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Just how good is a simulated game day?

Are simulated shoots better than driven game days or are they nothing more than glorified clay shooting? The Editor travels to Wales to find out

Simulated game day

Guns line out on the partridge drive at Dovey Valley

I wanted to know whether a simulated game day can ever be as good as a full-on game shoot, or is it just a glorified form of clayshooting? So I booked an afternoon’s sim shoot at Dovey Valley and then went on a driven shoot the next day to give a back-to-back comparison.

There is one big difference and that is in the price. A simulated game day is usually a lot cheaper than driven game shooting (depending on where you are in the UK) because there are no birds to rear and no beaters and pickers-up to pay. This is a good difference. However, some argue that a sim day just isn’t as good as a driven game shoot because the clays slow down and the birds speed up as they fly through the guns.

Dovey Valley shoot lunch

Elevenses at Dovey Valley

I put this to Keith, one of the instructors at Dovey Valley: “If the wind is in the right direction sometimes the clays really pick up speed.” He was right on one of the pegs I shot (a simulated partridge drive). The birds came thick and fast with one of my fellow Guns raging, “You bastards!” as he missed another target and then burst into fits of laughter while he fumbled more cartridges into his gun. This drive certainly got the adrenaline going.

Sim days more light-hearted

This is one of the big differences I have found between a simulated game day and a driven day. Sim days always seem to be more light-hearted. That’s not to say that driven game shoots are not fun, it’s just that on a sim shoot there is less pressure – both for the Guns and the organisers.

Let me explain. With a driven shoot a huge amount of pressure is on the organisers because they know the shooters have paid a lot of money to be there and they want some good sport. There are so many things that can go wrong on a driven day. For example, the birds might not fly well or go in the right direction. As a Gun, you might not have any birds fly over you on some of the drives. I would like to think that most Sporting Gun readers realise that is the luck of the draw, but as a beater on various shoots I have witnessed many unhappy Guns as a result of this. The thing to remember is that the shoot day has taken the keeper months of hard work and unsociable hours to put on and at the end of the day nothing is guaranteed.

So the stakes are high. These natural variables mean that a driven shoot can go badly wrong. On the other hand, when things go well the satisfaction is enormous and I will admit that after a good driven day you are on a high that is hard to reach with any other form of shooting.

No variables on a simulated game day

With sim shoots the variables just aren’t there. The Guns know they will have plenty of targets to shoot and the organisers know they can put on a good day. As a Gun you can just enjoy the shooting.

Some might argue that it’s the predictability that makes a simulated day boring because you know what you are going to get, whereas on a game day there is nothing like being ‘in the hot seat’ when all the birds come over your peg. There is an element of truth in that but I would argue that in a sim shoot you can guarantee that all the Guns will be in the ‘hot seat’ and surely that is a nicer situation for everyone? Richard says: “We like to send everyone home with a smile on their face.”


Another criticism levelled at sim shoots is that the Guns are often allowed to poach 
the targets of their fellow guns. Doing 
this on a driven shoot can get you into trouble. However Keith, who gave the safety briefing at the start of the Dovey Valley shoot, allows this to take place as long as it 
is safe to do so.
Fellow Gun Rhys gladly made use of this allowance, though, to be fair to him, this was only when I was reloading. Personally, I was glad that the clay had not gone to waste.

Just because you ‘poached’ a clay on a sim shoot does not mean that you are going to forget your manners on a driven day. And, on the whole, a sim shoot does teach you etiquette and the ways things are run on a shoot day, so rest assured about that.

Out of season fun

Most simulated shoot days take place 
outside the game season, with the shoot days taking place on exactly the same drives as the game shoots. It is a great way, therefore, to get a taste of a shoot before you commit the big bucks for a driven game day. It also means you can indulge in a day’s shooting out of season.

Dovey Valley is slightly different in that it offers sim days all year round. The pegs are laid out where Guns would be on a driven day, but Richard explains that during the season simulated days are held on a different part of the estate.

Dovey Valley

The clays came off a low, steep hill

Clay day

Either way you get to shoot over some stunning land on a sim shoot and this is partly what differentiates a sim shoot from an ordinary clay shoot. Richard and course setter Stuart skilfully use the topography to make the targets as interesting and varied as possible. On the ‘partridge/grouse drive’ the clays come off a low, steep hill. The wind was behind the targets so they whizzed over our heads at great speed and you had to get on them early if you wanted to hit anything. On the ‘high pheasant drive’ the clays were launched from a steep, towering hill, again with the wind behind them so the targets were absolute screamers.

Richard explained that he and Stuart used midi clays in with larger ones to give the impression that some targets were higher 
than others. “We want to give the shooter challenging shots. We have some stands where the targets are screamers and on the new grouse butts they skim the ground, so there is great variety,” says Richard.

shooting simulated game

Shooting style goes out the window as sharpshooter Rhys is taken by surprise on the partridge drive

The shots certainly were challenging, but not only for me. I noticed Rhys, a top Shot, struggle with a few of them. At one stage I uttered, “I surrender” to Charles (owner of the Wynnstay; see panel, left), who was loading for me, because the targets were coming thick and fast and my barrels 
were red hot.

