I'm a City girl by profession, country girl by passion. Lover of the outdoors, labradors and ferrets. Partial to the odd gin, fizz and game shoot. Here to share my city/country life and inspire with shooting knowledge and titbits for my fellow ladyguns. BASC member.
The 10 June 2017 marks the third year of the Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club’s (“S&CBC”) National Ladies Shooting Day (or #NLSD2017 as it’s more commonly known) and the response has been phenomenal – Ladies Shooting is firmly on the map. I remember Vic (aka Victoria Knowles-Lacks founder of the S&CBC) calling me one evening back in 2014 saying she had had this great idea and wanted to run it by me; she was going to hold a national day for ladies shooting – cue jazz hands. Fast forward a few months and, with much blood sweat and tears, we had helped Vic bring her dream to a reality. 23 ladies came together to host events across the U.K for the inaugural National Ladies Shooting Day with over 1000 women clay pigeon shooting. Vic is one of my closest friends, and what I have learnt from her side over the years is that when she has an idea – like this – you might not realise it at the time but she will achieve it and it is going to be unbelievable! I don’t think any of us could have imagined how successful it would be and now we can say that between us we have hosted over 3000 women to try clay pigeon shooting!
I first started shooting quite some time ago. My dad taught my siblings (i’m one of four – 2 sisters and 1 brother) and I how to shoot an air rifle before moving onto shotguns. But it was after I had moved to London, and got established in my career, that I turned back to shooting. I needed something more. I needed something to challenge me and I missed my countryside roots. As luck would have it, I stumbled across the S&CBC on social media, booked on for my first event at The Royal Berkshire Shooting School and haven’t looked back since. At the risk of sounding like a broken record: WE ALL HAVE TO START SOMEWHERE. So whether you have already booked onto NLSD or are living life on the edge and leaving it to the last moment to book, I have recruited some help from our-veteran NLSD hosts and most inspiring ladies in the S&CBC, to help answer some of the most commonly heard questions ahead of trying clay pigeon shooting for the first time…
I’ve never really thought about clay pigeon shooting! Can ladies shoot?
NLSD is a unique opportunity for ladies across the U.K. to all try shooting in an inclusive environment. I am always surprised at how many complete beginners we get at these events so don’t worry if this is all new to you, I promise you will not be on your own. If you are a lady then NLSD is open to you! It is as simple as that – there are no additional requirements for age, height, build, experience or background. Our youngest members are in their teens (not including the recent bun club babies and little ones who come along to events) and our eldest members over 70. Also, there’s a whole range of ladies shotguns and cartridges out there now. Not to mention the growing market for ladies shooting clothing. Gone are the days when we were handed a heavy side by side and told to just shoot off instinct!
Ok, but what happens on NLSD?
You will all meet and assemble for a quick brew at your booked shooting ground, ahead of your start time. You will be split into smaller groups and allocated an instructor. Your instructor will take you round the ground and get you dusting clays in no time! Once you have shot 30 clays, you will return to the ‘club house’ for tea, cake and the presentation for the winners.
What should I wear?
Comfortable clothing that is practical for being outside and does not restrict your upper body movement. I would check the weather a few days ahead of NLSD and tailor my clothing to that – you will still shoot if it’s raining! Try and avoid any tops which either have embellishment round the neck or cowl necks etc, these can impact your gun mount. I would also wear trousers or jeans and avoid shorts and dresses – we don’t want any Marilyn Monroe moments when you are on the stand and ready to shoot! Keep to flat shoes as a heel can push you off balance. Most importantly, you do not need to go out and buy anything new, whatever you have in your wardrobe is fine.
Is there anything I need to bring?
Gun hire, cartridges, hearing and eye protection are all provided by your ground, but if you are baking – remember your cake! This is the Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club after all so not only will there be prizes for the best score for shooting, there will also be an award for the best bake. I would Google the ground (if you have never been there before) just so you have an idea of where you are going.
My husband/ father/ partner / boyfriend shoots but I tried it once and didn’t really get on with it…
If you tried shooting a few years back and didn’t really like it, know that the industry has moved on so much in the last five plus years. Shooting grounds make a big effort with ladies and want them to enjoy their experience. if you struggled with the weight of the guns in the past, mention this to your instructor and they can find you a lighter 20 bore. If maybe you didn’t like the noise when the shotgun was fired, again tell your instructor, they can double up your hearing protection. Or maybe you were scared of recoil, again your instructor may be able to provide a recoil pad for you to use.
Maybe try it again one more time, you could be pleasantly surprised…
I bet I’m rubbish?
This is quite possibly the most common response from ladies that I hear at Game Fairs and Shooting Shows. It’s not about ability, that comes with time (practice makes perfect), it’s about having a go, pushing yourself and trying something new. Just remember that every experienced shot, every game shooter, every competitive shot all had to be a beginner at some point. As I say above, we all have to start somewhere and I’ll let you into a secret – no one hits everything every time. (Well there are a few people I know who struggle to miss but let’s not count those for now…) So just get out there and give it a go. As long as you enjoy yourself no one cares about your score – it’s NLSD! So there are prizes to be won for just booking in and turning up – winner winner! Now it can be disheartening if you struggle with a stand but try not to take it to heart. Speak to your instructor and explain what you see/ think when you are pulling the trigger as that might help identify where the problem lies. But remember – no one cares if you miss. No one is judging you.
What if I’ve never fired a gun?
Again – we all have to start somewhere! The instructors will talk you through everything so there’s no need to worry if you are a complete and utter beginner. I have actually brought quite a few friends along to try clay pigeon shooting who had never seen or held a shotgun let alone fired one and they ended up really enjoying it! Your instructor will take you through how to hold a gun, how to stand and will have you hitting those clays in no time. You do not need your own gun or certificate to be able to attend or enjoy NLSD.
I don’t think I will know anyone there?
If you are coming on your own, let your hostess know when you arrive and she can look after you. Otherwise, you will be making friends as soon as you get put into your group.
Can I be in the same group as my friends?
Yes let your hostess know when you arrive and she can try and sort (unless you mentioned this when booking in and, if so, you should already be in your allocated groups).
Is there any kind of etiquette I should be mindful of?
Not really. Your hostess will explain on the day if there are any rules specific to your ground. You will be split into smaller groups and it is perfectly fine (unless told otherwise) to cheer your team mates on when they hit their clays – even now if someone shoots pretty well I will congratulate them and give a little cheer from behind. The aim of the day is to thoroughly enjoy yourself so try not to get too bogged down in etiquette. The only thing to remember is ‘safety’. Keep your gun broken and empty when carrying it from stand to stand and keep your barrels nice and high and facing away from you/ anyone when the gun is loaded.
Ok so I booked onto NLSD and loved it! How can I do more?
Get booked on for more shooting! Practice makes perfect as they say. You can book in for more lessons at the ground you shot at for NLSD – unless you travelled out of your way, in which case have a quick Google for your local ground and get booked on there. You can also book in for future S&CBC or other ladies shooting events. BASC Ladies Shooting is a good place to look for ladies shooting opportunities. Once you have the basics, get your friends and family to take you along too!
If you have not booked your place and have been convinced to join the growing movement of ladies trying clay pigeon shooting then click here for the NLSD events page.
Last weekend I attended the CPSA Awards as Victoria Knowles-Lacks’, owner of The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club plus one. We were both really looking forward to supporting good friend Cheryl Hall as she was nominated – and subsequently won – the ‘Development Initiative of the Year’, for her encouragement of ladies into competitive shooting.
Early last year, Cheryl and the equally talented Christine Atkinson posted in the Bun Club members’ group asking whether they would be interested in competing in either (or both) the English and British Open Shooting Competition with the support of Cheryl and/or Christine. Cheryl had spoken to the organisers of the competition and, with their full support, had reserved several ‘squads’ which she could fill with Bun Club girls. Cheryl and Christine would caddy for the various squads and offer some support on the targets.
