It greatly saddens me to find out that when it comes to target shooting people are being denied the chance to compete by overzealous clubs. Or from my own experience one club in particular, and it is with this entry I will go into more detail (withholding names of members and the club), exactly as it happened. Well from my own journalistic impression that is, you can draw your own conclusion, but I digress.
It was with an immense interest that I discovered my local leisure centre had a projectile range, I’d been in the centre quite a few times yet had no idea it housed its very own indoor small bore rifle range. So almost as soon as I discovered its existence I began my search to find out how I could use it as I am passionate about shooting rimfires and the range is within an easy drive for me. My first thought was to contact the centre to see if I could hire it but I was informed that a rifle club has exclusive use, and I had to leave my contact details with them so they could pass them on. So I did just that and began the wait for someone to get back to me.
6 weeks passed by and I had almost given up hope when I received a phone call from a member, (I won’t mention names), that asked me a few questions, wanting to know my experience etc, so I answered his queries and he invited me up to another range they use. He said they are taking on new members and that I would be made very welcome so to say I was happy would be an understatement. A date was arranged for me to view the outdoor facility (also close to the leisure centre) and to shoot some club weapons as well as my beloved Ruger 10/22.
So with a spring in my step I loaded the car with my 22, around 300 rounds and my FAC. The directions I received were spot on so I pulled up the long country lane, rounded a corner and there it was, a purpose built outdoor range and clubhouse beside a lake for which that day, I would have full use of. My contact welcomed me, explained the rules of the range etc and invited me to set up my rifle and start shooting. I have to say everyone I met that day was very friendly and I had a great time shooting some club pistols, including a well used Glock and a tried and tested Smith and Wesson revolver. So after a good days shooting and craic I was invited to attend the indoor range at the leisure centre next session to meet the “target boys” and, was told I had membership the rest was just a formality. So I thanked him and was on my way excited for my future as a club member and ready to compete.
As I pulled into the car park and found a space I quickly realised where the range was and with a little trepidation I knocked the door. I was greeted by the club president who appeared to be in high spirits and I was invited to take a few shots from the bench rest at the standard 10 target card. I set up and got to work however I was interrupted several times by him to answer some light questions but it was all very friendly, more like light banter than an interrogation but it seemed a little unusual. A few remarks were made about my rifle as being “a tractor” and that I “could never compete without buying a target rifle”, when I got 10 bulls however the smile disappeared. Regardless though I shook hands with him at the end of the night and looked forward to the next week.
Seven days came and went and I returned to the indoor range, entered and made my way to a bench to begin. I was interrupted as I opened my bag and was informed the president had to see my rifle before it was removed to make sure it was empty. As my bolt was locked open I felt it was obviously empty but made a note of club rules, apologised saying I didn’t know and carried on. However as I was not made aware of the indoor ranges/club rules I assumed it was not a major sin worthy of excummuniation. Apparently I was wrong because to say his demeanour towards me changed would be under selling it.
At the next meeting he was less than friendly and I got the feeling I was a nuisance to him. I had to wait until everyone else had finished before being allowed a lane (over an hour), I was given a different target to everyone else and when their cards were kept and scored mine was ignored. It was this week I was told off in front of those in the range for not having a bore flag in my reciever even though I wasn’t told this was a requirement. So I apologised (again) and promised I would have one for next week. After all if I knew it was a rule I would have made sure I followed it. The week after I was told off for wearing a realtree camo jacket to the range. Again this was in front of the rest of the club, this however seemed strange to me so I asked why there was a no camo rule and why was I only being made aware of it now, after all a club full of shooters must have some hunters in it and I had just been hunting magpie……I just didn’t have time to change. So the president told me he made the rule in 1986 due to the troubles so I apologised (again) and said I wouldn’t wear it in future to keep the club happy. I felt it wasn’t my place to point out that it’s 2016 and perhaps the rule was outdated.
Then it happened, I arrived as usual only this time I had no camo, I had a bloody bore flag and as requested I set my rifle in its case on the table. I stood by it waiting for him to come and inspect it but instead he told me to leave it there and go outside with him. My initial thought was “What the f*** is it this time?” (To say I was getting frustrated would be the honest truth). He motioned to someone else to follow so I knew something was up. I heard him lock the range behind us as we exited.
“I’m not going to sign your membership I’m afraid your application is incomplete.” He said with a smirk. I looked at him a little puzzled but realised he asked for company with us as a witness. I knew what was coming but played along anyway. “Oh I’m sorry, if you give me back the forms I will fill in the missing part.” He looked a little annoyed at this and said “no you don’t understand, you didn’t get 2 signatures from club members to recommend you to the club.” By this stage he was looking through me rather than look me in the eye, I can assure you I was looking straight at his.”I made it a rule a while ago that the members that do put you forward must know you for at least 3 years. I’m afraid [ anon ] didn’t know this when he invited you. Do you know anyone here for at least 3 years that would sign it?” He knew I didn’t, I didn’t know anyone, I was after all contacted by them but as people I’d never met. It was abundantly clear he didn’t like me, didn’t want me there and was going to use club rules he invented to eject me. After all as “president” he could of just said “welcome to the club” if he wanted to. So to cut a long story short I said these words, “Look I’m not stupid, I can take a f*****g hint I will just go. I was offered a membership elsewhere an hours drive away. I will see if I can go there.” He simply replied looking away “I’m glad you can take a hint.” So I went to open the door to the range to retrieve my rifle and it was still locked, I looked at him as if to say open it and he looked at me as if to say you get in if I say so. When my look increased in intensity from lack of patience he opened it. I went inside, grabbed my “tractor”, said goodbye and left.
I felt belittled, humiliated and angry all at the same time. It took all my self control not to erupt, but to just walk away. To have a set of purpose built ranges on my doorstep, yet to not be allowed to use them hurt though, especially as I find travelling difficult due to my arthritis. I was gutted and couldn’t understand what I had done wrong……if anything. Why would they do this to me?
The next morning I received an email from an editor of one of the UKs largest (and my favourite for the last 20 years) shooting magazines. They were Contacting me in relation to an article idea I pitched to them about the Ruger 10/22, yes my rifle…..aka “the tractor”. I messaged my contact from the first range meeting and explained what had happened in a text. I said the magazine had contacted me and that I had lost range privileges at the worst time. He simply replied coldly, “he was pushed at the right time.” And that was that, no more communication. I made sure I was polite in my response.
Within 5 hours of that text I had been accepted to join the other club. No fuss, no endless questions of experience, friendly members and access 24/7, all it took was a nod from another member and I just have to find the fee amount somewhere, but when I raise it I will be down ASAP.
It was later said to me in conversation that the club has a reputation for this kind of behaviour, this elitist tribalism as one of many told me that “if you don’t turn up in a Merc and a suit you won’t get in”. This attitude is stupidity at its most blatant. Everybody should have the option of joining a local club. I can honestly say as a shooter I can definitely hold my own, I could have been a valuable member of the team, but I guess it’s ok to discriminate when you have club rules to hide behind. And for the record my 10/22 is very accurate, it has been upgraded covertly, it just looks stock. I just wish I had known before all this happened, perhaps then I would have saved myself from embarrassment and wouldn’t have lost respect for a local club, as I’m sure not all the members deserve to be tarnished with the same brush. Still it’s things like this that make you lose faith in people. Hopefully this hateful attitude is not a common thing otherwise the shooting world is in serious trouble.