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A shot in the arm for British guns

As the game season reached its peak, the highlight for shooting was Olympic skeet shooter Amber Hill winning the BBC’s 2013 Young Sports Personality of the Year award. It’s the first time that such an award has been given to a shooter. But what a shooter she is – winner of the skeet women final at the ISSF World Cup in Acapulco, setting a junior world record and equaling the world record in qualification at the World Championships in Lima. All this at the age of 15.

The award stands in marked contrast to the reaction Charlotte Kerwood received following her win, also aged 15, at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Tony Blair was alleged to express surprise that a girl of that age could, or should, handle a gun.

Popular myth or not, there is no doubt that the BBC’s recognition of Amber’s achievements marks a huge step forward in the media’s perception of shooting and shooters. All those who shoot live quarry should recognise that international clay shooting – and especially the Olympic disciplines – have the potential to throw up stars like Amber, who can shape the public’s view of recreational shooting.

Miracle results
“All good,” I hear you say. “Great Britain produces a world-beater every now and then, such as Ian Peel, Richard Faulds and George Digweed, so why should I worry about where they come from and where they train?” Well, I am here to tell you that it is not far short of a miracle that British shooters succeed on the world stage. The most obvious problem is the weather. Unlike the Russians, we have no oligarch willing to send the squad to Cyprus for warm weather training. The only internationally recognised British shooting ground, Southern Counties, will close if the planners grant permission for a solar farm. And even if they refuse it, there is still the problem of lead pollution on a neighbouring farm.

Of the remaining five or so grounds that offer the Olympic disciplines, most do it for the love, not the money. No one doubts the commitment of British Shooting, but their budgets do not stretch to capital improvements. UK sport makes its awards on a strict results basis, with the consequence that disabled shooting now has more money than able-bodied shooting, despite the fact that it only supports pistol and rifle.

We should be very thankful that Amber Hill, Dan Tarrant and James Dedman have overcome every obstacle put in their way by our obsolete system to emerge as potential Olympic gold medallists. But I worry that the legacy of London 2012 is being lost. In saying this, however, I do not in any way blame British Shooting. Now constituted under chairman John Harris, chief executive officer Hamish McInnes and performance director Keir Worth, we are seeing a root-and-branch examination of the system and a willingness to listen, which is encouraging.

Centre of excellence
Nevertheless, we need a centre of excellence that caters for all shooters and their families. It is my dream to make this happen, and it may just be coming to a home near you – watch this space! And, yes, I do have a personal interest. I want to start training again with the aim of competing at the in 2015 at the latest. This will mean that Michelle and I will have to move when Southern Counties closes, but we are now resigned to this. All of my harebrained ideas, from ladies’ leggings to men’s boxers, are being jettisoned to allow me to concentrate on double trap shooting.

Last but not least, the Peter Wilson award for the best shooting lunch goes to Mulgrave Estate in North Yorkshire, where the best battered cod and chips (fresh from Whitby) is served in a hut overlooking the sea. In fact, the whole team is absolutely the best – many thanks. I must also thank all the keepers, beaters, pickers- up, and backroom staff everywhere who have made my days in the field so special.

A special mention must also go to the dogs that work for us. Dad’s eight-year-old Labrador, Budsey, died of a heart attack as we drove back from London after Christmas. Dad is inconsolable; she was his dog of a lifetime