HOUSED in an unassuming building at the end of a quiet country lane, the 1066 Rifle and Pistol Club defies the stereotype right from the outset.
As someone who is uncomfortable around guns of any description, and would certainly be in the running for “Least Likely to Join a Rifle Club”, I was unsure what I would find on the other side of the door.
What struck me though, aside from the warm welcome I received when I entered the bustling club room, was that this is a place where safety and security are paramount.
The 1066 Rifle and Pistol Club is not a place where anyone can walk in, pick up a gun, and fire it.
Everyone must be signed in correctly, the firearms are checked meticulously, on and off the firing range, and the range officer is fully in control of proceedings at all times.
That said, newcomers are always welcome to join.
Club secretary Eric Jones said that the aim of the club is to provide a safe environment in which members can enjoy the sport.
“Shooting sports are probably among the most popular participatory sports in the country,” he said. “People’s perception of firearms is what they see on the news.
“Competitive shooting has nothing to do with the criminal use of firearms. It is heavily regulated by the police.”
Those new to shooting who wish to join the club, must undergo checks and attend a safety course (there are currently a number of people waiting for a place on a safety course).
There is then a three-month probationary period, during which time training is given in safe handling of firearms.
While there are several rifle clubs in the area, Eric said that the 1066 Rifle and Pistol Club is probably the largest in Sussex, with around 300 members.
While a large proportion of the members are older men, there are a number of women, and junior members are encouraged, along with complete novices.
The 1066 Rifle and Pistol Club was originally the Battle Rifle Club, which was formed before the Second World War. It moved to its current home in Rock Lane, Hastings, in 1992.
There is an indoor range and an outdoor range on site, and members also shoot at Lydd and Hythe military ranges.
I was particularly interested to speak to Jude Austin, 63, a retired mental health worker from Westfield, one of the club’s newer members, who was introduced by her husband and stepson.
She said: “I never wanted to shoot; I was always totally against it,” she said. “I just didn’t like guns, and thought only a certain type of person would do it.
“I came down on a Monday evening, and I was hooked.”
She said that for her the appeal of target shooting, was constantly striving to improve her performance, and learning about the different rifles,
“I’m my own competition,” she added.
“They are a great bunch of people, and so knowledgeable,” Jude added. “Don’t knock it until you have tried it.”
On which note I put on ear defenders and goggles and stepped onto the range, where under the close supervision of club member Steve Hunnissett, I loaded and fired a rifle for the very first time.
I was not too far off the target, though this may have been beginner’s luck.
I was then given the chance to fire one of membership secretary Bob Fox’s black powder revolvers.
The power of this gun was immense, and once the smoke had cleared (!) it became obvious I was slightly further off target, though not too far off. It is easy to understand how some people would get hooked.
However, despite the power of these guns, at no point was there any sense of danger. It is all about context.
For some members of the 1066 Rifle and Pistol Club the attraction is in the competition, honing their skills and improving upon their own results, for others it is the history behind the firearms that appeals.
Tellingly, all of those I spoke to mentioned the social aspect of the club.
“There is much more to the club than just shooting,” said David Stewart, 61, who has been a member of the 1066 Rifle and Pistol Club for six years.
He has collected around 15 medals during his time, but rather than being obsessed with guns, the retired ambulance serviceman says this is one of many hobbies.
“Quite often people come up to the club for the social side of it,” he said.
The club is growing in popularity year on year, and the companionable environment is no doubt a contributing factor.
For information or to enquire about joining the club visit www.1066rifleandpistolclub.co.uk or call the club secretary on 01424 465506.