One new love soon led to another for this member of Britain’s muzzle-loading team, who also co-founded Anglian Muzzle Loaders
When Clare Mills found one new love, she didn’t realise it would lead to another. Now this member of Britain’s muzzle-loading team has co-founded Anglian Muzzle Loaders.
For more sporting Dianas, seriously sporting ladies offering advice and encouragement, Anne Woodcock founded Ladies Fishing UK to encourage more women to get into the sport. And Sarah Kate Byrne is a Diana of the Chase with a ‘have a go’ attitude to fieldsports.
When you are approaching your mid-forties and you embark on a new romantic relationship, it helps to keep an open mind and a willingness to embrace new hobbies and interests. Little did I know when I met muzzle-loading enthusiast Martin Crix that a whole new world was opening up to me.
Guns and shooting could not have been further from my mind when we first met. In fact, I had a slight fear of guns that was totally unfounded. Martin had a lifelong interest in all shooting sports and I would accompany him on clay and game shoots, where he would shoot his muzzle-loader. The shooting and gun terminology started to rub off and it wasn’t long before I started to shoot. I found it an extremely frustrating sport but, at the same time, inexplicably rewarding when I did occasionally connect with the target. Fortunately, a few months after starting Martin attended a CPSA Instructor Training Course that not only helped my shooting but probably saved our relationship, too.
I started to shoot muzzle-loaders in 2008, mainly at Lakenheath Clay Target Centre (now re-opened as Eriswell Lodge). The owner at the time, Pete Usher, was very supportive of this minority sport and encouraged us to start a muzzle-loading club at the ground. So, with three founding members – Martin, Bev Keeble and myself – we started Lakenheath Muzzle Loaders (now Anglian Muzzle Loaders following the closure of Lakenheath and subsequent move to Cambridge Gun Club, who have been equally supportive). The club is now in its 10th year and we hold a muzzle-loading clay shoot once a month with some 15 to 20 muzzle-loaders attending regularly.
I started to shoot with the GB muzzle-loading clay team, DTL training at Sywell Range in Northamptonshire. In late 2008, it was suggested that I join the team as a Tyro – someone who had not shot a qualifying score but showed promise. In 2009, I travelled to Valencia with the MLAGB (Muzzle Loading Association of Great Britain) team, consisting of rifle, pistol and shotgun shooters, for my first international championships. It was a proud moment for me when I was asked to be the flag bearer for the GB team at the opening ceremony.
My first foray into game shooting was about five years ago, when our friend Derek Richardson invited me to share a peg with him on a shoot near Bury St Edmunds. As this was a new experience for me I took my breech-loader (a side-by-side, 12-bore Charles Lancaster circa 1906). I now go to about five game shoots each season and always shoot my 12-bore Stensby single-barrel muzzle-loader, circa 1850.
On most of the shoots we go to guns use breech-loaders. Martin and I share a peg with our muzzle-loaders, which keeps us in the shooting as once one gun is empty we step back and reload whilst the other stands ‘live’ on the peg. The other guns are always keen to see the old muzzle-loaders bringing down the birds with a big boom and great plume of smoke. A picker-up who stood behind me on a recent shoot timed me loading my single barrel – 35 seconds, which he thought was impressive. The adrenaline of a busy drive makes you load even quicker. It’s important to remember never to look up – what the eye does not see, the heart will not grieve. If you lose concentration and misload, the gun will not go off and you spend the rest of the drive removing the load from the barrel. However, there are no plastic cartridges to collect.
Preparation is key to shooting a muzzle-loader, even more so when you are on a game shoot. It saves loading time if you glue the cards to the wads. I like to travel light on the shoot but there are a few essentials you have to have with you: an unloading stick and a decapper or small pliers to remove the caps during or at the end of the drive.
It is hard to explain the muzzle-loader to people who haven’t tried one. The analogy I use is that of making a mug of coffee at home. If you use instant, the whole process is quick, efficient and clinical. Compare this to making a cafetière of fresh coffee. The difference is as much about the journey as it is about savouring the end product.
Martin and I and our fellow muzzle-loaders attend many game fairs throughout the year offering the public have-a-go opportunities with these guns, and the smiles on everyone’s faces says it all. Although I have several muzzle-loaders, a Banks 13-bore double-barrel, a Pedersoli reproduction flintlock, my choice of gun is the Stensby single barrel. As someone once said to me, “Beware the lady with one gun.”
TOP TIP: If in doubt, pull it out. Keep the muzzle pointing upwards whether loaded or not. Preparation before the day. Don’t look up when loading. Pick your birds carefully – when the gun is empty, it really is empty. Don’t put a wet gun in a sleeve.