Erika Sykes of Firearms UK reveals the more lady-like side to clay shooting after attending the prestigious Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club conference.
Both through my role within Firearms UK and perhaps even more so personally, I have followed the growth of the ‘bun club’ with keen interest and have found it inspiring and uplifting. Even via Twitter alone, which was my first exposure to the club, I could not help but be touched by the friendliness and positivity, which to me is a core component of the experience and is something all shooting clubs and organisations should seek to emulate.
Leaving the car park our eyes were drawn to the fabulous new club car provided by one of the latest sponsors, Firs Garage, which was situated in front of grand entrance. My excitement was overtaking my nerves and I couldn’t wait to get inside and be a part of what was to come.
As I had expected everyone looked amazing, with loads of gorgeous tweed and shooting-inspired outfits on display by delegates, giving a great preview of what was on offer at some of the trade stands throughout the event. In true bun club style there was even a prize for ‘best dressed’, the bun club after all is more than just shooting, but a friendly and joyful mix of friendships, fashion, delicious cakes and shooting. This for me is a huge positive, helping those who may otherwise be put off by what they may perceive to be a male-dominated, overly competitive or otherwise unappealing venture.
Not far into the foyer of the conference area, we were warmly and enthusiastically greeted by Victoria, the friendly and very approachable founder of the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club. I echoed her sentiments: it was great to finally get to meet her in person. I was incredibly nervous throughout the day, having been struggling with a recent bout of anxiety, but gradually with Victoria’s words of encouragement, and introductions to delegates I had previously only encountered through social media, I began to feel more at home and thoroughly enjoyed everything the day had to offer.
The day kicked off with an introduction by Victoria, who revealed how she had to learn to run a business and all of what that entails, learning how to manage and utilize social media and the challenge of trying to keep everyone happy – challenges which those behind Firearms UK can certainly appreciate having struggled with, too. She then said something which really struck a chord: she spoke about the growth of the bun club and how it can grow simply by each one of the delegates introducing two or three girlfriends, who in turn introduce another two or three girlfriends. We agree wholeheartedly and have expressed similar ideas to strengthening the shooting community has a whole – we are consistently ignored as a minority, and one of the most basic ways for us to challenge this is to simply increase the size of our community, to introduce more people into shooting.
First of the day’s speakers was Lucy King and Abigail Aldis from Shooting Times. Lucy began by emphasising the importance of shooting-related news, comparing it to her disinterest in regular news and politics, and highlighting that it is important to be kept up to date on changing events which can have an impact on shooting, by “making sure that we don’t lose out on any political changes that are coming”. She went on to mention BASC’s important work over the European elections, the Natural England consultation on General and Class licences and the importance of having shooting accepted as normal by the general public; it is, after all, an incredibly inclusive and varied sport – truly open to all.
Abigail then gave an interview, with both her and Lucy sharing their introduction to shooting and explaining how they, as women relatively new to shooting, have helped make Shooting Times more accessible and of benefit to a broader readership.
Excitingly IPC Media, who operate numerous magazines including three other shooting-related titles, are now in negotiations with Victoria to offer a great magazine subscription deal to bun club members, providing all four shooting titles under one subscription at a discounted rate.
Next to speak was Ed Solomons, a GB team member and well-respected shooting coach. He spoke of how his shooting become a full time occupation – living the dream you could say – and on what to look out for when hiring a coach. A few interesting points I took note of about Ed is that he has coached two thirds of the English ladies shooting team this season. He also views follow-up work as very important, checking up on clients to see how they doing. Having spent good money on coaching myself in another area, I personally consider follow-up work as invaluable, helping to build a strong relationship with your coach, which will help yield positive results in any coaching session.
Ed goes on to say that with a competent coach, excluding the possibility of eye or other medical conditions compromising your improvement, you should see improvement reasonably quickly; if not, you may not be with the right coach. Answering questions from the floor, he expanded upon some of his key tips with regard to frequency of sessions: in his view, it is crucial to practice between coaching sessions to derive the most benefit; it is a waste to have a coaching session every month if you are only shooting once per month. Instead, focus on getting out and practicing what you have covered in your last coaching session several times before you schedule your next coaching session.
Liam Bell followed with a talk on the year of a gamekeeper. Having hatched and raised chickens, some of the concepts were familiar to me, however the motivation for chicks to hatch out was new to me and very interesting. An overview of pest control and the various methods followed, highlighting the amount of work that is required to raise game and how there is always something that needs doing, whether that be collecting or buying in eggs, feeding, building or modifying pens or pest control, the life of a game keeper certainly seems to be a busy one.
The first break had arrived, and like those that followed it offered an opportunity to enjoy the refreshments, take in the gorgeous display of cakes entered into the various competitions by bun club members and, of course, visit the trade stands for a bit of shopping. Still quite nervous, I enjoyed a cup of coffee and took an overview of the stands; I shyly entered into conversations, just happy to soak up the atmosphere. It was great to recognise people I had so far only spoken to via e-mail or social media connections.
