If you had told me 4 years ago that I would be passionate about the sport of Clay Pigeon shooting I probably would have laughed and said it was a ridiculous notion. I’d never held a shotgun, let alone seen one. But here I am, a few years later, and it has become not only a hobby but a huge part of my life…
It was a couple of months into our relationship when my wary partner first showed me his gun! At the time I could appreciate certain elements but I didn’t really understand where his enthusiasm was coming from. He had grown up around shotguns at an early age, often going off rough shooting for pigeons and rabbits, and then later tried his hand at clay shooting too. He took me along to watch him shoot in a competition at a local shooting ground and my interest was piqued. I quickly picked up the idea; you had to move from stand to stand and fire a cartridge at each clay (or ‘birds’ as they are sometimes referred to) in a variety of different presentations, with the hope of hitting as many as possible.
It was July 2013 when I first had a go at it myself; a date I will never forget. It was the hottest day of the year and I was attending the CLA Game Fair with Joe. We wandered around the grounds of Ragley Hall looking at the different stalls and enjoying the glorious sunshine. He asked me if I would like to try it out, as the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association had a ‘Have A Go’ stand, and although I probably wasn’t the most suitably attired in a strappy dress and flip-flops, I really wanted to see what the fuss was all about. My instructor was great; initially he gave me a safety briefing and established if I had any previous experience. He then popped a recoil pad around my shoulder and checked if I had any eye dominance issues (this could affect my ability in reading the target; quite a common trait). Upon being issued with safety glasses and ear plugs, I got to see the target I would shoot at. It was a ‘floaty’ incoming clay which to me looked quite testing but I was assured I’d be able to able break it. He loaded the gun and put it into my shoulder whilst standing behind me the whole time. I called ‘Pull’, tried to follow the flight of the target and squeezed the trigger. I don’t think I hit my very first clay, but it didn’t take very long before I was hitting it again and again. Wow! What a feeling! It was so exciting and exhilarating to see it break. Almost like I had created my own firework. As I came off the stand, Joe looked at my beaming face and said “You want to do that again, don’t you?”
First attempt at Clay Shooting July 2013
Back then I was a secondary school teacher and I very rarely had time at the weekends where I wasn’t marking books or lesson planning, so it was difficult to know when I could try shooting again. At the time, Sunday morning lie-ins were much more preferable rather than the thought of standing in a muddy field. However, Joe had said he was willing to teach me how to shoot and I couldn’t turn down the offer. He had a gun that I could use and there were a couple of days in the school holidays where he took me up to South Worcester Shooting Ground to go through the basics in their practice field. I learnt gun safety, gun handling, the importance of stance and footwork and how to hit differing targets. It was here that I learnt what it really meant to not give in so easily. I seemed to have a bit of natural ability, but I’m a nightmare to actually teach anything to, and I’m sure it was quite difficult for my partner. We had the greatest laughs but I also got frustrated very easily with aspects that I thought I should be able to grasp, even at this very early stage. I also found it incredibly nerve wracking to have anyone watch me. Heck, I even found it hard with Joe studying my movements, and he was instructing me. I tried not to worry, but being a newcomer I was always very concerned about what others would be thinking when they saw me fumbling about.
Looking back at it now, it seems quite funny, but at the time I was absolutely desperate to be able to catch my empty cartridge shells as soon as I opened the gun – when you have fired a cartridge the ejectors will force the spent shells out of the action, and it can end up being slightly embarrassing if the empty plastic case hits someone behind you! It was no small victory when I finally mastered this and subsequently it became a subconscious and fluid movement. I began to look like I knew what I was doing.
The early days of practice – really not feeling very stylish! 2014
My concerns about other people laughing at my incompetence also proved to be completely unfounded. In reality they were hardly watching at all, and much more likely to be thinking about their own performance. I was still really battling with my nerves around other people, but I was becoming more and more hooked on the sport. About a year passed with a few sessions of practice, as and when time would allow. Joe advised me that it was now worth applying for a shotgun license so we could go to a greater variety of shooting grounds, and I would be able to go shooting on my own should I wish. So I sent off my forms to the firearms department of Gloucestershire Constabulary. It was about 4 months before I had a call from the FEO (Firearms Enquiry Officer) to say she was going to come and interview me. It all went very smoothly and I was granted my license a month later. I could now buy my own gun, go to any shooting ground in the country and shoot alone if I desired.
One month later I took another huge step into the clay shooting world. This might sound a little crazy given my novice status but I wanted to try shooting in a registered CPSA competition! Shooting grounds across the country hold CPSA competitions which run a class system (AA, A, B, C) that caters for all abilities, so you can be shooting alongside international champions! I had seen Joe compete a number of times by this point and I thought to myself ‘Well no one will really expect anything of me considering I’ve barely been doing it 5 minutes, so let’s just do it!’ It was the 1st July 2015, and again, it was an absurdly hot day. (I seem to have a habit of picking the weather, don’t I?) We went up to Ian Coley’s shooting ground and Joe, his father and myself were put in a squad with 3 other people. I was so incredibly nervous; my knees were trembling for the first few stands until I started to relax a little. But I had the biggest buzz of my life, and I found the exhilaration when hitting some of those clays that day tremendous. At the end of the competition, the referee who had taken us around told me that I had broken 50 of the 100 targets. I couldn’t believe it! I had no idea that I’d done that well, and I was congratulated by everyone around me. Joe had told me to aim for 30-40% and by hitting half of the targets I had completely exceeded my own expectations. That was it now; I was addicted!
It soon became a habit that I would shoot a competition each month. As time passed it became much more frequent, and now I am out shooting at least once every weekend. As my journey into clay shooting has continued, other rites of passage have occurred; all of which deserve their own story to be told. I bought my own gun that was much better suited to me. I won a trophy and the title of ‘2016 Ladies Champion’ at Frampton Country Fair. And I joined a ladies only shooting group called The Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club; a fantastically supportive network of wonderful women, and on a few occasions I have won a rosette for being the ‘High Gun’ (biggest scorer) of the day
Frampton Fair Ladies Champion Sept 2016
I can’t actually imagine a time when I won’t be clay shooting now. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not always been easy or simple. There have been many tears shed; battling self-doubt, constant evaluation, and questioning my physical capability whilst having physiotherapy (not due to shooting I might add). Yet the thrill that it gives me is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. But what’s more than this, I have been fortunate to meet some of the most caring and passionate people through this pastime. Clay shooting is a strange sport; it relies totally on your own ability and you don’t have the structure of a team, yet everyone around you is incredibly supportive and welcoming. Irrespective of gender, physical size and mobility I would seriously encourage anyone to try it out; perhaps it’ll transpire that it’s not for you, but I can honestly say that it is the best thing that I have ever done. It has become everything to me and I would feel so lost without it.
Written March 2017