I’m currently loving…

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Women’s Outdoor News or ‘WON’ was launched in 2008 in the U.S. WON shares news, reviews and stories about women who hunt, fish, shoot and live outdoor adventures. I have followed WON on Twitter for a while now and love that their content is written by women for women. I was also lucky enough to meet Barbara, who founded WON, a few weeks back when she travelled over to participate in NLSD 2016 – what a woman!  Its also interesting to see what the ladies are up to on the other side of the pond. It is well worth checking out.

WON

It’s good for the soul…

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As some of you may know, I am a corporate lawyer in the City and my workload (as well as everyone else in the City) has quadrupled since the Brexit vote a few days ago. With the impact of Brexit, including the build up, has meant that I have not been able to get out and do as much shooting as I would like to. No, actually, as much as I NEED to and I am missing it.

See, for me, I find shooting very relaxing. As a natural over-thinker, which is obviously very beneficial to my professional career, it is nice to switch off and not think about anything other than the clay I am focussing on. I also relish in any opportunity to get out of the City and into the country. As the next few weeks may well prove to be incredibly busy at work, I have got my diary sorted and booked in for lots of shooting. I find that getting out there with friends or family is good for the soul!

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An overdue weekend catch up with the family
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Ever gracious in victory – Dad doing his celebratory dance

The other weekend I went back up to Cheshire, to visit my family. Its been some time since I was last back there and, now Jack (my brother) has finished university for the summer, The Sadlers were once again reunited! We are all very close knit and fortunate to share a passion for country sports and conservation. In particular, Jack and Dad have both been active volunteers for BASC for as long as I can remember and are active in promoting young shots. Jack was even a BASC Young Shots Ambassador. We take whatever opportunity we can to get out fishing, or to a clay ground or range to compete with our shooting, and just have a good time together. We always try and get a few others to come out with us in order to promote the sport and show them how much fun it can be.

IMG_2262So, on Saturday, The Sadlers headed off to Cloudside near Congleton, Cheshire, for some clay smashing. Cloudside is absolutely stunning and overlooks the Cheshire countryside. It has a great club-house and a variety of targets. It is a must-visit for anyone in the area. We took a selection of shotguns with us including a semi-automatic, and with game season round the corner, we all wanted a refresher with Dad’s side by side.

What welcome relief to catch up with my family, have a break from work and enjoy some serious banter! As Dad has said to us for years, it’s not always about what you hit. Sometimes it’s just about having fun, getting involved and learning!

And on Sunday, Father’s Day, it was my turn to learn when we headed up to Macclesfield Sporting Rifle & Pistol Club. I haven’t done a lot of rifle shooting in the past but grew up using air rifles with Dad. Both Dad and Jack shoot regularly in Scotland and have both been out to South Africa. The club was very welcoming and is tucked away on the edge of the Peak District. There’s a sense of camaraderie but does not compromise on organisation, safety or professionalism. Ladies are, of course, welcome! I am really looking forward to heading back there.

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Under supervision, I was shown the operation of the rifle and how to use it safely. I had the pleasure of using a .243 and 6.5×55 Swedish and, after positive instruction on safe handling, a target was set up 100yds away for me to give my best. Rifle shooting is the polar opposite to shotgun shooting. You are focussed and aiming, whereas with a shotgun you point. You are steady and resolute, whereas shotguns require instinct and fluidity. You are looking for ‘grouping’ (aka consistency of shot) whereas with shotguns, a hit is a hit. In all honesty I loved the challenge of completely adapting and trying something new. It is incredibly addictive and I will be heading back there next time I’m home. As with all grounds and ranges, having a quick brew with the other shots will provide you with many stories of hunting adventures and impressive shooting.

On top of all of this, it was also great to get out with the dogs for some retrieval training. There is something very rewarding about being out with your dog in the countryside and watching him – happy as larry – do his thing. Being with my dogs is one of the things I miss most when I am back in the City, but returning to it last Monday morning was made all the easier by having such a great weekend.

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Growing the sport, Growing the passion

All Ladies Dubarry

As I mentioned last week, my efforts recently have been focussed on the biggest event in the lady gun calendar – The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club’s National Ladies Shooting Day 2016 (“NLSD”). I spend a lot of my time, both at work or to friends in the City, harping on about my shooting adventures and so I love this time of year when I can encourage my girl friends to get out there with me!

OxfordThis year, I was hosting at Oxfordshire Shooting School. I hadn’t actually been back to the ground since the Dubarry’s ladies day last summer, and have to say I was stunned at the transformation of the club house – professional yet welcoming. It has really upped its game! I do recommend this ground to anyone within the area. The range of targets is excellent and there’s something for all abilities, the ground itself is not so sprawling that you feel you have to walk lengthy distances between stands and it has a very relaxed – ‘lets just shoot and enjoy ourselves’ atmosphere. Rachel, who has taken over the managing of the ground, is so helpful and just wants to make sure that her customers are looked after and have a cracking morning/afternoon’s shooting. The instructors were also fantastic on Saturday. I think NLSD can prove a bit more difficult to cater for and instruct because you do end up with a much wider range of abilities and experience. 