As someone who took part in Cheryl’s initiative, I was delighted when she rightfully got her recognition. I would never have competed in such a competition, as I didn’t think I was good enough, and so didn’t – foolishly – jump at the chance. It’s having that little bit of support and insight that made it all seem that bit more feasible. I am pleased that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone. Maybe competitions sound like your worst nightmare, but believe me when I say once you’ve done one, you will feel like you want to do it all over again!
As the clay season is now really getting into full swing, I thought it might be worth doing a blog on competitive shooting and what to expect. I could sit here and list my tips and advice, but I am nowhere near an expert! So some of the leading ladies on the competitive shooting circuit have very kindly taken the time to help inspire more of us newbies to get out there and shoot competitively – either for the first time or to build on your successes from last time. So a big thank you to the following ladies for their input:
The very lovely Hannah Gibson deservedly won the ladies British Open this September. Hannah had been pestering her dad for a while to take her out shooting and finally shot her first competition at her local ground; Northall, CPC. She says she was still something of a novice at the time, as she had only been shooting for a few months, but as it was the ground’s Christmas shoot, she shot it with her dad
Cheryl Hall, as the ‘Queen of Shooting’, really needs no introduction. With more awards, medals and titles than I can count, it’s fair to say she knows what she’s talking about. Although she is not running the initiative again this year, she still really wants to support and inspire anyone thinking about giving it a try.
Anita North – Double Commonwealth gold medallist and advocate of Olympic Trap, Nitty has represented her country and competed at the highest level possible but her first competition was a registered sporting competition. Her first major was the English Open Sporting at High Lodge where she attended with a friend from her local sporting club. She decided to go along to see how she could do!
Abbey Ling – Abbey Ling is a five time British Champion, World Cup and Commonwealth medalist. She is super passionate about ladies shooting and also happens to be one half of the Team GB shooting’s Royal couple (Abbey is married to gold medallist Ed Ling). I first heard Abbey talk about competing at a Bun Club conference a few years back – as part of a double act with Nitty – and immediately felt inspired to try a competitive shoot.
There’s no such thing as a ‘silly question’:
Am I ready to sign up to a competition?
We all have to start somewhere! Abbey Ling entered her first competition in English sporting on a young shots day at West London shooting school – she was signed up by her grandad! And as Cheryl Hall says: “Crack on, book on and give it a go! What do you have to lose? It’s open to everyone, which is what I love about this sport, as you can shoot with all levels of shooters.”
But where and how do I start?
When I asked Hannah what advice she had to anyone who wanted to try a competition this year, she said this: “I would definitely say everyone has to start somewhere, The first English Open I shot I scored 32/100, I came off the first stand having shot 0/8 and to this day I remember Arnie Palmer coming up to me to say ‘don’t worry girl, it’s a 92 bird shoot now.’ Just enjoy the shoot! It helps if you can go shooting with someone you feel comfortable with who can also encourage you around the competition. Also remember to take each target one at a time.”
And Hannah is right. Even the wonderful and mighty Cheryl Hall had to start somewhere: “I was coached by an England international shooter, and now very good friend of mine, Steve Brightwell. Mick Marlow from Kibworth shooting ground, where I had a couple of lessons, put me in touch with him. Steve was great – quiet – but great. He encouraged me to visit lots of different grounds and shoot registered targets as he said I would never improve shooting at the same grounds all the time. Needless to say he was right. I was scoring 80+ at Kibworth and I went to Southdown and shot 56. Obviously, I thought that going to the different grounds was a stupid idea at the time!! I would be proved wrong and persevered by travelling all over the country and soon the results started getting more consistent.“
Ok, but HOW do I sign up or register for my first competition?
I joined as a CPSA member so that I could shoot the Opens and this is quite a good place to start for information about registered shoots.So if you’re thinking about it, then have a look at the events section of the CPSA website. Maybe ask your coach or local ground for more info too. If you’re still a bit nervous then Cheryl says she is “always free to chat and there are also so many ladies in the same situation. It’s always better if for the first few times if you can find other ladies/guys to go to shoots with so you can support each other. Be warned though, there will be a time that if you are looking at taking the competition circuit seriously, that there won’t be friends around to shoot with. England team shoots and international shoots are randomly squadded but this should not put you off, you should use this an opportunity to meet new people and not be too reliant on others.”
But I don’t think I’m good enough and/or can’t shoot crossers/driven/going away…etc
We all have a target we are less keen on – or in some cases absolutely hate. If that’s the case, it’s highly likely that you will face it at some point during the competition. Or perhaps you don’t have a nemesis but on the day you compete you have an absolute shocker of a stand, how do you keep going after that? The lovely Hannah Gibson says that “if you are struggling on a particular target, in between your shots, slow yourself down and think about the basics – are your feet in the right place etc. Also have the confidence in the stand to try something different if you aren’t hitting it. And remember, there is nothing wrong with being beaten by a target. I would also say after a competition if there has been a particular target you have missed, if you have a coach or someone you trust to help you practise it after. Try and take away a positive from the stand don’t be too hard on yourself.”
I just don’t know if I can. I get really nervous!
Nerves affect us all, but facing up to those nerves helps make it easier. Hannah said that she used to get so nervous before a selection shoot or big competition that couldn’t even eat breakfast. But after a shooting a number of big competitions over the years the nerves have now eased; leaving her with only ‘little butterflies’.
And Cheryl still gets nervous! “I can’t say I don’t get nervous but it doesn’t happen very often. I channel the nervous energy in a positive way by thinking of other things. There is no point letting your nerves get the better of you as this will be wasted energy and money. Some people use music, or read, maybe scroll through facebook etc. Whatever works for you, you just need to find it! You will often see me messing/wandering around before I shoot and only really concentrate when it’s my turn.”
A lot of our well known top shots talk about having a ‘routine’ when they get into the stand which really helps calm any nerves. Abbey Says “My routine is the same each time. There is a physical routine and a mental routine that consists of stance set up gun hold points and focus points and the mental side being down to positive feelings breathing and relaxation. You need both to be consistent. The best people who cope with nerves are the people that can stay within their routine keeping their mind in the present during these pressures moments.”
Anita is a big advocate of getting into the mental zone and, as someone who struggles with nerves, I have personally grilled her before now on how to do this! She says “take a deep breath and relax! Nothing around you matters. Your competition is yourself against those things flying through the air – clays. Trust in yourself, in the work you have done with your coach, trust your eyes and let yourself shoot the clays. At the end of the day it’s not the end of the world if you miss a clay. Enjoy what you are doing and be proud that you have the guts to get out there and compete. If you do the work, if you do the process that you have to do, then the results will come. Focus on what you can control, doing things consistently and it will all come good. We all start somewhere and keep working and the scores will come.”
Ok but I also really hate being watched…
This seems to be a big concern to a lot of ladies who are starting out. No you are NOT being watched. No you will NOT be judged. No your squad is NOT thinking ‘what is she doing here?!’ If you do get to self-conscious, then follow Hannah’s lead. She thinks of her ‘routine’ when she’s in the stand so that everyone else is blocked out. Hannah’s dad gave her a piece of advice when she was first starting out and it has stuck with her since then; that “people are never really watching you shoot and noticing who you are, they are just more worried about seeing the targets and their own shooting.”
Not convinced? Cheryl Hall says the same thing: “If you are just starting the competitions I hear it all the time that they are worried that people are watching them but in reality other shooters are probably more worried about concentrating on their own game and focusing on their own shooting they haven’t even noticed, you. When you get to my level I can be seen as a threat and I do get people watching scores, watching me and sometimes even trying to put me off. The way I see it is that’s a great position to be in and use this as a challenge to prove not only I can do it but also looking at it another way round: they’re worried about me. I shouldn’t be worried about anything but breaking clays, they are the ones with the issues. There is one time that you will be noticed and that’s if you have a strop on the stand, throw your cartridges in the bin or wear revealing clothing so if you DO want to be noticed crack on as these work every time. You are always going to get the one that stands behind you when you miss wanting to offer advice because you’re a lady and clearly you need help…but don’t listen! Not unless that person knows what they are talking about and, if you are not sure if they do, ignore the advice – nicely! It still happens to me and I just turn round, laugh and say ‘REALLY……’ then I focus a little harder, kill the target and walk away.”
