People take to fieldsports for a variety of reasons. I was introduced to shooting by my dad, who had been introduced to fieldsports generally by my grandad, and so on. It can be something that is done for fun as a hobby, something that can be taken more seriously by competing in your sport or turning into a career in someway or maybe it is ingrained into your way of life. For me, it is a mixture of the three. I do think that it can depend on how and why you were introduced to your chosen sport. I have grown up in a fieldsports countryside environment and my dad still regales stories of his pursuits with my grandad, including passing on lessons he was taught either from my great-grandad or experience. It is this sense of progression and heritage that resonates with me but struck me in particular at a Holts Auctioneers evening in London recently.
Not only was this evening a great opportunity to catch up with friends, but it was a treasure trove of different guns, collectors items, memorabilia and paraphernalia ranging from the historic to the modern day. One lot which drew particular excitement was the Browning C3 Trap gun that Bob Braithwaite used to win a gold medal at the 1968 Olympics. This is a shotgun steeped in history and Bob himself was legendary in his achievements. Bob was regarded as a great game shot before he began shooting trap. In terms of training for the Olympics, as Bob was a veterinary Surgeon, he could only practice his discipline when work permitted. Itts understood that he had a trap installed on his land and with the help of the local priest, who would man the trap, he would shoot in the region of twice a week. Quite remarkable really that this set him up to score 198/200 at the Olympic games and securing him a gold medal! Bob’s legend is evidence that – sprinkled with some obvious natural talent – that investing in your sport in order to progress and improve is imperative, but it also depends on how you train and what you want to achieve.
Not everyone wants to shoot competitively, just like not everyone wants to shoot game. But the evening at Holts got me thinking about progression and improvement. What did I want to achieve over the next year? My particular passion is shooting and I enjoy it for the three reasons I listed above – it is something I take time to enjoy, I have dabbled (and am in no way excelling!) in something more serious and competitive but it is also a way of life having been brought up on the edge of the Peak District. I think the important part is getting the balance right between enjoyment and development.
I have the most fun when I am out shooting with friends or my family and recently had a weekend in the Cotswolds with my dear friend Gabs. I met Gabs through The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club and we are regulars at both the grounds local to her and also a few game shoots. Whenever I go to stay with Gabs, we always go shooting. Shooting with Gabs is an opportunity to just have fun and relax while smashing some clays – and this is exactly what we did the other weekend.
If you are not looking to take your scores too seriously and just want to have fun, then I cannot recommend enough just getting out there with your friends or family (whether or not your ability or ground requires you to have a caddy) and enjoying it! This keeps you motivated but also encourages the people you are shooting with. Learn about yourself as a shot and tackle those harder stands or the ones that may have recently caused you some trouble. This is something I try and do every couple of weeks. Its also fun to try something different, maybe once you know you can hit a stand, try shooting it quicker or before the clay reaches a particular landmark/point or take both clays as a pair and see what you can do! You might be surprised. This is a fun way of progressing and developing your skill set without feeling like you are taking it too seriously.
There may come a point when you want to develop your shooting further, but this does not mean that the fun has to stop! In particular, will try and have some coaching sessions once the game season finishes. I find it is very easy to pick up a few bad habits from instinctive shooting in the field. It was through having these lessons that I discovered the difference between an instructor and a coach. An instructor will make sure you know the basics and will help correct any bad habits to keep you hitting those clays. However, a coach is someone who works with you longer term, who knows you and your shooting style and will help you to progress and train. It is important that you find the right coach for you.
My favourite ground is Lady’s Wood Shooting School out in the Cotswolds.The clay ground itself is set in woodland in the heart of the countryside and the lodge is just stunning for après shoot drinks and cake. I will travel from London for a lesson with Duncan Kay there – sometimes returning to the City the same day. The range of targets is excellent, Duncan is a fantastic coach and the high tower is GREAT fun. In fact, it is becoming the Sadler choice of ground with Jack coming across from University before game season last October and one of my sisters is coming down soon to have some lessons.
When I am trying to develop or progress my shooting, and being a bit of an over-thinker I tend to have a few things that I want to work on, I will give Duncan my ‘wish list’ or I will tell him what problems I have or am struggling with. Over the next few sessions we work on correcting and improving. So far this year I wanted to shoot quicker (I find I am waiting longer than I need to before pulling the trigger), to work on right to left crossers (as for some reason I seem to have struggled with them) and to try and close off my mind to over-thinking or lack of confidence as this is causing me to try to hard on a particular target or to not shoot as assertively as I need to. With Duncan’s help – so far so good!
In order to progress in anything, I think it is important to self-evaluate. It doesn’t have to be done in any kind of formal or laborious way. I would recommend thinking about the following three points and then mentioning it to your shooting buddy or coach:
- what you would like to improve on,
- what you feel you are struggling with or which target you would happily avoid; and
- which target you most enjoy shooting.
You need to work on 1 and 2 which, while not sound appealing, will allow you to see your progression and help build confidence whether you are looking to shoot competitively or just to help your shooting come game season. If you finish on 3 every time you have worked on 1 and/or 2, you should leave the ground feeling happy and energised even if your lesson or time at the clay ground has been particularly challenging.
So, for me:
- As I have mentioned, I wanted to improve the speed in which I am taking a shot without compromising on accuracy;
- I have struggled with right to left crossers; but
- Love a high tower or something instinctive so I try and finish on these. Last week, at Lady’s Wood, Duncan and I finished the lesson down near the grouse butt with a selection of targets. I was not allowed to call ‘pull’ for the clay and did not know which of the four targets was going to be released until it was in the air – including the dreaded looper. It was great fun!
Your priorities for progress will change over time and I think it is important to revisit these. Just keep them in the back of your mind and don’t be put off if it takes some time to achieve 1 or 2. I like to push myself so will always tackle the target I am struggling with. If I am at a Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club day and one target on a stand is more difficult than the other on the stand – I always ask to leave the easier target (if I know I can hit it) and work on the more difficult target, often leading to poorer scores but a greater sense of achievement. I should add that difficulty is subjective, so you may find that your shooting buddy can hit a particular target that you struggle with and vice versa. This is quite often the case with Gabs and I and is another reason why I love shooting with friends – I learn from them. I ask them how they see the target, where they are when they are shooting it, how much lead they are giving it?
Finally, do not be afraid of setting goals. This will not take the fun out of it but can show you how far you are progressing. Progression is important in whatever shape or form it may take so that we can continue to learn and, in turn, continue to pass the sport on in years to come.