A Young Person's Guide to Starting Muzzle Loading Shooting
How do I start shooting black powder guns? Where do I go to shoot in the UK? What's the best place to start shooting muzzle loading guns?
These are some of the phrases we hear daily when it comes to the seemingly opaque topic of becoming a licenced firearm shooter this country. In reality, it is not that difficult or hard to navigate, hopefully this short anecdote will help clear some things up.
Being of the generation who grew up with computer games and explosive Hollywood action films, I naturally became exposed to firearms at a young age. Imagine my surprise then, when in later life I found myself working at Henry Krank & Co. After a few months of settling in the topic of shooting came up, except for a few air rifles I hadn't shot a gun before.
The First Shoot
Luckily, I was in the best place to start. The time came and I got a lift from my colleague in his Land Rover to the range on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. As we snaked through winding back roads and off-road passages I began to wonder where on earth we were headed, but in due course we readily reached the range, a small escarpment halfway up the heather moorland. We had been out of the car for no longer than a minute when a volley of percussive pops erupted from beyond the brow of a hill, that sounded like nothing I've heard before or since, that, I thought, was the thing they can't emulate in films or games, the physicality of the air moving around you.
A quiet gravel pathway lead to a humble metal awning flanked by a red warning flag. The awning reverberates with each shot fired, we wait for an end to the fire around the corner, already safety is paramount. Friendly volleys of welcomes are sent our way; I'm greeted by a nice mixture of people all smiling or squinting down their sights. With earplugs in I observe as guns of varying calibres and ages erupt all around, with two spotting scopes either side of the benches anyone can call out the accuracy (or lack of) of each individual shot. Naturally with the off-target shots an excuse is as ready as the next round in the chamber. Standard paper targets are the most common victim of flying lead, but some clubs welcome members to bring something a little different on occasion, and other impromptu targets such as balloons or empty milk bottles frequently make an appearance. My first visit was a great introduction to things. Members loaded their firearms and asked if I would like to shoot, clear guidance and a common-sense approach were all that is needed. The unique smell of black powder all around gave rise to thoughts of previous historical European battles, an earthy odour that I think many would like.
Now the first gun I got the chance to fire was a 577-450 Martini Henry Rifle, not exactly a small piece of kit to start off with, I would say to anyone going for the first time there isn't anything wrong with apprehension. My own advice would be to literally just slow down, I think this is the best thing to do when getting comfortable, nothing will happen until you pull the trigger, make your moves slowly and deliberately and you'll be fine. If you're worried about safety, then I can assure you that at all reputable ranges in the country, safety is paramount. The job of Range Officer is designated to a specific person within in the club, it's their job to watch everyone like a hawk ensuring safety is paramount throughout the day, and each member acts as a range officer ex officio to ensure no breaches occur.
I've been to a few of the arranged shoots since, each time trying something new and meeting a handful of new people. It's always a little bonus for everyone to pop down the end of the range and recollect the lead for re-melting. Many ranges host a multitude of different events, whether it's at different times of the day or alternative weekends, as a new shooter its worth checking out what other events your chosen or nearest clubs have on too. I had an advantage working for Henry Krank & Co for sure, but if you find yourself asking How do I start shooting in the UK? Where would you start? Hopefully I shall help answer some of these queries and get you on your way.
Joining a Shooting Club Explained
The MLAGB have a great page on their website that provides links to a huge range of clubs and societies around the country. What's worth considering is what each club has to offer, each has its own speciality so to speak, some will exclusively cater to rimfire, others will do muzzle loading while some will host a full range of shooting, air, rimfire, centrefire and muzzle loading. It's worth looking into what each place in your area does, you may find yourself with more than one membership depending on what you want to shoot, and some places even shoot cannon. We even stock cannon, take a look here.
With your nearest club located its now on you to make contact, most websites have a phone number or email on them, get in touch and arrange a day to attend. Many clubs are looking for new members constantly, so you'll be more than welcome.
Naturally in such a safety conscious world, a lot of gun clubs are going to make an informal assessment to see if you fit, the majority of the time the answer will be a 'Yes', as we said, new members are always welcome. Just be nice, patient and humble. Guns aren't toys. Every club is a little different, but most have a trial period of a few months, you'll be a probationary member just like everyone else was. After that, a full membership is offered. There is no quick and easy way to 'jump the gun' if you'll pardon the pun, if quick and simple results are what you're looking for, perhaps muzzle loading isn't your bag.
Once you've become a full member, you're well on your way anyway, and that's where the next phase begins. Our resident gun lover, Tom, has written a great in-depth article on this, linked here.
Applying for Shotgun, Firearms & Explosives Certificates
To summarise what Tom covers in the above, you're on your way by this point. Membership fees vary from club to club and you'll need to apply for you firearms licence with your local authority, we'll use West Yorkshire as an example.
As you can see on the website, licences can be applied for individually. Shotgun and firearms licences generally have similar requirements, a fixed gun cabinet for example. However, there are minor changes which can be found on your own counties police service website along with a full list of requirements. In general, it is heavily advised that you apply for a Co-Terminus certificate, simply meaning a certificate for each shotgun and firearms, that have the same date of renewal. At just £90 the co-terminus opens up the possibilities for the great range of guns in the UK. In conjunction with this you'll also need your Black Powder Licence, which is covered in more detail here. While we're on the topic of the blog, I'll throw a few more articles in specifically relating to muzzle loading, what with it being one of our specialities and all. This page is to everything muzzle loading, the second is Tom's concise What, Why and How write up, it's an interesting short that might further your interest.
I think shooting is something many people would like to try in this country, it just seems like a difficult thing to get into given our countries penchant for red-tape and paperwork. The truth is, once you know where to start it's rather easy. Contact your local firearms licensing department for information specific to you. And remember, if you start, get the guns, a licence and all the odds and ends to go along with it but decide it's not for you, that's not an issue, unlike swapping energy providers it's as easy as a phone call.
Lastly if you've read all of that and still have questions then give us a call, with centuries of combined experience we'll be able to help you with anything, for a chat call 0113 256 9163 or email us at [email protected].
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