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.