by Frank Spittle

5.  The developing sport

Wolverhampton dominated the Staffordshire inter-town shooting championships in the sixties, winning the Pidduck Shield in 1966 for the ninth time in succession.

The Wolverhampton Services Memorial Club. The James Thompson Shooting Trophy.
Local county and industrial leagues, Midland and National, both team and individual, gave a great choice of participation to the growing interest in rifle shooting in the town. At times there did appear to be just too many target cards and competitions to be shot, as the majority had to be shot within a date specified on the Witness Sheet.

It would not be possible for teams to compete always shoulder to shoulder, so the Postal Shoot enabled teams many miles apart from each other to shoot, under witness, and then dispatch the shot cards to an independent scorer for the result.

To some perhaps, not satisfactory, but the system worked all over Britain. And the N.S.R.A. rules were strict; anyone caught cheating was banned for life, his name was published in the house magazine The Rifleman, and there was no appeal. Drastic but effective, the sport therefore kept its house in order to see that there was very little chance under the rules for misdemeanour.

Like darts and dominoes, results and league tables appeared in the Express and Star.

Photographs and reports did a lot to bring shooting to the public as a great sport, but as publicity is the life blood of sport, it can also be a double edged sword if it is not the right sort, as the unfortunate Hungerford and Dunblane incidents have since proved.

A view of one end of the Museum of Marksmanship, established by Frank Spittle in Wolverhampton.
Today the sport is directed to the pursuit of excellence, at the recognised international distance of ten metres. At the international level, leather clad in special jacket, trousers, shooting boots and glove, the competitive air gunner is faced with a target having a pin head at its centre and no margin for error. Recoilless air rifles of German manufacture, Walther, Anschutz, Feinwerkbau and Hammerli, dominate the world market and international events such as the Olympics and World Championships. A fully equipped competitor could have laid out over £2000 to compete in this class of air rifle shooting.

The clothing that the general shooting fraternity wore also changed greatly over time. The old battle-dress blouses, with patches on the elbows and shoulder, or sports coat with individual elbow pads, that followed the "as issued" military instructions of the war years, were set aside for the genuine shooting coat now available through the N.S.R.A.. Even this had to take second place to the superior American "Tenex" model. An old motorbike gauntlet with the fingers cut off, was discarded for a "proper" shooting mitt or glove. Purpose made shooting mats now accompanied the rifleman instead of the bit of kitchen carpet or ex-army groundsheet; the shooter now was none too happy to get his new shooting gear dirty in the grubby indoor rifle ranges of the day, that for many years had not changed to accommodate new people into shooting.

Wolverhampton Small Bore Rifle Association Championship Trophy, Aldersley Range, 1974.
With the arrival of new rifles etc, there was a change in one piece of shooting equipment that had quite an effect on the scores of the day. This was the adoption of the Single Point Rifle. Sling Rifles in the two great world wars, and before, were carried slung from the shoulder on an army webbing sling fastened to two swivels, one at each end of the gun.

Therefore it followed that this essential part of the equipment should be used in steadying the rifle when aiming. Wrapped around the right forearm it did the job very well for the job it had to do. Of course, more comfortable two point slings were manufactured out of canvas.

But both sorts were to accommodate the old English position of shooting in the prone position with legs apart, and arms splayed in a low position. This position was used for obvious reasons of safety in the field of battle, and to take up the not inconsiderable recoil if it was a 303 calibre Lee Enfield.

The new match rifles from B.S.A. and Germany were much heavier than the 303 Enfield, up to 12 or 14 lbs in weight, so one had to get one’s arm well underneath the "forend", or front of the rifle to support it. The new single point sling allowed this. Without getting too technical, it also allowed the rifleman to adopt the Estonian Position, laying over to the left in the sling with the right knee drawn up. Another position adopted in the early days was with the body in a straight line to the target with one leg hooked over the other; the main reason for this position was lack of space on the firing point for clubs with a large membership. Many of the best shooters used this way of shooting very successfully indeed.

The acceptance of old indoor rifle ranges by the "it's always been like it" brigade, limited new membership to the "dedicated" shooter. There was very little comfort for the shooter let alone the spouse or spectator, though it must be said that watching a shooter in action was a nothing experience such as watching paint dry. Nevertheless that side of club shooting was sadly neglected, which eventually had great effect on the sport of competitive shooting pursued in Britain. Some form of extra comfort on some of the ranges was gained by walling the range off from the firing point, and warming just that enclosed area of the prone rifleman. Had attention to the service/hospitality side, with a more pronounced family involvement, been considered, as was normal on the Continent, the sport would have grown in the same way that it has abroad. Continental clubs thrived on the capital a good social side that the club generated, and many thousands of these European shooting centres, have the services, surroundings and atmosphere of an exclusive international golf club.

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