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Why Teenagers Need Gun Control On St Helena

Kayleigh Harris (16) training in the prone position at 50m.

Kayleigh Harris training in the prone position at 50m in the historic High Knoll Fort.

TRAINING FOR THE SMALL ISLAND GAMES | Darrin Henry

Instead of a Saturday morning lie in, a small, dedicated group of five youngsters are up early training in St Helena’s national sport of shooting, trying to hit a one centimetre bullseye, 50 metres away.

They are not aided by telescopic sights. There are no bipods to stabilise the 6kg rifles over the 60 shots. There is a breeze; dust is in the air and plenty of glare on this bright summer’s day.

This is the tough side of sport, the hard slog, essential for any hope of success. There is no glamour or social attraction to being here; no phones, no facebook, no music – just quiet determination.

The shooters have been training up to three times a week for the last four months, hoping to make selection for the Small Island Games, taking place this year on the Channel Island of Jersey. The Games are held every two years.

Pat, Kayleigh and Jodie, taking aim on the 50m range.

Pat, Kayleigh and Jodie, taking aim on the 50m range.

Madolyn and Chelsea watch carefully as their targets are scored.

Madolyn and Chelsea watch carefully as their targets are scored.

Jodie changing targets after round one.

Jodie changing targets after round one.

For nearly 3 decades shooters from St Helena have been internationally handicapped by inadequate local facilities, most notably training on a 25 yard range when the actual competition is shot at 50 metres.

Pat Henry runs the Jamestown Rifle Club and over the last two or three years has volunteered much of his time training youth shooters. When three of the club’s youngsters were selected in early 2014 for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, Pat decided experience of shooting at 50m was crucial before leaving the island.

The St Helena National Trust allowed a temporary training range to be set up inside High Knoll fort, an area closed to the general public since part of the outer walls collapsed a few years ago. The Trust continues to lend their support ahead of Jersey 2015.

The St Helena National Trust has allowed a temporary 50m and 100yd range to be set up inside High Knoll Fort.

The St Helena National Trust has allowed a temporary 50m and 100yd (on the right) range to be set up inside High Knoll Fort.

Chelsea, Jordie and Madolyn, training at 100yds in 2014, ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Chelsea, Jordie and Madolyn, training at 100yds in 2014, ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Shooting at High Knoll Fort.

Shooting at High Knoll Fort.

Madolyn (20) and her brother Jordie Andrews (16) both have the experience of Glasgow 2014 under their belts. Madolyn, a Teller at Bank of St Helena, is now training to compete in the 3P (three position) discipline and highlights ammunition quality as a problem. “On St Helena we don’t have much choice of ammo and sometimes it’s faulty.”

Jordie has been working as a mechanic for the last six months; he’s been shooting for over three years. “It’s a good sport, it relaxes you, but it’s also a good hobby.”

Retrieving her first set of targets to be checked, Jodie Constantine (16) scans the all important puncture holes. “Could be better,” she smiles, before the target is scored. She does better on the second round. Jodie is a student at Prince Andrew School. She began shooting in August 2013 and is working hard to be selected for Jersey. “Oh my God, I would be over the moon, [if selected] I would be so happy.”

Madolyn in standing position for 3P. Training at the Jamestown 25yd range is done on weekday evenings.

Madolyn in standing position for 3P. Training at the Jamestown 25yd range is done on weekday evenings.

Jordie demonstrates the kneeling position as part of the 3P discipline.

Jordie demonstrates the kneeling position as part of the 3P discipline.

Chelsea demonstrating the prone postion on the Jamestown 25yd range.

Chelsea demonstrating the prone postion on the Jamestown 25yd range.

Chelsea Benjamin (16) is the third Glasgow ‘veteran.’ She works at a crèche and says shooting is “very relaxing and therapeutic.” For Chelsea, the wind factor is a big challenge on the range. “Sometimes it can be calm at the platform but windy at the target, so you have to be patient.”

Kayleigh Harris (17) is the “newbie” of the bunch; she’s been shooting for “just over a year.” Kayleigh, an apprentice with the St Helena National Trust, is also training in 3P. “I find getting used to the different positions can be difficult, sometimes,” she tells me.

The shooters have individual rifles for their exclusive use. Looking after the rifle, setup and adjustments is all their responsibility.

The shooters have individual rifles for their exclusive use. Looking after the rifle, setup and adjustments is all their responsibility.

Kayleigh checking targets with Pat.

Kayleigh checking targets with Pat.

Ammunition quality is sometimes a problem.

Poor quality ammunition is sometimes a problem on St Helena.

When Simon Henry and Carlos Yon won gold and silver medals at the last Island Games in Bermuda 2013, it was a welcome boost for a sport that often lives in the shadows of football and cricket. St Helena also benefitted from the international exposure this success attracted.

I’ve tried shooting a few times myself and while it’s not for me, (it’s much harder than it looks) I have absolute respect for these youngsters’ dedication, and more importantly, their ability. Examining the targets after the sessions I am stunned by their accuracy; the one centimetre bullseyes are peppered with bullet holes.

Jodie on the 50m range at High Knoll.

Jodie on the 50m range at High Knoll.

Shooting equipment and kit are expensive and training conditions aren’t ideal. A new rifle starts at approximately £1,900; both Chelsea and Madolyn have bought their own. Jodie has been loaned a rifle and the other two belong to NASAS. Ammunition is a recurring cost, borne by each shooter, with an average of 130 shots per week costing £26, well over £1,000 a year. It’s a hefty outlay, both in financial expense and time; an unusual but positive case of youth investing in both themselves and their island’s prospects. No doubt the five will be hoping this commitment brings rewards.

Anxious eyes will be on the selectors when the team is announced shortly for Jersey 2015.

Flags along the range help shooters estimate the wind effect.

Flags along the range help shooters estimate the wind effect.

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