It was all down to a quiet word over a glass of wine with a fellow Freemason and GB international shooter at the end of the world championships in Pforzheim, Germany back in August 2012
'How would you feel about being captain of the Great Britain Long Range Team in Cape Town next year Gareth?'
An innocent question from my masonic brother David Brigden. 'Surely so-and-so or such-and-such will be skipper?' I replied.
Well, twelve months later the 'so-and-so' concerned is myself and on September 7th 2013 I arrived with a team of five shooters after spending the year organising the best training sessions from the best coaches the country has to offer. My team are new and ready.
New? Yes, as well as a few old hacks I have selected two debutants who have never shot for the country before but who, I firmly believe, are the best shooters Britain has.
New? Yes, I am a new captain with new ideas. The coaching, provided by one of the National Rifle Associations finest international mentors shook the system up a bit, a new broom never tried before.
Will it all work? Will I pull it off? These were my thoughts as we arrived in Cape Town after a seemingly endless journey through four airports, dragging our rifles, bullets (heavy on the excess baggage), kit, clothing and hopes and ambitions with us.
Fast forward six days and I’m sitting over another glass of wine with the same David Brigden, utterly exhausted at the end of a long competitive week.
'You did OK mate,' he says to me.
So yes, I think I pulled it off.
I ended with a gold medal and correspondingly left Cape Town as world champion at 500 meters. To add to this success my two debutants repaid my trust and faith wining between them a silver and three bronze medals.
The event is shot with muzzle loading rifles at distances from 300 meters back to 900 meters, using black powder and bullets one has made oneself.
For the uninitiated, shooting at this distance may sound impossible with a muzzle loading rifle, but long range target shooting started on Wimbledon Common in the 1860s with the very rifles we are using, and developed from there into the modern bolt action target rifles seen on ranges all over the world today. It is a matter of some pride that we still shoot muzzle-loading rifles of exactly the same type as those from the 1860s, and often shoot alongside these newer models.
The championships started with a full day's sighting-in before the competitions took place. This involved an uncomfortably early start to shoot at all five distances, progressing backward from 300 meters all the way to 900 meters.
At the last distance, after many hours of hard work, I was clambering up onto the raised 900 meter firing point when I remarked 'I have had easier days,' to which a local Cape Towner responded in his thick Boer accent, 'Africa was not built for sissies!' Now there is a motivational speech designed to make one determined to beat this chap on his own turf, which thankfully I was able to do the next day.
The actual competitive events started on the second day with the individual competitions at 300, 500 and 600 meters and I knew if I was going to make an impact on the championship this would be my only chance, as I specialise at these shorter distances, leaving the 800 and 900 meter events to more capable hands than mine.
Sure enough I contrived to finish last at 300 meters (in my defence the difference in score between first and last was rather close) but when moving back to 500 meters I felt a confidence in my original 1,860 Metford rifle and settled down just as the wind rose. By the time the shoot started the wind was rather feisty, which suited me as, living in Jersey, I train on a 500 meter range built on a cliff top. 'The wind is your friend' I remember an old shooter once telling me and on this occasion he was proved to be right as I scored 38.2 a decent score.
Conditions steadily worsened at 600 meters and by this time even my stamina and familiarity with stormy conditions was wavering, but once again I put in a decent score and left the range satisfied with my work for the day and optimistic that my scores might put me in the mix for a medal in the minor places somewhere, assuming that some of the world's best shooters will have pulled out scores superior to my reasonable efforts.
It takes some hours at these championships for all the scores to be collated and scrutinised before final results can be announced, and I was back at the range club house relaxing and preparing my kit for the next day. Then brother Brigden tapped me on the shoulder and announced 'Well done skipper, you won the 500!'
I have been shooting for Great Britain for over 20 years and would describe myself as a dependable team shooter, but not one of the exceptional talents who regularly win the top prizes. So it came as something of a surprise to learn that 'my friend, the wind' had clearly done enough on my behalf to interfere with my rivals scores and give me just enough room to beat them on v-bulls, a tie-breaking method used to separate identical scores. I was delighted that this news, the culmination of 20 years' effort, was given to me by a brother and fellow mason, many thousands of miles from home. Masonry universal sprang to mind and it is fitting that the two dominant pursuits of my life, shooting and masonry, came together in this moment.
Although the experience of leading the national team was challenging and daunting, I found support by falling back on my experiences in masonry. In particular my journey to and through the chair of my Craft mother lodge (Royal Sussex Lodge No. 491) has aided my growth as an individual, giving me greater self-confidence and improved leadership skills. Considering that my margin of victory was so tight, if Freemasonry gave me even a tiny advantage on the range in Cape Town then I am doubly grateful for my life in the Craft.