Shooting in The City

You forget everything when you’re in here, it’s just you and the target.

 

For London Lite newspaper

 

Ever fancied firing a rifle in the City of London? Well you can. The hundred or so members of the Stock Exchange Rifle Club (SERC) open fire every Wednesday evening in their target-shooting range underneath the City. Walking past the secret entrance, you’d never know it was there. It’s a Hogwarts Express platform 9 ¾ for gun enthusiasts.

Anyone can join, after checks. To try out the range for this article, after a criminal record investigation, I had to persuade the SERC that I wasn’t writing a damning exposé of gun-nut antics. So let’s make that clear right here. Firing rifles at a target is about as dangerous and sinister as ten-pin bowling. In both you aim at a target, in both you could use the equipment to kill someone. Differences are that shooting is immeasurably more tightly regulated, and you don’t have to wear stupid shoes.

DSCN1311So off I set for the City on the left, shooting an air rifle in Cornwall several years before,wearing my pinstripe suit to get the whole City shooting experience. I met SERC member Jon Mullins at a secret location, and he lead me, blindfolded, to their soundproof, underground range. Ok, I wasn’t blindfolded, but the rest is true.

We arrived in a windowless chamber like a large minicab office, but with a rack of guns on one wall. That room leads onto a 25m rifle range where you can fire .22 and .308 rifles, and a 10m range for air rifles and air pistols.

Jon, 38, runs a financial website. He’s been a member for five years. “Target shooting clubs sprang up after the British were outshot in the Boer War.” He told me. “Soon, most institutions – post offices, banks, factories – had rifle ranges. Then, perhaps because of two world wars, target shooting clubs declined. The Stock Exchange Rifle Club is one of the few remaining. None of our members actually work at the Stock Exchange now, but most are City office workers. Anyone is welcome though.”

Two members, 30 year-old Joe Prewett and 27 year-old Harriet Broughton, were preparing air pistols. Joe’s a recession victim in between City jobs, Harriet’s a lawyer. Air pistol shooting is one of the modern pentathlon’s disciplines, and they’re preparing for the 2012 Olympics.

“Everybody’s really friendly, and there’s a super chap – Chris – who’s taught us everything we know.” Enthused Harriet, as she showed me how to hold the pistol (not gansta-style sideways, apparently). That’s how the club works. You pay your membership fees (£120 a year plus £50 joining fees), plus a £2 range fee, and for ammunition (about £4 for 50 rounds). Everything else is free. Guns are provided. Volunteers run the range. There are formal tutors, but more experienced members provide informal tuition gratis.

DSCN1315The club is open only on Wednesday evenings. Some members come just take a few shots and chat, and some to take part in competitions, which you do by sending off your target, signed and verified by the Range Officer.

Jon is one of the more serious members. He practices every day at home with an electronic trainer, and goes to the gym five days a week with the aim of improving his shooting. “It’s very physical. You’ve got to stop your muscles moving, You’ve got to make sure your eyes get enough oxygen so they see properly.”

Before touching a loaded gun, I had the safety briefing. Never put the gun’s barrel in your or anybody else’s mouth, never force another member to dance by firing at their feet…. not really. It was a brief and sensible lecture. You load a gun only when it’s pointed at a target, you wear ear plugs, you never get between loaded gun and target.

Then Jon gave me a rifle. I felt a brief boyish thrill to be holding a weapon, but soon settled into serious mode. I began with ‘prone’, as in lying down, on the 25m range. The rifle was weighty, about 7kg. Aiming through a non-telescopic sight, you fire ten rounds at ten targets on one card. Each target is 5cm across. The goal is to get every shot within a 1cm bull. 25 meters away, 1cm doesn’t look very big.

I began by “dry firing”, without a bullet. It’s a good thing I did. The hair trigger goes off more easily that a teenage boy with a page three girl. Had it been loaded, my first shot would have hit the ceiling.

Soon I was ready for a bullet. Under Jon’s instructions I brought the sight down to the centre of the target while breathing out, then held my breath and fired. It wasn’t nearly as loud as I’d expected, and much smoother.

I reloaded. I shot the next two early due to the light trigger, so decided to concentrate. All around was noise – two other shooters, Jon instructing – but slowly I zoned out. I was concentrating on the target and breathing. In, out, hold, fire. It became very mellow.

All shooters finished, and we walked down the range. I’d done reasonably well. Nine out of ten shots were in the 5cm target, but I hadn’t troubled the bull.

The 32 year-old trader and SERC member for three months who’d shot next to me had done much better. He loves shooting after a day’s graft: “You forget everything when you’re in here, it’s just you and the target. It’s almost a zen thing.”

Next I tried standing up and shooting, using a lighter rifle with a telescopic sight. It was much more difficult. The target was much bigger, but standing up I wobbled like a jelly in an earthquake. It wasn’t nearly as relaxed as lying down. I could see why five of the six lanes were devoted to prone shooting. I did alright though, even getting one bull.

In all, shooting was relaxing and satisfying. If I worked in the City, I’d definitely go back on a Wednesday evening for a post work chill out. As it is, I still might, even though the secret range is an hour from my west London home. And that’s all I’m saying about where it is.

To learn more, see www.serc.org.uk.

 

For Olympic shooting disciplines, see www.issf.tv