Ok. You’ve convinced me, I’m in! What do I need to bring with me?
I do like to bring the kitchen sink with me wherever I go as I get annoyed if I need something and realise I don’t have it with me. As I learnt from being a competitive swimmer when I was younger, preparation is key and while you don’t have to turn up heavy laden, everyone brings a few bits and pieces with them:
Hannah: “My Krieghoff gun is pretty essential! 😂 My Fiocchi FBlacks, Pilla Glasses and all of my Stonegate Homes sponsored clothing as I like to have plenty of layers, waterproofs, gloves etc. I hate getting cold so would rather pack too much.”
Cheryl: “Water and a snack bar of some sort. A lot of people don’t re-hydrate enough or they lose focus and energy so water/juice and snack bars are always good to keep having as you go round the course. Obviously I have glasses and ear defenders with me but I always carry spares.”
Abbey: “Remember your gun, ammunition, skeet vest, glasses and ear defenders!”
Remember to check your cartridges as there may be restrictions on wadding and size according to ground, competition or discipline. For example, Anita says that she will “usually use 24g 7.5 cartridges with plastic wads. I am sponsored by Cheddite and my cartridge of choice is Mach 3. I shoot Olympic Trap which, as one of the ISSF disciplines – (Olympic Trap, Olympic Skeet and Double Trap) is limited to 24g maximum cartridge load. To be honest I would use similar when shooting sporting, perhaps going to fibre wad 28g cartridges at a ground where plastic wads are not permitted. They hit clays well.”
And what should I wear? Is there a dress code?
If you are starting out, I would not panic too much about what to wear as you will already have a good idea as to what is appropriate or will not hinder your shooting from your own experience. It’s also good to try and pack for the weather too. As Abbey says, “there are rules in Olympic trap that clothing must not be short shorts or skirts and long enough short sleeves and no jeans internationally are allowed to be worn. Domestically is less strict. But something comfortable stretchy so you can move freely and warm for those colder days.”
Well, actually, I’ve competed before and would like to do more. How can I build on past successes?
Cheryl gives great advice on this. “I always look at last year and start the new year thinking to myself “how can this year be better than last year” I set goals and sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t but it’s about keeping going and doing the best you can…I aim to be the best I can and I always aim to win high gun, but if that doesn’t work and I shoot my CPSA average, I am relatively happy. If it all goes wrong and I don’t achieve either of them I just think what a great day out and another day I have avoided the house work or other rubbish tasks we have to do when we are not shooting. I just love shooting!”
Abbey also has some advice to progress: “Get the correct trap gun to fit for the purpose of the discipline (miroku, perazzi, beretta) then shoot some DOWN THE LINE first followed by ABT or UT then onto the swimming in deep water OLYMPIC TRAP. Join the CPSA and go along to local 100 bird registered competitions in these disciplines. You could also get some lessons with me if you are based (or willing to travel) in the south west. Ling shooting.co.uk 😄”
What other tips do you have to help me get the most out of it?
Hannah: “I like to get to a shoot early so I’m not rushing. I would firstly enjoy shooting, there is nothing worse than spending your money, weekends etc on doing something you don’t enjoy. I also think it’s also important to get good basics in from the start and gain advice and coaching from someone you trust and who’s methods you believe in.”
Cheryl: “Don’t go and eat a full breakfast or large meal before you shoot as you can get sluggish. If you have a bad day, have a think why but don’t dwell on the past too much – look for a positive for next time. Keep going whatever your score is or you think it will be. I won my first world Championship but nearly threw it away as I was shooting so bad – or at least I thought I was – so I let my head go down and tried too hard. Another England lady shot who I was shooting with gave me some of the best advice ever… ‘Just enjoy it and relax, if you over think or tense up you will never succeed’. I appreciate it is easier said than done but I did it and ended up winning. Those were the days when you could win on a 70 something as I proved! However now that Victoria [from The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club] has introduced so many ladies into the sport I fear that the standards/scores are climbing higher and higher!!”
Abbey: “Learn to lose before you can win. Learn from each experience to get better.”
Anita: “Congratulations on taking the step in your shooting to try competing. Its worth it and you never know where it may take it. Above and beyond anything else enjoy it. Have fun with your shooting. See it, shoot it, enjoy it!!”
And a couple from me:
Think about your journey to and from the ground. If it is longer than an hour, think about staying somewhere the night before or maybe see if you can car share. I did a 3-4 hour drive before one of my competitions which probably didn’t help with keeping me alert and concentrating throughout the afternoon…
If it is your first time, try and get there early and find out about the format of your day. You will be given an allocated time for your squad, maybe a map of the course and will be told where to start. But you do need will to allow for registration, finding the ground, assembling your gun/ kit, loo break etc
If you are really nervous (like me!) be aware that you might suffer a bit of an adrenaline crash when you are part way round the course. To combat this, try and bring some snacks with you to give you that boost and remember lots of water!
If you are a lady and do decide to enter your first competition, please share your experience with us all using ‘#outwiththegirls’. I’m on a mission to get the message of ladies shooting out there even more!
Charlotte Riley – or ‘Top Totty Lotty’ as she is known on social media – is a complete and utter babe. She’s been a Bun Club member since the very start (Victoria describes her as “one of the originals!”) and is something of a regular on the competition scene. She recently shot out in the US and is flying off to Texas in a few weeks to shoot in the ‘Worlds’. Oh and she’s getting married this year!
Charlotte also shot in the Open last year (2016) having also competed previously. But year on year her score is improving and growing dramatically – which is unbelievably inspiring and a credit to how hard she has worked. Top Totty is an inspiration to ladies who are starting their own competition adventures and I wanted to know how and what she had done to really bring her shooting on.
So, my first Top Gun for 2017 is the toppest of tottyest lotties – Charlotte Riley
Starting at the beginning, when and how did you get into shooting?
I picked up a shotgun for the first time in 2012, purely from following my other half and Dad round clay grounds and getting fed up of always doing the scoring. I had a few shots with their 12 bore over and unders and to be honest, didn’t really like it – too heavy, too punchy, too awkward – but I really wanted to try again. We got a junior 20 bore semi-auto hoping it would suit me a bit better and it was loads lighter but I didn’t like the mechanical action of it so didn’t shoot it very much. Then a few things happened around the same time; a kind gentleman lent me an old Winchester over and under which was lovely and light and literally fell open when you cocked the lever, I started using 21g Hull Cartridges and I also went to my first Shotgun & Chelsea Bun club event. That was it, I was utterly and completely hooked!
When was your first competition and what made you sign up to it?
I started with some local shoots, 50 bird competitions which got my confidence going and helped me understand the fundamentals – things like how many pairs you did, what ‘simo’ and ‘on report’ meant, stand etiquette etc. It also got me used to shooting in front of people. My first registered shoot was March 2013, I did have a head start as I had been with my fella to quite a few shoots so I knew what to expect which definitely benefitted me. I wanted to do it because I am a real goal setter and I wanted to get better, the targets were always different, the CPSA kept your scores and there was also a little bit of me thinking ‘Where are all the women?’. That first stand though, Oh, My, God! With my lovely new Beretta Silver Pigeon in hand, I stepped in the cage, called ‘pull!’, the clays appeared and BANG!!, BANG!!……no earplugs in – I was mortified. The gun was also really stiff so I struggled to open it to eject my cartridges. I felt like a complete novice who couldn’t even do the fundamentals nevermind hit the bloody clays!! Do you know what? The ref didn’t care, the people queuing didn’t care, no one even really batted an eyelid while I made crap jokes and sorted myself out. I hit 32 out of 100 clays.
What are your top tips for any ladies who would like to compete and don’t know how to get into it or what to bring with them on the day?
Local shooting grounds often run regular club level competitions which are great for introducing you to competitive shooting, without the added pressure of it being an official registered shoot. The targets can be just as tough though. You can also go along to registered shoots if you aren’t a CPSA member to see what it’s all about and just shoot ‘birds only’, this is a great way to try before deciding whether it’s for you or not.
