August has been a mixed bag for UK shooting, news-wise. As we have written about before on this blog, grouse shooting could be in danger of becoming the new foxhunting as the Glorious 12th is now an annual feature for most news channels in the way the opening meet has been for years. The antis do their usual trick of fielding some half-baked celebrity in the run up to the date, peddling their latest lies, ensuring that the date can no longer pass without controversy and so appears on the news bulletins for all the wrong reasons.
On the other hand, we’ve had that huge celebration of sport in Rio where British shooters came away with bronze medals in trap and double trap, and that has led to some really positive coverage.
The Olympics is a great boost because it places shooting right in the thick of a whole raft of other sports that people routinely support, watch and play. This global event has the power to reach hundreds of thousands of sports fans, from a huge range of different backgrounds, and not only highlights the accessibility of our sport, but also normalises it. Shooting and gun ownership, to many people unfamiliar with it, can be loaded with negativity, but the Olympics and similar-sized events bring it out of the margins and set it in context of dozens of other better known sports, removing connotations of elitism or danger.
In fact, the Olympics normalised shooting to such a degree this year that dear old Auntie even featured our sport on its Get Inspired section, which was as surprising as it was welcome. When a public broadcaster with a huge audience displays shooting in a positive light, this is cause for some celebrations.
But contrast all this good PR with the coverage of the Glorious 12th where in some instances supporters of the sport were even described as psychopaths. Although most of the footage I heard, saw or read was fairly balanced, it still gives the antis the opportunity to spread lies about grouse shooting and the great conservation work carried out by its exponents. And as I listen to Packham, May, and their other cronies drone on, it does nothing good for my blood pressure either!
Okay, so there are more obvious reasons why people object to shooting live quarry, but that is precisely the reason we cannot let the news agenda be set by the antis. We win hands down on ethical and conversation grounds and it is these considerations, along with the fact the birds are shot for food, that I believe will resonate with reasonable people. And as reasonable people make up the majority of people, or at least I believe that to be so, so it is important that their perceptions of shooting are as positive as we are able to make them.
On balance, August has been a good month for our sport. Some of those who will have seen it at the Olympics might well decide to give it a go and it is then, by speaking to the people for whom owning guns and shooting is normal, will they learn the truth about it. Hopefully they will then become evangelists and the word spreads a little further.
And if they decided to move from clay shooting to game shooting, or from target shooting to stalking, as some inevitably will do, this goes a little further to normalising all shooting disciplines.
No matter which way you look at it, the media is important. Rightly or wrongly they have the power to make or break reputations and to shape public perceptions. They can turn people on to our sport or turn them away. We need to be consistent and proactive in our messages all year round, so when the antis drag out their lies in the run up to the Glorious 12th they are seen for what they are by reasonable people for whom extremism and the removal of liberty is undemocratic and utterly abhorrent.