Faced with declining membership numbers and a need to find a way of breathing new life into one of the longest established shooting clubs in Holland, something needed to be done, and done quickly. Somewhat surprisingly, it was the relatively modern shooting discipline of HFT that came to the rescue; CompAir’s Overseas Correspondents Leon Peute and Mirjam Stark were involved from the outset in helping turn things around…
KSV Oranje Nassau in The Hague is one of the oldest gun clubs in the Netherlands, dating back all the way to 1875. Unlike many other gun clubs, the KSV Oranje Nassau club consider one of their main objectives to produce champions, at both national and international levels. And very successful at it the club is too, with a goodly number of members having titles in a wide range of shooting disciplines, including 10 meter air pistol, 50 meter rifle, and historical firearms. Whatever your weapon of choice is, there’s a good chance you’ll see someone from Oranje Nassau at the top; quite a remarkable feat given that it is a relatively small club with around 125 members.
The club boasts a 10 meter indoor range for air rifles and air pistols, and a 50 meter outdoor range for firearms, but the really remarkable thing (from an HFT perspective) about Oranje Nassau is its location and the land surrounding these ranges. Oranje Nassau is situated in an area of natural dunes, to the north of The Hague, basically an open valley, surrounded by higher dunes, overgrown with wood. And it’s big. Really big! And can you believe that until last year, no-one had ever done anything with this bit of land…
In 2015, two members of Oranje Nassau, concerned with falling membership numbers, took a look around, saw a lot of people with grey hair, and decided they had to do something different to attract younger shooters. They recognised that without “young blood” coming in, the club wouldn’t be remaining at the top for too much longer and that something needed to be done, and pronto! The good news was that although Oranje Nassau is a long-established club with a distinguished history, it is also a club that is very forward-looking and always open to new ideas and moving with the times. Step forward the sport of Hunter Field Target shooting – Oranje Nassau was looking for a new discipline to attract today’s young shooters, it had the ideal grounds to set up all manner of courses, and HFT seemed to tick all the right boxes.
As is often the case when you come up with a great idea, you almost immediately then start to think of all the things that need to be taken into account – and the list was pretty long. For a start, bringing a new sport such as HFT into a club sounds really great, but it could be a bit of a problem if no-one knows anything about this style of shooting! There was also the slight issue that whilst the land surrounding the club was absolutely perfect for HFT, shooting was not permitted there as the area is designated a nature reserve. There was also the small matter of the same area being responsible for supplying almost half the drinking water for the whole of The Netherlands! This meant that even if the embargo on shooting were to be lifted, the use of lead pellets would be completely out of the question.
But seemingly insurmountable problems can often be solved, especially if you have a little help, and so the Oranje Nassau club contacted the Dutch Field Target Association (DFTA). Former DFTA-chairman Joost Broere was only too happy to put the Oranje Nassau club in touch with Mirjam Stark, Leon Peute and Jurgen van Aken (all 3 being experienced HFT shooters who had represented Holland at international level), who would be able to give the club’s members an introduction to HFT. It was also suggested that a demonstration shoot be set up, using lead-free, non-toxic pellets so as not to fall foul of the law. After all, it’s one thing talking about it, but nothing really compares to actually having a go yourself, does it?
So in April 2015, Mirjam, Leon and Jurgen set out a modest 15-target HFT course and were joined by ten Oranje Nassau club members for their first steps in the noble sport of HFT. Despite the weather doing its worst, with rain setting in almost as soon as the first few shots were taken, it worked; it didn’t take long for these ten “pioneers” to discover that HFT is fun – and even shooting tin pellets wasn’t too bad and worked just as well as lead ones when it came to knocking targets over. So that was the first part of the mission accomplished – they were hooked!
Having been bitten by the HFT bug, Oranje Nassau didn’t sit around waiting for whatever might happen next – they got right down to it and set about organising their first HFT competition, set for September last year (with a little more help from their new-found friends at the DFTA, naturally). The competition was set out over a 10 lane course with 33 targets, including a few out to 50 meters for the FT shooters, as well as a few cunningly placed up in trees, under a log, and a variety of other natural features that the new shooting ground offered.
This year things have really started to motor, with the DFTA agreeing to include two shoots at the new Oranje Nassau ground as part of the Dutch National Championships Series. This in turn sparked considerable discussion within the Dutch HFT community regarding the pros and cons of lead-free pellets – mostly about the cons, of course! However, these discussions promptly ended when one of the organizers produced a selection of photos showing the remarkable terrain that would be available to shooters if they could bring themselves to shoot tin pellets; the response went something along the lines of “with a setting like that, we’d come along and shoot even if we have to shoot without any pellets at all!”
Truth be told, it took a lot of effort and hard work to build 12 lanes with 42 targets. This time the course was set for HFT only, as the amount of “forestry work” that would have been involved to allow for more than 3 targets to be set out beyond 40 metres was simply too much to take on. Even clearing the shrubs and bushes to form the 12 lanes took a couple of days, but with five people working on and off, by Saturday evening on April 9th, the course was set.
The next day saw Oranje Nassau club’s first official HFT competition and even the weather, was perfect, with just a slight breeze to help make things interesting and zero chance of any rain! 32 competitors turned out on their day to try their luck at this superb new venue, and once the safety brief was over with, they set out across the valley in the dunes and into the wooded area to find their respective starting pegs. From the very first shots, it was clear that things were working very well, as evidenced by the really big smiles on everyone’s faces – even those who had initially been heavily opposed to using tin pellets!
After the shoot, it was back to the club’s canteen for refreshments before the prize-giving, and to take stock of how the day had gone. The conclusion? Oranje Nassau had truly succeeded in creating the perfect HFT “playground”, with everybody immediately wanting to register for the next shoot in October! Mission complete!