How joining a pistol club changed my life

by Dave Burgess

I really enjoyed my working career and I think I was quite good at what I did. I guess that’s a strange admission to make and some would find it hard to understand. Others would wonder what, if anything, it has to do with shooting sports. Please bear with me and I’ll try to explain the connection.

Faced with retirement and time on my hands, I wondered what was I going to do to fill my days. Many well-meaning suggestions were put forward, including volunteer work, hobbies, joining a men’s shed and so on. All of which had merit, but I already had a hobby/sport, so maybe a reinvention was not necessary.

At about this time I met a group of guys from a local pistol club who seemed to have great fun with their sport. I was not an easy convert, as my experience with handguns was nil. No experience and I have to admit, very little interest. My shooting background is hunting, firstly with a shotgun and then with a rifle. It started for me as a very young boy, whose family were ‘on the land’. We hunted for food and to control pests - pretty basic but totally necessary to survive in such an environment.

I must also say that I have always been lucky enough to have had permission to hunt on friends’ properties. Sadly, a lot of properties are being swallowed up by companies both local and foreign, and also by each other, which is severely limiting the opportunities for trustworthy shooters to gain access to hunt.

There is also the problem of distance, which in reality means to hunt on a property would involve an extended period of time. This is not always possible, given the hustle and bustle of retired life. This predicament has been reinforced to me many times by shooters I have met in gunshops and at rifle ranges, who all seem to be “looking for a property to shoot on”.

With some urging from my wonderful wife, who I think secretly wanted a bit of well-deserved time to herself, I decided to join a nearby pistol club and see for myself if it was something I would enjoy on a long-term basis. It must be said that the process of obtaining a pistol licence in my home state of New South Wales was a long and complicated one. I’m sure that anyone who is interested would be better served with information from a firearms registry or by visiting a club and talking to its officials, rather than reading my version of the process.

Once I had completed the safety requirements, which are quite stringent, I was able to shoot matches under supervision, as a probationary licence holder. What great fun! Also, the realisation set in that I had made a good choice in more ways than I could have hoped.

On the surface, the membership looks like a bit of an old men’s club, but the fact is we have all age groups, from junior to retired, with both male and female participants and from as many work, ethnic and religious backgrounds as you could imagine. Obviously the thing we all have in common is our sport, but conversations wander into all sorts of unexpected areas, which I’ve found to be one of the genuine joys of spending time with my club mates.

The matches that are available to shoot are quite varied and as such, all have different skills that need to be mastered. This is the area where I experienced my biggest surprise (so far) and that is the generosity of my fellow members. Nothing is too much trouble for these guys and girls. No skill tips are held back, equipment is freely lent to new people and advice on any aspect of the match is forthcoming on request.

On the range you can be coached about stance, grip, trigger control, sight-picture, aim point, breathing and the list goes on. While back in the clubroom, talk can turn to reloading procedure and the best load for a match and why, or can just as easily be about health concerns, handy tips or holiday destinations. It is a safety regulation that eye and ear protection must be worn on these ranges, but my tip is to bring your hearing protection into the clubroom as that’s where most of the ‘noise’ is made.

Apart from the many different matches, there are also numerous types of firearms to choose from. These include air pistol, rimfire, centrefire, revolver, self-loaders, single-shots and more. While the club does have some variations of these machines for member use, it can’t possibly have one of every type, brand or calibre. But again, the generosity and experience of my fellow members has helped me to thread my way through the maze of what’s available, what works and importantly, what works for me.

Don’t gain the wrong impression here. I have not mastered any of the disciplines required to be an adequate marksman, but that to me is great because it means I have to strive, study, think, practise and seek knowledge - all the things you need in retirement to keep the brain active and heighten the enjoyment of success. They say you should learn a new language or to play a musical instrument in retirement to keep your brain active. I think I’m doing both by taking on pistol shooting for the first time.

Shooting a match as a newcomer is not about beating a club record but rather about beating your own best score, similar to golf, but with more noise and much less walking. I tell my grandchildren that I learn something new every day because it keeps me interested in the world around me. It’s true and I hope it inspires them to follow the same philosophy.

All this fun must cost a lot of money, you might ask? Well, the truth is you can spend a small fortune on equipment, but my club membership costs me about $5 per week. The advice I received early on was to shoot as many matches as I could, pick out the ones I liked and kit up for those. This has enabled me to buy only the gear I need for what I shoot - once again, good advice from well-meaning club mates.

Another pleasant surprise I have experienced is the club working bee days. I honestly thought these occasions would be a real drag, but the participants seem to want to enjoy the day’s work. The good-natured ribbing that goes on is great. A classic example is my mate Roger’s new car. It’s a bright yellow Yaris, no big deal, but Roger told a mate that he was a bit worried that it might be too bright. Needless to say, he has been teased, without mercy, about the car’s color. I’d like to say that I’m becoming used to the color, but I’m sorry, Roger, I still find it a real shocker. There are countless other stories of good-natured torment, but I think you appreciate the general idea. In the classic Aussie tradition, nothing is sacred.

The astute reader will have noticed by now that I have not mentioned my club’s name and I’m not going to because I believe that pistol, rifle and shotgun clubs right across Australia offer the same kind of experiences to people who want to be included. My club prides itself on being involved with the local community. We use local contractors where possible for jobs at the club and we have been assisting in the work for the dole program, trying to help young people gain new skills. We also collect our non-reloadable brass to sell to a local scrap merchant, the proceeds of which are donated to the helicopter rescue service. These things don’t make us saints, but it does show that we are conscious of the fact that we are part of a community and for me, that is important.

One of my rifle-shooting hunting mates asked me the other day why I joined a ‘pistol club’. In reply I asked him how often he went away shooting. He said once or twice a year, to which I proudly told him that I now shoot twice a week.

The moral of this story is not ‘one-upmanship’, it is more about life choices. If you have an interest in the shooting sports, there are ways to further enjoy your pastime. In retirement you don’t need to reinvent yourself with a new hobby or sport; just simply enhance your knowledge of your existing hobby or sport - and maybe even write about it. The other obvious benefit is the mates you will inevitably make like JJ, Chris, Bruce, Hugo, of course Roger and too many others to name here. Their friendship and advice is something I will appreciate forever.

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