Jamie Chandler sees his local club through different eyes
Jamie changes his views on airgun clubs when he visits his local, Lains
I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of an all-weathers outdoorsman. I have disappeared out after quarry in all manner of conditions, and at all times of the day, believing I never have let the weather stop me, but that’s not always the entire truth. There are plenty of times when I have looked out of my window at home, then back at the fire, and decided to put another log on or just head to the pub instead. It appears that self-motivation isn’t always my strong suit.
Likewise, I’ve always been a bit wary of airgun ranges. Like clay grounds or rifle ranges, airgun ranges have always held at least one of the three types of people I dread the most. There’s the ‘rule king’; the guy who is quick to point out that I can’t enter HFT competitions because I can’t shoot prone without a bipod, do a back flip, roll my tongue, or some other archaic rule from sub- clause 1110542.9 of the rule book – ‘ but you’re more than welcome to have a play, although your score won’t count’. There’s also the one who makes a beeline for me, watches me and then calls his mates over to watch with him, declaring loudly, “He’s doing all right, considering. He’s amazing, bearing in mind he has no hands”. Finally, there’s the self-promoted Health and Safety bod, who will ask in a loud, normally nasally voice, “Is he safe?” from about four metres behind me, and then watch to ensure that I don’t contravene any of his, again, self-imposed safety regulations, or worse, attempt to have me removed from the club because he feels I’m unsafe.
GREAT WEATHER FOR DUCKS
All of the above taken as read, I was sitting at home last Wednesday watching the late April rain smash down on the ground, and the wind whip at tree branches for what seemed like the fifth month in a row, and decided on the spur of the moment, to head to my local range and have maybe a couple of hours’ damp but quiet plinking time without the danger of meeting that many people. I mean, range-types don’t bring their guns out in the wet, right?
I’ve always liked the look of Lain’s Shooting School’s airgun range near Andover, my local range, but never really used it. I’ve seen it when using the clay pigeon ground there, and occasionally visited, like when I took the BSA Gold Star to ask member’s opinions, about two years ago, but that was a fleeting visit and although fun, it was with a work focus. This was really going to be my first true visit to use the airgun range and I was a bit apprehensive.
I turned up, still with the rain belting down, and made a dash for the reception desk in the comfortable café- cum-lounge area. Apart from some excellent airgun reading matter I noted on a table, a few bits you could buy and free coffee, it was deserted – a great sign for me! I signed in and made a quip about choosing a quiet day, to which came the surprising reply, “Oh no, they’re all outside. Just ask for Mike or Paul and they’ll show you everything.”
I was a little dumbfounded; my stereotype of plinking bods, like daffodils only really coming out in the sun, was being directly challenged and then there was the nasally voice in my head, reminding me that I won’t be allowed to shoot, or I’ll have to be somehow indoctrinated by attending a course, and only then be a probationer until such time that I earned my merit badge. I found my backbone, straightened my stride and walked toward the group of about 14 members, looking for Mike or Paul. Whether a serendipitous coincidence or a sign from above, the rain stopped almost instantly and the sun came out.
“airgun ranges have always held at least one of the three types of people I dread the most”
I was greeted warmly by Mike, who was keen to introduce Paul. Between them they share the chores of continued maintenance of the ranges, keeping targets painted, taking out trees in the main woodland plinking range to allow more light through, and keeping the woodland floor relatively clear for the hundreds of targets they have, going out to 80 yards. Mike explained that it was really a labour of love, and having experienced other clubs and ranges, in conjunction with Lain’s Shooting School, they wanted to make the airgun range here as open and attractive to anyone who wants to visit, whether they were just starting out with airguns, or if they’d had years of practice.
As Paul pointed out, he and Mike maybe the unofficial caretakers, but the group is really a hodgepodge of people; guys, girls, young and old, who come from all parts of the airgun world. Some have £ 90.00 springers, others have collections of topend Steyrs or Daystates. Some use their
time at the range to practise for the field, others to fire a few shots and shoot the breeze. The idea is that everyone’s welcome, and the atmosphere is one that’s free from overbearing rules and politics, whilst ensuring that safety is adhered to for the benefit of all.
Mike showed me round to The Warren, a group of about 18 rabbit targets set up over an actual bank that used to house a rabbit warren. Complete with brambles and shooting distances out to 38 yards, it really gives the impression of a warren at the side of a horse paddock or cricket pitch. If you were craving some hunting time after your plinking, then this could certainly keep you entertained.
I must make a special mention of Dave. Dave’s skill in ‘airgun-smithery’ is just amazing. His Weihrauch HW100 was a thing to behold, with a home-sculpted stock, remoulded from the original, and an FX cylinder and a pressure gauge moved from the front of the bottle to the side of the stock, and trigger reworked. Dave’s skill didn’t stop there. He showed me his amazing take- down rifle that he had pretty much built from the ground up, borrowing bits from various other airguns he had, to create something of a masterpiece.
“Why airguns?” Dave repeated in answer to my question of ‘why not rimfire or shotguns?’ and gave a similar answer to almost everyone else there. “There’s just so much more to them, in how they’re made, how they shoot, how much you have to do to get the best of them, and the people you meet through the sport.”
NOT A SHOT!
After two hours, I had to come away and only on leaving did it occur to me that my Lightening XL SE that I’d taken to use was still in the car. I’d had a fantastic couple of hours in the company of people I’d never met before, just rambling with them about airguns. I really had a great time and hadn’t fired a single shot.
In short, the brilliant community, relaxed atmosphere and facilities have really changed my idea about airgun ranges, and I will certainly be returning. Perhaps I’ll even remember to take the gun out of the car next time!
I received a warm welcome by some of the wet weather locals
A wet but welcome greeting
Dave’s extraordinary, home- made, take- down rifle, pure talent!
A lovely HW 95 with a few custom upgrades including brass stock screws
The Warren; testing rabbit targets in front of an actual abandoned warren, nice touch!
Paul demonstrates his skill on the main range
The main range has a huge choice of targets
Dave and his magic box