As you pass through Aline Woodland on the main road between Tarbert and Stornoway you go by a nondescript gateway set back among the trees. A gravel track hints at something around the corner and an idle mechanical digger suggests that the “something” involves earthworks. Beyond that there is no clue as to the quite extraordinary facility which is tucked away behind the pines and which represents thousands of hours of labour by a dedicated band of like minded enthusiasts.
What has been created in the woodlands is a clay target shooting centre the like of which is not to be found anywhere else in the Highlands and Islands. The new venue for the Harris Gun Club (HGC) is to clay shooting what Tulloch Caledonian or Pittodrie Stadiums are to football, only a lot more scenic. As Mr Iain “Lava” Macleod, one of the principal architects of the project says, sweeping his arm across a quite stunning vista: “A few others might have the same equipment, but none of them has this setting. It is just beautiful.”
The work to make a new home for the HGC, which is affiliated to the Scottish Clay Target Association and the Lewis & Harris Sports Council, has involved a huge fund-raising drive and an even greater contribution in kind from club members and local businesses. The club, which dates back to 1900 and was formerly sited at Urgha, just outside Tarbert, invested £9,000 of its own funds and received grants of £20,548 from SportScotland and £10,000 from the Comhairle Community Regeneration Fund. Together with other donations this brought the total fundraising to almost £50,000, which has paid, among other things, for state-of-the-art traps to propel the clays and for electronic scoring equipment.
“Almost everything else – the huts for the traps, the clubhouse, hundreds of concrete blocks, wiring, plumbing, roadways, you name it – has been donated in one form or another,” says Mr Macleod. “At the end of the day you are probably looking at about a quarter of a million pounds in actual value.” Which is an awful lot for a club with just 45 members.
“Our philosophy in pushing for this facility was ‘Why should the Western Isles be excluded from the chance to produce an Olympic champion like Peter Wilson [the Dorset man who won double trap gold in London]?’. We now have Olympic disciplines, including double trap, here on a site conveniently located for everyone from the Butt to Barra. There could well be someone on the islands, a youngster at school even, who now has the opportunity to try this Olympic sport and, perhaps, excel.”
With a view to discovering that star talent and growing club numbers the HGC is offering “Come and Try” sessions where novices can receive a safety briefing and basic tuition and then, for just £35, get to blast away at 25 clays. There will also be group Come and Try sessions and the club will be visiting all the local shows.
The new equipment at the HGC will also allow professional shooters like gamekeepers to hone their skills. “We have eight different types of trap,” says Mr Macleod, “which send the clays along every possible trajectory, including along the ground in the case of the rabbit trap. There is something here to test everyone’s ability and offer a challenge to the most skilled shooters in the world.”
Members of Harris Gun Club travelled to Orkney in May this year to participate in the annual Highland and Islands Team Shoot that was hosted by Orkney Clay Pigeon Club at Rams Dale Orphir. This was the first time the competition was held in Orkney. Teams from Harris, Uist, Skye, Shetland and the Highlands travelled to Orkney to compete in the two day event that consisted of a 100 Automatic Ball Trap (ABT) competition on day one and a 100 Down the Line (DTL) competition on day two that saw over 40 shooters taking part, which included members of the Scottish teams.
The Harris Team (Iain Macleod, Neil MacInnes, Fiona Knape, Colin Knape and Stuart Macleod) were drawn as squad 6, with additional club member Peter Scaramuccia being drawn in squad 8 to compete with the mixed club squad. Each team shot at 100 ABT targets over four rounds of 25 in almost perfect weather conditions, scoring one point for every clay hit. In the seventh year of the competition, luck was definitely on Harris’ side as they knocked 2014 ABT winners Orkney out of the running to win the 2015 competition with 319 points out of a possible 400. Luck continued to be on their side as Colin also took the ABT high gun with 88 points out of a possible 100. This is the first time in the history of the competition that the club has won the team and individual ABT shields.
Harris Gun Club (HGC) continued to make history as it hosted the Scottish Clay Target Association’s Scottish Universal Trench Championship in August 2015 for the first time. The competition was won by 12 year old Andrew Hughson, who also took the High Gun and Junior Champion titles, in addition to first in C Class as he hit 85 out of 100 clay targets, 1 target clear of runner-up and Senior Champion Stuart Macleod, who also took second in C Class on an 84, both are members of Harris Gun Club. There were no A class entries. B class was won by DJ Morrison with 82 (4th), with Colin Knape taking D class with 83 (3rd). Lady Champion was Fiona Knape and Veteran Champion was AJ Morrison.