Do what I do and bring everything but the kitchen sink! Then leave it all in the car – haha! You just need your gun, safety stuff (eyes and ears) and some cartridges at the very least.
Did it not bother you that when you compete that people would be watching you and your scores would be available online?
I very quickly learnt that (in the nicest way possible) no one gives a monkeys about your score except you. At registered shoots, the person stood behind you is watching the clays and deciding their own game plan, they honestly aren’t taking that much notice of whether you hit them or not. I’ve only ever been congratulated for hitting them all by random people at the stand, no one has ever said anything derogatory to me for missing clays at a competition. My goal for the first 12 months was not to come last, I was so happy when it wasn’t my name at the bottom (although it quite regularly was). My first major was the English Open at Doveridge in May 2013, I hit 22 clays and was literally last in the entire competition so the only way was definitely up!
The differences between your scores this year and last shows grit, determination and perseverance. What did you do practically to help improve?
The most important thing I did was put lead in the air, as much as possible, in as many different places as possible. During the summer, I would probably shoot 3 times a week, always a registered on a Sunday. I have had a few coaching lessons as well which helped me with my technical skills and gave me more techniques to add to my tool kit. I also massively recommend trying different disciplines, practising skeet has helped me with crossers, DTL with going away birds and Sportrap helped with understanding angles and the subtle difference standing a few feet to the right can make on the same bird! I do have to say here a massive thank you to my fiancé who has literally pulled me along with him! To be fair, he has been the biggest help in watching me and giving advice, while still trying to concentrate on his own shooting.
What would you advise to anyone who competed in the Open and is thinking about whether or not to do another? What could they do to improve?
Just get out and shoot, understand what your strengths and weaknesses are and work on the stuff you struggle with. It’s tempting sometimes to keep hitting the same target for that confidence boost of seeing it turn to dust but they’re not the ones that need the practice. When you can hit a pair on report easily, try it as a simo, then try hitting it the other way round!
What are your competition day essentials/ have with you in your bag when going round the stands?
Hull Pro One 28g Cartridges – enough for the layout plus one extra box, Shooting glasses (orange lens for normal conditions and dark for bright sunlight), pink earplugs, a specific Browning Baseball cap, hand warmers, bottle of water and a small snack – don’t underestimate fatigue especially on 120 bird courses.
My phone doesn’t come round with me on competitions. Ever.
Do you still get nervous? If so, how do you manage or combat those nerves to make sure you do well?
Yes, very. Especially for the big competitions or selection shoots. The night before, I am the worst! I’m questioning and overthinking every little thing and trying to guess the targets. On the day itself, I try to stay upbeat, stop overthinking, and literally ‘get in the zone’. I am not very talkative just before starting, so might come across as a bit rude! Then it’s routine on every stand, repeating the mantra ‘rinse and repeat’ if I hit them or ‘change something’ if I don’t. I still have total hissy fits in my head if it all goes wrong, but I am learning to deal with it bit by bit!
Do you aim for a particular score or to hit particular targets?
I always have my CPSA average in my head and that’s what I aim for hitting or exceeding. But I try to be very realistic, as sometimes you have a fantastic day and you would only be disappointed if you expect to have that day all the time. It can also make you more complacent which in turn means you don’t focus as hard and it will impact performance.
What’s the best piece of advice – either self taught or otherwise – for competition shooting?
Firstly, from Cheryl Hall back at the first Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club conference: there are 3 types of shooting – practice, social and competition. Remind yourself which one you are doing as your approach, enjoyment, state of mind and subsequent outcome may all be very different.
And secondly, just what I tell myself as I go round: every single clay counts, don’t let the last one you missed impact the next one. The next one could be the difference between a good score and a great score.
I usually really struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, once I am awake, I am wide awake and would class myself as a morning person (after snoozing my alarm about 100 times), but it’s that initial thought of having to get out of bed that I hate. The only time this doesn’t seem to matter is when I’m getting up to go shooting. So when our alarms went off nice and early for Victoria (Owner of The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club) and I to catch our flights from Dallas to Denver for the Governor of Kansas’ Ringneck Classic (“the Classic”) – we were up and out of bed brimming with half-asleep excitement. We were due to meet Michelle Cerino managing editor for Women’s Outdoor News and also runs her own website Princess Gunslinger downstairs in the hotel reception for onward transmission to the airport.
Our flights were at 7:30am so the last thing any of us needed was for any kind of hiccups or issues. Certainly not to realise, at the check-in desk, that a certain Ms Knowles-Lacks had managed to book the wrong flights (in the complete reverse of what we needed)! I can laugh at it now but it is fair to say, at that time of the morning, I had serious sense of humour failure…although it was nice to drag it out for a bit and get lots of guilt coffee and cake while we waited on stand-by. The airport staff, and Cerino, thankfully, took pity on the Brits! [When I told Vic I was going to publicly name and shame her for this, she said I have to add that the airline let us on the flight we thought we were booked on to anyway – and they upgraded us – so it worked out for the best in the end!].
Luckily, that was our only drama for the day. We landed on time. Collected our car. I had a cracking snooze on the way to our hotel as Cerino drove us across states and we did a bit of sightseeing en route to The Classic.
In 2011, the then Governor of Kansas established the ‘Ringneck Classic’ with the aim of drawing regional and national attention to hunting tourism in Kansas. It has been a huge success with the event growing in visibility and stature and securing Kansas as a great hunting destination. The event itself also helps promote conservation and, throughout the event, Pheasants Forever were on hand to discuss all the brilliant work they have been doing to keep the uplands in full vegetation and the promotion of upland birds. I know I speak for both Vic and I when I say that we both felt incredibly grateful and privileged to be a part of this event, with special thanks to the wonderful Jim Millensifer who, along with his lovely wife Laurie, invited us on this once in a lifetime adventure and made us feel so incredibly welcome! The Classic really wouldn’t be the same without all the people who help make it such a success in the background and we were only able to meet a handful of them, but our thanks goes out to everyone who made this possible. Thank you!
We arrived in Oakley, Kansas, mid-afternoon. We registered with the hunt officials, were handed our participant goodie bags and given one box of cartridges for the entire hunt. Vic and I had both brought cartridge bags and pouches with us expecting to be laden with cartridges UK styley! We were greeted by the lovely Raelene, who has been organising the Governor’s Hunt for some years now. Raelene has to be one of the nicest, most genuine people I have ever met! And as it turned out, she also gives great advice; recommending that we compete in the clay competition that day as the forecast for the next day was very strong wind. Now, coming from the UK (and me from the North) where wind and rain are old weather friends, we didn’t feel that concerned about such a forecast and persuaded Cerino that we would just relax that afternoon and take it as it comes – ‘wind’ and all – the next day. We were looking forward to the game dinner later that evening and finally meeting the rest of the hunters who were travelling in from across the U.S.
The Hunters reception that evening was superb! I tried a bit of everything – as you do – and taught the local barman the art in making a great (if not a bit too strong) G&T with the old faves: Gordon’s gin and tonic that seemed to have been shipped in especially for us – or so we were told. After one too many strong gins, most of us ended up in a local sports bar where I cheated at every game going, showed how rubbish I am at pool and learnt some country & western style dance moves. I am not sure it was appreciated when Vic wanted to ramp up the atmosphere by locating the juke box and rapping along to Beyonce & Jay-Z’s ‘Bonnie & Clyde’…
The next day, having ignored Raelene’s guidance about the weather, off we went to shoot the competition, which was situated behind the Classic’s epicentre – the Buffalo Bill Cultural Center. The thing about Kansas is that it is actually relatively flat, so there is nothing to break the wind. Believe me when I say I have NEVER felt wind that strong in my life, it was a struggle walking from the hotel entrance to our car and I wasn’t that optimistic of our scores. But every cloud, on our way to the shoot Vic and I got very over-excited by the amount of tumbleweed we saw just blowing across the road and into the field. Ha I’d like to say everyone else found it quite endearing but I think we just looked a bit easily pleased!
