There are a number of clay disciplines ? perhaps all of them, in fact ? that in one way or another simulate aspects of gameshooting. The general criticism from gameshooters has always been that clays can never recreate the myriad angles and trajectories that are found with live quarry. This is not entirely true. There is the springing teal ? which speaks for itself ? skeet is good for teaching how to shoot crossing targets, and there are numerous variations in the world of Sporting clays that mimic wild quarry. Clay grounds have become increasingly innovative at presenting new and interesting targets.

I visited Olympic coach manager Ian Coley and his sports psychologist son, Phil Coley at their award-winning shooting school in Gloucestershire, to look at how Down-the-Line (DTL) and the Olympic discipline of Double Trap (DT) can help improve roughshooting skills. It?s all about technique ?DTL and DT are very similar to walkedup grouse and partridge,? Ian told me.

?They are ?going away birds? and the technique is essentially the same. Good gun mount, head on the stock, eye on the target and good balance and footwork.?

His advice about how best to use these clay disciplines for gameshooting practice was extremely useful. If your clay ground has a DT and DTL layout, start with the latter, as it launches a single clay and is slower than the DT. Competitive shooters may start with the gun mounted, but if you are walking-up grouse you won?t be able to do this, so begin with the gun mounted until you are regularly hitting clays. After that, simulate a real situation by holding the gun as you would do when walking-up birds. Some walk with the gun over the shoulder, others prefer the ?fixed bayonets? posture. In a field trial, or where dogs are working in front of the Guns, the captain may prefer it if you have the gun over your shoulder rather than pointing forwards. Calling ?Pull? and then having to mount the gun gives the clay time to go a good distance before you are on it. So, if your club allows it, stand closer to the trap house than normal so that the clay is still in range when you fire.

Lightning reactions

Trying to hit a DTL target with the gun unmounted or starting with it over your shoulder requires quick reactions. Get on to the bird, blot it out with the muzzle if it is rising and fire. These clays call for instinctive shooting. If you find that you are quick enough to hit the DTL target then move on to DT. This will require even quicker reactions before the clays are out of range, and it teaches the shooter to make split-second decisions over which clay, or partridge, to shoot first. If the clay is going directly away from you and rising, then shooting slightly above it is all that is required. However, with both DTL and DT there will be angled clays that will require some lead. How much lead you give them is dictated by the speed and how acute the angle of the clay, or bird, is travelling at. As Phil put it: ?One thing that has always stuck in my mind was the words of top Shot John Bidwell. He said ?Always take your lead from the speed of the bird?. In other words, the quicker it goes the more lead you have to give it.?

Should you shoot with both eyes open? ?It depends on the person,? said Ian. ?Shooters should be aware that eye dominance may change as they get older and this may account for a dropoff in success. Interestingly, there seem to be more women than men with left-eye dominance and that curiously, percentagewise, left-handed shooters are better Shots than right-handed ones?.

Phil added that, historically, shooters assume they are missing behind all the time. In fact, he feels that due to the push for increasingly high pheasants, some Guns are now actually giving birds too much lead and missing in front. As a sports psychologist Phil is used to dealing with issues related to why people miss, and he said that rather than analysing yourself, it is better to get a trusted and experienced friend to watch you shoot and make an assessment.
It is what some of the top Shots do. Ultimately clayshooting teaches you the same awareness of gun safety, target acquisition, gun mount, fit, using peripheral vision and making decisions in split seconds, as gameshooting. It also teaches competitiveness and how to cope with pressure. So start with slower clays and work up to faster ones. At the end of the day it is a lot cheaper to practise on clays than on pheasants! Ultimately, shooting is about gun and shooter moving together in unison, but what can make or break a good Shot is still found largely between the ears.