Tom Metcalf-Jackson shares his tips on joining a black powder shooting club, which forms a useful guide for both current certificate holders, and new shooters.
Where can I shoot black powder in my area?
Clearly, this depends entirely on where you are, though there are few places in the British Isles that do not have an appropriate range within a reasonable distance. Most shooting clubs have at least one black powder range, or one black powder evening on which to shoot, and there are a number of dedicated ‘black powder only’ clubs spread throughout the country. The best resource for this, in absence of knowing a current member, is the Shooting Club Directory, published online (link below). This is a fairly comprehensive directory of all shooting clubs in the UK, providing a brief summary of the facilities at each club.
It is important to note that a number of smaller clubs will not appear in this list, however the keen shooter will quickly discover these by word of mouth if one exists in his area. It is also worth considering what discipline you would like to shoot. Some clubs will cater for rifle and pistol only, some for shotgun, and some for all. It is advisable to give as many disciplines as possible a try, as even seasoned shooters will find black powder a different and interesting experience.
How can I join a shooting club?
This varies from club to club, though most follow a fairly basic pattern. I would say it is imperative to contact a member of the club prior to actually attending, though many do hold ‘open days’. Most clubs have a representative member to contact, though you may be introduced through any member who is happy to take you along for a shoot.
Some of the largest clubs may require you to book online or complete a form, though this is not always required. What to expect at your first visit. Again, this varies depending on how the club is organised. A new prospective member would first be given safety instruction regarding different firearms. Depending on the size and facilities of the club, this could either be initially theoretical, or entirely practical.
BASC has an excellent published guide on general firearm safety that is worth reading, the link is enclosed below.
The range you will shoot over can be as varied as you can imagine, from a concrete tunnel range to a small outdoor range on a moorside. You will also be told the joining procedure. It is standard for new members to complete a probationary period, usually half a dozen or so visits, before they can be considered as a full member.
New members with existing firearms certificates may or may not be required to complete a probation, this is down to the discretion of the club. On your first few probationary visits, you should be under close instruction and will learn the rudiments of muzzle loading and general firearms safety. It may appear a daunting prospect to those not accustomed to shooting, however with care and attention, it will soon become second nature.
What if I don’t have a gun?
You may be in the lucky few who already holds a firearm certificate and can either apply for a variation for a black powder gun, or buy a muzzle loading shotgun, however if you haven’t, all is not lost. You will not be expected to (and indeed cannot) buy a gun until you are a full member and have a valid license.
On your first visit, you will shoot, whether this is a club gun, or a try of another member’s. You may be apprehensive about using another member’s gun or powder, but nobody will mind, as every club member started in the same position, and you will find members more than agreeable as regards permitting you a few shots with theirs.
How much does it cost to join a gun club and how long will it take?
Club fees, like everything else, vary. Expect to pay between £70-£200 on yearly membership fees depending on the facilities of the club and location. How long it will take depends on a number of factors, and if urgency is paramount, I may advise black powder shooting might not be for you!
As mentioned, you will be required to complete a probation, which will differ between clubs, though it is usual that this will be completed in a couple of months. At this point you would apply for your firearms/shotgun/explosives (black powder) certificates if you don’t already possess them. The application process (whilst not arduous or intrusive) is rather long, so expect to wait around 6 months for your licenses to be issued.
Licenses at present cost £100 for both firearms and shotgun certificates, and you will also need a safe to keep your firearms in, and a black powder storage box, both of which are sold at Henry Krank & Co. and linked below.
I am applying for my license, what calibres should I request?
This depends entirely on your personal preference. If possible, I would recommend applying for a firearms certificate, shotgun, and the explosives license for black powder (form ER 4a). A nice starting mix would be a black powder revolver, and a muzzle loading rifle. We at Henry Krank & Co. are proud to be the UK’s largest stockists of muzzle loading firearms, so see the link below for some ideas.
It may be tempting to fill all the boxes in the firearms application form with many calibres and types of gun, however this will be a largely fruitless exercise, as you will have your hands full learning to load and shoot safely and proficiently in any case, and you can always apply for more in the future. As many historic black powder guns (such as the Brown Bess) are smoothbore and therefore shotguns in the eyes of the law, a shotgun certificate is also a must.
I’m a full member of a club and have my certificates, what next?
Now you may look forward to many years of shooting pleasure! You will quickly learn, if you haven’t by this point, what kind of shooting you prefer, and better your skills as a shooter. There is always something new to learn as regards black powder shooting, and another gun to try.
Our team are always happy to answer any questions you may have, so if you want to discuss any of the information covered in this post, do not hesitate to contact us.