The competition itself was a ‘five-stand’; a 50 bird challenge, made up of a five stands (moving your way along the scaffolding) of ten birds (clays) that flew out from underneath our feet, on report (one immediately after the other so you only call pull once). We would be standing on a form of scaffolding which was assembled around and above a large white van. We were shooting in what felt like 100mph ice cold wind that seemed to cut through to the bone and so, when you were on the top level of the scaffolding, foot positioning was key in order to properly brace yourself from being blown off with each gust. It was also great to see the locals and some of their youngsters out shooting in the competition too, with some of the older kids joining us on our hunt in The Classic.
Later that afternoon all the hunters had to assemble for the safety briefing and obligatory team photos. The briefing was similar to the gamekeepers/ shoot captains briefing at the beginning of a game shoot, except there were no pegs to be drawn here! We would be walking for miles and covering a serious amount of ground to hunt our pheasants. Bright orange is compulsory for safety reasons (visibility) and we were instructed that its roosters only (cock birds for anyone in the UK). Strictly no hens. We were split into teams and were lucky enough to have been placed in a squad with the Governor of Kansas’ son in law, as well as some of the friends Vic, Cerino and I had made the day/ night before – in particular Garrett (check out his business www.battle-rattle.com) Susan and Jacob (from Century Arms).
That evening, full of anticipation, our usual top quality banter and best British accents, we would have the first of our two ‘Hunters Receptions’. The evening would consist of a US style auction (where you could bid on shotguns, handguns and the like), another amazing BBQ style meal and a very entertaining performance from native Kansan Jared “Pete” Giles.
Before our evening started, Vic and I decided to have a bit of quiet in the hotel’s hot tub – which was very well needed. Unfortunately, and rather embarrassingly, we only realised once completely sodden in our bikinis that we had forgotten our towels. Brit Fail no. 1001. The only way back to our room – and our self-respect – was through the main hotel entrance, where ALL the other hunters were staying, to the main lift and back to our rooms. As we crept out to the hallway, we were looking good and on the home run – no one was around! But as our fortune would have it, as soon as we pressed the button and waited for the lift to creep into action…we heard voices down the corridor…then voices from the dining area…then more voices in the main entrance hall. We stood in the alcove of the lift door, looking a bit despairingly at each other, our bikinis dripping onto the hotel floor and mascara blurred under our eyes, praying for the lift to get to us before the voices did. But Brits abroad are never that lucky and as the lift doors opened, the inhabitants of the lift couldn’t hide their surprise at the two white British backsides in skimpy bikini bottoms which greeted them. And then all the voices finally caught up to us before we could push our way in through the doors. There was a roar of laughter and despite the repetitive punching of the close door button, everyone managed to get a good look and laugh! Judging by the amount of comments and banter we got later that evening, it was clear that the story had spread around the other hunters like wildfire. We were making a brilliant impression.
As well as endless teasing, the other hunters were also incredibly interested in hunting in the UK. In fact, the main topic of conversation in our presence was the different hunting styles in the US and the UK. This actually resulted in Vic getting on stage as an impromptu after dinner speak to describe to a room full of guests, in the comical way that only Vic can, your typical pheasant shoot in the UK.
I found the differences between our two approaches very stark but there are also some similarities. For example, US Pheasant hunting is akin to UK walked up shooting. Vic compared it to a day’s walked up grouse shooting in the highlands last season and I can see what she means. Just like with walked up, you have your line of guns and need to hold the line as you progress forward. There are dogs that point, flush and retrieve the birds and you cover a large amount of land as part of your day’s shooting.
But since I have returned from the trip, the differences between our hunting practices is what has spiked the most interest and conversation. In fact, I have received several messages over Instagram alone – let alone conversation in person – over the last few months from hunters in the U.S. asking me to explain hunting in the UK and why we approach things the way that we do. It seems to be something that both sides of the pond would like to know more on and so, I have set out below some of the key differences that really stood out to me:
Clothing – This is hunting in quite wild terrain. There are no heavy tweeds or best dressed days, this is true hunting clothing encased in bright orange. This bright colouring is necessary from a safety perspective so hunters stand out, but in old Blighty we adopt the muted colours so we blend in with our environment.
Licensing – in order to hunt in the US you need to apply for a hunting permit for your specific quarry and you are subject to a limit. There are no 200 bird days here! You need to keep your licence on you at all times as you may be stopped by an official to check you are licensed to hunt. No game hunting licenses are required in the UK.
Hens – it is illegal to shoot hens and you must keep part of the bird intact when you are transporting. This is in case a warden inspects your birds to check that you have only hunted roosters. The most usual way of dealing with this and remaining ‘legal’ is to keep the bird either fully intact and ‘clean the birds’ (get them freezer/ oven ready) when you are back at home or, if you clean them immediately post-hunt, to leave foot or plumage intact which can identify the sex of the bird. When hunting you have to be able to recognise a hen at a split second’s notice as you do not have a long window to take your shot. This is fine when you are on a pheasant only shoot but it was something we were quite conscious of on our prairie chicken hunt as, at a distance and when they are flying away from you, hens can look quite similar to prairie chickens. The hunter guides did help as they would shout “ROOSTER!” as soon as one was flushed out and ‘HEN DON’T SHOOT’ for a hen. In the UK, unless directed otherwise, hens and cock birds (roosters) are fair game in the pheasant season.
The gun line – In the U.S., the guns (“hunters”) can be split into ‘walkers’ and ‘blockers’. The walkers walk towards the blockers in a line, with the blockers also stood in a line, with the idea that the pheasants are flushed out towards the blockers and the walkers can shoot at anything they flush out en route to the blockers. The view was that ‘blocking’ would be the most similar to ‘European shooting’. As I have already said, this form of shooting is akin to walked up game shooting in the UK. However, on more formal game shooting days in the U.K., the shooting is split up into separate ‘drives’. These are effectively different sets of cover that the pheasants are flushed out of. So for one drive you could be in a field and the next drive in woodland etc. The guns are moved from drive to drive throughout the day and are ‘pegged’ out into positions for each drive. To start the day, as part of the safety briefing, the guns will select peg numbers 1 – 8, or it can be up to 1 – 10, and the number you draw dictates where you stand for the first drive. In the safety briefing you will be told how you move pegs drive on drive, for example, you may be told you will “move up two” for each drive. So if you drew peg 1 for the first drive you would be peg 3 for the second, peg 5 for the third etc
The pheasants are truly wild – at one point we were stood within touching distance of a live pheasant that refused to move. They live in the wild prairies and have evolved with heightened senses to avoid and outwit predators. They are respected and seen as “Clever little critters”. We were warned that you could stand on them before they moved – and that proved to be no exaggeration. Now, in Blighty, while we love our pheasants and appreciate their meat and beautiful feathers, you would never describe them as ‘clever’. They are reared until a very young age and then released. This means, generally speaking, they do not tend to have that streetwise survival gene that U.S. phessies need to survive. (if you are interested in learning more about this read my Top Gun Blog Post with Girlie Gamekeeper here).
There are no high birds – in the U.K. we are so used to sky high pheasants soaring out from cover and driven over our heads, but the pheasants in the U.S. fly more like Grouse; skimming the top of the cover/ vegetation and flying for longer than their U.K. cousins. As practiced before our hunt, fast low crossing and going away targets proved key. There are some shoots which describe themselves as ‘European Shoots’ but the birds start from an elevated position rather than being flushed sky-high. The usual rule of “lots of sky round the birds” is impractical here and so safety was even more paramount as shots were rarely with your barrels up, rather barrels were level. The emphasis on safety was spot-on and as part of our licence application, we both had to attest that we had attended recognised safety courses in the UK – which we both had.
It’s hunting not shooting – In the UK, with the exception of walked up days, there is a level of formality. There is an emphasis on the sloegasms and the hospitality and we have a level of British politeness ingrained within us which is not present in U.S. pheasant hunts; don’t shoot your neighbours bird, only sporting birds, make sure it has fully broken cover, no pillow-casing, plenty of sky around the bird, no low birds etc. However, this is why the hunters we were with viewed our way as ‘pheasant shooting’ and not ‘pheasant hunting’. In the U.S. you cover lots of ground and work hard for your quarry. You may only pick up a small amount of birds for a large amount of effort. There is strictly no alcohol and once a bird breaks cover, anyone within sight of the bird, with a safe shot, is permitted to take that shot – even if that means there are more than one of you shooting.
