If you had told me 4 years ago that I’d be passionate about Clay Pigeon shooting I’d have laughed; I’d never even seen a shotgun, let alone held one. And yet, here I am, it has become not only a hobby, but a huge part of my life…
It all started when a couple of months into our relationship, Joe, my wary partner, first showed me his gun. At the time I appreciated certain elements but I didn’t understand where his enthusiasm came from as he’d grown up around shotguns from an early age. One day, I went along to watch Joe in a competition at a local shooting ground and my interest piqued. I quickly picked up the idea; you move from stand to stand firing a cartridge at each clay (or ‘birds’ as they are often referred to) in a variety of different presentations, with the hope of hitting as many as possible!
"I really wanted to see what
the fuss was all about."
It was July 2013, the hottest day of the year, at the CLA Game Fair when I first had a go myself; a day I’ll never forget. We wandered around the grounds of Ragley Hall, browsing the stalls and enjoying the glorious sunshine. The Clay Pigeon Shooting Association had a ‘Have A Go’ stand, and Joe asked me if I would like to try it out, although I probably wasn’t suitably dressed in a strappy dress and flip-flops, I really wanted to see what the fuss was all about.
My instructor was great; he initially gave me a safety briefing and established if I had any previous experience. Then, he popped a recoil pad around my shoulder and checked for any eye dominance issues (this can affect your ability to read the target; quite a common trait). Once issued with safety glasses and ear plugs, I was shown my target; it was a ‘floaty’ incoming clay which to me looked quite testing, but I was assured I’d be able to able break it. My instructor loaded the gun and put it into my shoulder, standing behind me the whole time. I called ‘Pull’, tried to follow the flight of the target and squeezed the trigger.
"Joe said, “You want to do that again, don’t you?”.
My face was beaming."
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'd created my own firework! As I came off the stand, Joe said, “You want to do that again, don’t you?”. My face was beaming.
Back then, I was a secondary school teacher with time at the weekends spent marking books or lesson planning, so it was difficult to squeeze in learning to shoot. Of course, at the time, Sunday morning lie-ins were much more preferable over standing in a muddy field… However, Joe offered to teach me how to shoot; it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Finding a couple of spare days in the school holidays we ventured up to South Worcester Shooting Ground with Joe's gun to rerun 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.
"Being a newcomer I was always very concerned
about what others would be thinking"
Luckily, I seem to have a natural ability, but I’m a nightmare to actually teach anything to, so while we had the greatest laughs, I also got frustrated easily with aspects that I thought I should be able to grasp, even at a 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've fired a cartridge and open the gun to reload, the ejectors will force the spent shells out of the chambers, and you’ve got to avoid the empty plastic case hitting 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.
My concerns about other people laughing at my incompetence also proved to be completely unfounded. In reality, they were hardly watching at all, and were more preoccupied with their own performance. Though, while battling my “performance” nerves, I was fast becoming more and more hooked on the sport.
A year passed with a few sessions of practice, as and when time would allow and soon it became worthwhile to apply for a shotgun license. So, I sent off my forms to the firearms department of Gloucestershire Constabulary. It took around 4 months before I had a call from the Firearms Enquiry Officer (FEO) to say she was going to come and interview me. It’s a very smooth process 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. Hurrah.
No more than one month later I took another huge step into the clay shooting world, a crazy bold move given my novice status but I wanted to try shooting in a registered Clay Pigeon Shooting Association (CPSA) competition! They’re held at shooting grounds across the country on a class system (AA, A, B, C) that caters for all abilities, so you can be shooting alongside international champions! Having seen Joe compete a number of times by this point, I thought to myself ‘Well no one will really expect anything of me, so let’s just do it!’.
"I had broken 50 of the 100 targets.
I couldn’t believe it!"
It was the 1st July 2015, and again, an absurdly hot day when we tripped to Ian Coley’s shooting ground in Cheltenham. Joe, his father and myself were put in a squad with 3 other people. Safe to say, 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 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!
Soon, it became habit to shoot a competition each month, with it becoming much more frequent over time. And now? Now I shoot 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 fitted and suited to me, I won trophies and the title of ‘Ladies Champion’ in both 2016 and 2017 at Frampton Country Fair; and joined a ladies only shooting group called The Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club; a fantastically supportive network of wonderful women, and on four occasions I have won a rosette for being the ‘High Gun’ (biggest scorer) of the day. I've also recently gained my first class placing in a registered competition; coming third in class at Longridge Shooting Ground on New Year's Day.
"The thrill that it gives me is like nothing
I’ve ever experienced before."
Nowadays, I can’t actually imagine a time when I won’t be clay shooting. 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 (non-shooting related, 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 different sport; relying entirely on your own ability without the structure of a team, and yet everyone around you is incredibly supportive and welcoming. Irrespective of gender, physical size and mobility, I would wholeheartedly encourage anyone to try it out; it may transpire it’s not for you, but it’s honestly the best thing that I’ve ever done. It has become everything to me and I would feel so lost without it.