Always thought you'd like to learn how to shoot clays? Here's our guide for beginners - and getting the basics right is vital when clay pigeon shooting
Even if you’re a seasoned shooter, there’s always something new to learn in clay pigeon shooting. That’s true even if you’re a coach, no matter where in the country.
When you’re starting off, a few lessons in clayshooting are crucial – and regular refresher sessions are vital if you want to keep your technique and skill well honed.
There’s nothing like arriving at your local shooting ground feeling well prepared and ready to go. And it will have a very beneficial effect on your shooting too.
So then, irrespective of whether you’re about to have your first lesson, or you’re entered for your first competition, being ready is the real key to success and hitting more targets than the next individual.
First things first. Use the time you have the evening before you go off shooting to get all your kit ready. That’s your gun, cartridges, ear defenders, sandwiches, thermos … everything you think you’re going to need. (Here’s a roundup of clayshooting guns.)
Your shooting outfit is important too. Think about what you’re going to wear and make sure it fits you and the weather outside.
If you’re ready to go on the morning of your shooting, you’ll feel a lot more relaxed about it all. You really shouldn’t be hunting about in the morning for your gun certificate, counting the number of cartridges you have and the like. All these concerns will detract from your shooting quality.
This advice is particularly important if you’re entering a shooting competition. You’re going to be nervous anyway and the adrenalin is flowing, without getting lost or being late. So consult your maps and sat nav the night before, work out how long it’s going to take you to get there if you’re going somewhere unfamiliar.
Oh, and remember to enjoy yourself. Shooting should be a fun sport (otherwise why did you take it up). Your instructor may stand behind shouting at you, but he’s actually giving you valuable advice. So don’t get too stressed about it all.
Remember doing exams at school and feeling nervous? Well that feeling doesn’t always go away with advancing years. If you’re a novice shooter entering your first competition, you may feel overcome with nerves, particularly at the first stand. Try and relax, because by the third or fourth stand you will be feeling much better and more composed. So if you can get that feeling from the first stand so much the better, because your first shots also count on your score sheet of course.
Follow the bird’s flight with your finger
To increase the chances of dusting your first birds, it’s important to try and ‘read’ the clay before you’re ready to shoot. Try following the bird’s flight through the air with your finger – work out in your mind if it’s dropping or rising. Is it veering to the left or the right? How fast is it going, and how quickly is it beginning to slow down? Where is the best place to try and kill it? Where’s the best place to pick it up after it leaves the trap; as such, what should my stance be? Would it be better to try shooting ‘gun up’, for instance?
I can’t stress highly enough the need to watch the bird before you shoot. Do this and you’re already going to be ahead of the competition. I know I’m going to sound a bit like a cracked record but I’ve genuinely lost count of the times I hear shooters say “Now I know where they’re coming from I can hit them.”
Watch like this from the beginning and you’ll have far fewer losses on your scorecard.
This process of watching a target in flight is known as ‘reading’ a clay – and it’s one of the principle skills that needs developing when you’re learning to shoot.
A good coach will try and get his pupil aware of this idea right from the very beginning. Getting a clear picture in your mind of the step by step process that’s needed to break the target. You can develop your own style when you become a more accomplished shooter – but at the beginning you need to have a thorough grounding in the basics to be able to progress.
Now this is a crucial thing to remember and particularly important for the novice shooter. You’ll be excited but remember not to get in the way of anybody who’s shooting. That’s a golden rule.
(If you put the boot on the other foot, how would you like it if someone was breathing down your neck just as you were about to call for a bird?)
Remember that every shooter on the ground has paid an entry fee and queued up – just the same as you have!
Remember how it felt the first time after you passed your driving test and you went out in a car on your own?
You might feel similar when you go out shooting by yourself for the first time and miss a coach standing by you offering advice or tips when you miss clays. The important thing is to take it slowly. Don’t rush. Listen to your instinct. How you approach each target is up to you.
Don’t rush things
Whatever you do, for heaven’s sake don’t rattle off a couple of shells as quickly as possible simply because you want to get off the stand because you’re embarrassed. And as we all know, there’s nothing so embarrassing as being embarrassed! And talking of being embarrassed, or being worried about looking daft, forget it! Honestly, no one’s bothered. At the very worst the other shooters in your squad will think that you’re having a really awful day. And as we all know, there but for the grace of etc etc… We all had to learn at some stage and you need to remember that only practice will help you to shoot consistently well.
In the early days of your shooting career you probably won’t end up being High-gun on the day. But I do promise that if you stick at it your scores WILL improve – and generally much quicker than you think.
Try and remember all the little hints and tips your instructor has mentioned in the past, concentrate on getting your technique right, and don’t get cross with yourself if you miss a few birds.
As long as you feel you’ve done okay that’s fine. Stick at it. Whatever the outcome, the next time you shoot you’ll be happier – I guarantee it!