Terminology – U.S. v U.K. as follows – hunters:guns, roosters:cock birds, European shooting: game shooting, pheasant hunting: walked up shooting, hunting areas: drives… the list goes on.
Sunday Laws – Blighty tradition and law means that you cannot shoot game on Christmas Day or Sundays at all. In some states in the U.S. you can hunt year round.
So how did we find our pheasant hunting experience? How did the differences fare in the field?
We were driven out to our hunting territory and got kitted up. It was absolutely freezing so I was glad I had packed my thermal base layers and shooting gloves. We were split into two teams and to begin with, Vic and I were walkers. With my now trusted Franchi shotgun, which was live from the moment we stepped onto the field, I could feel the adrenaline starting to kick in. We could see for miles! The rugged and wild terrain meant that is was very rough underfoot and there was no room for shooting best; practical clothing only. In fact, the land that we were covering is usually riddled with rattlesnakes in the warmer months, but we had been assured that it was far too cold for them at this time of year.
The cover that we hunted through was nothing like I have seen in the UK. At some points it extended well above our heads and was exhausting to navigate. The terrain is wild and so you really have to push through to clear the way. I can see why the bright orange is so necessary now – so you can identify your hunting buddies through the tall and wild growth!
Both Vic and I got our pheasants. Mine came when I was standing as a blocker and Jacob was walking towards me. As he got nearer and nearer and nothing had come up, I got a sense that one was overdue so should be coming my way. The pheasant flushed up quickly and quartered away to my left. It took two barrels, as I was a bit surprised and so behind on the first shot, but the second barrel resulted in a clear fold in some dense cover. It took the dogs quite some time to find him and we were not leaving until he was!
Sometimes, it’s not about the size of the bag or how much lead is in the air, it is about being out in ‘the field’ and experiencing true Mother Nature. I was completely taken back by the flora and fauna we encountered and quite often found myself getting distracted from the hunt just to take everything in. From white tails to coyotes – which sped past like a cloud of dust burning its way across a neighbouring field – to cactus underfoot and the potential for rattlesnakes. It was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and I have certainly got the U.S. hunting bug BIG TIME. So much so, I have kept my empty cartridge cases from my first pheasant and they sit in pride of place on my desk.
At the end of the shoot, we were within our limit and the birds were taken back by the hunt guides to be ‘cleaned’ (made oven-ready). I did offer to help but due to the strict requirements I’ve already mentioned on how the birds can be cleaned so that their sex is identifiable, it was easier for the guides to take them and to share round the community – which I loved.
If you had to ask me what was the most memorable moment of my pheasant hunt I would struggle to pick just one aspect. Wearing bright orange is a novelty for anyone used to English tweeds but being in a completely different country, with terrain unlike any other I have experienced, with cover so tall it engulfed me at times, was something that made me feel like I had really reconnected with nature. That I was working hard for my quarry. That I was a proper hunter. That sense of pride stands out more to me than anything else.
Having had a few days sight seeing and living the cowgirl dream round Dallas, Victoria (owner of The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club) and I were itching to get out for some target practice. I’m always quite excited about going to a new ground for the first time as you can’t rely on knowing where to place your barrels so you can get straight on the clay or the “it’s coming from above those trees”; you just have to go out and shoot off instinct! Vic and I had googled the ground before going and couldn’t wait to see it in the flesh. Admittedly, I was also a bit nervous as I wanted to make a good impression. Vic and I would be shooting with Judy (Rhodes, Texas legend and Founder of DivaWOW), Barbara Baird and Michelle Cerino both of Women’s Outdoor News. To top it all off and really add to the pressure, Dallas Gun Club is a majorly exclusive club with an even more major and exclusive waiting list for membership. So, on Wednesday 16 November we headed over to Dallas Gun Club to get our eyes in ahead of our hunting trip. The weather was ideal and it couldn’t have been any better at a warm 29 degrees. We did spare a thought for everyone freezing back at home in Blighty – if only for a brief moment!
From the moment you start driving down the Gun Club’s long driveway, you can instantly tell that this is a ground with class and somewhere where you take your shooting seriously. It is set in sprawling and well-manicured grounds and covers every shooting discipline. Of course we have ‘areas’ within our grounds in the UK (i.e. skeet layout, sporting etc) but some of the designated areas alone at Dallas Gun Club were bigger than some of the UK grounds I’ve been to in their entirety.
On arriving at the club, we all sat down for cheese burgers, fries and onion rings (when in Rome!) and, while at all times maintaining our Debretts level of elegance, hoovered them down! It was a great opportunity to get to know the other girls and their shooting trips and adventures. One of the Diva WOW ladies, Cheryl, started shooting fairly recently in her later life after retiring from her career as a country & western singer. Deceivingly petite, this lady could have given Annie Oakley a run for her money! Both her and Judy could remember the days when ladies shooting didn’t really exist in the form that it is now, so much so that ladies were not allowed in the club house. It seems that the US are a few years ahead of us in terms of the ladies shooting market and it was so inspiring listening to Judy talk about pioneering the way – something that Vic could obviously completely empathise with. Judy set-up DivaWOW to get and educate more women outdoors and into shooting. It seems that her passion was infectious and the local women were clearly waiting for someone like her as the group took off and now, not only are Judy’s days fully booked, but the ladies are part of the furniture in the club house.
Once lunch had finished and we were borderline sick of sweet tea, we got our guns and kit together ready for a full afternoon out on the clays! As well as getting in some target practice, Vic and I also needed to familiarise ourselves with the shotguns that had been very kindly loaned to us from Franchi for the duration of the trip: two Franchi Instinct L 12g multi-choke shotguns. The guns themselves were very smooth to shoot and on the lighter side of a 12 bore. This was welcome news as these would be ideal for hunting across the prairies.
In order to get a good understanding of our guns and how they shoot, Judy took us to pattern test our guns which is something that is taken quite seriously pre-hunt in the US. Pattern testing is where a shotgun is fired at least twice at a stationary target (or ‘plate’), usually from about 15-20yds and then maybe a bit further back, which has an aiming mark that the shotgun should be pointed at. The ‘plate’ is washed or painted down so that it is clear and then the shotgun is fired at the aiming mark. Once the pellets hit the ‘plate’ they leave a mark at the point of impact and those marks show you the pattern. Simple! When you do pattern your gun, be more Dallas and remember to shout (*in a lovely Texan accent*) “FIRE IN THE HOLE!!” once you have loaded and the safety is off! This phrase quickly became the motto of our trip. Poor Michelle! After a week with Vic and I, I’m really not sure which she found most painful; the fact that I used EVERY opportunity to say this loudly (in every possible situation) or our very poor attempts at Texan accents…
Once we had finished the pattern testing and had analysed our shot, it was time to head out for a round of sporting. As Dallas Gun Club is so sprawling, and the temperature rising, it really wasn’t ideal to walk around the club’s grounds, so we travelled in style in a convoy of golf carts designed to hold all our shotguns – my kind of wheels! At one point the cart
was nearly a man down- or more specifically a Sadler down – when, as I had been relegated to the back seat,I tried to take in the surroundings and relax but Judy ‘The Stig’ Rhodes put her foot down and subsequently hit an unexpected bump in the road. I quickly learnt to hold on with every limb and wedge myself into my seat. I’m not sure my travel insurance would have covered me for an injury sustained by falling off the back of a golf cart… Luckily our shotguns were secured to the framework as they didn’t have to be in their slips. From what I have gathered, gun slips are not as common in the US as they are in the UK. Everyone has a carry case but there certainly isn’t the routine of putting your gun back into the slip to transport or walk it round.
