I started clay pigeon shooting in 1963, I was 16 years old. The licence required at that time was obtained from the Post Office for 10/- (50p). Incidentally, it was the same for a local fishing licence. I was encouraged to have a go by my work mate Irving Mallinson and our boss Rodney Balmforth, who were both members of the Royal Oak Shotgun Club (ROSC). I took to it like a duck to water.
Both of these photos were taken about 30 years ago, the top one was the ROSC members at the time, I’m stood second from the right, the bottom photo was taken while me and Moi were on the Plymouth to Santander ferry.
Hungerford, Dunblane and their effect
The law on all firearm ownership and licensing changed following the Hungerford shooting of August 1987, when 16 people died which then led to the Firearms (Amendment) Act of 1988. Tragically, another 17 people died at a mass shooting in March 1996, at Dunblane. This remains Britain’s deadliest mass shooting.
Unlike in the USA, British public opinion does not seem to be in favour of general firearm ownership, we even favour our police being unarmed under normal circumstances. Stringent checks are carried out by, or on behalf of, the police to ensure that guns and ammunition are stored in a safe and correct manner, and that the owner has a good and legitimate reason for owning that particular firearm. The applicant is also required to provide details of their GP in order that any conditions that may affect their suitability to possess a firearm can be considered.
Black powder rifles (smooth bore) and very limited types of other rifles are permitted, and shotguns have also to comply with many restrictions. Pistols are no longer allowed in general ownership. The exception to these conditions is for antique guns, but even then, many if not all of these have to be de-commissioned (permanently made safe).
Several of my mates also had an interest in firearms at the time and I had opportunities to join them on their rifle and pistol shooting ranges from the early 70s. Although I have never owned a rifle or pistol I was allowed to attend as a guest on many occasions, also guests were allowed to join me at the many clay pigeon ranges of which there were nine that I regularly attended around Huddersfield up to the 1990s, I think I’m correct is saying there is one or maybe two now.
We all eventually accepted that something had to change, The authorities were rightly making things more regulated and we moved on to what we were allowed to do which I think is part of our tolerant British way. Hobbies and interest change for all sorts of reasons, sometimes we just lose interest, and sometimes these changes are forced upon us. The firearms act of 1988 brought with it a different attitude towards firearms and many of my fellow enthusiasts drifted away to other things. I continued clay pigeon shooting for another twenty years or so and now even I have drifted towards a quieter hobby.
The Life of ‘Brian’
Before the change in firearms regulations there was one very keen shooter of my regular acquaintance who would endlessly experiment with guns and ammunition. For the sake of this article, I will call him ‘Brian’. To say that Brian was keen was a vast understatement; obsessed would be closer. He needed to have a gun close by at all times. Not that he was at all aggressive, fearful, or likely to use a gun in public; in fact he was probably one of the most passive characters one would wish to meet. It was just his need to have a best mate in the shape of a gun nearby.
He would often carry a pistol about with him. Sometimes he carried an enormous Smith and Wesson .44 magnum – the gun that Clint Eastwood uses in the Dirty Harry films. These guns were cannons and had the reputation of having the energy to stop a car. If his clothing was unsuitable to carry a gun, he would persuade his long-suffering wife to carry one for him in her handbag, and what a clunk it made when she put her bag on the restaurant or pub table.
As he loaded all his own cartridges with experimental shot, it wasn’t unusual for him to mix them up. When firing at a quickly disappearing clay, a roman candle would shoot from the end of the shotgun – to his embarrassment and everyone else’s amusement.
The relationship with Brian and his wife reached breaking point one day, soon after Brian acquired a de-commissioned Thompson sub-machine gun (Tommy Gun). This was the weapon made famous by American gangsters in the 1930s, that went on to see action in World War 2. It had been made to allow only one bullet to be fired at any one time, which was perfectly legal ownership at that time. However, this left a challenge to someone like Brian who felt it his duty to return this iconic weapon back to its glorious original state.
When the cat’s away
While wives are at work, this can often be the time for the very naughty boy to come out to play. In Brian’s case he placed a huge tree log on his lounge carpet and began to fire his gun at it. At first it fired one bullet of course, and then he changed, adjusted, filed, bent and hammered the mechanism until it fired a magazine full of bullets at the log.
Much elated and satisfied with his work, he put the gun and log away with no-one the wiser; until the next day that is, when his wife came home to discover the damaged carpet. She didn’t know the full details until she stormed in on Brian at work to confront him.
It transpired that the Thompson sub-machine gun is notoriously difficult to keep pointing forward when firing multiple shots.Two of the bullets had struck the stone floor under the log and travelled along the floor cutting two neat grooves in the carpet and embedded themselves in the wall at the other end of the lounge.This was discovered when the strip of carpet wrapped itself around the vacuum cleaner brushes his wife was using. She followed the grooves to the wall and discovered the two bullet holes and it wasn’t rocket science to determine the culprit.
Poor old Brian had his ear proper bent. It wasn’t long after, that they split up.
I liked Brian, he was certainly a character but I’m sure he was difficult to live with, and I’m equally sure that the thought of a Thompson sub-machine gun spontaneously bursting into life under the bed cannot have been an easy life. Brian is on the group photo, he has been long gone this last 20 years or more, and I have sold all my shotgun equipment. We move on to other things, but the memories linger on, and one of my fond memories is of Brian.