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Page last updated at 14:07 GMT, Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Acoustic shooting for visually impaired people

By Ffion Miles
Ffion from the BBC Local North West Wales web team tries her hand at an unusual form of shooting where participants find their target using sound not sight

As a visually impaired person with a dodgy knee, I don't get many sporting opportunities. But when I was invited to try acoustic shooting, I couldn't resist.

Ffion Miles shooting an air rifle
It's hoped that acoustic shooting will be in the Paralympic in the future

I sent an email to tell my sister who replied, 'that's the most alarming message I've ever received'.

This is probably because, traditionally, shooting a gun when you're visually impaired isn't thought to be the most sensible thing to do.

But after a sporting career which was limited to avoiding flying balls at school (hockey and bad eye sight don't mix), I decided to give it a go. What's the worst that could happen?

I joined more than 20 others at the North Wales Society for the Blind in Bangor, only to discover there's a fully-equipped shooting range in their back yard.

At one end are two white-centred targets and 10 metres away a little orange hut with two rifles and heating - a plus point as it was snowing.

I was joined by my guide, Ken Nash, the vice-chair of the National Small-bore Rifle Association and shooting development officer for British Blind Sport.

He explained that even in top-level competitions, the shooter always has a guide. This stops you inadvertently shooting something you shouldn't, like your opponent's target, or worse.

I handled the rifle a little nervously as a friend had related a tale of being whacked in the head by its kick back.

So I was glad to discover that you don't need to be a Marine to handle these rifles. The sprung stand and lack of recoil means Betty, a 70-year-old lady in a wheelchair, had no trouble giving it a go.

The technique Ken's helped pioneer is simple. A bright light is shone on the white target which reflects back onto the air rifle's sights.

This light is converted into acoustics which are relayed to the shooter via their headphones.

You wait for the whine to raise to its highest pitch, you shoot; bull's eye!

"As simple as that", said Ken. "Or as difficult."

He wasn't kidding!

Despite his instructions of "up a bit, down, left, a touch right", all I could hear was a sea of crackles through my headphones as I manoeuvred the rifle around on its stand.

The shooting targets
Participants have five shots, scoring a maximum of 10 points each

I also discovered it doesn't take too much pressure to pull the trigger, and my first shot hit the wall some three feet above the target (Ken was kind enough to write that one off).

"You're moving the gun too quickly," he advised. "You've got to move slowly and steadily, and when you hear the target, hold that high pitch until you fire - and after, or you'll snatch at it and miss."

For someone who types or flicks the remote control at top speed, it was an effort to keep my movements slow and steady. But finally the sound in my ears changed to a rising whine, and bang!

I got a 9 - one place away from the bull's eye of 10.

I'd like to say I carried on in this vein, but my over-enthusiasm at hearing the pitch at its highest cost me a few marks.

I was presented with a holey paper target and told I'd scored 35 out of 50.

Eager to improve on this in the future, I cornered Marcus Politis, disabled sports development officer for Gwynedd Council, to find out if this opportunity to shoot would become a regular event.

He confirmed that ideally, he'd like to hand over the reins to a shooting club committee, who'd help run weekly sessions and get people competing in regional events.

From the enthusiasm of my fellow shooters, there's definitely a demand.

"I loved it!" said Elfyn Evans from Groeslon, who's totally blind.

"I was miles away and wasn't too sure where the target was at first and I thought, I can't do this. In the end I said 'listen, take my arm and line it up with the target and I can work it out', so he did and I was OK and got on with it.

"It's better to shut your eyes and just listen. Once you hear the high pitched whistle, just shoot and hope for the best."

My sentiments exactly!

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