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Clay Shooting Classic 2022 – the winners revealed

Tactical target setting and exceptional performances came together to create another sensational Clay Shooting Classic, writes Jasper Fellows

Phil Gray came to win it all and he did, quite literally. He topped the podium in the Sporting event, claimed his Blaser F16, then almost accidentally won the Pool Shoot for a healthy cash pay-out and a pair of Pilla glasses.

He made the Classic look easy, but his path to the top was not lined with roses. Phil had to tackle Paul Murgatroyd’s tactical target setting, and hundreds of other competitors all hungry for a taste of success.


Strategic Setting

Dan Martin, who organised the event with his team at Orston, explains the route Sporting competitors had to take to the podium. “First there was a qualifying round, of two 75-target courses,” he says, “a Red and a Blue for a total of 150 targets. The top five competitors from each class and category were then invited back to shoot a final 75-target course on Sunday.”

75 is no arbitrary number. Through years of practice, Dan and setter Paul have mastered the maths involved in creating an exciting event. “We’ve found that when competitors are shooting more than 75 targets, the usual top shots dominate. However, when you snap it down to 75 you even the playing field. Our format is designed to give everyone the opportunity to climb the podium.”

Dan and Emily Martin, owners of Orston Shooting Ground

Phil Gray agrees. “It wasn’t just the organisation and format that worked well,” he adds. “The targets themselves were very fair. There was something for everyone but enough to catch out the professionals.

“Personally,” Phil continues, “I found the Red course tougher than the Blue. However, I think that varied for everyone. I don’t think there was a particular section that we all struggled with.”

Dan agrees, “There were some challenging angles on the Red course, which did catch some people out. However, we also had shooters argue that the Blue was the tougher of the two.

“The weather conditions made things interesting,” Dan continues. “Particularly the change of wind direction over the event. We had a south westerly on Thursday, then a westerly on Friday followed by a northerly over the weekend.

“Fortunately, the finalists were drawn from each day of qualification separately, so everyone is battling the same course and conditions for their chance at a spot in the final.”


Final Build-up

Despite dropping a few targets on a blustery Red course, Phil finished his qualifying rounds on an impressive 142/150, placing him third for the day behind Sam Green and George Digweed and securing his place in the final. Having to face George and Sam in a final would leave most with a severe case of jellied legs and quivering barrels. “It’s just another day in the office,” beams Phil. “Yeah, I had Sam Green in front of me, but I just had to shoot the targets and hopefully hit more than the next guy.”

The Clay Shooting Classic remains the only major title the 30-time world champion George Digweed has yet to win

Confidently Phil straighted the first five of 11 final stands. He then dropped one on the sixth, ninth and eleventh, to end at the top of the AAA board with 72/75. However, Paul’s tactical target setting had paid off. While none of the AAA’s could match Phil on the day, Senior shot Nick Portlock had posted his 72 earlier that morning.

“When I dropped a target on the last stand, I knew it would cost me,” explains Phil. “I turned to John Lee and said, ‘that’s hittable, someone will shoot a 73 today.’ Thankfully no one did. But it did force me into a shoot off for the title with Nick.”

“For us Nick Portlock came out of the blue,” says Dan, “over 75 targets it’s anyone’s game.”

“To have a close final, followed by a shoot off helps create an atmosphere of excitement. Like everything, the more build up you have, the more of a crescendo, the better.”

What a crescendo it was, Phil stepped up to the plate first and hit all but the fourth target to score 9/10. Then Nick stepped up. He dropped his first target to enter a sudden death situation. The fourth would once again escape unscathed, sealing Nick’s fate and allowing Phil to take his place at the top of the podium.

Champion Phil Gray capped off an unforgettable weekend’s performance with victory on finals day

“To share a shoot-off with Nick was a pleasure,” said Phil of the climatic finale. “If he’d hit 10 and I’d hit nine I would have been just as pleased with the result, he is genuinely one of the nicest guys on the circuit.”

With the victory under his belt Phil was ready to step onto the podium and take ownership of his new Blaser F16. But then he discovered he still had to shoot it off for the top prize of the pool shoot, a new pair of Pilla shooting glasses. “I’d almost forgotten about this one,” Phil laughs, “I’d shot the Sporting final in the morning, so I’d had a bit of time to wait for the score to come in. I got bored and thought, ‘why not have a go at the pool shoot’ and straighted the 25.

“After the shoot off with Nick, someone said ‘you’ve got to have a shoot off for the glasses now,’ I managed to win that one too, which really was the icing on the cake.”

“Every dog has its day,” jokes Dan. “Phil was unstoppable. It really was one of those performances that he can look back on and say he couldn’t have shot any better, he out-performed everyone.”

Phil puts his success down to a renewed hunger for silverware, and his gear. “I had a particularly long winter break this year and that made me want to come back stronger than ever.

“Two years ago I switched to a Perazzi High Tech S, with Eley Hawk VIP Trap cartridges. That gun has taken me beyond what I thought was possible. I can’t thank Perazzi and Eley Hawk enough for the support they have given me.”


Future’s Bright

Phil wasn’t the only big winner at the Classic. Cheryl Hall’s very respectable final 65/75 saw her place at the top of a competitive Ladies scoreboard, where she comfortably saw off competition from Nadine Gilder’s 60 and Sharon Niven’s 58.

Competition was fierce in the Junior and Colt categories too. 12-year-old John Porter took the Colt’s title, with his final score of 57/75, though he thought he could have performed better. “I wasn’t happy with my score, but I had a great squad and enjoyed the event,” says John. “I wasn’t confident of the win, but very happy when it happened!

“Orston was incredibly generous to us Colts. They had a fantastic prize fund for us, and all the other shooters were supportive too, so that was brilliant.”

As for the Juniors, Will Page’s qualification score of 130/150 exceeded many of his elders, but it was his final score of 67/75 that placed him above his contemporaries.

“I shot my qualifying rounds on Friday,” says Will, “it was a bit windy, but that was all part of the challenge.

“I think the final was a very interesting course. Each stand needed a bit of thought and I had to keep my concentration up all the way round. Everything was hittable but there was still plenty to miss.

“The win was a great boost to my confidence and a big thank you must go to Hull Cartridge Company, Blaser and Mulliners for their continued support.”

“The Juniors these days are shooting just as well as the seniors,” adds Dan “and often outperforming them. I thought all the juniors shot incredibly across the event.”


How the scores looked at the conclusion of finals day

The Action Continues…

With the winners having taken their places atop the podium, The Clay Shooting Classic is over for another year. But the shooting doesn’t end at Orston, where there’re plenty of events to look forward too.

“We’ve got the 150-target, 19 stand Orston Masters on 16-17 July,” says Dan. “That will be a real test of endurance. There will be pay-outs down to fifth in every category and class and a £1000 prize for the overall High Gun.

“We’ve also got the British Schools and Young Shots Championship to look forward to in September as well as our usual registered events, so there’s plenty more action to come this year.”

To book onto any of Orston’s events just visit their website here, and for the full table of Classic scores, just click here

About Orston Shooting Ground

Orston hosts ever-expanding layouts consisting of 20 sporting stands over 53 acres, a game shooting arena that includes two High Towers ranging up to 100ft as well as a grouse butt, two Down-the Line (DTL) Layouts, two Skeet Layouts, ABT Layout & Sport Trap Layout.

The grounds are set within Nottinghamshire countryside, with gravel pathways to guide you around the course and layouts and a welcoming clubhouse to relax in with full catering facilities and licensed bar.