any­one asked what it was, I was able to tell them I didn’t have a diploma in any­thing, but I was a qual­i­fied rat catcher.

In terms of per­sonal sat­is­fac­tion, I had a great time. For in­stance, I did all of the new and sec­ond-hand gun tests and car­tridge tests at one time, and I reckon I must have shot around 200 dif­fer­ent guns, and pos­si­bly more dif­fer­ent car­tridges from .410 to 10-bore.

Most tasks have given me huge plea­sure, and I only got re­ally an­noyed once, and ex­pressed my dis­gust in print. It was when I at­tended a BASC Wild­fowl Con­fer­ence some time in the 1980s, and learned that the As­so­ci­a­tion had ac­cepted the need for anti-lead shot leg­is­la­tion and was mak­ing plans with­out con­sult­ing the mem­ber­ship. I thought this was high-handed, and I still do, but this ar­ti­cle is not a place for shoot­ing pol­i­tics. It is to record the great times I have had, thanks to Sport­ing Gun, since that first is­sue in 1977.

Sport­ing Gun is now pub­lished by the Time Inc. UK group, in the dis­tin­guished com­pany of Bri­tain’s finest shoot­ing and coun­try­side mag­a­zines: Shoot­ing Times, The Field, and Shoot­ing Gazette.

Ju­bilee cel­e­bra­tions The 21-gun sa­lute to mark the Queen’s Sil­ver Ju­bilee was or­gan­ised by Mike’s friend Ray Tyrrell (in­set)

Ex­pert ad­vice Mike Ge­orge had help from gun­smiths Gal­lyon and Sons

Back again Mike Ge­orge re­turned to Sport­ing Gun in the 1980s as Robin’s as­sis­tant

Sport­ing Gun’s first is­sue was pub­lished in July 1977

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