When Jess went clay shooting

Young Shots Journalist Jess Smith takes us along with her as she embarks on clay shooting lessons with BASC Central officer Matt Dutton.

Growing up with a gamekeeper as a dad I’ve always been surrounded by the world of shooting, but very rarely have I had professional clay shooting lessons.

Instead, it was just about having a go at shooting a handful of pigeons and usually missing and shooting on beaters days and at clays at home.

So, when I was given the opportunity by BASC to have some shooting lessons, I thought it would be an excellent chance to write an article on the trials and tribulations of my gunmanship.

Before anything else I would like to give a massive thank you to my shooting instructor BASC’s Matt Dutton for not only helping improve my shooting technique immensely but also tolerating and helping train me out of some bad habits I had developed. The likely cause probably being the teaching of my father and grandfather.

Getting started

During the first lesson we decided to take things back to basics with Matthew teaching as if I’d never shot before. Not only did this demonstrate the clay shooting lesson process but it also meant we could make any necessary tweaks to my position, gun, etc. which dramatically helped my shooting technique.

To start off we had a general talk about gun safety, covering all the do’s and don’ts which is obviously a very important discussion to have with anyone handling a gun.

After that we had to establish which was my dominant eye. As I have central vision, I can shoot from either shoulder, due to habit we decided to stick to shooting from my right shoulder with my left eye closed.

Gun fit

We then moved onto to gun fitting. Dad and I had brought my 28 bore and 20 bore and Matt then proceeded to check how both guns fit me. Unsurprisingly the 20 was too long for me, but the 28 was a decent fit. We chose to shoot the 28 bore and Matt raised the comb to put my head into a better position on the stock. He then had a look at my shooting stance, and it was finally time to go and shoot some clays.

We started with an easy stand in order for Matt to watch me shoot. It was quickly established that as a game shot I naturally use the smoke trail technique when shooting clays. After shooting the clays on that stand and building my confidence we moved around the ground trying different stands, shooting some skeets and then moving onto shooting some high “driven clays” which I particularly enjoyed.

Matt then took me to a stand which proved to be a massive confidence booster – a double trap. Much to my surprise after a few attempts, I actually started hitting my targets.

Finally, I had a go at shooting some mini clays, something I had never done before and didn’t think I could do, but after some guidance from Matt I started hitting them and I was utterly chuffed.

Session 2

This was a total mix of clay traps. Starting off with some rabbit clays which I thoroughly enjoyed, which according to dad is a trait that runs in the family.  We then moved onto some more high bird clays and then some ‘aways’ – all clays I’m fairly comfortable with.

Matt then got me to do some crossers, something that I struggled with, so we made a plan to work on that. We also discussed a few of my faults so I could work on those going forward. They included rushing, stopping for a split second after pulling the trigger and my worst enemy, overthinking.  It seems that the more I think about all the different things I need to do when shooting, the more I miss the clays.

Session 3

In this session we had a real breakthrough. I started off quite rusty because I’d not shot for a while after spraining my ankle, but eventually my shooting began to pick up again.

Matt then let me shoot a 20 bore he had brought, this gun fit me beautifully and I had a brilliant time shooting it. After shooting on a few different spots in the clay ground we moved onto a stand that I really struggled with, we guessed it might have been due to me overthinking the shot again, so Matthew suggested I tried a new method called ‘maintained lead’, which is where your barrels are always in front of the bird, and the difference it made to my shooting was incredible, because I didn’t have time to think.

Session 4

This lesson was a mix of everything, starting with some going away clays, we moved onto some crossers. After a few misses I began to understand just how much lead I had to give this clay, being rather quick and me only shooting with my 28 bore. Once I got the hang of it, pushing myself out of my comfort zone I was hitting an abundance of crossers. Throughout the day we switched between techniques depending on the clay, maintained lead for some, smoke trail for others, which really encouraging me to think about how to tackle each individual clay.

I am so grateful for the experience and know my shooting has improved significantly. It has helped me develop more of a strategy, when and where to use different techniques and where I can improve.

I seriously recommend that more people should take up a few or even regular clay shooting lessons; whether you’re a seasoned game shot or a total novice to shooting, it has been a massive confidence booster for me and something I will never forget.