“Do you want a go?” A friendly Belgian chap was offering me a rifle at a shooting range in a Second World war fort (fort of Flémalle).

Following the cancellation of the IWA, Browning gets organized

I’d never used a proper rifle before and still haven’t. Around us, shots were fired every few seconds as far more experienced fieldsports journalists jumped at the opportunity at the session laid on by Browning in March 2020 – a first look at the shiny shotguns, rifles and pistols launching into the shooting market.

The usual major gun trade show, the IWA convention in Nuremburg, had been scrapped because of concerns about the developing coronavirus situation. Browning rush-organised its own event. There was talk of planes being grounded, as Europe edged towards lockdown. My flight from Newcastle to Brussels had about 10 people on board – including the crew.

For such short notice, the nearly three-day event was slick, with “not boring” presentations about new products, a trip to a whisky distillery and, of course, the shooting.

I don’t want to shoot, it’s not my job.

“No thanks,” I told the smiling man, who resumed his assault on a distant paper target.

My job was filming and It took a while to get used to the volume level. Initial footage is shaky.

It had been a shock to realise just how popular shooting is. A few weeks earlier, I was not a ‘shooting’ journalist and had no idea that, in the UK alone, 600,000 people have shotgun and rifle licences.

I may have said ‘yes’ if my shoulder wasn’t sore from the more sedate clay shooting a day earlier. That was fun and I seemed to be quite good considering it was my first time. My pistol shooting didn’t go too badly either. Perhaps I was being humoured by the other journalists and polite hosts. I like to think not.

My first shots when I was young

In the mid-1980s, a friend and I used to grab my dad’s .22 air rifle and line up beer cans on a bridge at the bottom of the garden. I’d set up a VHS video camera and we’d shoot the cans, which twisted all over in mid-air as the pellets punctured them, unleashing a powerful jet of brownish liquid.

It was spectacular fun and watching the video in slow motion with music added was the coolest thing ever – at the time.

Fast forward a year or two and I was in the Tamiami gun shop in Florida. My dad picked some little handgun for me and I shot real bullets at targets on the range at the back. I was rubbish, distracted by a man with a massive and extremely loud magnum-type gun nearby. Plus there was a big difference in recoil compared with the air rifle.

I was prejudiced against guns

Something about how easy it was to access guns – in the US at least – made me nervous. I’m British. I don’t have a shotgun certificate or firearm licence. Years of conditioning through the media, which typically paints anyone who likes guns as potential nut jobs, doesn’t help.

Whatever negativity I’d felt changed once I started working for Fieldsports Channel. If there were any preconceptions left, they evaporated at the Browning event.

The other journalists and Browning reps were friendly, fun and far from loonies. They taught me essential gun etiquette, namely that the priority at all times is safety.

An enriching first experience

One of the highlights of the trip was a tour of the Browning factory, where we saw how metal tubes and wood are turned into delicately-carved shotguns. It’s a painstakingly-slow process that can take years but the finished products are works of art.

There was still some nervousness when I picked one up at the range, but it quickly disappeared after firing a few rounds at bright orange clay targets. It was just too much fun.

Next time I’m at a shooting range and offered a rifle, I’ll take it.


What was your first shooting experience?