Shooting: Honour is the target for the top gunners: Tradition holds sway at shooting's grand old festival. Ian Ridley reports from Bisley

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The Independent Online
APART from a caravan park and a few mod cons, Bisley's colonial charm of wooden clubhouses with cocktail verandahs and corrugated roofs - making it a sort of White Mischief Holiday Camp - appears unaltered since 1860. So, too, does its most prestigious event.

Yesterday at 8am saw, or rather heard, the start of the Queen's Prize, with almost 1,400 competitors waking up this sizeable section of Surrey in their quest for the same prize as 133 years ago: pounds 250, a gold medal and a signed photograph of the Queen (available framed in dark or light oak).

The Grand Aggregate may, like the decathlon, determine the best all-rounder during British full-bore target rifle shooting's fortnight-long Imperial Meeting; but the Queen's has, like the 100 metres, the cachet. Not because of the money, which would once have paid for a house or business but now buys about a quarter of a decent rifle.

It is clearly for the kudos, the right to full-bore your dinner guests. For the winner is carried by chair around the Bisley camp on Saturday night and thereafter entitled to have the letters GM (for gold medal) appended to his (or her) name when it appears in shooting publications.

The competition, open only to Her Majesty's subjects, thus precluding several of the 25 nations at Bisley this week, initially comprises seven shots at targets 300, 500 and 600 yards away. The huge field was last night whittled down to 300 and by Saturday, when 15 shots are aimed at targets 900 and 1,000 yards' distance, it will become the Queen's Hundred.

It can get to people. One of them yesterday was Edward Jones, from the West of Scotland Rifle Club, contesting his first Bisley. 'I think I am overawed by the atmosphere,' he said. 'There is a sort of Bisley aura, and I am a nervous type anyway. Most of the best shots in the world at this type of shooting are here,' Jones explained, adding that it would probably need 18 bulls from 21 shots to make the next stage, so good has been the scoring this year. After two distances he had already missed four.

'I think it is everybody's ambition to come to Bisley and take part in the Queen's, but I am swivelling between 'I'll come back and do better next year' and 'I'm never coming back again',' he said.

It does get better, though, according to Sarah Kent, in her eighth Queen's, seeking to make the Hundred for the first time. 'At first everybody except you looks as if they know what they are doing, and seems to be wearing Great Britain badges,' she said.

You expect Bisley to be all 'Hooray Henley' but the only tents are pitched by competitors saving on accommodation, except for the four selling sensible shoes and the like. Corporate hospitality? There are no guns and poses here.

Participation, not prizes, is the name of the game, even allowing for an astonishing collection of silver trophies - worth an estimated pounds 8m - which have been donated from all corners of Empire and are housed in the premises of the Muzzle Loaders Association of Great Britain.

That said, though, a signed photo of HM might look quite nice on the wall next to the flying ducks.

(Photograph omitted)