How to shoot your best at charity clay days
Charity shoots raise vital funds, but can be challenging for game Shots unused to clays. Fortunately, Simon Reinhold has some tips
Every year, millions of pounds are raised for good causes at clay shoots run all over the UK. I can’t help but think it is a missed opportunity that the shooting world doesn’t make more noise about this significant contribution. Even though they are fundraising exercises first and foremost, many of us still want to give our best. Yet, for some, getting over the fear and trepidation generated by such public performances, with scorers keeping count, is the first important hurdle. (Read important things to know before organising a charity clay day.)
If you fall into this bracket, you must reframe the problem. First, many of these shoots are simulated game-style flushes shot over a team of three or four, which means you are able to hide in plain sight and the team score is counted, not the individual. Secondly, it’s a charity shoot — the score doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. You are almost certainly not going to be the best Shot there and are highly unlikely to be the worst. As long as you are safe, nobody cares. But how can you turn in your best performance and shoot your best at charity clay shoots?
Shoot your best at charity clay days
There are steps you can take to ensure you are a valuable member of your team. One is to pay attention to the details before the day and get organised. Find out if breakfast is included and what the start time is. If you miss breakfast, it may be a long time before lunch and high-paced shooting on an empty stomach saps your strength quickly. Getting there in good time means your stress levels are not raised and your shooting need not suffer.
These events are almost always ‘fibre wad only’ but, even though the cartridges are usually included in the ticket price, you still want to be sure before arriving empty- handed. Some organisers insist you use their cartridges too. This may be because of a sponsor’s agreement or to ensure no one turns up with game loads with their heavier pellets falling on land over which there is no permission to shoot.
Many charity days are run as simulated game days, with three or four drives of 100 birds over teams of three or four Guns. For a game Shot who shoots a few clays, this is going to present some challenges. If you are a side-by-side shooter, you will need a glove or a hand guard. (Read our list of best gloves.)
Even for an over-and-under shooter, if the metal fore-end release lever is housed in the middle of the fore-end and is not an Anson push rod, you may find on hot day that you can burn yourself with the heat conducted from the bottom barrel, through the loop, to the catch, so be careful.
You may be tempted to line up your cartridges in front of you, but it almost always goes wrong as soon as you rush for a reload and the whole lot ends on the floor. Various cartridge dispensers are available, promising much and often failing to deliver. Belt pouches take more than a belt of 25 and these side sporrans can be at exactly the right height for quick loading and can be preferable to a belt or overflowing shooting vest pockets. A better option is to tip one box of 25 into each pocket and pull the pocket up and down several times. The heavier end of the cartridge will drop to the bottom and the cap and primer will be the right way up on many of them for quick loading.
If you want your best potential score, organise yourselves in your team. In a team of three, the right-sided Gun should focus on clays on the right, the left Gun on clays on the left and the middle one should sweep what is unshot. In a team of four, put the two better Shots sweeping on the outside and the two others in the middle. Conversely, if enjoyment is the main aim, then shoot as many varied targets as you want, with eye-wipes, poaching and the inevitable ensuing leg-pulling.
The flushes generally fall into several categories: high pheasant, fast partridge, grouse, and duck or pigeon drives. For the best performance on high pheasant clays, it’s crucial to ascertain the speed and line of the clay. If you try to kill these clays with gun speed alone, you will most likely come unstuck on any that curl. A fast gun will work if you take them early, but as they come overhead they will be slowing and you will need to read them carefully. Try to get into a rhythm early on in the target’s flight path rather than shooting at a dropping bird your teammates missed as the clay runs out of velocity. They may look enticing but are quite difficult to shoot, as gravity and air resistance change the angle and speed to make for an unfamiliar shot.
Many game Shots find the faster targets of driven partridge and grouse are more to their liking as gun speed is your friend here. You can blot out the bird and squeeze — a style of shooting many game shooters are used to. The best grouse layouts use fast, sliding battue clays out to the sides of the layout that imitate contour-hugging, experienced adult grouse.
These clays need shooting in a particular way; if you start on the clay and swing straight through the line, you will miss over the top. You must cut a straight line under the looping trajectory and intercept this dropping bird. It may seem unnatural, but once you have had success you will be able to override the natural tendency to think of coming through the bird.
The duck or pigeon drives are sometimes shot from a seated position. This is a great leveller as few clay Shots practise this, and it favours the Gun who has spent time in a hide. Many of the clays on these drives are dropping in from the sides as if into a decoy pattern or flightpond. They need more lead than you think, especially if they are angled in flight and you must shoot underneath them.
In a good gun swing, the larger muscles of the lower half of your body generate the movement your upper half needs for gun speed. Your arms keep the gun on line. Those big muscles are taken out of play when shooting from a fixed seated position. To shoot well, it is important that your body turns from your hips. If you try to shoot just using your arms, it is more difficult to generate consistent gun speed and to stay on line.