New electronic targets and a £5 caravan bet: Andrew Mercer interview

NRA chief executive Andrew Mercer speaks to UK Shooting News about his plans for Bisley Camp, the NRA – and beyond.

When UK Shooting News interviewed Andrew Mercer, the National Rifle Association’s chief executive, over the UKPSA insurance allegations, he also spoke at length about his wider plans for the NRA. All information was correct as of three weeks ago – regular readers will be aware that UKSN is a blog and its author does all this in his spare time.

Divisions in UK shooting

“There are factors and groups and we try hard to avoid that – it’s not the reality of where we sit”, said Mercer, commenting on the UKPSA situation.

“Across all parts of the NRA, membership is growing and we have a [financial] surplus,” he added, pointing out that the NRA spent three quarters of a million pounds on capital expenditure last year. “Those who think the NRA is on its uppers are wrong.”

“Bisley is the engine room that drives our activity. Our focus is on moving to the regions,” he continued, stating that 50 people applied for the job of regional ranges manager when it was recently advertised.

Spencer Site and the posh caravans

Over the last year the NRA has cleared the old caravan Site 4 and rebranded it as “Spencer Site”, complete with NRA-approved static caravans and proper fixed services such as electricity. The site has caused much controversy, with many scratching their heads at the prices for the pitches and the vans.

“I have a £5 bet that all the pitches will be sold by [this year]’s Imperial Meeting” says a very bold Mercer. “But I made a misjudgment – I thought people would spend £25,000 but we’ve not sold a caravan for less than £40,000.”

A sign affixed to the NRA Range Office currently trumpets how 50% of the pitches have so far been sold off-plan.

The roads

“Where should I spend £100,000 on roads,” asks Mercer. His biggest roadbuilding scheme is re-tarmacing of the range road that runs around to the rear of the 600yds firing point on Century. In addition, the area in front of Fultons and the range road to Melville are also in line for a revamp. Last year alone the NRA spent between £60,000 and £70,000 building “properly engineered roads”, according to Mercer.

What about the road that runs down to Short Siberia, notorious for its deep potholes and ruts? Apparently, planning problems aside (the road sits in a different council area from the rest of the camp and so is subject to a different planning regime), there are environmental concerns about worms which stop a proper metalled road from being built. It seems that environmentalists in the Surrey Heath council area think the current gravel-based, pothole-ridden surface allow the worms a better chance of survival, when moving across the road, than a proper tarmac surface would.

Mercer does not explicitly say that this is utter nonsense. He does, however, point out that Short Siberia accounts for 40% of the NRA’s range hire revenues. It is followed in those stakes by Century, then Melville, and finally Stickledown, the iconic 1,200yds range at the north of Bisley Camp.

New electronic targets and other range works

What else is the NRA doing for its ranges? Six new Kongsberg electronic targets are due to be deployed on Butt 19 for use between 100yds and 300yds, along with new target frames. Mercer tells us that these electronic targets will be available to hire by the hour: “It’s a bit of a revolution in how we deliver our services.”

He also drops in an interesting snippet: it costs about £24,000 to replace a full butt’s worth of targets on Century. The overhaul involves replacing the old design with a completely new frame, set of rollers and all the rest. “The existing design is not very good and we want to get the core stuff right,” said Mercer.

How are the target shotgun works on Cheylesmore going? “Phase 1 is done, phase 2 is a work in progress and we hope to complete phase 3 after that,” he says, going on to mention the NRA’s plans for new target shotgun bays behind Melville range.

He ends our conversation by dropping in a useful snippet for young shooters: there is a 40% discount for NRA members under 25 entering NRA competitions. That alone is well worth having, and is a very strong incentive to join the NRA when you consider that U21s in fulltime education qualify for free membership of the NRA.

All in all, the association seems to be getting itself onto a sound business footing. Regular users of Bisley Camp won’t have failed to notice the quality of the ranges improving, with drainage works and new range floors being laid in a number of locations.

While the NRA’s financial situation seems to be improving going by the figures Mercer mentions, things like the disappearance of the HOG rally won’t have done much good for the Bisley clubhouses. Neither will the NRA’s reputation have improved thanks to the ongoing saga of Jessica Bayldon-Lee’s rifle, the missing scope and bolt and the questions raised over NRA armoury security, as reported in Gun Mart and mentioned in the latest NRA journal. Other whisperings have reached UKSN’s ears.

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9 thoughts on “New electronic targets and a £5 caravan bet: Andrew Mercer interview

  1. James Kelly

    Why are they wasting money on Target Shotgun bays as they are such a minority within the NRA and the UKPSA battle continues, the capital expendiure could be better spent elsewhere.

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  2. James Kelly

    They are definately the minority, it’s the National Rifle Association for a reason, its not the National Target Shotgun Association as they already have their own: http://www.targetshotgun.org.uk/

    The facilities at Bisley need to be developed for pursuit of rifle marksmanship excellence and money need to be spent helping the regions develop their facilities by way of loans to clubs etc. I’m sure that more Electronic Targets would be better welcomed by the membership than facilities for shotgun shooting as there is already the National Clay Shooting Centre; some rifle facilities have already been lost due to that facility and other shotgun shooting grounds being developed at Bisley. You can shoot shotguns in any old field or wood where a few steel plates can be blasted with birdshot.

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  3. Mary Pearse

    ” U21s in fulltime education qualify for free membership of the NRA.” – really? I don’t see this on the NRA website link to “Membership rates”

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      1. Mary Pearse

        Thank you Gaz! I have forwarded the info to someone for thom this is relevant – hope this is OK?

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  4. N Smith

    I think some new shotgun ranges at bisley are a great idea, James Kelly is entitled to his opinion of course,, but he appears to be only interested in growing what he alone is interested in, as a shotgunner & rifle shooter I want a choice, & I choose to support the NRA, why should I join the target shotgun association he mentions which is really just the UKPSA in disguise, go check their respective websites you will find many of the exact same individuals listed in positions of control within both, I would much prefer to shoot practical shotgun with four4islands or the new NRA league & I am thrilled to see it growing not only at Bisley but also nationally, thats how you unite UK shooters, not by proposing to keep Bisley for only one groups interests.
    The latest NRA journal made for very welcome reading especially with such a dynamic & interestig front cover photo & the well written interesting articles inside, clearly its all a step in the right direction, well done to Mr Mercer & all at the NRA.

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  5. Mike Jenvey

    “Spencer Site and the posh caravans” – is it correct that the NRA are currently the “owner” of a van (or more) & if necessary will be letting out the rooms in them for £100 per night for the Imperial? I’m concerned that the initial outlay for the overall construction (£10,000 per pitch according to the Strategic Plan = £260K??) is now running as a loss, as the whole plan was to more or less self-funding on the % mark-up on the ‘vans + up-front “lease cost” (£7k per ‘van?). Note that the latest Strategic Review 2015-2017 included:

    “…..conclude preparations for the second phase of serviced caravan sites” Uh oh!!

    http://www.nra.org.uk/common/asp/content/content.asp?site=NRA&id=1601

    “50 people applied for the job of regional ranges manager when it was recently advertised.” – when was the new position within the NRA advertised – that of “overseer” for Range Office, Target Sheds & Estates? The gentleman concerned (Trevor Masham/Musham??) appeared out of the blue to carry out 3 months of time & motion studies, then seemingly jumped into the post.

    I believe that they have been interviewing candidates to work (part-time contract??) in the target shed to help build the necessary sets of targets for the Imperial (4 for Century, 3 for Stickledown?). Normally these are well underway for completion by the end of Apr (maybe into May) to be ready before the peak season. Who knows what this year will bring……

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