We all have to start somewhere, but for most, there is something slightly more nerve wracking about stepping out of the cage and onto your peg. Suddenly, the gun is out of your shoulder, you don’t know where the clay is coming from and you have more cartridges with you in the gun bus than you know what to do with. I spend quite a lot of time speaking to new lady guns and encouraging them to go on a sim day. For those who feel ready – and are safe enough – to push themselves a bit more, sim days are the perfect opportunity to bring your shooting on. I can guarantee you that by the end of the final drive your shooting ability will have come on so much more than spending hours at a clay ground. They are also great for those of us who want to keep our eye in for the game season!
For those of you unfamiliar with Simulated Game Days (‘Sim Days’), these are very different to a day at the local clay ground. Firstly, the day is set up like a game shoot except you are shooting clays not birds. You will have brekkie, elevenses and lunch. There will be 4-5 ‘drives’ (stands) of shooting in different locations on the particular estate you are shooting at and you will usually be driven around from drive to drive. The clays will be set up to mimic game birds so that you can really get your eye in ahead of the season. It’s a good idea to let your hosts know if you are a complete novice as they can arrange to have a loader, or someone more experienced, paired up with you.
So, to help with the journey from clay ground to sim day, I have pulled together some top tips which I hope will help you get the most out of your day:
Safety is paramount
We all know this, but it is super important to have an eye to all things safety. Remember that it is not only courteous but safe to break your gun before removing it from its slip and keeping it broken until you are ready to shoot. Once your gun is loaded and closed, keep your barrels up! A good rule of thumb is to not allow them to drop lower than 2 ‘o’clock (if you imagine a clockface). BASC have some great advice on their website about gun safety – not to mention appropriate insurance – and it is an imperative read before venturing into the field (BASC Website).
Pack as you would for a game day
I like to be prepared. When I am on a game day I always pack quite a full bag/ pockets to have with me throughout the day and I leave the non-peg essentials on the gun bus for later. I’m not saying you should bring a full suitcase with you, but a few bits thrown in your bag can really help make the day more enjoyable:
- Hospitality is great at most shoots, but I find having a bottle of water with me stops me from getting dehydrated on those hot summer sim days;
- Some paracetamol in case you forget the above! All jokes aside, I was recently in a competition and didn’t realise I was coming down with the flu. Thankfully, a chap in my squad had brought some paracetamol with him which meant I could carry on my day. I now keep some with me when shooting just in case…
- Some lip balm and sunscreen – believe me when I say there have been days when people have got so painfully sunburnt (especially in August) and it has ruined the rest of their day;
- Dont forget your hat and glasses. It is all too common to have shards of broken clay flying about and your hat and glasses will help offer protection – or will at least make it easier to shoot the clays if you are facing the sun on your drives!
- Remember your hearing protection, cartridges and, if you are loading for yourself, think about a belt or pouch for that even quicker loading. Also, make sure you bring enough cartridges with you. You can always leave a slab or two on the bus and top up your cartridge bag/pouch/belt/pockets as you go.
- Your barrels are going to get nice and hot from all the furious shooting and summer sun so consider whether or not it is worth bringing a glove(s) with you. Personally I find them too hot but they are a god send if you are shooting a side by side.
- Finally, in hotter weather, layers tend to be thinner. I would recommend bringing some form of shooting vest or waistcoat, especially if you are shooting a slightly heavier load. In all honesty, even if you aren’t, after a whole days shooting your shoulder will thank you for that extra layer of padding. Vests and waistcoats are not as sweltering as a coat or jacket but still a) give you pockets for your cartridges and b) add that extra layer between your shoulder and stock. This will help add some cushion against any mismounting and subsequent recoil.
Watch your feet
Don’t leave everything you’ve learnt from your shooting instructor/ coach at the clay ground – move your feet to where you need to be facing to take the shot!
Remember your second barrel
If you are stepping out into the field for the first time, it is all too common to forget about that second barrel. There is no one cartridge to one clay rule here and certainly no need to save that cartridge for an on report clay – so give it the second barrel! If you keep forgetting, tell yourself ‘I’m going to hit it on the second shot instead’ – this will help remind you to use both barrels until it becomes second nature and will also help you keep the gun moving.
Give it a go
Sim days are supposed to be fun so try not to worry about how you shoot on the day. Believe me, no one is watching or keeping count apart from you. If you are stepping out into the field for the first time, you will have so many things to think about, so try and just enjoy the shooting and know that by the end of the day you will have progressed and learnt so much! The other thing to remember is that, unlike a game day, there is no etiquette around poaching each others clays – so if you see it, give it a go. Or perhaps decide to deliberately take the clays from your mate next to you. Although, a word of caution, pick your battles wisely as, when shooting with multi-world champion Cheryl Hall’s (aka ‘Queen Cheryl’) on a sim day last year one of the girls tried to poach her clays…lets just say there was only ever going to one winner of that fight!