After the break and in true show-and-tell fashion, David and Allistair from Browning talked about the beginnings of the company, the rising popularity of the semi-auto in clay shooting and hilariously shared some of the gun cleaning disaster stories they have encountered. Several examples from the Browning range were handed around. The guys remained in attendance throughout the day offering advice and answering questions.
Peter Glesner, a firearms barrister and BASC council member, returned to speak on firearms law, beginning with a great introductory quiz featuring pictures of firearms and other items which all fall under firearms law within the UK. It was up to the audience to determine whether each was prohibited or available under an FAC or SGC. The first one immediately put a smile on my face; I said to myself: “It looks like a Lantac.” Then I spotted the partially cut out words ‘Sub Raven’ and my hand shot up. The supressed .22 semi-automatic, despite its tactical black appearance, is perfectly legal in the UK but unfortunately only a couple of the audience guessed correctly. More familiar firearms made an appearance, as did several handguns and even Tasers and CS canisters which are prohibited items within the UK, although confusingly (as pointed out by Peter) many similar items were perfectly legal – compare Tasers which are prohibited to legally available cattle prods. As many of our followers will already be aware, we agreed with Peter with respect to the tactical looking firearms: “It’s just a black bit of kit.”
Quite amazingly, a delicious three-course meal was included in the conference ticket price; the chicken was my selection of choice, and I couldn’t say no to the cheesecake afterwards, always a favourite of mine. More coffee and another stroll around the trade stands followed and then I was signed up, the newest member of the bun club – a generous gift from my colleague. I’d been thinking about joining, yet something always seemed to get in the way, but no more! I was over the moon and very excited about attending future events as a fully-fledged member.
After lunch it was time for the fashion show with Rosie Prest from Malmo Guns giving a fun-filled talk on shooting appropriate and inspired fashion. A collection of gorgeous outfits were assembled and proudly modelled. Both tweed and modern technical fabrics were featured and it was explained how we can add a touch of colour in a stylish way to our shooting clothes, which often consist largely of browns and greens.
Next up was Chris Brookes from BASC, covering conservation and deer stalking. He began by introducing the founding of BASC and how it has evolved into what it is today. The structure of the organisation was featured, with a particular emphasis on the work of the media team. Chris reminded everyone to give them a ring if we encountered any negative press whether on TV, the radio or in print, as the team is obviously not able to see every piece of news, and making them aware of any negative press will allow for a suitable response to be prepared to ensure that media coverage is balanced and not biased against shooting.
Characteristics of the different UK deer species were then discussed with photos highlighting the differences, a useful reminder for those who hadn’t yet entered the Deer Derriere competition over on the BASC stand.
With the judging now complete the final break gave the opportunity to sample some of the beautiful looking cakes and other delights that have been brought and entered into the various baking competitions. I was introduced to the lovely Liz and both of us made sure we entered the competitions on the BASC stand, leaving just enough time for another quick tour of the trade stands.
The final speaker of the day was Laura Saunsbury, a firearms solicitor, who made it all the way from the south of France! She reinforced points made earlier by Peter Glesner, emphasizing how important it is for us as certificate holders to be careful in how we interact with other people and how seemingly minor and unrelated incidents can have an impact on whether we get to remain certificate holders.
The Disabled Shooters Group, the national governing body for disabled clay shooting within the UK, are currently fundraising to send six of their own shooters to demonstrations this year, beginning with Suhl in Germany this July, aiming to introduce the Olympic Trap discipline into the Paralympic Games. We at Firearms UK are fully supportive of this initiative and have been raising awareness of the scheme via our website and social media. As such I was delighted to find out that an auction was to take place to help raise money for this incredibly important cause, offering an amazing prize to the winner, or in this case winners.
The prize was announced as a full gun service provided by Purdey-trained Mike Moody and a slab of shotgun cartridges provided by Robert Everitt of Hull Cartridge company. Greater still, Mike was to pattern the gun with a selection of cartridges and then the winner would receive a box of the best for their particular gun. As the bidding heated up, the prize was eventually doubled, giving two lucky donors an equal prize, raising £230!
Emotional speeches of thanks were soon to come, before everyone was free to find the bar, but before all of that it was prize-giving time. Prizes were on offer for each category in the baking competition; I recall ‘best tray bake’ and ‘best overall’, although they were others and as mentioned previously, there was even a prize for ‘best dressed’ – perhaps after listening to Rosie’s talk on field fashion I could be in with a shot for that title next year, who knows? This year I was very surprised to win the members’ competition, being rewarded with a large bottle of Bruadar malt whisky liqueur. I was bowled over; having just become a member that very day it was totally unexpected to win anything and a very nice surprise, on top of what truly was an incredible day.
The conference was bursting with fun, friendly people, lots of discussions, and competitions, so much so I couldn’t possibly comment on it all, but such a great event deserved my best efforts in introducing the day to those who were not in attendance.
Thank you to the Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club, Victoria herself and everyone who helped make the day so utterly amazing, I had a great time.