In terms of the targets themselves, we mainly practised on going away or incoming targets as these would be the most similar to what we would see on our forthcoming pheasant and prairie chicken hunts. My favourite target to shoot has to be a driven but driven shooting doesn’t really happen in the same way in the US but when it does take place it is named ‘European shooting’. Going away targets are my least favourite target to shoot but after a few rounds had gone through the barrels it was safe to say my eye was in. We did manage to find a high tower later on but, unfortunately, this presented a crosser rather than a driven target. All the same it was good to get stuck in and test our Franchis.
Out on the stands, it really felt like I was shooting in rural America as, in addition to the
perfectly landscaped lawn hugging the drive to the clubhouse, when you were in the sporting area it was rocky and dusty underfoot but with lots of cover for the pheasants. We also had quite the collection of shotguns and semi-autos with us and, dressed in our Dallas bling and leopard print, we were starting to feel very Texan! The sun was out in full force and whilst the Brits sweated their way round the ground, the Dallas ladies shot in flipflops.
Once we had used up our clays, and having made admirable progress on the two slabs of cartridges we brought with us, we headed back up to the clubhouse for a well earned drink, a peruse of the Dallas Gun Club merchandise and a few selfies with some of the club members before heading out for a farewell meal at an awesome tex mex restaurant – margaritas compulsory. We had achieved our aim for the day – to shoot with the other ladies, to get our eye in and to familiarise ourselves with our shotguns. It was such a fantastic day and an incredibly memorable ground.
We had had such a good time with Judy and the ladies in Dallas. I love that hunting and outdoor sports are welcome here and everyone we met was so friendly and interested to hear about our trip! I was actually saddened to think we were moving on, but excited for what was to come. I was also super impressed at what these ladies had achieved. They have opened up their shooting and hunting industries to ladies way before our industry in the UK even had the idea to follow suit. It just goes to show that when we encourage others and voice our passion for the sport, industry and lifestyle, we really can change the perception and impact for the better.
It’s been a very busy couple of months with work, game season and obviously a rather epic break to the US, which has meant that blogging has had to take a bit of a back seat. That being said, I have really been looking forward to writing about my recent trip to the US and what better time to put pen to paper than while resting in the Christmas break. Victoria Knowles-Lacks (Founder and owner of The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club) and I travelled out to the US in November for an unbelievably brilliant whirlwind multi-stop tour to Dallas, Kansas and Missouri. Our good friend Barbara Baird, from Women’s Outdoor News managed to get both Victoria and I invited on the Governor of Kansas Annual Pheasant Hunt ‘The Ringneck Classic’ in Oakley, earlier in the year and so the seedlings for our trip had been sown.
As we were heading over to the other side of the pond Barbara also arranged for us to meet the wonderful Judy Rhodes as well as allowing Victoria and I to drive across states to impose on her hospitality in Missouri and Jim Millensifer, Board Member for the Ringneck Classic, gave us a once in a lifetime opportunity to have a day hunting on Prairie chickens! Vic and I had been looking forward to it from the moment we were first discussing it. Not only as a holiday and opportunity to hunt, but also being able to spend some time with some pretty awesome ladies from whom we could also learn a thing or two. As there is so much to write about, I will be writing blogs about each different part of the trip – so watch out in the coming weeks for the follow ups to this blog!
We flew out to Dallas on Saturday 12 November. On the Sunday (13th) afternoon, we were due to meet Michelle Cerino, a rising star in the shooting and fieldsports industry in the US, who would also be accompanying us to the Ringneck Classic. Michelle is managing editor for Women’s Outdoor News and also runs her own website Princess Gunslinger. Both Michelle and Barbara are so passionate about getting more women to enjoy the outdoors and are ambassadors for women’s shooting.
So, after a 10 hour flight, Vic and I arrived in Dallas Fort Worth a day earlier than we needed to land, but having both had hectic schedules recently, we thought we could take an extra day to relax and recover from the jet lag. After finding our hotel and dropping our bags we headed off to the Dallas mall for a mooch and some dinner. We stumbled across a TexMex restaurant and decided to get stuck in. Most of the food here was awesome although we were both rather traumatised by ‘queso’ – when you’ve eaten your body weight in fajitas the last thing you need staring back at you is a bowl full of guaranteed cardiac arrest! Victoria took much delight in the fact that I tried to order ‘refined’ beans oops. I genuinely thought they were called that and not ‘refried’! Also, with hindsight, if I’d have known how much margaritas, jalapenos and cheese we would end up having during our time in Dallas I would have spent more time in the gym and made sure I packed some Gaviscon…
when your bestie
keeps taking pics
of you asleep
Having taken the Saturday night nice and easy, we were keen to get up and going on Sunday and headed into Dallas. The Dallas Cowboys were playing that afternoon and so we were both keen to find a bar to watch it in. As you can imagine, when two British girls walk into a sports bar in Uptown Dallas and ask for the ‘wine list’, a fair amount of attention is going to be drawn. Vic and I had a whale of a time (for the rest of the day) with the locals who seemed very bemused that we had come over on a hunting trip, how we pronounced ‘gov’nor’ and the fact that one of us can rap surprisingly well…(I’ll let you guess who) but unfortunately for Michelle, this meant that the first time she met both of us, we were well lubricated on wine and gin and immediately forced a mug full of tepid prosecco into her hands that we had bought in the supermarket on our way home! We joked with her the next day that we thought she may have left us there and got on the first flight out of the state but she stayed. A true friendship was cemented and we headed off for the day on Monday to Southfork and Dealey Plaza, the location of JFK’s assassination.
In fact, I would like to say a big thank you to Michelle for being our carer for the trip, for all her driving, top quality banter and not getting annoyed when I called “shotgun” (which means I could sit in the front of the car) but then would fall asleep. But most importantly, for taking us for lunch at Cracker Barrel and translating ‘biscuits’ and ‘gravy’ into English. As a Northerner, my love for gravy was ingrained in me from the moment I was born and the language barrier could have caused me real problems if I hadn’t learnt that this is like a sausage flavoured bread sauce to be served with ‘biscuit’ (like a less sweet scone). And ‘grits’ too which is like a porridge but can be eaten savoury or sweet and used for any meal. One of the funniest moments of the trip was the morning of our Prairie Chicken hunt when Vic accidentally added ‘gravy’ to her Quaker Oats – “Sads look! There’s already Oatmeal here!” – and then nearly spat her breakfast out across the table.
all fun and games trying to kiss a longhorn…
until it nearly impales you!
Also, let me just say that Southfork was my idea. I am a huge Dallas fan and I am proud to say that I was the only person on our tour to have watched the new version of Dallas. Yes I sang the theme tune the entire way round. Yes I took LOADS of pictures. Yes it was a highlight of my trip and thank you to Michelle and Vic for letting me achieve one of my life goals and getting kissed by a longhorn #sorrynotsorry
On Tuesday, Barbara flew in for a few days with us in Dallas and we also had the great pleasure of meeting Judy Rhodes. Judy doesn’t need any kind of introduction to anyone in Dallas and the founder of DIVA WOW (more to come on this amazing group of women and Judy’s revolutionary impact on the shooting scene in the US in future blog posts). Judy had
thought of everything and had a great 48 hours planned for us – off to the stockyards, an amazing BBQ for lunch, cowboy boot shopping, dinner at an amazing Mexican restaurant and Dallas Gun Club to get ready for the Ringneck. But one problem; we lacked Dallas ‘bling’. So off to the shops we went! Buying bling is just as addictive as it sounds and after a few attempts by me to find the more plain items in the shops only to be told by Judy to “go hard or go home y’all” I soon embraced the glitter and made some purchases which I am wearing around London even now! And once we were in the spending mindset it seemed only fair that we continued the spree and visited Bass Pro. This shop is absolutely amazing and Dad and Jack received souvenirs in the bag load, on top of the lengthy shopping lists I had received from both of them, as well as a Realtree camo bib for when baby Blowers arrives in January 🙂
Judy also arranged for us to have lunch at a local BBQ. Wow. Quite possibly my most favourite meal of the trip – although Jim’s (Millensifer) Pheasant Piccata was a strong competitor – meat, meat with a side of meat served with a goblet of beer! The interior decor was covered with mounts and packed with locals. Dallas had really impressed me and I was loving every minute of it, but it also made me stop and think about the differing attitude to hunting in the UK.