On all the drives, the team at Dovey Valley used the landscape’s features to lay on a shoot that was as realistic as possible. Even on my first peg I was positioned in a gateway that was between two trees and often only got a glimpse of the targets before they disappeared behind one of them. The only difference between game shooting and the sim shoot was the amount of targets, or birds. On the sim shoot you had plenty to shoot at. Some might argue that this will make many shooters think that all game shoots have an endless supply of birds, but I would argue that a sim shoot just gives every Gun a lot of shooting.

Shooting simulated game

Rhys on the final drive, with Keith looking on

Scores on the doors

Some might also say that a sim day is just glorified clay shooting. But the big difference between a sim and clay shoot is that it’s not competitive and no one is scoring, which means you can kid yourself that you are a better shot than you actually are. This builds confidence and having confidence in your ability and equipment often helps you become a better shooter.

Finally, I would argue that sim shooting is a sport for anyone who is willing to fire a shotgun. Even vegetarians could enjoy a sim day because nothing dies. Many people say that they wish they could take an ‘anti’ on a game-shooting day to show him or her what shooting is all about, but to see animals dying (no matter how humane) would just confirm their prejudices. It would be far better to take them to something like a sim day so that they would understand that not all shooting involved killing things.

I found it useful having a sim shoot available during the season because it enabled me to get my eye in for a driven shoot the next day. If you have ever 
found that you start to shoot better 
towards the end of the day on a driven 
shoot, I would argue that shooting a sim 
day a short time before the shoot helps 
you feel less rusty and certainly prepares you for the real thing.

I would urge you to give a simulated game day a go. Who knows, you might even like it better than the real thing.

Packages at Dovey Valley

• The shoots on offer include three packages: Bronze is the entry level, giving you a taster of the full day and costs £99 per person, minimum of eight Guns. You are welcomed with 
bacon sandwiches and then head up to the hills for two drives.
• Silver adds another two drives (four in total) and lunch served in the field and costs £159 per person, minimum of eight guns. I took this option.
• Finally, you can go all out and take the gold package, which costs £195 per person, minimum of eight Guns, and is a five-drive shoot and includes breakfast, elevenses, lunch and a dinner back at the shooting ground. Clays, food and refreshments are included, but you will need to bring your own cartridges.

Kit for a simulated game day

• Country clothing to suit the weather. You don’t have to wear tweeds but during the colder months I think it’s nice to make an effort. In warm weather, dress as you would for a round of clays.
• Eye and ear protection, plus a hat. Clay fragments will be flying around.
• Gloves are a good idea, whatever the weather. On a cold day you will need them to keep you warm, and on a warm day you will need them to protect your leading hand from the red-hot barrels.
• Cartridges, and lots of them. On a full day you can use several hundred.
• A sense of humour. Enjoy yourself and relax; no one is keeping score.

More on simulated game days

Simulated game shooting is a lot more flexible than game, because traps are a bit more predictable than birds, and beaters! Because most simulated game shooting days take place in the spring and summer months there are also no worries about getting finished before dark.

Whereas on a typical pheasant day there will be eight guns in the team it is quite normal to have 16 on a simulated game shooting day. So there will be two of you on every peg, and you will take it in turns to load and shoot. Because the traps are so easy to control (unlike pheasants and partridges) there can be a break halfway through the drive to swap around. And don’t worry you won’t feel like you haven’t had enough shooting. The problem is more likely to be over-shooting. It’s best to be selective and go for the really testing stuff. Otherwise you may end up with a very sore shoulder.

After a couple of drives it’s normal to stop for elevenses then back into the action until lunch. But because it’s all so flexible, thanks to mobile multi-trap devices, the day can be tailored to suit your needs. If you and your team only want a morning or afternoon’s shooting then just ask. In the long evenings of June and July you could even arrange something for after work, if you get organised.

Some providers will also arrange a competition element, where you might split into teams of four to shoot a flush. Obviously this is a far cry from game days but it can really add an extra element of enjoyment to the day.

At the end of the day it is considered normal for the guns to put some money in the pot for the hard working trappers who do a lot of work behind the scenes.

Due to the amount of shooting you do on the day an over-under is best because the barrels on your side-by-side will get extremely hot in the thick of the action. Even if you have gloves and barrel protectors this can still cause problems, particularly on hot days. But it is generally best to use the gun you shoot game with in the season to ensure you are getting the best long-term practice out of the day.

It is very important to use a light load cartridge, such as a 21gram or maximum 24gram due to the volume of clays you will shoot in the day. And shot 7s or 8s will be fine too. Remember, a clay has no vital organs so you really don’t need those 36gram 4s!