Clay pigeon shooting

Happy days on the clays

With summer finally here, now is the time to look at the virtues of shooting clays to keep your eye in and satisfy a need.

Summer clay shooting opportunities

With the long and lazy days of summer stretching ahead of us, those with a liking for things that go bang begin to feel an itch that needs scratching. For some this primeval urge can be satisfied by a dawn stalk followed by a hunter’s breakfast of deer liver and ‘shrooms on fried bread with a steaming pot of fresh coffee.

There is much to be said too, for the simple pleasures of a plink in the garden. I venture that many of us started this way with a simple break-barrel air rifle, a drinks can or three and a tin of pellets. I know I spent hours and hours at it and there is still satisfaction to be had from shredding stuff from the recycling bin. And there is no reason why this might not be usefully extended to some pest control of squirrels or rats in the vicinity, where the necessary permissions can be secured.

For those of us whose cupboards contain only shotguns, however, the pickings are somewhat slimmer. Shooting pigeons and corvids over decoys involves a deal of commitment, and the time when a kind word and the promise of a pint allowed one to lurk in the corner of a field and harass the grey and black hordes for a bit is, I’m afraid, mostly in the past.

Which leaves the frustrated shooter with the pursuit of another breed of pigeon: the clay kind. And there are a number of options available.

clay shooting

A round at the ground

The simplest option is to accumulate a couple of the likeminded and take yourselves off for a session at the local shooting ground. A bag of shells apiece is quite enough to take up a couple of hours. Especially if you include sufficient time for a serious review of each other’s technique and a sandwich in the clubhouse afterwards. I always think it is important to attempt at least one stand you haven’t tried before, to remind yourselves none of us actually know how to do it properly.

If rounding up some friends is too much effort, it is possible, of course, to make a solo visit, although practising alone is much less fun; but you could take the opportunity to have a lesson. We can all benefit from having our rough edges smoothed off from time to time, after all. Especially on that stand where we just reminded ourselves how difficult the whole undertaking can be.

A round on the mound

It’s always helpful to know someone who has the sort of toys you want to play with. And a friend with – perhaps – an old quarry or the like in their back garden is a perfect example. The entertainment factor is colossal. The involvement of spouses, partners, significant others and offspring of various ages is an added bonus. These can be properly fun family outings; particularly when combined with, say, a game-themed barbecue (see recipe ideas here) or other entertainments. The key here is contributions and creativity.

A variety of guns in terms of shapes and sizes is good, with a matching range of ammunition to suit. A selection of coloured clays also helps. Rigorous range discipline, as always, is a must, and competition should, in my view, always be subordinate to fun.

clay shooting

Clay shooting for a good cause

It’s astonishing how these have developed to mimic the changes in game shooting over the past few years. In the same way you can shoot hundreds of partridges or pheasants in a day with double guns in exchange for a sufficiently large bucket of ducats, it is possible to meet the same folk bidding for an all-expenses paid week with the family on a private island somewhere exotic after a day on the clays at any one of a number of our grandest shooting grounds. In this way the affluent members of our community have supported more good causes than Lenny Henry.

And more strength to them, say I.

I’m all for a good cause and I will turn out of a summer weekend to drop a few quid to embarrass myself in some corner of a local field in aid of the church roof or the local lifeboat; and I’ll bid on dinner for two at the pub after, as long as it doesn’t get too bonkers.

I was once in a team that came resoundingly last at one of these and we were given shooting lessons as a consolation prize. How they laughed! Not me; I know what lessons cost and I’ll happily exchange five minutes of ridicule for an hour of instruction. So there.

Proper clay shooting competitions

These should not be overlooked either. A friend pointed out to me that the entry fee for a serious competition at his local ground was less than the cost of a weekend round. And lunch was included. We recruited a squad between us and duly signed up. It was a 100-bird sporting event and we had a bunch of fun. We met all sorts of interesting people and watched some superb shooting. We picked brains and harvested priceless tips on every aspect of style and technique. And then we set about a spectacular hog roast into the bargain. Bargain being the operative word.

And we didn’t come last. I think that another team had to leave early so we were officially ahead of them. Which means that we were really competitive… ish.

Of course, you may be rather more serious about competing individually, in which case I doff my cap and accept my skills do not extend that far. But I have watched in awe as the likes of John Bidwell and George Digweed and their more contemporary equivalents astonish crowds at various game fairs over the years.

clay shooting

The Olympics

And then there is the pinnacle of sporting achievements; the Olympic Games

Who can forget Peter Wilson winning gold at London 2012 or Richard Faulds doing the same at Sydney 2000? Beacons, idols, sporting heroes. 

Call them what you will, they put shooting into the news for all the right reasons and I have nothing but admiration for them. However, I could never match their prowess in competition and long ago made the decision not to embarrass myself in attempting to do so.

Simulated game days

I venture that I went to one of the very first of these ever. It was in 1988 at a farm shoot whose principal drives had been swept away by the Great Storm of the previous October. So they put clay traps where once gamebirds had curled and glided and dazzled. Local shooters enjoyed it so much that a bunch of us were invited to give it a go to see if the idea might fly.

We thought it might take off, at least, and look where we are now.

There is much to enjoy on a simulated day; especially if it is managed properly. Who does not relish the chance to stand in a realistic-looking grouse butt and work through a bag of cartridges with double guns and a loader who knows what they are about? That’s dreaming the dream, even if it’s not living it exactly.

The downside is that there is a fine line between pinching another Gun’s clay – which is acceptable fun – and falling into a wild free-for-all. Again, it’s a case of rigorous range discipline by the Guns and responsible supervision. Then it’s a blast; and only in a good way.

On the whole, shooting clays provides an entertaining way to pass some time when our guns would otherwise be mostly locked away.

Mark you, let’s not forget that a fishing rod can also provide the necessary fundamental fun – and at a modest cost too – at this time of year.

If you really want to unleash your inner Neanderthal by thrashing about in woods and undergrowth for hours on end in pursuit of a largely unattainable target, there’s always golf.