The first of our 2022 Faces of Bedford series features members of the Bedford Rifle Club on Clapham Road.
Over to Sammy Darling (British Senior Pistol Shooting champion), Ken Darling (Welsh Air Pistol Champion) and enthusiast Jason Filby…
Sammy: I started in 2012.
Ken: I started in 2011!
Sammy: I was 13. Our mum and dad used to shoot. My mum shot rifle for Great Britain, dad shot pistol for GB and that’s how they met. There is a rivalry between rifle and pistol!
We knew they had shot, but they never forced us into it. GB is quite underfunded compared to India/Korea/China etc… Our Dad won a gold medal at the 1982 Commonwealth Games and got a silver in pairs. After he retired he became GB coach.
K: We were young – like two and three years old. Didn’t see him much as was competing. Mum quit when she had us.
S: He never really mentioned it; we saw his medal a couple of times but he never forced un into the sport.
K: I started Duke of Edinburgh and chose shooting as a skill as I loved Call Of Duty!
S: I started a year later as Ken did it. I’m quite competitive and played golf for the county, and loved the idea of it. I was 13 and wanted a go!
The first time I got three shots all touching – dad said maybe we should pursue it. Looks like it was passed on genetics wise.
K: We can compete when training, but mostly male and female competitions are split by gender. We support each other rather than compete.
S: When people hear that we shoot, most people are surprised by it.
K: Most people want to know more as it’s a bit different.
S: With air pistols there’s no licensing required. Ken also does shoot a .22 calibre.
K: There are length rods on the back to make it 600mm to make it rifle sized so can’t be concealed. Must be held one-handed though!
S: Sport pistol is equivalent for female. Section 5, special license and a lot more security. Five shot mag, so technically semi-automatic. You have a lot of police checks – only sporting license, can’t have for fun. There are only 25 licenses in the entire country split between all of UK.
K: There’s a bad press a lot of the time around guns, understandably. It’s important to remember that there’s a lot of skill involved and it’s a great sport to compete in. It’s a niche sport to do.
S: I had a run-in at the airport once. I was in GB tracksuit going to the World Uni Games, they asked what I did and I said shooting and they rolled their eyes, stuck out their lip and walked off!
British gun laws are stricter than anywhere in the world. With section 5 I could only shoot that pistol at two ranges in the country! Police turn up regularly to ensure you’re storing it safe.
K: Some people assume we shoot clay pigeons – not many people know you can shoot targets.
S: Not a lot of people know what it is. Gun laws should be strict though, absolutely.
K: We’ve been coming to Bedford Rifle Club for a couple of months. The facilities here are fantastic. I live in Hitchin, Sammy is in Cambridge.
S: The atmosphere here is so welcoming, and they have a dedicated air range. Shooting can be a great test. Mentally it’s hard. You often convince yourself in your own head you’re not good enough. It definitely requires resilience and discipline and belief.
K: You have to push past the disbelief and self-sabotage that creeps in.
S: It’s incredibly rewarding. If you haven’t tried it, you should! There are packages available so you can pop down and try, and the club has kit you can use.
Jason Filby: I got into shooting as I was encouraged by my dad who is the chairman here and has a huge passion for it.
I’ve been coming since I was 11; I used to come and watch him shoot. My son now comes down and watches, he’s 6 and he loves it! There’s a father-son bond going on here weekly.
This is my family’s sport and what we enjoy. I remember the first time I can and had a go – I was young, it was a Christmas event.
My whole family were here. I was hooked from then on! As a teenager with my dad, we had a bit of rivalry. He used to shoot outside in the winter – I remember shooting in the snow and its challenging as hands go numb!
I still use my dad’s gun now. It’s definitely a hobby now. For me it’s about setting yourself a goal and trying to better it. It’s a great discipline and a way to improve.
I understand the stigma with it and the misunderstandings sometimes from people who don’t understand it. I was an air cadet for many years so shooting is part and parcel of that really. A lot of my friends and family shoot, so I’ve been surrounded by it since a young age.
A lot of people I socialise with do it too. Most people I meet who don’t know say they would love to give it a go. A lot assume we shoot animals or clays, but this environment is strict and there’s protocol around the handling of the rifles and well marshalled when you’re shooting targets too.
Education is key especially when at a range. It’s taboo to some people. You don’t talk about it all the time as some people may take it the wrong way and not understand it, but it’s an Olympic sport!
Some people don’t consider it a sport at all, despite the discipline and skill needed. This club is so welcoming, and I’d encourage anyone with an interest in it to come down and have a go.
You’ll realise how hard it actually is, but also how addictive it is!
You can find out more at Bedford Rifle Club’s website here.
Faces of Bedford was set up during lockdown by commercial and wedding photographer, Dan Davies, to showcase the extraordinary people that make Bedford brilliant.