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Oxfordshire branded coffee cups – pink glittery nails optional!
In fact, I’d just like to say a big thank you to all the instructors involved on the day across all the grounds – not just at Oxfordshire Shooting School. It is the instructors who really make the difference between a good day and an excellent day. They also seem to get how important it is to see new and keen people out in the clay grounds, learning about this sport.

I should probably come clean and say that I don’t actually host at The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club events that often because, quite frankly, I love shooting and would rather be out there smashing clays than organising the day. However, the one day that I am more than happy to host – and bake – is for NLSD. So what makes NLSD different? Surely with the rise of the ladies only shooting groups and days across the UK, one day really can’t make that much of a difference?

Firstly, there is the buy-in from some big names in the industry. Most of the major shooting schools and grounds across the country host successful events. There are also some major sponsors who donate impressive gifts – this year we had a shotgun from Browning and a £1000 voucher from Dubarry, not to mention generous prize donations from Alan Paine, Fur Feather & Fin, Hull Cartridge and HiHo Silver.

NLSD opens the doors far wider than any club, group or event could do for the shooting community. By creating a ‘National Day’, there is a different atmosphere which seems to encourage newcomers, because they are part of something big and have a ready-made collegiate by being part of, what I understand to be, the largest ladies only event of its kind in the world. This actually encourages more people to take notice of the sport but creating an ‘excuse’ to give clay pigeon shooting a try. It makes the sport more mainstream; people who may not come from a shooting background or have any connection with the industry can take part in the day just for fun. I saw this in particular last year when hosting at West London Shooting School, City dwellers are usually quite surprised to learn that there is a shooting school pretty much accessible by tube!

As a hostess, it is always interesting to hear what has motivated the ladies to come along to NLSD. Sometimes it’s a simple as seeing the day advertised at their local ground or on social media, but for some, the day has a much stronger impact. At my ground we had two ladies attend who work in the game-keeping and fieldsports industry. Both were keen Beaters and regulars at their local shoots in the game season. Historically, they had received their rightful invites to Beaters days and had – until now – handed those days over to their husbands as they did not have the confidence to stand on the line and grace the field. However, their confidence has grown and last season they owned their rightful peg. One of the ladies even showed the rest of the guns ‘how it was done’, with (according to both accounts) some pretty impressive shooting and retrieving!

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The winner of our Beginner category – Emma Stone
As with any industry or sporting diversification, women do tend to be the first change. The industry has grown exponentially over the last few years, something that I am sure has been impacted by the rise of the lady shot. However, opening the industry’s doors to more and more lady guns is just the start. To ensure our industry, passions and community continues to grow and survive, we need to be building on all areas of diversity and making our sport as accessible as possible to people of all ages, sex, race and background. This includes our young shots.

There are some individuals who are already doing just this. In particular, BASC, including Duncan Thomas, and also Rob Collins, make incredible efforts with youngsters and look at passing down all the knowledge and passion for being out in the field as well as supporting young shots. This encourages newcomers from a young age and protects the respect for the industry. It is BASC, Duncan, Rob and Victoria Knowles-Lacks (owner of The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club) investing the time in promoting and encouraging others that we see a real difference in our community. And that’s why for one day a year, I am happy to leave my shotgun in the cabinet and play my small part…

If we continue to build on this trajectory of inclusiveness and encouragement for anyone who is showing an interest in learning more about shooting – or the industry as a whole – we will continue to educate the masses and secure the future of our industry.

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Made by the lovely Sarah Hooky who also won our Experienced category

I’M CURRENTLY LOVING…

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my new Orvis jumper that I bought at their recent event.

Comfortable, stylish and quite unique in terms of colour this is a head turner but also field-worthy. It is made of Terry cotton and 100% machine washable. It is lightweight enough to be worn on cooler summer days but I think it will also prove handy for the start of Autumn. The zip pockets are a very useful brucey-bonus!

I have worn this to work and, admittedly, it probably was a bit too bright for the sore heads of London on a Friday morning but I have had lots of compliments.

If the jumper wasn’t tempting enough, the wonderful Orvis also donate 5% of their pre-tax profits to various charities!

Gracing the Clay Ground…

It’s been a welcome change to have a few quiet evenings this week  after a mad busy May. Unfortunately, I haven’t got out shooting this weekend, which is such a shame, but I’m preparing for next weekend; The Shotgun & Chelsea Buns Club’s second National Ladies Shooting Day (NLSD). Not only will this be an incredibly busy day but will provide some serious opportunity for clay pigeon shooting! I am hosting at Oxfordshire Shooting School (which has sold out) and will be joined by one of NLSD’s headline sponsors – and favourite of the shooting industry – Dubarry of Ireland.

Last year saw over 1000 women out shooting at over 20 grounds in the UK, and this year it is proving just as popular!

