By Roz Skinner
What are your favourite holiday memories? Swimming in crystal clear waters or pony trekking across moorlands? Or a day spent mountaineering or skiing?
Matt Harrison, founder of A.C.E. Target Sports, believes the best holiday memories are made through fun activities together. He says: "When I was a kid, I was lucky enough to be taken on adventurous holidays with my family.
“I don't remember the hotel or the meals we ate, but I do remember the experiences we had. When families come to me and experience the various target sports, they go home with amazing memories of the quality time they spent together on their Skye holiday."
A.C.E. Target Sports enables people of all ages to safely learn archery, axe throwing, air rifle and clay shooting and paintball. Based on Struan Road in Portree, Matt's purpose-built space is open for business all year round and in all weathers!
As a member of KATTA UK – an organisation that supports safe throwing of knives, axes and tomahawks – Matt is keen to emphasise safety. "People might describe target sports as dangerous, but I am teaching how to do it safely. They are not toys, but they're not something to be frightened of. If you use them responsibly, you can have a lot of fun with them. There's nothing better than seeing a child come in and hit their first target. “
To make the axe throwing even more fun, Matt has a very special target. "We put a playing card up and the aim is to hit it with the axe," he says. "That extra target makes the whole thing more interesting. To see a family going home with a playing card they've hit is lovely."
Matt's experience with guns goes back to the age of 11. "After school, my dad would take me out shooting with his air rifle," he relates. "I remember being in school all day, just wishing it would finish so we could go shooting!"
That love of shooting eventually resulted in Matt being offered a job with Highland Activities, where he worked for two years teaching his skills. "After the business closed, I thought I'd like to try something similar on my own. I borrowed money from my parents, Kevin and Denise, and bought axes, arrows and air rifles. I set up seasonally at an estate in south Skye where I worked under the name Armadale Activities. They were great times but I was limited to the summer season and I really wanted a space where I could operate all year round."
Finding a new site, however, looked impossible. Matt wrote letters, applications and had business meetings with as many people as he could – all to no avail. "I crossed the last name off my list, and thought: 'Well that's it.'" Matt says. "An hour after that, Dave from West Coast Paintball got in touch and asked if I was interested in the
site at Struan Road."
Matt had a vision for how the site could look and, with the help of Business Gateway, his parents and his girlfriend Ellie and her family, his dream is well on the way to being realised. "I've had so much help and support from the community here in Portree and also down in Broadford and Sleat," says Matt.
A.C.E. Target Sports can also be seen at various galas and events, thanks to Matt's portable axe target. "I call it Axes All Areas," laughs Matt. "My dad and I were trying to think of a way to turn a trailer into a mobile axe throwing unit – and we did it!"
Matt's passion for his job is evident. "I meet people from all around the world and make friends. I've had people from Tel Aviv, Geneva, Paris, South Africa, Uzbekistan, Hawaii... and many more! I've had visitors from every continent – the only one I haven't got so far is Antarctica and I'm aiming for it! However, Skye locals will also receive a discount for the three main target sports."
What plans does Matt have for the business? He says: "I acquired land across the road, which will be used to accommodate other activities, including sporting arrows, a 30 metre target archery range, and, eventually, archery tag – a cross between paintball and archery."