Under the Influence
Of course shooting and alcohol don’t mix, but Ethan Lowry says that even a small tipple could affect your scores much longer than you think
Ethan Lowry has some wise words for anyone mixing their spirits and shooting
Idon’t know about you, but when the weekend approaches, the one thing on my mind is breaking clays. It’s not just the shooting itself that we long for, but also the strong social aspect that comes along with it. Like any club or competition circuit, the camaraderie often spills out from the sports ground, and after a day’s shooting what better way of winding down than enjoying an hour or two with friends in the pub. Nothing wrong with that, but what about that drink the night before a shoot? Surely just a small one can’t hurt – or can it?
Nowadays of course we are all well aware of the effects of alcohol on driving, and the consequences of driving with alcohol in the bloodstream. It goes without saying that alcohol and shooting don’t mix, and I trust that no reader of this magazine would dream of drinking even the smallest amount of alcohol before or during a shoot. But what about the night before, or the night before that? I’m not talking about drinking to excess here. Clearly it wouldn’t be much fun to enter a 100-bird shoot with a thumping hangover from a heavy session the night before, and your performance would inevitably suffer. But where do we draw the line? Surely a small glass of wine with a meal, or a half of beer, can’t do our shooting any harm the following day, can it? Well, you might be surprised to learn how much even the smallest drink can affect your performance, even long after the alcohol itself has left your body.
What the law says
Let’s deal with the legal side of things first. Quite rightly, it is illegal to be drunk and handle a loaded firearm. It’s also illegal to hand someone else a firearm or ammunition if you believe they are drunk, so both of you would be breaking the law and, if caught, would face serious consequences – including a fine and potentially a prison sentence. The severity of the punishment increases significantly if any other crime is committed at the same
time. Plus of course the consequences of a negligent discharge at a clay ground, with all the cars, buildings and people around, don’t bear thinking about.
With driving, there are clearly defined limits for the amount of alcohol that can be present in your blood, breath or urine before you are legally defined as drink driving. These are lower in Scotland to the rest of the UK. For instance, the limit is 80 milligrammes per 100ml of blood in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 50mg/100ml in Scotland. That still leaves the question of exactly how much alcohol you can drink before exceeding those figures, and how long the alcohol will remain in your system before levels in your body fall below the legal limits. There are published guidelines which suggest that a pint or two will be gone from your system the following morning, but it depends on factors such as your weight, age, metabolism, what you’ve eaten recently, and even your stress levels at the time.
The law is less clear when it comes to alcohol and shooting. There is no actual blood-alcohol limit specified that would make it illegal for you to shoot; the law simply states that you cannot be drunk, a somewhat subjective test. If it ever came to that, a court would have to decide whether or not you were drunk in charge of a firearm. They would likely rely on evidence such as witness descriptions of your behaviour at the time, any manifest inability to handle the gun properly, such as a negligent discharge, and the results of any blood or other tests carried out by the police after the event.
While on the subject of the law, it’s worth noting that as shooters we are held to a high standard in our behaviour generally, even when we are not shooting. Any offence that involves being intoxicated, such as a drink driving offence, may well lead to your Shotgun Certificate being revoked. If you have been reckless enough to drink and drive, the police are likely to draw the conclusion that you are not someone who can be trusted to own a gun without endangering public safety.
Effects on the body
So as we’ve seen, it’s perfectly possible to have a small drink the night before a shoot without breaking the law. Even staying well within the legal limits, however, alcohol has a wide range of effects on the body – most of which are not conducive to good shooting! These include: a reduced ability to see objects that are far away and moving at speed; blurred vision; reduced peripheral vision; delayed reaction times; reduced speed/coordination and impaired balance.
That’s not a good combination for shooting. On the plus side, alcohol can temporarily reduce your heart rate, which might be seen as beneficial to shooting. However that is more than outweighed by all the negative side effects.
In any case, there are better ways of controlling your heart rate which don’t involve drinking alcohol!
Anyone who has experienced a hangover will understand that the effects of alcohol can linger on after the alcohol itself has left the body. A heavy session can leave you feeling dreadful, but even a small amount of alcohol will have an effect on things like vision, focus and reaction times the following day. Even if you convince yourself that you feel fine, you’re likely to suffer a measurable drop in performance.
So what’s the advice?
My advice for anyone who takes their shooting even remotely seriously is quite simple: avoid drinking alcohol altogether for at least a couple of days before shooting. That way, you avoid any possible reduction in your performance resulting from alcohol’s effects on your body.
For those who take a more casual or recreational approach to their shooting, we’re heading into more of a grey area.
As with driving, we should never go anywhere near the limits of what’s permitted by law. Drinking before or during a shoot is an absolute no-no.
But if you’re out with friends a day or two before, you’re not driving, you happen to fancy a small one and you’re willing to accept the possibility that you might not shoot your best score ever, well – that’s up to you.
“as shooters we are held to a high standard in our behaviour generally, even when we are not shooting”