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Dubarry Galway boots – a firm fave of the fieldsports industry!

NLSD is a personal highlight of mine as it is really encouraging to see  so women out giving the sport a try. Last year I hosted at West London Shooting School and out of the 50 ladies we catered for alone that day, about 80% were beginner or complete novices.

Speaking of encouraging ladies into the sport; a few weeks back, while catching up with a family friend of mine, he mentioned that his newest work team member, who had recently moved to London, was a big fan of fieldsports. Having been in the position of a newbie to London and unsure about how to get back into my fieldsports from the Big Smoke, we arranged to meet so I could tell her all about my membership of the UK’s largest ladies shooting club, The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club. We finally met for coffee on Wednesday and she seemed super keen to get out there so I suggested she comes along to NLSD next weekend. I reassured her there would be women of all ages and of a similar level to her on the day – as is the beauty of NLSD!

Trying anything new can be intimidating and with the anticipated huge numbers of beginner and novice women gracing the clay grounds next Saturday, I thought it might be helpful to set out some tips ahead of the big day.

What to Wear?

Firstly, you are attending a clay ground for some instruction and are not on a game day in the field, where there is formal dress/ etiquette, so quite frankly, wear what you want as long as it is comfortable and practical. You do not have to buy anything new for the day  as you can make do with what you have in your wardrobe. But, if you do want to invest in a few pieces, I would recommend Dubarry of Ireland – especially for field-worthy footwear – as your first port of call. I live in my Dubarry boots when I’m not in heels in the office, although I did wear my boots to work once! They go quite well with a suit…

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Proof that Dubarry Galway boots go with EVERYTHING …and that my suit somehow matched the office carpet. Awkward.

So, assuming you will be relying on the existing contents of your wardrobe next weekend, here’s a few pointer when deciding what to wear:

  • Firstly, hearing and eye protection plus hats will be provided by the ground. However, feel free to bring your own sunnies and hat if you would prefer.
  • Steer clear of skirts and dresses – apart from being impractical, if there happens to be a gust of wind when you try to shoot, it could be a bit embarrassing all round. In fact, its best to steer clear of shorts as well for the time being. Stick to jeans, trousers, jeggings…whatever is comfortable and covers your legs.
  • Layer up! If it gets hot you can remove layers, but if it is a bit chilly on some of the stands (most of the grounds have areas which are predominantly in the shade/ under cover) you will be grateful for that extra layer. Layering will also provide some extra padding between you and the stock of the gun.
  • Check the weather next weekend, if there’s even the slightest chance of rain – remember your waterproof. There is nothing more miserable (even in summer) than being soaked through!
  • this girl canWith tops/ jumpers, again, there is no strict rule but steer clear of any embellishments round the neck or near your shoulders. Also, if you are wearing a shirt, be mindful of any pockets on your chest which may have buttons. Both of these can prove a bit uncomfortable if they are in the way of your gun mount.
  • Similarly, don’t wear any long or dangly earrings – these can be a bit irritating when you try to rest your face on the stock. I shoot in studs and find these do not interfere, but it is personal preference.
  • With regard to footwear, again pretty much anything is acceptable so long as they are flat and closed toe (so no flip flops or sandals); trainer, converse, flat boots are all fine to shoot in.

What happens on the day?

So you are now ready and dressed, but what can you expect from the day? On arriving at your ground go and find your hostess and let her know you have arrived. All the ladies who are hosting are amazing girls and Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club members, so don’t feel embarrassed or intimidated. We all had to start somewhere and be the new girl at one point too! Once you are all present and ready to go, your hostess will let you know your groups and you will head out with your instructor. You will be grouped with other ladies of similar ability.

Your instructor will ask you for your prior experience. Please don’t worry if you are a complete and utter newbie. I can guarantee you that there will be more than one lady at the ground with you who is also taking her first steps in the sport. Your instructors will help you with eye dominance (how best to look at the clay in order for you to shoot it accurately), show you how to stand and make sure you mount your gun correctly. There’s a lot to take in on your first shoot so just try and enjoy it. You will have full instruction to get you dusting clays in no time! Remember, gun hire and cartridges will be provided by each ground.

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After shooting, you will all return to your hostess for tea, cake and the awards! There are rosettes for the best shot in each category, the best baked cake and – as its NLSD – there are a few special additional prizes to be dished out!

There is one thing I hear more often than not from women who have not shot before; ‘will the gun bruise my shoulder’? The answer is bruising can happen but if you mount your gun properly, lock it in with your arm and face and trust the gun – you will be fine. Most bruising is caused by lifting your face away from the stock when you pull the trigger as the gun is no longer locked in place and so can move (or recoil) more when you pull the trigger. Your instructor will make sure your gun is correctly mounted before the clay is even released and you can fire, so please don’t worry about any bruising!

Check out the official This Girl Can video on YouTube showcasing last years NLSD.

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From Clay Ground to Simulated Game

IMG_1502 (1)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.

IMG_1462Watch 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!