Four women brush up on their clayshooting under the watchful eye of Mark Heath at West London Shooting School. Charlotte Peters reports
A bright blue January sky, a crisp tinge to the air and sunshine. What better day to have a clayshooting lesson?
On arrival I was warmly greeted, introduced to my female counterparts and met our shooting instructor for the day, Mark Heath.
He asked us about our shooting experience and then took us into the gun room to fit us out, looking closely at our height and checking which was our dominant eye.
I wanted to try a 12-bore for a change. The others were going to shoot with a Browning B525 20-bore. After a safety briefing, we were shown out to the extensive grounds.
Although the sun was beautiful, it was low in the sky, being winter, and so Mark decided to start us out on rabbits. Possibly my least favourite clay target. I’ve never had much success with them. Still, sometimes it’s best to do the hardest thing first and then everything else seems a bit easier.
I was co-opted to start and missed the rabbit target twice. Not a good beginning.
After two shots, Mark turned to me and told me what I was doing wrong. I was focusing on the barrels of the gun, not the target, which meant that the rabbit was long gone by the time the cartridge was fired.
“Keep your eyes on the rabbit and see what happens” he advised.
I did exactly what I was told and bang, one smashed clay. Another was rolled out and again, I hit it. Result.
Next up, we walked along to the Springing Teal target (standard). These clay targets can be thrown up at all sorts of speeds, angles and distances. Mark threw up a few so we could look at the arc and distances before the clay started to fall to the ground again.
I asked Mark the best way of dealing with it.
“Mount the gun and shoot just before the clay reaches its apex. Again, keep your eye on the target all the time.”
His advice worked. I found these much easier to deal with than rabbits and smashed more than I missed.
High driven pheasant
If you’re shooting late in the game season, then high birds are almost certainly going to be the order of the day. One way of practising is on high driven pheasant targets (standard) and this is what we were taken to next.
Mark advised us again to watch, watch, watch the target. Sound advice, our hit rate went up the more we practised.
There’s always someone around who has a natural ability and today it was Rachel. Before today Rachel had only picked up a gun a couple of times but by the time we reached the grouse target, she’d been hitting everything in her sight and her success ratio was a lot better than the rest of ours.
The same was true on the replica grouse butt. I asked Rachel for her thoughts: She said:
“I have probably shot only three times before having instruction at West London Shooting School so by no means an expert at all.
“It seemed very strange that having not had very much experience I was able to hit many of the targets – I think that’s probably a mix of having good hand eye co-ordination and an expert instructor showing me the ropes.
I am always slightly apprehensive before stepping onto the stand. However having head instructor Mark Heath by my side calmed my nerves – I knew I was in good hands. Out of the four targets, my favourite was probably the springing teal. By the last grouse target my arm muscles seemed to have given up the ghost which certainly didn’t help my aim – I definitely need to head to the gym and work on my arm strength! Every time I’ve shot I always get a huge adrenaline rush afterwards, leaving me wanting to have a go again and again. I can see it getting addictive and certainly hope to be picking up a gun again in the near future.
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What I learned from my day’s instruction at West London Shooting School
It’s worth trying a 12-bore for a change. I found it heavier, but the extra weight absorbed some of the recoil making it more comfortable to shoot. For the last grouse target and the high driven pheasant I moved back to the 20-bore Browning B525 which the other women were shooting with.
- Don’t rush. Take your time.
- Do everything your instructor says – it will make a real difference
- Find out which is your dominant eye
- Watch your gun mount and again, take your time and practise it.
- Look at the target, not your gun.
- If you want to take up shooting and plan to have some days in the autumn then start on clays now and you’ll be in much better shape for the start of the pheasant season.
Was I better at the end of the morning?
Definitely. I am much more confident on the rabbit target and am going off to practice my gun mount in the privacy of my own home.
After a couple of hours, we walked back to the clubhouse and sat down in the welcoming Stanbury’s restaurant to discuss what we’d learned. Nothing like being out in the fresh air to get an appetite.
Mark’s Heath’s four most important things to remember when out clay pigeon shooting
- Safety first and foremost the most important thing. At West London Shooting School we deal with it from the start and throughout the lesson to ensure the shooter is entirely safe, confident and happy with the shotgun.
- Have your gun fitted before you go shooting, and ask that your instructor checks this before you start.
- Watch the bird and not the gun – top tip and the biggest, most widely made mistake.
- If it’s all going wrong, take a moment, concentrate, stay calm and do not get aggressive.
If you’re a woman shooter and either want to take up the sport or improve your clayshooting technique, then it’s worth investigating the Purdey Ladies Course at West London Shooting School, which includes three one hour lessons, an invitation to a friendly competition and a champagne reception. Lessons can be booked on weekdays and Saturdays and this year’s course costs an all-inclusive £298. More details here from West London Shooting School.