A tasteful venue aims to draw newcomers to the sport and its manager maintains the hobby is a modern take on age-old traditions.
New shooting club on target for trade
ABU DHABI // Shooting ranges tend to be small, grey spaces tucked into sport clubs, inconspicuous in their design. Abu Dhabi's new Caracal Shooting Club is anything but. Caracal, at the Armed Forces Officers Club, is slick and modern, painted in welcoming tones of burnt orange and beige, its entrance a terraced patio of wood and potted plants. There are lounges, modern locker rooms and an armoury. Next to the coffee counter and pastry displays, sits a gunsmith room encased in glass, where weapons are dismantled, cleaned and repaired. "It's a five-star shooting experience," said Barry Dixon, the club's manager. The gift shop sells military and hunting knives, and a laser-pointer key chain fashioned after a mini pistol. A laser range also offers faux hunting practice. Plastered on the walls are pictures of Sheikh Zayed, the late founder of the UAE, looking through the sights of his traditional rifle. "Teaching your children to shoot is just something that you have to do," said Hussain al Mahdaly, marketing executive with Caracal International. "In the past, it was learning about archery for hunting, and for protection. However, in the modern age, shooting is a part of that." The club is named after the UAE company that manufactures Caracal guns, a range of 9mm service pistols similar in appearance to Glocks. The guns, which were designed by the German gun-maker Merkel, were introduced last year and have since been purchased by civil defence forces in Jordan and the UAE. The UAE announced it would take up small-arms manufacturing during the biennial International Defense Exhibition in Abu Dhabi two years ago. Although the Caracal club is a commercial enterprise, Mr Dixon said its upscale atmosphere should encourage visitors to learn more about guns and the sport of shooting. Hollywood films may make it look easy, but shooting a gun requires training, skill and strength. Each gun uses a system of safeties, pressures and latches. Guns are heavy, and wear on the forearms. They are difficult to hold still. Even 25 metres from the target, an off stance, missed breath, or pull of the trigger to the left or the right is enough to push a bullet wildly off target. "If people saw a gun lying on the ground they wouldn't know how to handle it now," Mr al Mahdaly said. "We're trying to encourage and teach people." Lane rental costs Dh100 (US$27) for a shooting session, plus the cost of renting the gun, Dh75. The cost of rounds vary, depending on their size. The club offers pistols and rifles that use .22-calibre and 9mm bullets, beginner and advanced orientation courses. Although guns have a long tradition in the UAE, laws governing their use and ownership are strict. Only Emiratis who have applied through the police can be licensed owners, although the Caracal may seek an arrangement with authorities that would allow expatriates to purchase guns and store them there. The pistols cost about Dh2,000 each. "The preservation of safety and peace is key here in the UAE, to keep its reputation as a neutral country," Mr Dixon said. "Also, we really take care to know who our clientele is." The 25-metre gun range was part of the Armed Forces Club and hotel for about a decade before Caracal persuaded the owners to open it to the wider public. "One of the myths we want to expel about this place is that it's only open to locals," said Mr Dixon. "That's not true, it's open to everybody."However, most of the club's clientele are Emiratis. The club hopes to expand, perhaps even franchise. In the meantime, staff are planning a series of shooting competitions. "As part of the Ramadan sport festival, we would like to have a really big Ramadan shooting competition," said Mr Dixon. He also envisages the club serving as a meeting place for corporate team building and as a draw for tourists. The demand for clay pigeon and skeet shooting is high, although the club does not yet have the space to accommodate such pursuits. "Once we get out there and market this place, there's a lot of potential," he said. email@example.com