BEING at the top of your sport is one thing but making the equipment to get there is what has helped Borders gunsmith Lee Tomlinson become Britain’s top marksman.
And, last month, the 32-year-old hotshot came away from the F Class European Championships – held annually at the Bisley ranges near London – as the new European champion.
More than 180 shooters from 13 European countries participated in the event, the largest turnout yet for this increasingly popular shooting sport. And Tomlinson’s victory leaves him perfectly poised in his preparations to shoot in the forthcoming World Championships to be held in Raton, New Mexico (USA) in August 2013.
Tomlinson, who lives in Jedburgh, has worked at Newcastleton-based Border Barrels Ltd for 12 years after completing an electrical and mechanical engineering course at Borders College, and is currently the customer interface manager for the company. One of his main roles is overseeing specialist work done by his team in replacing worn out barrels on customer’s rifles, and building new custom rifles to the customer’s own specifications.
He told TheSouthern: “You need a custom-made rifle and good quality components. Ammunition has to be made because you can’t buy any that’s accurate enough. It really helps being my own gunsmith, so I can build the rifle how I want. A positive attitude and good wind-reading skills are also a must.
“The F Class shooting discipline is shot at ranges of 800, 900 and 1,000yds and the central ‘bull’ target is just five inches across. Shooting at such a small target at such vast ranges demands exceptional shooting equipment and exceptional abilities to judge how far the prevailing wind will carry the bullet sideways during the second and a half it takes to travel down the range.”
Having both that ability and the equipment has taken Tomlinson to the very top of his sport, but fuel expenses and ammunition costs almost put a halt to his competitive career.
The last World Championships were held at Bisley in 2009, a triumph for the British team of which Tomlinson was a member.
After the arduous shooting season leading up to that victory he took a two-year sabbatical and was ambivalent about continuing in the sport.
“After the gold medal success in the World Championships I decided I just simply couldn’t afford to keep competition shooting any longer,” he told us. “The costs have gone through the roof and there is no sponsorship available.”
But, at the end of last year, the former Jedburgh Grammar School pupil was approached by David Kent, the captain of the British squad who are heading out to Raton to defend the world title, who indicated that he would very much like Tomlinson to be a member of his team.
And so it was that the Borderer put a new barrel on his rifle and participated in the F Class league shoot throughout the 2012 season. The league is shot at various ranges around the country and culminates in the European Championships, which counts as one of the league shoots. Tomlinson’s magnificent performance almost brought him the 2012 F Class league title as well, but he was pipped into second place by just one point. However, he is more than delighted with his victory against the best Europe has to offer, which confirms him to be amongst the select top rank of European F Class shooters.
Not bad for the self-taught rifleman who lives in Jedburgh with his fiancée Sarah.
Explaining where his passion and adeptness for his chosen sport came from, Tomlinson told us: “My dad introduced me to shooting with air rifles when I was nine years old and I spent a lot of my spare time helping him manage various shooting estates.
“More recently I joined the City of Newcastle Rifle Club, but because I shoot long range, I have had to travel to London, Manchester or Blair Atholl as these are the only places that have the facilities.
“I have had no formal coaching or training for the competition shooting and have had to learn everything myself.”
However, as mentioned previously, the rising costs involved in his sport has previously resulted in a career break and Tomlinson feels that another one is on the cards – after nailing that second world title, of course.
“Going to America is going to cost me a lot of money and so once that is over I guess I will be hanging up my guns ... until the next time,” he concluded.