Lush rolling hills. Long grass rippling across the landscape like a choppy sea. A gentle stream meandering past banks lined with shady trees beneath which lie fat and contented cattle. You could be forgiven for thinking you had come upon a rural idyll. But you would be mistaken. This is the setting for a shooting range near Mudgee in the Central West of New South Wales where the hills frequently reverberate to a cacophany of gunfire. The setting and activities form a remarkable incongruity.
The shooting range is home to the Mudgee Sporting Clays Club and an array of other clubs with various specialities such as pistol shooting, small and large bore rifle shooters and even the old style black powder enthusiasts who follow a firearm tradition dating back to the 18th Century. Their ‘playground’ extends over 12,000 acres which is deemed to be only one of three venues in Australia suitable to host a world title competition.
In recent times, the ownership of firearms by civilians has aroused fierce public debate, particularly in the USA where gun related deaths are commonplace. In most countries outside of the USA however, gun ownership is strictly controlled and is not mired by the oft stated (USA) need to own a weapon for self defence.
Australia has very strict gun ownership laws. You must demonstrate good reason to own a gun and self defence is not among these. Farmers can obtain a firearms licence for vermin control and so-called sporting shooters can also obtain specific licences if they belong to gun clubs. Even then, those applying for a licence must pass stringent background checks and be deemed mentally fit. It is a condition of membership that an intending member must first have obtained a gun licence.
So where is the fun in all this you may ask and is this an activity that may appeal to you? Well the 128 strong membership of the Mudgee Sporting Clays Club would argue that the heart of the experience is a combination of skill and camaraderie. The minimum age for membership is twelve and the Mudgee club has members across the spectrum, the oldest being ninety two. Age is not a barrier and for those incapable of walking, some members have golf carts to get them into position. Then there are various disciplines of trap shooting requiring minimal walking ability to those that are more strenuous. It is not a physically demanding sport but consistent success as a shooter does require strong mental acuity; an ability to react quickly and decisively. A shoot over a period of four or five hours can be very tiring.
Let’s look at the fun aspect. Membership is highly egalitarian with members coming from all walks of life. In the Mudgee club, position or wealth does not determine the quality of the experience. Rather it is the common passion for shooting and the joy of being amongst those of a like mind. The membership is predominantly male and all discussion is laced with humour based around shooting performance which can vary markedly from day to day. Having a passion for guns, shotguns in this case, is a guaranteed discussion starter. The social interaction is every bit as vital as the shooting itself. While Mudgee has only a small number of female shooters, they would welcome more. Many overseas shooting clubs have a higher proportion of female members.
For those who want to take their passion to another level, there is the opportunity to participate in in international competitions. A number of Mudgee club members have competed in Europe with success and while the pressure to succeed at the elite level is considerably higher, members note that the same down to earth camaraderie found at club level persists wherever shooters gather.
Like any sport, practice makes perfect. When shooting clay targets emerging at great speed from the trap, a shooter has maybe only one to two seconds to assess the trajectory, aim and fire. The speed of the target and the trajectory can be changed to increase the level of difficulty (and further reduce the response time). To consistently score well requires a high degree of skill and the frustration or delight in reaching that pinnacle is a frequent source of banter between members.
One style of trap shooting is called Field and Game. While designed to simulate live game shooting, the only ‘casualty’ here is the clay target. No animal is killed. The secret to success with Field and Game is to try and ‘read’ where the target is most likely to appear. The phrase ‘hope and poke’ is often used to describe the approach of those learning this discipline.
So what does it cost? Shotguns come in many qualities. The one-off cost of a reasonable quality 12 gauge gun from a reputable maker ranges from AUD$1,500 to $2,000. Prices for an exotic gun can be up to AUD$10,000. Then there is the club fee of AUD$7.50 for a round consisting of 25 targets. For an afternoons shoot, there may be four rounds at $7.50 per time for a total of AUD$30. In addition is the ammunition and the clay targets. For a round of 25 targets, the average shooter will fire approximately thirty shots. All up the afternoon’s shoot may cost around AUD$80.
How safe is it? Safety is paramount with all forms of sporting shooting. The range itself is strictly controlled with flags denoting when the range is active. Regular inspections of the range, the credentials of those shooting and the safe storage of weapons and ammunition are frequently conducted.
All new members must undergo a safety briefing and also hold a gun licence before they can participate in any shooting activities. Safety protocols in handling weapons are followed to the letter and you may well ask, how is it possible that a twelve year old can comply with these requirements? The goal of course is to encourage new members to join the sport but there are specific rules that apply for one so young. Joining at the minimum age of twelve requires a Minor’s Permit and the youngster must be supervised at all times while on the range but not by a parent. By age eighteen, the novice can then apply for a ‘C Licence’ and shoot alongside adults without constant supervision.
If your appetite to try sporting shooting has been whetted, how do you get started? Prospective members can visit the range and see for themselves what is on offer without a gun licence. While visitors are most welcome they must be accompanied by a club member.
Mudgee Sporting Clays can be contacted at www.mudgeesportingclays