Clays Isn't a Dirty Word
I don’t really ‘do’ New Year’s resolutions but every February I promise myself that I will get my gun out on a regular basis, that I will keep shooting throughout the year and that come the following September I will be at my peak (and here we are talking Cadbury Tor rather than Everest). What this has always amounted to is three evenings roost shooting, four afternoons shooting pigeons over decoys and perhaps one local charity clay shoot. Inevitably when autumn arrives I am hopelessly out of practice. Now if my season consisted of 40 big days as opposed to a dozen sub 100 bird days that might not matter; I am sure that by the time my loader and I had exchanged guns a dozen times I would, quite literally, be back in the swing.
This however is not my shooting life.This year it has been different and I have been shooting once every week or two since last September. We are talking sporting clays here but please stop before you turn the page. Among many game shooters there seems a reluctance to regularly attend one of the many sporting clay grounds that spring up like mushrooms all over the country on Sundays. Although simulated game days seem to be gaining in popularity many ignore this weekly opportunity to shoot and I think this is a huge shame and a missed opportunity for practice and enjoyment. But isn’t it all baseball caps, blue waistcoats and semi-autos?
Well, to be frank, yes, at least as regards the first two. You do see semi-autos but the vast majority of regular clay shooters use over and unders; there will always be a side by side or two and on rare occasions a hammer gun will make an appearance. Not a big fan of single barrelled guns at clay shoots, just because you can’t actually see that they are unloaded and safe but to be fair most semi-auto users are more punctilious in their safety procedures than many shooters of double barrelled weapons. As for apparel? Well, I wouldn’t dream of turning up to a driven day without breeks, Tattersall and tweeds, not to mention a tie, and for every person wearing specialised clay clothing there will be another in a waxed coat or a t-shirt. Headwear is sensible but whether it is a baseball hat or a tweed cap doesn’t matter but eye protection is a must. Fear not, a badge festooned Beretta waistcoat is not mandatory.
What prompted this burst of activity? My son, Kit. I took him pigeon shooting a couple of times in August and he decided shooting was for him so rather than teach him my bad habits I booked him in for a series of three lessons at a local clay ground. And if we were going then I might as well take my gun as well. My eldest daughter’s boyfriend Alex also expressed an interest so we were three. Suddenly the momentum was there.It seems to me, among the shooting people I know there are two types: those who have shot since they were knee high to a pheasant poult and those who have taken to shooting rather later in life. The former tend to shoot very well, keep their eye in with the odd day after pigeons in the summer and need only part of the first drive of the season to knock any rust off. Their practice was done when mind and body were young and supple. Those of us with less enlightened upbringings can again be sub-divided into those that are naturally gifted in the hand and eye co-ordination department and those who are not. Guess which section I fall in to? At the risk of making you dampen the page with tears I have to tell you that I have never had an innate sporting ability, at anything. Before your eyes become red and puffy let me add that I can be reasonably good at a chosen sport but I have to work at it, boy do I have to work at it. Practice, practice and more practice have resulted in me being able to be at least competitive, at a pretty low level admittedly, in a number of sports, good enough to get pleasure from them anyway. It was only as we three amigos began shooting regularly that I realised how little time I had devoted to improving my skills. In the first year there had been lessons, a few clay days and so on but more recently I had become one of those who locked their gun in the cabinet on February 2 and dusted it off in September or October. No wonder I was not improving.
I still play cricket and wouldn’t dream of starting the season without nets, nor of continuing those sessions throughout the season. 10,000 repetitions is the widely quoted number of times one has to do something to become proficient but if I was firing 200 cartridges between seasons I was lucky.There are many who suggest that clay shooting is not the same as shooting the real thing and they are right. All clays begin to slow down from the moment they leave the trap, they don’t jink like a pigeon as you lift the gun and they are of course predictable, one knows from where they will start and where they will finish. But it is the best you are going to get and the very predictability means one can get those repetitions in. And don’t let anyone tell you it is easy. They might be slowing down but a clay can start out at 80 mph, a tad faster than a pheasant. And a mini clay is less than 2 1/2 inches in diameter, good practice for head shots. In addition to the Sunday sporting layouts we occasionally go to a shooting ground where one pays for a number of clays but it is left up to the individual which stands are used. If one wants one can shoot clays from the same trap all day. So if one of us is having a problem with a particular target we can repeat the shot until we have worked out what is wrong and then begin to break the clays. And if a shooting ground near you has a skeet layout give that a go, a terrific way to train.It all depends on what one wants to get out of one’s shooting. I don’t want to shoot like a god, or at least I don’t believe I can get to that level, but I do want to shoot to the best of my ability. Personally I think one owes that to one’s host, to the keeper, to the beaters and to your fellow guns. So now I am working quite hard. Others don’t feel the need to push themselves and are content with their natural level. I have talked to a few fellow sufferers that are left eye dominant but shoot off the right shoulder and am surprised how many tell me that they cannot hit left to right crossers but do nothing about it. My attitude is find a coach, shoot some clays and give yourself a chance.
So the bottom line is has any of this helped? It is still a work in progress. For me last season was much better than the previous one, a higher percentage of birds hit and most of those shot were killed cleanly but I still feel I lack consistency so that is what I am working on now. Kit had his first day’s pheasant shooting on my syndicate and did really well, I was impressed, and he was delighted. Alex has turned out to be more naturally talented than either of us – he needs watching. The only downside is queuing. Sometimes it is as if the organisers are giving away ten pound notes with the score cards rather than charging; when it gets really busy keeping ones concentration can be almost impossible. But we have a great time, there is lots of banter and a certain amount of competition and it only takes half a morning. No, it is not as much fun as pigeon shooting but it is very entertaining, fits into a busy weekend and improves our shooting. I am not talking about joining the CPSA and entering serious competitions, though there is that opportunity, but by spending a couple of hours every couple of weeks with a few friends and a shotgun in your hands I guarantee that next season will see you better prepared and ready to knock down those high pheasants and nippy partridges.