My Clay Shooting Journey by Ben Wells.
Part 3 December 2022: It’s time to get my own Gun!
For the first year I had a weekly instructor practice sessions and borrowed a gun, number 13, from the Gun Room at Bisley. The office staff and the instructors always made sure that it was available to me, and I became very familiar with the feel of the gun. After a year some of the instructors encouraged me to start shooting at other Grounds as well as Bisley Shooting Ground to get used to shooting with other people and seeing how other targets were set up. To do that I would need to have my own shotgun licence and gun.
Being a young shooter has the advantage of milestone birthdays which lend themselves to great birthday presents! Fortunately the conversation about me owning my own gun started as I had a milestone birthday approaching and a gun became the obvious birthday present to ask for as I became a teenager!
My parents were complete novices about shooting and were learning about the sport and everything that I needed as we went along, so they had no idea whether it was a good idea or where to even start. Talking to the Instructors at Bisley really helped. The advice that they gave was practical and realistic:
- No need to spend crazy money – set yourself a budget and stick to it
- Stay with the manufacturer that you know
- Choose something that you feel comfortable with, and make sure that it fits
- Don’t expect it to last you a lifetime (as parents expect your school blazer to when you first start secondary school!)
- Take your time in deciding
- Have a criteria list that the gun must meet before you even look at it, so that you don’t get distracted!
- When gun shopping dress in the clothes you wear when shooting – this helps you check the gun fit
First things first a Shotgun Licence
Before purchasing my first gun I needed to have a shotgun licence, and being a Junior one of my parents needed to have one too, so that my gun could be registered to them. We joined the CPSA as they provide shooting insurance, and they were really helpful in explaining the steps that we needed to follow, which are:
- Submit shotgun application and fee (currently £79.50) to your county Police Firearms Department.
- Provide a referee who had known me for at least two years.
- Advise my GP that they would be required to provide a private medical report.
- Complete an interview with a Firearms Officer – he came to our home and we talked about shotguns and ammunition, all the areas of gun safety, where I was going to store my gun and why I wanted to own a shotgun. He also interviewed my Dad with the same questions. Finally the interview was concluded by the officer asking where the gun would be kept – and if it was to be kept at home in a gun cabinet, where the cabinet would be mounted as it has to be mounted to a fixed secure wall or floor. For us it was a simple answer as we would not be storing the gun at home, but rather in Bisley's armoury as we had joined as a Member which allowed us to store 1 gun.
A shotgun licence is valid for five years and I renewed my licence at the beginning of this year (2022) and was interviewed by the same Firearms Officer – and it was great to be able to tell him how I was getting on and share my aspirations for shooting competitively.
Walking into the Gun shop to buy my first gun was like walking into an Aladdin’s Cave – there was so much to look at, such a variety of guns. Luckily, I had listened to the advice from my instructors and had my criteria list so I wasn’t too distracted. My list of must have was:
- Over and Under shotgun
- 12 bore
- Left handed
- Multi choke – so that I would have flexibility if I wanted to try different shooting disciplines
- Sporter – as designed specifically for Clay Shooting
- 30” barrels
- Secondhand, good condition
- Within my budget
Chris Birkbeck helped me choose my first gun – a Browning 425 Grade 1. Having shot a Browning at Bisley for a year I felt very comfortable and confident with the manufacturer. It made perfect sense to purchase a secondhand gun for two reasons. Firstly I was growing and growing fast, so we knew that I would need to change guns in the future, and secondly William Evans, who are based next door to the Club House, let you try out secondhand guns on the shooting ground. So I could try guns with Chris and get advice from the instructors as to whether the gun was a good choice and fit for me. I tried three or four guns but kept coming back to the Browning 425 Grade 1 – it just felt right and fitted me well. The previous owner had been a lady who had a stock designed for her, which meant that the stock was chunkier and had a large palm swell – which helped with managing recoil from the cartridges I was using at the time with Chris.
What I hadn’t realised was that there were other items that I also needed as a gun owner:
- Cleaning mat – to lay my gun on for the weekly clean
- Cleaning kit –cleaning rod, brush, cleaning swabs, cleaning patches, duster cloth, cleaning solvent and gun oil.
I felt so grown up owning my own gun
Walking out of Williams Evans with my own gun was just an amazing feeling, I felt so grown up. My gun was packed away in a hard case and I had a gun bag to put the gun in when it was assembled. I went straight over to The Bothy and showed all the Instructors what I had bought, and booked a session for the very next day to start to get the feel of my first shotgun. Arriving the next morning for my lesson, Chris immediately walked into the Gun Room and came out with my hard case and handed it to me, and then helped me assemble my gun and transfer it to my gun slip. I’m not sure which of us had the biggest grin on our face! I felt so grown up walking to the first stand with my own gun on my shoulder, and calling “pull” and then pulling the trigger for the first pair of clays in that session was the most incredible feeling – a sense of calm and belonging mixed with excitement as I knew that there were so many more opportunities available to me now that I owned my own gun.
Being a Junior Member at Bisley meant that I benefited from free gun storage in the armoury, so I could leave my gun on site, and the team would always transport it across to the Shooting Ground in advance of my lessons, and often they assembled it for me too! The instructors were keen to ensure that I knew how to care for my gun and would spend time with me after my lesson watching how I cleaned it and giving me the confidence to learn how to break the gun down and take care of it.
Just over a year later, coinciding with my sister’s 18th birthday, I part-exchanged my Browning 425 for a brand new Browning 725 S2. I changed guns because in a year I had grown about five inches in height and the 425 no longer fitted me correctly. I was sad to say goodbye to my first gun but excited for the next stage of my owning a gun journey.