BELL TARGET SHOOTING
AT THE MATCH
During the early days of the pastime of pub shooting, it was the backyard of the licensed house that was the popular venue. But in the main it was the warm room, with close proximity to the contestants and bar, that drew the airgunners indoors to make pub shooting a mainly indoor event.
So, before the arrival of the teams, the room would have to be arranged if it was during the winter months. A space would have to be made for the scorer and the checker, who would stand each side of the massive 10 1b Bell Target. Usually this would hang on the wall in the recess by the fireplace. There was a reason for placing the apparatus in this place: the metal casing around it collected spent pellets or ricochets, protecting the spectators and the flatback Staffordshire china dog ornaments, so popular on mantle shelves in pubs and homes at that time.
A cupboard in the opposite recess of the chimney breast usually held the club guns, Lincoln Jeffries or B.S.A., and the scores would be recorded on the cupboard doors for all to see in much the same way as a darts match now. The penny in the slot machine that dispensed the pellets would be filled and checked, then hung in its place by the "line" or "mark" of six yards distance
On the morning the floor would have had the attention of the scrubbers - women, wearing long herden sack aprons, on their knees with large wooden scrubbing brushes and red carbolic soap, ensured that the red tiled floor was spotless when it received its covering of clean sawdust. Ash trays and tapers for the clay pipes were put out on ledges and sills, coal was placed with the polished fire dogs behind the steel fender, with its stern warning "Keep your feet off', and of course the spittoons for the tobacco smoking and chewing customers were put in strategic positions.
Gas lights were adjusted, home brew barrels were tapped and put in position to meet the stream of pots. Cash boxes were placed under the counter tops to receive the money dropped through slots on the surface, a method of collecting money preferred by some landlords to the cash drawer or new-fangled till.
Soon the room would fill up. Men who had a short time earlier raced from work for a wash or a "catlick", wolfed down their faggot and grey peas fittle, in order to be on time either to shoot or to get a place to watch the weekly league match.
Space would be limited so, in order to accommodate as many people as possible, the shooters would in many instances shoot over the heads of several tables of spectators in front of them. The beer would be quietly passed from the bar counter along the tables and benches lining the walls as movement could put the shooter off his aim. This was not only frowned on by the visiting team but by the home side also. Anyone with a persistent cough could be asked to leave or move to another part of the premises, for no one wanted the dubious decoration of being a bad sport. To leave the cocking chain slightly swinging from side to side, to hypnotise the airgunner, was considered a disqualifying action if it was thought by the panel of three scorers to be deliberate.
This was serious business and as the match progressed, the strain and mental effort would show, especially on a shooter with a bad case of "trigger shyness" - the inability to pull the trigger even though he desperately wanted to. Sweat would pour down his face, with the concentration on the target and the smallness of the aperture, coupled with the knowledge that for the first time that evening everyone was watching him alone, his own team willing him to score a five and the opposition putting the evil eye on him to miss. He would be well aware of the advice that he had been given by the more experienced members of his team – "fire when the sights are coming onto the target", remember that there is "lock time" and "barrel time" to be considered; and don't worry too much about body sway as it’s physically impossible to keep dead still. He would remember the joker by the bar reciting: "There's a breathless hush in the pub tonight, five to score, and you're the last man in". At last with his sixth shot away scoring a five, he could now relax and smile his thanks for the short round of applause from both teams for his effort.
Only people who have shot in this form of target sport, in the environment of a crowded pub, know of the match tension that many an international shooter would never experience.
By now of course the room would have a fug in it that would "kill a dog". There was the warmth of the fire and close proximity of bodies that had laboured all day without the benefit of showers, anti-perspirants and the toiletries that now crowd our bathrooms. Then there was that most evil of all: "twist", a dark brown ring of compressed tobacco that was hand rubbed to feed those many personal furnaces of meerschaum and clay pipes. Its effect would be in evidence everywhere, in its yellow-brown sticky smoke stain on everything that was not accessible to daily cleaning, such as pictures, walls and ceilings etc.. Pipe smoke poured forth in the owner’s anticipation of the next man to shoot, it poured forth from the man who had just shot, and from the spectators too, it rose to the ceiling in clouds to drift towards the fireplace, there to be suddenly pulled towards the chimney to join the coal smoke fighting to get up the "esshole" to cleaner air outside in the darkness of the quiet street.
The match drew to its close amidst the sounds of the strident, authoritative voices of the team captains calling "order for the gun", the "wack" of the rifle, the "ding" of the bell, the "five" of the scorer, the "correct" of the checker. The match would end with a result that bore no animosity to the losers or winners. Both had enjoyed an evening of competition that, while it lasted, was like life itself but, when finished, ended with more all round friendship than when it began.