Shooting Stars in the Caribbean

Thursday, 5th December 2013





Last year the Great Britain Rifle team undertook an ambitious tour of the West Indies over four weeks and rounded it off with the Australia Match, one of the most prestigious events in international rifle shooting. The experienced Charles Brooks was Vice-Captain and has many happy memories as a sports tourist to the Caribbean…


You are a veteran Great Britain Rifle Team tourist and you made your touring debut on the 1978 West Indies tour. A lot has changed in 35 years, but what was different from your perspective?


1978 is a very long time ago but in some ways little has changed from that last tour.  An abiding memory from both tours has been the welcome from our West Indian hosts and their hospitality during both tours has been superb, second to none. In 1978 I was the babe of the tour as a 22 year-old, but his time I returned as Vice-Captain, and for a short time Captain in Jamaica and Guyana in Nigel Penn's absence.

One of the differences I have noted was the increased wealth in the West Indies, generating more development and an improvement in housing standards and roads, fuelled no doubt by the general increase in wealth through natural resources and tourism. 


This tour included competitions in Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Barbados.

It was an ambitious itinerary and must have involved a lot of organization-How did it come about?


Great Britain shooting teams are regular travellers in the world of full bore target rifle shooting, encompassing trips to Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Europe, the Channel Islands as well as the West Indies.  The West Indies tour is however the most complex and difficult to organise.  The West Indian firearms legislation means that we have had to deal with four different sets of customs and defence forces, who are responsible for admitting our rifles in to the country. They collect our rifles from the airport and kindly arrange to deliver them to and collect them from, the ranges every day where we are shooting. This is followed by the sign out when we depart to another jurisdiction.  In addition, there is the general organisation of the tour, booking flights and dealing with our entire luggage - all shooters will have their own hold suitcases, a rifle box (containing one or two rifles) and another hold bag with our other shooting gear.  Principally the Team Captain, Nigel Penn, and Adjutant, David Rose, to whom all the team members were extremely grateful, undertook the coordination of that.  We do additionally rely upon the support of one or more host shooters in each of the countries to help us through the procedures, agree the shooting schedule and generally assist with liaison with customs and the defence forces.   Nigel was appointed Captain of the team in 2011, and after that all the officers were involved in planning the tour and organising the team.


Your Rifle team was very experienced and highly talented. Was it difficult persuading them to spend four weeks in the Caribbean?


It is kind of you to comment upon our experience and talent:  I am very aware that our top three shots, David Calvert, John Underwood and David Luckman, all UK Queen's Prize and/or Grand Aggregate winners, were highly appreciated and lauded throughout the West Indies.  Yes, it was difficult to persuade people to spend four weeks away, but in defence this was a very special trip and one which only a few of us have ever been able to repeat for that length of time.  Those of us still in business have had to rely upon the fantastic support of our colleagues and partners back home. Most GB tours range from one to three weeks maximum.  However, the allure of shooting in the West Indies (and in South America in the case of Guyana) for the first time for many was a no brainer! 


How were you received on the trip and were the arrangements up to the standard you expect?


We were made very welcome by all of our hosts whether this was on or off the range.  One of my fondest memories of this trip was the instruction to us contained in our briefing notes on the first leg of our tour: "After shooting there will be a compulsory beer on/behind the range".  I am pleased to say that we followed this instruction not only in Jamaica, but also in Guyana, Trinidad and Barbados!  Needless to say it wasn't long before the beer turned into a colourful concoction involving rum. 

The arrangements in respect of shooting, and transport, all seemed to work well.  With any tour of this sort however there will be delays, and it was very important for the officers of the team to ensure that all of the other members were fully briefed as to what was happening when there was a problem. Communication on a timely basis is always crucial on tours. 


Is shooting a growing sport in the Caribbean and how did you rate the Barbados riflemen and women?


It's difficult to judge whether rifle shooting is a growing sport in the Caribbean.  I think all shooting countries in the world are facing the same dilemma: it is not a spectator sport, it is not a popular sport in a number of circles, and except in very few circumstances does not grab the sporting headlines.  Each of the countries that we visited probably had somewhere between 10 and 20 local shooters competing against us in the individual events, and in the teams matches we tended to be either teams of 5, 8 or 10.  The other problem we face worldwide is that we appear to be an ageing sport. Capturing the interest and support of the younger generation is proving to be difficult.  One issue that we have with our type of shooting is that we always spend a half-day or a full day out on the ranges, and I think we need to think about ways of speeding up the process of shooting.  That has its drawbacks for those of us who enjoy each other's company throughout the day (and evening!).

  The Barbados riflemen and women competed well amongst their competitors and a number of them came away with prizes at the prize giving following the international events in Barbados. 


Your victory over Australia was obviously the highlight of the competitive part of the tour, but what other memories will you take home of the trip?


I returned to the UK with lots of happy memories.  Sadly I didn't shoot well individually so that has fired me up to endeavour to return and to shoot better!  I returned with many happy memories of the weather, the scenery, the beaches, the history of each of the countries we visited, and having made lots of new friends and renewed old acquaintances.


Is there a niche for Barbados to host top international rifle teams and events?


Yes, certainly.  The Paragon Range is really well equipped and is a superb setting, shooting out to sea.  These international events and the Australia match were the biggest ever shooting event hosted by the West Indies (with the possible exception of the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Jamaica).  With over 110 shooters, the Barbados Rifle Association proved that they could administer and run a complex event with lots of international shooters and with a programme that, with the exception of one afternoon lost to rain, kept to its schedule.  The concerns that a lot of international teams had as to whether we would be able to shoot four ranges in a day for the Australia match were completely unfounded.  I would encourage the West Indies Full Bore Rifle Shooting Association to lobby to host more international events such as the Australia match in the future.


Will you and your fellow tourists return to Barbados in the future?


This is a simple one-word answer - yes! 

The Guyana Rifle Association will be celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2017, and I know a number of our team have already expressed an interest in returning for that, and hopefully taking in other Caribbean countries en route.


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