Richard Daws was the lucky winner of the AYA Centenary competition in Shooting Times last year. He has only been shooting for just over a year and shares his experiences with us.
“Disbelieving elation is the only way I can describe how I felt when I was told that I was the lucky winner! Collecting the shotgun was fantastic if a little surreal for someone who had never previously won anything.”
Richard Daws is relatively new to shooting and has thrown himself into the sport in the last year after going for a clay shooting lesson with his dad. Since then he has explored all manner of shooting from clays to pigeons to driven game and has battled with Essex Police Firearms Department to get his licence. But he says, “It really feels like an adventure.”
As someone who has only been shooting for a year, we have asked Richard to write a regular blog about his experience, challenges and achievements, so watch this space.
But first, let’s get to know him.
When did you start shooting?
When we were kids we had air rifles. My uncle had a farm and we would scare rabbits away from about 300 yards and convince ourselves that we were going to shoot a rabbit. God knows what we would have done if we actually did at the time, probably run away crying.
Last year, I was struggling for birthday present ideas for my father when I saw an introduction to clay pigeon shooting lesson at Ian Coley. I thought “Hey great I can go too!” My first clay lesson was in August 2014 and the rest they say is history.
How did your first lesson go?
It was basically just showing us the mechanics of how the gun works, gun safety and we shot some simple targets to give us a feel for it. I found it quite natural. For my father and I it was a case of finding out if it was something we wanted to do more of.
How long was it before you bought your first gun?
I put in for my shotgun certificate a week after I got back from the lesson! But then it fell into the hands of the Essex Police Firearms department who had a tremendous backlog. I finally bought my first gun at the end of January 2015.
How did you decide which gun to buy?
I spoke to a few of my firends who shoot and visited some local gunshops. I had a reasonably good idea about what I wanted and the staff at Essex Gun shop, where I finally bought my first gun, were really helpful. I settled on a Beretta 687.
What was your experience with getting your shotgun certificate?
It was an infuriating wait, but I understand now that some people are waiting for up to a year.
My shotgun certificate was finalised on the 31 December 2014 having applied for it on 10 August but then it took them three weeks to deliver it, so I didn’t get it until middle of last January. So I bought my first gun at the end of January 2015. My father lives in Gloucestershire and his licence took six weeks which made my wait even more frustrating.
I had to go for an interview at the police station initially because the Firearms Officer had broken his leg. The officer was really helpful – very balanced and measured, answered my questions and gave me an awful lot of advice. It is quite a daunting world when you know nothing about the law. Then all they needed to do was to create the certificate and check my cabinet was fitted correctly. Because they were so short-staffed it was actually one of the armed response guys that checked the cabinet. That was quite a strange meeting.
You feel like a child waiting for Christmas but they’ve got a logistical and resource issue that I completely understand. Irritatingly for me as I live closer to the Suffolk firearms guys who have a two-week turnaround. It’s mad that there is so much disparity from one county to another. If everybody was three or four months it would be a lot easier to bear but when some people are a fortnight and other people 20 miles away are a year it’s a bit harsh. It’s a complete postcode lottery.
What kind of shooting have you been doing?
The only thing I haven’t really done is wildfowling. I started off clay shooting which I have been doing regularly and I have also done some pigeon and pest shooting last year – rough shooting really, vermin and that sort of stuff. I also managed to get some game shooting – walked up and driven in the season just gone.
I’m self-employed, so if I decide it’s a nice morning and the stuff on my desk can wait until the afternoon, I can get out of the house early and off I go. I am lucky not being tied to a 9 to 5 job and that I can go during the week and avoid the long weekend queues at clay grounds. This leaves the weekends for my family.
Which kind of shooting do you prefer?
Hard to say, they are all really different – I would struggle to choose. I really enjoyed the driven shooting but it is expensive. I think if you did do it all the time it would detract from what a special day out it is.
I enjoy clay shooting but I think it can get a little soulless and repetitive. You need to go with friends otherwise it’s a bit like playing golf by yourself really.
Rough shooting and hide shooting are more solitary activities and it’s nice to be out in the countryside. There’s a lot to learn because there’s a lot of field craft involved.
Has it been an expensive hobby to take up?
It doesn’t come cheap. If you look at general rough shooting and pigeons then that’s as expensive as you make it but anything more formalised costs a lot of money but it’s worth it for a fantastic day out. As a treat, if you go 3 or 4 times a year then it’s not too bad. Even clay shooting can be expensive, by the time you’ve added on the cost of cartridges, it can cost up to £60 an hour and that can be quite painful.
Have you faced any problems?
It has been difficult gaining permission to go rough shooting.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Probably the best thing someone told me was to find a cartridge you like and stick to it. Then find the chokes that suit that cartridge, so that you can put that out of your mind and think about your target instead.
What was the first experience of preparing your shot game like?
I was lucky because a friend of mine had recommended Tim Maddam’s River Cottage Game book and that had a step-by-step guide. I found that there isn’t a great and a lot of information out there.
What do your friends and family think?
I have two boys, 8 and nearly 5. The boys are delighted and they love eating pheasant and pigeon. My wife is less keen on game but she’s happy for me to go shooting.
I think I will probably get the boys involved when they’re older and I will probably start them with an air rifle in a couple of years’ time. You only need to go on a game day and look at the average age of a gun line and you can see this isn’t going to last much longer if we don’t bring new people in.
Have you met new friends through shooting?
I’ve met some really good people and feel very lucky. I joined the local Wildfowling and Pigeon Club last Spring, for the pigeon shooting to be honest and I’ve met some great people through that.
Taking up shooting has also given me an excuse to spend more time with my father, which is nice. He retired a couple of years ago and he has a lot of spare time. Because he lives on the other side of the country, our new-found love of shooting is now an excuse to meet up more often.
It’s been a great first year and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is thinking about taking up shooting.
Follow Richard’s progress with his shooting in his regular new blog on Shooting UK.
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