Health professionals recommend older Australians continue exercising to reduce mobility issues as they age. Some people turn to water aerobics and lawn bowls in their 70s, but Nancy and John Disher are doing something very different to stay fit and social.
The pair have been sporting shooters and members of SSAA Victoria for about 20 years. They began shooting rifles at the range and enjoyed the challenge, sportsmanship and social side of the sport. But, as they aged, shooting off-hand with a rifle became “a chore”.
“With a rifle shooting a target at 500m free standing you need to be fairly fit, have good breath, good control, good reflexes and all of that deteriorates as you get older,” John, 72, said. “The scores that I was getting were deteriorating and I was no longer as competitive.” Shooting 3-Positional requires competitors to lie on the ground prone and shoot, which is something the Dishers would be unable to do now. “I found that it was difficult to hold the rifle onto the target; I was getting too weak,” Nancy, 75, said. “It was too hard to hold the rifle still.”
It was around that time that Nancy and John were introduced to shotgun shooting and found a new passion. Long-term friend Bill O’Connor brought his shotgun to a club Christmas party and suggested his friends try something different. “Well, out of 25 targets Nancy got eight and she said, ‘When can we get a shotgun?’” John said. Nancy compared the experience of hitting clays with going on rides at Luna Park. “You go on the ride and it’s such a thrill,” she said. “Well, it’s just like that when you hit a clay target in shotgun shooting.”
The quick lift-shoot-lower shooting action and the use of competition loads (projectiles) preventing recoil makes shotgun shooting easy on the retirees’ bodies. It’s also “terrific fun”, according to John. But the best thing about shotgun shooting is that Nancy and John can do it for the rest of their lives. “You compare it to water skiing and by the time you get to 45, you’re out of it,” Nancy said. “Shotgun is a sport you can do all your life. We have an 84-year-old who is still a good shot.”
Socialising is also a really important activity for older Australians, who can experience isolation after retirement. The Little River Sporting Clays sub-club at Eagle Park Range has provided a great avenue for Nancy and John to socialise with friends, and partake in competition. “We do a lot of sporting clays and it’s a really social day; an enjoyable day,” Nancy said. “You make friends all the time. You have six in your squad and by the time you’ve started, then gone around again and had a lunch, it’s a full day. You make friends with people from all over the world and all over Australia if you get involved in the competitions.”
“Sporting clays is my favourite type of competition,” John said. “Sporting clays is run like a round of golf. We’ve got a bit over 100 acres of land at the shotgun club. We walk around eight different stands. Each has three traps that release the clay targets at different angles. You come not knowing what you’re going to get and it’s a real challenge.”
The shotgun community is filled with juniors, mums, dads, grandparents and whole families who shoot together. The most competitive group, however, is the women, according to Nancy and John. “Women are ideally suited to shotgun,” John said. “If you put down all the gold medals we have won internationally, more than half have been shot by women. When you consider for every female shotgun shooter, there are 100 men, those are good odds. There is something about girls, where if they like the sport they can do really well.” True to form, Nancy has beaten John in every competition for the past six or seven months.
Their participation in shotgun shooting is about more than health, competition and socialising – it’s about giving back to the community. Nancy and John have put an incredible amount of work into building up the Eagle Park Range, field rifle competitions, the Little River Sporting Clays and the new five-stand range.
John was President of the Little River Sporting Clays for eight years, then Vice President for four years, while Nancy was Secretary and Treasurer of the club. They also spent eight or nine years working on the Geelong Grammar School program, training, coaching and scoring for the students. Nowadays Nancy works in the Eagle Park Range office to cover sick leave or annual leave. John keeps himself busy working on the new five-stand range, which is now open on Saturdays and Sundays. “The main purpose was to have a venue where we could encourage people to come and try shotgun,” he said, “get some instruction, and if they like it we encourage them to come to Little River Sporting Clays.”
The range stalwarts are well-known among Eagle Park Range users, who often see the couple working at the range together. And that’s not likely to change any time soon. “When I’m not involved, I’ll be dead,” John said. “It keeps me alive.”