Clare Mills

One new love soon led to an­other for this mem­ber of Bri­tain’s muz­zle-load­ing team, who also co-founded Anglian Muz­zle Load­ers

The Field - - Countr Estate | Sporting Dianas -­glian­muz­zleload­

WHEN you are ap­proach­ing your mid­for­ties and you em­bark on a new ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship, it helps to keep an open mind and a will­ing­ness to em­brace new hob­bies and in­ter­ests. Lit­tle did I know when I met muz­zle-load­ing en­thu­si­ast Martin Crix that a whole new world was open­ing up to me.

Guns and shoot­ing could not have been fur­ther from my mind when we first met. In fact, I had a slight fear of guns that was to­tally un­founded. Martin had a life­long in­ter­est in all shoot­ing sports and I would ac­com­pany him on clay and game shoots, where he would shoot his muz­zle-loader. The shoot­ing and gun ter­mi­nol­ogy started to rub off and it wasn’t long be­fore I started to shoot. I found it an ex­tremely frus­trat­ing sport but, at the same time, in­ex­pli­ca­bly re­ward­ing when I did oc­ca­sion­ally con­nect with the tar­get. For­tu­nately, a few months af­ter start­ing Martin at­tended a CPSA In­struc­tor Train­ing Course that not only helped my shoot­ing but prob­a­bly saved our re­la­tion­ship, too.

I started to shoot muz­zle-load­ers in 2008, mainly at Lak­en­heath Clay Tar­get Cen­tre (now re-opened as Eriswell Lodge). The owner at the time, Pete Usher, was very sup­port­ive of this mi­nor­ity sport and en­cour­aged us to start a muz­zle-load­ing club at the ground. So, with three found­ing mem­bers – Martin, Bev Kee­ble and my­self – we started Lak­en­heath Muz­zle Load­ers (now Anglian Muz­zle Load­ers fol­low­ing the clo­sure of Lak­en­heath and sub­se­quent move to Cam­bridge Gun Club, who have been equally sup­port­ive). The club is now in its 10th year and we hold a muz­zle-load­ing clay shoot once a month with some 15 to 20 muz­zle-load­ers at­tend­ing reg­u­larly.

I started to shoot with the GB muz­zleload­ing clay team, DTL train­ing at Sy­well Range in Northamp­ton­shire. In late 2008, it was sug­gested that I join the team as a Tyro – some­one who had not shot a qual­i­fy­ing score but showed prom­ise. In 2009, I trav­elled to Va­len­cia with the MLAGB (Muz­zle Load­ing As­so­ci­a­tion of Great Bri­tain) team, con­sist­ing of ri­fle, pis­tol and shot­gun shoot­ers, for my first in­ter­na­tional cham­pi­onships. It was a proud mo­ment for me when I was asked to be the flag bearer for the GB team at the open­ing cer­e­mony.

My first foray into game shoot­ing was about five years ago, when our friend Derek Richard­son in­vited me to share a peg with him on a shoot near Bury St Ed­munds. As this was a new ex­pe­ri­ence for me I took my breech-loader (a side-by-side, 12-bore Charles Lan­caster circa 1906). I now go to about five game shoots each sea­son and al­ways shoot my 12-bore Stensby sin­gle­bar­rel muz­zle-loader, circa 1850.

On most of the shoots we go to guns use breech-load­ers. Martin and I share a peg with our muz­zle-load­ers, which keeps us in the shoot­ing as once one gun is empty we step back and reload whilst the other stands ‘live’ on the peg. The other guns are al­ways keen to see the old muz­zle-load­ers bring­ing down the birds with a big boom and great plume of smoke. A picker-up who stood be­hind me on a re­cent shoot timed me load­ing my sin­gle bar­rel – 35 sec­onds, which he thought was im­pres­sive. The adren­a­line of a busy drive makes you load even quicker. It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber never to look up – what the eye does not see, the heart will not grieve. If you lose con­cen­tra­tion and mis­load, the gun will not go off and you spend the rest of the drive re­mov­ing the load from the bar­rel. How­ever, there are no plas­tic car­tridges to col­lect.

Prepa­ra­tion is key to shoot­ing a muz­zleloader, even more so when you are on a game shoot. It saves load­ing time if you glue the cards to the wads. I like to travel light on the shoot but there are a few es­sen­tials you have to have with you: an un­load­ing stick and a de­cap­per or small pli­ers to re­move the caps dur­ing or at the end of the drive.

It is hard to ex­plain the muz­zle-loader to peo­ple who haven’t tried one. The anal­ogy I use is that of mak­ing a mug of cof­fee at home. If you use in­stant, the whole process is quick, ef­fi­cient and clin­i­cal. Com­pare this to mak­ing a cafetière of fresh cof­fee. The dif­fer­ence is as much about the jour­ney as it is about savour­ing the end prod­uct.

Martin and I and our fel­low muz­zle-load­ers at­tend many game fairs through­out the year of­fer­ing the pub­lic have-a-go op­por­tu­ni­ties with these guns, and the smiles on ev­ery­one’s faces says it all. Al­though I have sev­eral muz­zle-load­ers, a Banks 13-bore dou­ble-bar­rel, a Ped­er­soli re­pro­duc­tion flint­lock, my choice of gun is the Stensby sin­gle bar­rel. As some­one once said to me, “Beware the lady with one gun.”

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