There are many reasons people take up clay shooting – but a heart attack? That’s what got Mike Faux into the sport, and ultimately into running one of our fastest-growing shooting grounds.
For years Mike was in the business of bodyguarding, or ‘close protection’ as they call it in the trade. He worked alongside the Royal Protection Team looking after Princess Anne, and later set up his own company. His list of principals would grace the cover of Hello! magazine: the Beckhams; Madonna; the Rolling Stones; Ant and Dec.
He would still be doing it now – but in 2006 came the bolt from the blue: Mike suffered a massive heart attack while working out in the gym. It turned his world upside-down. “Health and fitness have always been a part of me,” he says. “I used to own a gym, I’ve been into bodybuilding in a big way, I’ve even won the British Light Heavyweight title at Thai boxing.”
The doctors ran all the tests and found nothing wrong; they put the heart attack down to the stress of his job. That’s when a friend told Mike: “We need to get you out more – come clay shooting.” No doubt his friend meant him to unwind at a relaxed 50-birder, but Mike isn’t the sort to do things by halves. Before long he was winning county titles, and holding his own at the top level in a variety of disciplines. Today he’s among the top dozen all-round clay shots in the country.
That and owning a large executive management company would be enough for most people. Not Mike. Like the guy on the Remington shaver ads who ‘liked it so much I bought the company’, Mike went and bought his own clay ground.
“I put the feelers out and looked at a couple of places that came to nothing, then I came here, to what at the time was Llandegla Shooting Ground. I could see at once it was a lovely ground, with a good cabin. What it needed was manpower. There was painting and decorating to be done, it needed tidying up.”
Mike bought the ground in July 2009 and threw himself into bringing it up to the standard he wanted. In 18 months he has worked a remarkable transformation. Mike’s eye for detail extends to making sure the stones are painted and arranged in straight lines. Paper and cardboard are whisked away to the recycling area, not left to clutter the view. The electrics on the Skeet and Trap layouts are all wireless, doing away with untidy trailing cables.
It’s not just cosmetic improvements. Having shot here in competitions, Mike once swore he’d never come back – he was frustrated by unreliable traps and broken targets. Now he strives to run the ground the way he’d want it to be. He even shoots his own competitions, so he still sees it from the customer’s point of view.
It’s been a huge amount of work, and a massive investment, and Mike is pleased when shooters comment that the ground looks tidy, or that the toilets are better than they’d expected. But is it profitable? “Not just now,” says Mike with a wry grin. “The way things are at the moment I couldn’t make a living from the shooting ground. But I have another, successful business, and there’s a lot of satisfaction to be had from running the ground. Everyone is very friendly, my wife enjoys the social side, and the Welsh have welcomed us with open arms.”
Mike acknowledges that shooting is part of the leisure industry, and it’s bound to take a knock when people have to cut their expenditure.
He’s come up with special promotions to help. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, for instance, you can go to Fauxdegla and shoot 50 targets for £8. “I’d rather people kept coming, and make no money on it, than have them stop shooting altogether,” he says.
There’s a huge variety of shooting on offer throughout the week, aimed at everyone from beginners to the committed competition shooter. Plus he runs corporate events, stag and hen do’s – and there’s more to come. Mike talks enthusiastically about his plans, including introducing airgun shooting for the local cadets.
It’s probably not the restful lifestyle that his doctors envisaged after Mike’s heart attack, but he’s certainly putting 100 per cent into building up the ground. “It’s my background,” he says. “The work I was doing, if I didn’t put in 100 per cent then someone was going to get hurt. It’s how I’ve lived my life; I’m not going to stop now.”
Fair point. And shooters have every reason to be grateful that Mike’s brush with death diverted him into providing the sort of facilities many grounds can only dream about.