Earlier this year, there was a TV programme on Channel 4 about female hunters from the US. The programme itself isn’t relevant here but I mention it as one of the hunters said that most of the online abuse she receives actually comes from people in the UK. While I can imagine that the mounts in the BBQ place would not be frowned upon as such in the UK due to the lack of association between animals and them as a food source, I cannot imagine Bass Pro and Cabelas stores being allowed to exist unchallenged in the UK. Nearly every restaurant, bar and shop I walked in to had a sign that said “Hunters Welcome”. Cabela’s and Bass Pro, other hunting shops and taxidermists are visible, easy to find and advertised freely. There is a clear understanding of the role that hunting plays in conservation but it is also a way of life for many. We know that hunting and conservation come hand in hand – one cannot thrive without the other – but this is not appreciated or understood in the UK on such a general level as in the US and so we find ourselves having to defend our lifestyle and passion. I would not be so naive as to generalise and say that everyone I encountered on my trip supported or understood hunting, but there is certainly an entirely different attitude that is evident from the moment you touch down in Texas.
Wherever Vic and I went, people wanted to speak to ‘the Brits’ and listen to our accents. We were asked on numerous occasions what had brought us to the US and we answered honestly – we were here on a hunting trip. From the barmaid and locals at Big Al’s sports bar in Uptown Dallas to the airport attendant on my return connecting flight in Missouri; other than being slightly amused that two British ladies had flown over to hunt, no one batted an eyelid.
This is a stark contrast to my usual conversations back in the City where, when out socialising or even in a professional context, usually a few glasses in, someone will say to me how much they disagree with shooting (even though most are meat eaters). I encounter on a daily basis people who do not understand fieldsports, hunting or the conservation efforts that those of us in the industry support and commit to. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.
So what do I think could be done to bring us more in line? For a start, hunting is in our nature and is part of day to day life for many – and there is no apologising for that. There is actually a range of T-shirts as modelled by some high profile hunters in the US emblazoned with “never apologise for being a hunter”. This could be seen as arrogance, but the logic is there. If it is not something to be ashamed of then why keep it quiet? Also, hunters encourage non-hunters to understand. This is something we’re getting better at. The fieldsports industry has never been as accessible as it is now and it only continues to grow. But from a hunting perspective, the more we can do to encourage people to get out there and experience game shooting, pest control, deer stalking, fishing and to educate as to why this is necessary – the wider the understanding demographic will be.
My main take away from my time in Dallas is to embrace life and care less about what people think about you. To be proud of taking responsibility for your food and the conservation that accompanies it and this is something I am trying to actively engage in since returning to the UK. I am going out of my way to cook game for friends who have never tried it. I take the time to explain why hunting is necessary. I have stepped up my efforts to get more people into shooting – to try it and respect it. And I am making the time to get back to blogging as I have had far further reach with this blog than I could ever have imagined. I have been told of groups of women who have tried shooting for the first time or of couples who have started going game shooting together because they saw my blog! I am going to continue to promote my way of life. I am going to try and be more Dallas.
Next week’s Blog – Dallas Gun Club and getting ready for the Ringneck Classic.
As it is another start to the season, who better to feature as my next Top Gun but Twitter’s best loved Girly Gamekeeper. If you aren’t already following her on Twitter then I am judging you! Get yourself on there asap and search for ‘@girlygamekeeper’. Quite possibly one of my favourite follows, she keeps me amused throughout the season – and beyond – and some of her Tweets actually make me laugh out loud. Yes she’s got pretty nails, drinks pink champagne and can accessorise but she’s also a real life girly gamekeeper making her way – and bringing a bit of glamour along the way – in what has been, traditionally, a role for the boys. She shoots, she bakes and she keeps it real with a fine balance of chat between cake, gamekeeping and pheasant poo.
So, Girly Gamekeeper…
How did you get into Gamekeeping?
I have always been around shooting, one of my first jobs was beating! It beat getting up at 6am to do a paper round or having to wash dishes! Plus there was always some top nosh and I got £25 for walking the dog! As I grew up I got more and more involved in the keepering aspect and now I do it alongside my other jobs.
How you find being a girly gamekeeper in what has been, historically, a male dominated role?
You have to give as good as you get and have a thick skin. Only today I was told not to mistake a cartridge for my lipstick, to which I replied “you’ll never mistake it for your [Editor’s replacement: ‘male appendage’], it’s too big”. You have to prove yourself much more as a female – just because I have my nails done doesn’t mean I’m not prepared to get stuck in and covered in shit! You also have to push to be involved and never give up!
What does your normal day entail, both during and outside of game season?
In Spring, post February 1st, it’s down time with lots of clearing up, tidying and general sorting. I also work at a clay ground, and have a business, so my life is always crazy juggling everything!
June onwards is chaos. Day old chicks arrive (pheasant, partridge and duck) and the main focus is keeping the buggers alive! Pheasants have a death wish from birth and if there is a way to die they will find it…You have to keep them fed, watered and warm – which requires checking every few hours in the first few weeks. Once they get older you have ‘bitting’ (placing a plastic bit in their beak to stop the aggressive little shits brutally murdering their mates!) this involves sitting in hot dusty sheds semi-naked, as pheasant poo is easier to get off skin than clothes!
Next up they are ‘taken to wood’,meaning they are released into massive pens outdoors with a clipped wing so they get used to ‘home’. They are fed and watered and eventually allowed free into the big wide world…
Come September (for partridge) and October (for pheasant) it’s time to don your glad rags and spend the next three months running round the countryside, dementedly waving a flag in the vain hope the buggers will go over the guns whilst your dog starts to answer to the name ‘little shit’- come to think of it I usually answer to that too from Head Game Keeper!
What is the best piece of game shooting advice either you have been given or you have overheard?
‘If your not sure don’t take it’ and ‘a bad reputation is hard to shake’
What are your top tips for a successful and enjoyable day on the peg?
As a female we are inclined to think we are being scrutinised. You’re not. Everyone is too busy looking for the next shot so relax and focus on that next shot too
What advice would you give for anyone on their first game shoot?
Take an experienced shot with you to guide you, it’s a daunting place being on a peg on your own and having that person on your shoulder to say it’s good/ bad helps with confidence and to relax you 🙂 I do a lot of this for people in the game season and really enjoy it!
What is your favourite Game recipe – either cooking for the shoot itself or cooking the game afterwards?
Good god I have so many!! I’d love to write a game cookbook as it’s my staple food in winter months! I love pheasant rilletes- pheasant slow cook in oil and herbs and spices but a current favourite of mine is pheasant and partridge sausage rolls:
Equal parts game meat to sausage meat. (Finely dice game meat)
Onions finely diced
One clove garlic crushed
Gently fry onions and garlic in butter and port until reduced. Set aside to cool.
Mix sausage and meat along with mace, juniper, salt, pepper, a glug of brandy. Add onions and garlic. Mix well. Roll out pastry (can use shortcrust or puff). Smear the centre with a jelly (I used port and damson this time) place meat on top and roll in a kind sausage roll. Place in freezer for 15 mins or fridge for an hour. Cut to desired length. Use and egg yolk wash and place on buttered baking parchment…
Cook for 25 mins until golden 🙂
What are your pocket essentials for game day?
Lip balm, a packet of tissues, a tennis ball for the dog and rhubarb and custards sweets! A flask of hot Ribena with a tot of port in helps on cold days too!
What is your preferred cartridge?
Anything that’s knocking around in the bottom of my cartridges bag – usually other people’s left-overs.
Are over/unders acceptable on a game shoot?
Absolutely, it’s each to their own. What right does anyone have to dictate? Use whatever you like as long as it’s works for you.
What is the funniest thing you’ve witnessed, or has happened to you on a game shoot?
I was stop on a drive but they changed their minds last minute, so I ended up weeing where I thought I’d be hidden only to end up being caught with my trousers round my ankles… Oh and the day my friends labrador somehow managed to retrieve and come back with a d*ldo?!