RIFLE SHOOTING IN THE ISLE OF MAN
Organised Rifle Shooting has been part of the Isle of Man's sporting tradition for over a hundred years. The Isle of Man Rifle Association was founded on 19th December 1908, bringing together what was by then a flourishing social activity with clubs being formed and indoor ranges being built in towns and villages all over the Island.
The first recorded club was Douglas, which started in 1901. But in the immediate years following. clubs sprang up in Ramsey (1902), Laxey (1905) and over the next three years, Onchan, Police, Rushen, Ballasalla, Ballaugh, The Electric Tramways and King williams College were all formed. There is also record of a Malew club but it does not apear to have lasted very long.
Even in those days passions ran high between competitive and leisure shooters. 1909 saw a new backsight come on to the market. It had aperture sighting with movement judged on a vernier scale- the forerunner of today's sights - but not everyone was convinced progress was a good thing! Laxey, the strongest club of the day, changed over to the new sight. Some members of the Douglas club wanted to do the same... but some didn't. In 1910 the inevitable happened. The better shooters, keen on progress, left Douglas to establish a new club, and Sandsiders Rifle Club came into being.
Competition wasn't contained just to the Island. 1910 saw a Manx team take on the best from the Liverpool Rifle Association and the following year, in 1911, an Open Shoot for all-comers was staged which attracted entries from all over the British Isles.
A vigorous and successful local league was now in operation and this continued up until the outbreak of war in 1914. Miniature rifle shooting as it was then known, started again in 1919 but the experience of the War, had its consequences. They were difficult times all round and several of the clubs that closed in 1914 did not re-open. Interest built again over time, however, and three new clubs formed. St Matthew's which later became the Peveril Rifle Club, a short-lived club called Mona Rifle Club and the Volunteers, which refomed into Mannin Rifle Club before going out of existence. The Electric Tramways club also reformed to become Athol Rilfe Club, which lasted up until the 1970s. In 1923 the present Castletown Rifle CLub was formed, though an earlier club had formed in 1910 and operated for a while in the town.
Developments in equipment came along and Manx Shooters moved with the times, adopting first the new BSA No. 12 rifle and then, after further backsight modifications, the 12/15 and No 15 rifles. These were then to be the workhorses of the sport for many years to come.
In 1927 the Isle of Man Rifle Association held another all-comers meeting which, again was well supported, this time being sponsored by the sport's ruling body, the Society of Miniature Rifle Clubs, later to become the NSRA.
By 1935 further changes had taken place. There were now only nine clubs active on the Island, including the new Peel Rifle Club which had started that year. World events however, were soon to intervene and see the sport close down for a second time on the outbreak of war in 1939. It was 1946 when competition got under way again and in this year two new names arrived on the scene. Sulby and District Rifle Club and Douglas Ladies Rifle CLub, followed in 1950 by Andreas Rifle Club.
Manx Shooters had to wait a few years before the next major encounter with off-island opposition. It was 1954, in fact, when competitions were organised with the Cumberland and Westmoreland Rifle Association on a home and away basis, 27 years after the last engagement during the all-comers meeting in 1927. The isolation had done Manx shooting no favours. While local marksmen had laboured away with their 12/15s, the new BSA Martini-Internationals had abeen launched and had become an immmediate hit. American rifles and ammunition were now also coming onto the market. The mid-1950s saw a step-change in the development of target rifle shooting and laid the foundation for the explosion of new equipment soon to start arriving from Germany and elsewhere.
Shooters in the Isle of Man quickly adapted to the new Martinis, with the Mark II becoming the staple club gun for the next 30 years. Towards the end of the 1960s a few Anschutz 54s had appeared and by this time, with the number of clubs in full operation, up to 14, the standard of indoor shooting was truly awesome for a small community with a population of around 55,000. The dominant club through the period was Port St Mary whose consistent record of success is probably unsurpassed in any Manx sport, at any time. Competition between clubs was fierce, winning was everything and scores were high. The 14 clubs of the 1960s, were Andreas, Athol, Castletown, Douglas, Douglas Ladies, Kirk Michael, Laxey, Peel, Peveril, Police, Port St Mary, Ramsey, Sandsiders and Sulby.