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A recent invite to clay shoot at Prescott Shooting School, Gloucestershire, was an offer I couldn’t refuse - but with no previous experience I was anxious as to what to expect. After searching the net for a beginner’s perspective, I found that they were all written by professionals, when I really wanted a back to basics guide on the lingo and processes involved in the sport. I now give you… a beginner’s guide to clay pigeon shooting!
But before we begin, I must stress that I really am a complete shooting novice. Until this experience I hadn’t even picked up a shotgun and I had absolutely no idea how a clay pigeon shoot worked. The only knowledge I had of shotguns was hearing the farmers protecting their crops from rural nuisances with whiskers and floppy ears in the fields behind my home. I’m not sure this sort of shooting is for me, but when the opportunity to try my hand at clay pigeon shooting arose and it was clarified that no, the ‘birds’ are not real pigeons but clay discs (okay I might be exaggerating my lack of knowledge now!), I was keen to get involved in the sport.
The two-day experience began at the Three Ways House Hotel in Broadway, Chipping Camden, where I was warmly greeted by Christine, the hotel manager. Here, I met the crowd I would be shooting with at Prescott Shooting School the next day; a real mixture of experienced guns to complete beginners such as myself. The event was organised by Kathryn Fensterstock from Zambuni PR, who introduced us all to one another before we sat down to dinner.
I was quite surprised by the diverse mix of people attending the event. Firstly, there were just as many women as men. My naivety in regards to the sport, meant I had always assumed it was a ‘bloke’s hobby’, where tweed-clad males gather in fields to display their finest boy’s toys - I couldn’t have been more wrong! Kathryn was a prime example of how more women are regularly getting into the sport and as we chatted, I realised how accessible clay pigeon shooting is to everyone willing to give the sport a go.
Many of the people attending the event had arrived from the city. I had always presumed clay pigeon shooting and shooting in general to be a hobby of those living in the countryside. It turned out that many urban dwellers are keen to travel to bucolic counties such as Gloucestershire for a weekend of shooting and delicious suppers in front of the fire. The Three Ways House Hotel provided just the perfect setting for this type of weekend getaway.
Throughout the evening, over a delicious lamb dinner and fine wine, I was sat next to Daniel and Emily from Prescott Shooting School who filled me in on the details for the next day’s events. They answered all of my questions about the sport fully, and their reassurance meant I could enjoy dessert from the famous Three Ways House Pudding Club, in the knowledge that the next day, my shotgun would not recoil with such force that I would leave the school a bruised and withering mess!
Following a comfortable and full night’s sleep and a yummy breakfast, I was eager to get down to Prescott and begin shooting. We travelled the short distance from the hotel in convoy and despite its rural setting, Prescott Shooting School was well signposted and easy to find. After coffee and refreshments we were assigned into smaller groups based on ability and introduced to our instructors. I was placed in a group with complete beginners- four other women and one man, and I felt at ease that I wouldn’t be overwhelmed by some of the more experienced guns milling around the grounds.
Our instructor Fred was an absolute gentleman who made me feel like I had known him for years! He ran through a safety brief with us before we began and I must admit some of the stories he had to tell about what happens when you do not shoot safely made me feel a little apprehensive about picking up a shotgun. However, I felt free from danger under Fred’s guidance and excited to give it a go.
Fred instructed me on how to hold the gun which was much higher on my shoulder than I had anticipated and almost resting on my collar bone. He had to regularly remind me to place my cheek on top of the stock as I kept on forgetting and Fred also pointed out that I had instantly placed my finger on the trigger before the gun was safely mounted and I was ready to shoot - a big no, no! Fred released a couple of practise clays from the same trap so I could see which direction they would be coming from. Once he had helped to arrange me in the correct stance, (my left leg in front with my knee slightly bent and upper body leading forward), we were set for the real thing.
‘Ready? Here it comes!’ Fred stood close behind me, helping me to trace the clay with the gun, overtaking it with the muzzle before aiming just in front of where the clay would begin to dip, and ‘SHOOT!’ he exclaimed. BANG! Too late! My moment had passed and the clay had already begun to dip before I had chance to fire. But wow, what a racket! The recoil didn’t hurt at all but combined with the almighty noise of the shotgun, it made me jump a little - despite wearing ear defenders!
‘Never mind, lets try again’ Fred said, ‘you beat the clay - don’t let it defeat you!’ So we did try, and try again, but once I hit the fourth clay we were on a roll and I managed to hit four more after that. The more targets I hit, the more competitive I got, and I couldn’t hide my disappointment when I missed another clay pigeon - or three!
After a few more practice rounds involving several of the permanent traps situated across the school, it was time to recoup at the club house for ‘elevenses’, which is the shooting term for refreshments. I concluded that this sport involved just as much eating and drinking as it did shooting! After some small talk, the groups met back with their instructors, ready for an inter-group competition. Fred allowed us to pick our favourite traps as we were beginners and surprisingly enough we all went for the traps we had found easiest during the practice!
I came third out of six with 18/30 - a few points behind a very competitive couple who had a bet on between them over who could break the most clays. Considering I’m not usually a competitive person, clay pigeon shooting brought out a side of me I had not come across before. I couldn’t help but hiss ‘Yes!’ when I saw a clay pigeon shatter in the sky from a perfect hit and I did a little fist pump at coming third - go me! After the competition, Daniel and Emily kindly handed out bottles of Bollinger to the Top Lady and Top Gun. Even the person who hit the least clays was given a prize- a giant novelty clay - winning them the tongue-in-cheek title of ‘Most Clay Conscious’.
Clay shooting is a fantastic day out and the team at Prescott Shooting School were welcoming and accommodating to the needs of both the experienced and inexperienced shooters. I had never even held a shotgun before, let alone fired one, but Fred was patient and supportive with me, praising me when I managed to smash a clay to pieces and jokingly commiserating when I had missed a clear shot.
The initial stereotypes I had originally assumed to be involved with the sporting shooter lifestyle were undisputedly ‘broken’ at Prescott and I strongly advise those thinking about giving clay pigeon shooting a go, to get up and do it. It is a sport accessible for men and women and enjoyed by those living in both the city and countryside. I officially declare myself hooked and I can’t wait to get back in the stand and start breaking clays again. See you soon Prescott!
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