By Mike Briggs
Steve Mortimore gazed out at the idyllic scenery stretching away into the distance: trees, streams, lochs and heathery moorland; ravens doing their aerobatics in a crisp, blue sky and the occasional eagle turning on a rising thermal.
“I love it here,” he said. Then he picked up a gun and shot the first thing to fly past.
Shocking? Not at all. That airborne victim was merely a bright orange clay disc and Steve was making the most of another glorious day down at Harris Gun Club.
And what a club this now is. In just a couple of years it has gone from not much more than a clearing in the woods at Aline to one of the best clay shooting facilities in the UK. There are now all-weather covered shooting stands, floodlights and equipment which offers six of the sport’s disciplines to the highest level possible short of Olympic competition. And even that has been catered for in the long-term plans.
If you know anything about clay shooting, then feast your eyes on this: on offer are Down the Line, (known as DTL), Automatic Ball Trap, (ABT), Double Rise, Double Trap, Universal Trench, (UT), and Skeet. To the layman these are all meaningless; to the shooter they mean clay target paradise, with the bonus of being set in arguably the most picturesque gun club setting in the kingdom.
Then there is the technology.
Steve’s clay had been launched by his shout of “Pull!”, but no human hand was involved in the enterprise. His command was picked up by a microphone set into the ground by his feet, fed down a cable to a multi-thousand pound computer and relayed to a state-of-the-art trap which threw the disc out into space. Steve had no idea where the clay would soar as the trap automatically varied both height and angle to give a truly random, bird-like flight.
Well, almost truly random. There’s a clever trick hidden up its sleeve. “In a normal set-up,” says Steve, “you get a person operating the trap. With several shooters in a competition, taking it in turn, the trap operator just chucks the clays out willy-nilly and each shooter gets whatever comes next. The problem is that you can end up getting a whole string of tough shots while the next chap gets easy ones. Not with this equipment. The computer remembers what each shooter has had and gives a fair mix of easy and difficult. No complaints. Perfect!”
And that perfection has been hard won through a combination of grants, donations, begging and borrowing and, most of all, sheer hard work by HGC volunteers. The clay traps, voice activators and computers, for instance, cost £60,000, and the shelters and two skeet towers between them are worth £50,000. Then there’s the £10,000 generator and £12,500 worth of buildings.
But the biggest contribution has come in the time given by club members whose numbers are swelling all the time. From just a dozen or so a few years ago numbers are now up to 49 including five new juniors. Among those juniors are brothers Andrew, aged 12, and John Hughson, 14, of Stornoway. They are aiming for places in the Scottish junior teams and will use this year to try each discipline and register their scores with the Scottish Clay Target Association (SCTA) for consideration and placing on the league tables. They wouldn’t have been able to do this without the club’s comprehensive facilities.
Another club member with national ambitions is Stuart Macleod from Aird, Point, who has been selected for the Western Isles shooting team at the Island Games in Jersey this coming July. Stuart, 31, has also been put forward by the SCTA for the fast-track squad which trains and competes alongside the High Performance Squad and is designed to swiftly progress less experienced shooters through to the Great Britain teams.
Stuart was hooked by the clay shooting bug when he and some mates had a go at a stall run by HGC at a local show. “I enjoyed it so much I joined up and regularly made the trip all the way down to Urgha near Tarbert where the club used to be. That was six years ago and what we have now is a world away from those days,” says Stuart, who took part in the Scottish Championships last year.
This year, thanks to the quality of the facilities at Aline, he can take part in major national competitions without leaving the island as the HGC has been chosen to host the ABT North Area Championships in July and the UT Scottish Championships in August.
“This is quite a feather in our cap,” says club treasurer Fiona Knape. “Plus, for the first time in the club’s 100 year history, we will be holding Scottish team Selection shoots throughout the season. This will reduce the inequality of local shooters as they won’t have to travel off island to register all their scores for consideration to shoot nationally for Scotland.”