Washington Air Rifle range - beating Covid 19!
PUBLISHED: 12:30 20 November 2020
Peter Yeats reflects on the changes one airgun range has made due to Covid 19 and how their business survived Coronavirus lockdown
“Never go back,” they say. “It’s never the same.”
Hmmm, but what if you’d had a great time? Or even if you’re just curious? Covid 19 has wreaked havoc since its arrival, and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future, at least until effective vaccination is a realistic prospect. For now, it’s all about adapting to regulations, guidelines and circumstances.
Way back, in a different lifetime it almost seems, in the May issue of ‘Air Gunner’, I wrote about Soggy Solutions – or what I decided to do, in order to get shooting in the face of interminable rain that rendered my permission virtually impassible. So I went to Washington Air Rifle Range (W.A.R.R.), in Tyne and Wear, to meet Ian and Michael and to sample what their range had to offer. Needless to say, I enjoyed a fantastic visit, trying the well-designed challenges of the long and short ranges.
I was also delighted to see the great work done by our editor and art director for my article, knowing that it would do a fair job of promoting this range and airgun ranges in general, but that satisfaction was very short-lived, overtaken by this global pandemic and the unprecedented lockdown. Months of forced inactivity later, I was able to make a return visit to see how Ian and Michael were dealing with the difficulties posed to their business.
Firstly, they had survived, but would not have done so without the Government’s small business support scheme. The struggle to recognise the terms of their Business Interruption Insurance is ongoing – an experience shared by very many businesses, I believe, but this is where the doom and gloom ends. This range is pushing forward with improvements, accelerated during lockdown, and in part, available to shooters using the range’s Covid management arrangements.
On my first visit, shooters could turn up at any time, and provided there were lanes free, commence their hour’s shooting – not any more. To my mind, the carefully managed access and shooting environment makes for a safe experience in which to enjoy the facilities, and meet like-minded shooters, albeit using alternate lanes to allow for social distancing. Exceptions to this are single-household ‘bubbles’, which can use adjacent lanes. Groups of up to 12 can still hire the range, provided they are all part of a bubble or conform fully with the social distancing rules that are now in place.
In the new protocol, there are fixed change over times for starting and finishing shooting. You arrive early, park and then inform Michael that you are there; then you wait outside in your car until you are told that you can enter. As you enter, you sanitise you hands immediately – a reassuring start. Then you sign the contact-tracing register. This thoroughness is followed by Michael or Ian explaining what they expect of shooters and what they do between sessions to sanitise all surfaces and equipment, followed by the usual safety briefing for first-time users.
Shooters have to be aware of touching surfaces and try to keep such contact to a reasonable minimum, confining that to only their shooting lane, as far as possible. When a session is over, a Dettol spray is used on the seats and guns, which are then dabbed almost dry, to finish drying naturally in a few minutes. Safety goggles are also thoroughly sanitised, and left to be re-used, after drying, the following day. Everything that is handled, or might be handled, is sprayed with alcohol-based disinfectant between sessions.
Does all of this meticulous attention to safe detail spoil the shooting experience? Not a bit. All of the regulars have resumed their visits and that says a lot about the quality of the range’s shooting experience, as well as the loyalty of those who, like me, feel very well served by Washington Air Rifle Range.
During lockdown, the BB/airsoft range has been completed, adding a new dimension to the shooting experience. This range is enclosed to contain all fired BBs or pellets. and like the rest of the facility, is covered by a CCTV live-feed to the front desk. To be honest, I didn’t really think this would be ‘my thing’, but, having had a try, maybe it is! Of course, it’s not the same as the pursuit of pellet-on-pellet perfection that motivates regular airgunners at shooting ranges like this. but, boy is it fun! Blasting away at a target – for accuracy is not really what this is about – is still a challenge, trying to narrow the group whilst obliterating the target, and all through aperture rear and blade fore sights. Wonderful!
I even had a try of a 10m target pistol – again, not my usual shooting experience – and felt the draw of trying to shoot such a precision weapon skilfully.
Of course, I was lured back to the bell target and was pleased to ring it a few times. Shooting a .22 (5.5mm) through a 7mm hole doesn’t allow for any errors or slight pellet variation! Perhaps I should buy a .177.
However, the best experience of all was to find that the range has its regulars back who share their expertise and love of shooting in the conversation and banter of a shared passion. In the space of my visit, we chatted about leading-in and how often to clean a barrel; a comparison of the latest high-quality Chinese pellets compared to the usual, popular classic brands; the importance of shooting a springer regularly to avoid the complacence of ‘easy’ PCP accuracy; and the high quality of the latest high-mag scopes. Quite a range of topics and an absolute joy to be involved.
The icing on the cake, this time, was the chance to try a wonderfully restored 1960’s Webley break-barrel. Yes, it was using an authentic leather washer and only putting out about 7 ft.lbs, and yes, the single-stage trigger was about 8lbs pull weight – authentic yet a challenge – but it was surprisingly accurate and it sent shivers up my spine to be able to shoot it. When I was about 13 years old, to own such a gun was wildly aspirational, and now I had one in my hands. Wow! A genuine privilege.
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The gun was at the range with its original owner who carried out a full restoration after rediscovering it in his loft. He’s done a fantastic job with the bluing of the metalwork and the staining of the original stock ... it looks new.
SUPPORT YOUR CLUB
That’s what shooting ranges and clubs are all about – meeting, chatting and sharing our love of airgun shooting. Please support yours. I’m delighted to find that Washington Air Rifle Range has weathered Covid and is looking forward with the new BB/airsoft range and under-construction reception/viewing lounge, but its survival was touch-and-go, at its worst. Wherever you are, there will be ranges like this one, ranges that need your support. Ring them and book up, for the good of the business, the good of the sport ... and for your own pleasure. As for things never being the same. Perhaps that can be true, but I have found that they’re often even better! ‘Never go back’. I disagree. In this case, I say, ‘Often go back’... because you won’t regret it.