The Inaugural Poppy Shield Shoot

At 6 yards, that 3/8” hole in the bell target is tiny, especially over open sights.

At 6 yards, that 3/8” hole in the bell target is tiny, especially over open sights. - Credit: Archant

John Milewski reports from a fine and worthy event

Bell target shooting has been a sport for more than a century. This display board told you all about

Bell target shooting has been a sport for more than a century. This display board told you all about BSA’s involvement with the sport. - Credit: Archant

Just picture this scene. It is a pitch-black night and you have recently landed in Normandy as part of the Allied invasion force on D-Day. There is confusion all around and an officer orders you and a mate to move forward to see what is up ahead. There are fresh tank tracks on the ground and you know the only tanks in the area are those belonging to the enemy. How would you feel? You would probably wish to be almost anywhere else in the world at that point in time than in the midst of that huge battle.

A fine display of vintage arms. All over 100 years old and all in fully working order.

A fine display of vintage arms. All over 100 years old and all in fully working order. - Credit: Archant

The above has not been taken from the script of a war film but was one of many stories related to me by 90-year-old D-Day veteran, Len Buckley. Len’s generation took the danger around them in their stride, despite having to bury their mates on a regular basis and seeing sights that my generation thankfully has never had to. They had no alternative but to carry on, and it is thanks to true heroes such as Len that many of us enjoy the freedoms and lives that can be so easily taken for granted today.

Some of the challenging targets required 100% concentration as one simple mistake could cost you dea

Some of the challenging targets required 100% concentration as one simple mistake could cost you dearly. - Credit: Archant

Fortunately, there are some good, honest, decent people around today, who look after the interests of veterans such as Len and one such chap is Gary Rayson who, along with the unstoppable Cliff Ennis, was the driving force behind the inaugural Royal British Legion Poppy Shield Challenge, held at the Greyhound Gun Club in Coventry. The Legion caters for WW2 veterans as well as those from more recent conflicts. The intention of this shoot was for existing shooters to enjoy a day’s competitive shooting, a little banter and raise some money for the Legion. What made this shoot different is that non-airgun shooters, such as serving members of HM forces, paramedics and the police, were invited to submit teams and discover at first hand what fun organised air rifle shooting can be. Teams consisted of three shooters and some excellent poppy-themed trophies were up for grabs for the competitively minded. There was even a lone piper in attendance and some say the sound of bagpipes stirs emotions within them that inspire great things.

Matching cammo and vintage Jackal rifle.

Matching cammo and vintage Jackal rifle. - Credit: Archant

Winning Vintage Springer Team – the Jackass Jackals took their cammo as seriously as their rifles.

Winning Vintage Springer Team – the Jackass Jackals took their cammo as seriously as their rifles. - Credit: Archant

Have-A-Go

Modern PCPs were useful for those 8mm kills!

Modern PCPs were useful for those 8mm kills! - Credit: Archant

This was a shoot with something for everyone. Airgun historian Eddie Marrian had set up a have-a-go bell target range alongside his fine display of antique Lincoln Jeffries and BSA air rifles. Eddie had also brought along an information board on BSA’s involvement with target shooting during the first part of the 20th century and I overheard several competitors commenting on how simple these old rifles looked. All the rifles on the stand were over 100 years old and all were still capable of fine accuracy, as was seen on the bell target range, where I witnessed family rivalry and mates trying to outdo each other’s scores. Bell target shooting is now over a century old and whilst it is typically shot at 6 yards, the rifles are used with open sights and the traditional bell aperture is a tiny three-eighths of an inch. As I say, these old rifles are capable of hitting the bell and a huge cheer usually accompanied each ring down-range.

A classic Air Arms Khamsin sidelever in action.

A classic Air Arms Khamsin sidelever in action. - Credit: Archant

The Umarex Boys Club was also in attendance, with a fine selection of multi-shot air pistols. The idea was again, a have-a-go stand for those who don’t usually shoot pistols but who were tempted to have a try. From the crowds I saw, the stand certainly looked popular and unlike handling a pistol in a gun shop, you could really get the feel of several different models in order to determine which could end up as your next purchase. I quite liked the look of a Colt 1911 clone and as my better half, Jo, was right behind me, I moved swiftly on to the main range before getting too attached to this pistol!

Another Nockover bunny falls victim to a Steyr armed shooter.

Another Nockover bunny falls victim to a Steyr armed shooter. - Credit: Archant

The white targets were for scoped rifles, whist blue painted targets were placed closer for those wi

The white targets were for scoped rifles, whist blue painted targets were placed closer for those with open sighted vintage rifles. - Credit: Archant

Most Read

Vintage Shooters

The perpetual Poppy Shield was made by Eddie Marrian and the Poppy plaques were well worth shooting

The perpetual Poppy Shield was made by Eddie Marrian and the Poppy plaques were well worth shooting for. - Credit: Archant

Gary and Cliff put a great deal of thought into this competition and encouraged collectors with vintage air rifles to shoot alongside HFT Competitors. Rather than try to see, let alone hit, some of the Nockover targets at 40 yards plus, Gary was kind enough to place 20 targets at more realistic open sight ranges of 30 yards and less, for the vintage teams. I took a stroll around the course to work out which lanes had the vintage targets on them and promptly tripped over a competitor, which sent me sprawling. Luckily, I didn’t land on anyone and made sure I fell on my hand rather than the camera I was holding at the time. I must start wearing those glasses I’ve been prescribed! In the end there were not as many vintage competitors (that’s those with a vintage gun rather than vintage in age) as envisaged and this was a shame when there was a course within a course laid out for them. I would certainly encourage those who collect and perhaps occasionally shoot vintage arms to have a go at the next such shoot, which Gary is planning already. You don’t have to be a marksman or markswoman to take part – just be safe and obey the rules to be made welcome. You’ll probably learn something of your gun’s history from someone like Eddie or learn a long lost technique on open sights from one of the other competitors.

Eddie Marrian demonstrating a pre WW1 BSA on the Bell Target range.

Eddie Marrian demonstrating a pre WW1 BSA on the Bell Target range. - Credit: Archant

One of the most satisfying memories of this shoot for me was the friendliness of everyone I spoke with. It has been some time since I hung up my FT and HFT gun and attended an open shoot. My experience was therefore not unlike someone visiting a club for the first time and if I were local to Coventry, I would return and join tomorrow. The club has excellent facilities as well as a very good wooded ground. It may be a cliché, but a very poignant one, that people make clubs and the people who attended this shoot were among the friendliest I’ve ever met. There was plenty of banter among friends and I look forward to meeting up again with many of those who attended, at some point in the future.

Winners all. Ex Para, Len Buckley (centre) presented the trophies.

Winners all. Ex Para, Len Buckley (centre) presented the trophies. - Credit: Archant

Meet Len

The trophies were presented by WW2 veteran, Len Buckley, which concluded a perfect day’s shooting in a humble way. Len must have experienced the worst kind of human behaviour and saw at first hand what damage human beings were capable of inflicting upon each other.

For that reason, we owe it to Len’s generation and those who followed to never forget all they have done, to allow us to live in relative freedom today. I am pleased to say well over £1000 was raised on the day and the ultimate total will increase further because of the generosity of Barclays Bank, who approved matched funding for this shoot as part of their community programme. Well done all! n