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!