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My very first clay lesson and why I was hooked

New Shot Jim Old is bitten by the shooting bug after his very first clay lesson, but not everyone in the family is thrilled about it

first clay lesson

An enjoyable first lesson with expert instruction from James leaves Jim keen for more

“Okay, I want you to miss deliberately in front,” said John, “so I can see where the shot is going, in relation to the target.”

Taking this instruction and its explanation at face value, I called for the clay and released the contents of the Beretta’s bottom barrel at it, or rather at the airspace well ahead of it. Pellets and target came together above me in what ordinarily would have been a very satisfying manner. As shards of shattered clay tinkled on to the browning leaves and dying bracken around us, I turned to John and apologised for hitting it.

“Never gets old that one,” he said, laughing. “It’s a trick I use to show that sometimes you need more lead than your brain is telling you. Try it again.”

Feeling a bit daft, I reloaded and returned to my previous form of consistently missing this high-thrown driven clay. Fool me once, said my brain. “We’ll move on,” said John. (Read how to get into clayshooting.)

First clay lesson

If John was to be believed, my first clay lesson was going well. He’d started by asking me what shotgun experience I had. I’d revealed I’d done a bit of shooting while growing up and that I’d shot a few clays while working in the Channel Islands in my twenties. That was it. I hadn’t had a shotgun in my hands for over two decades.

“That’s your muscle memory kicking in,” John had said a few minutes later, as my first few shots connected with some introductory decoys. “It’s coming back to you.”

I was sceptical about this. If my brain couldn’t recall whose guns I’d been shooting in my youth, or even if they were side-by-sides or over-and-unders, why on earth should my muscles remember anything?

We tried half a dozen Sporting stands and I hit about 80% of what was thrown at me during my first clay lesson. I began to feel very good about myself. Perhaps I had a hidden talent? Maybe soon they’d be writing articles about my almost-supernatural shooting abilities, discovered just in time for the Paris Olympic Games.

High tower

“Let’s try something a bit more grown-up,” said John, interrupting this little daydream. As we walked through the wooded shooting ground, a gap in the trees opened up and I glimpsed a high crane. A very high crane. “One of the tallest in the country,” John offered. Perched on top, best viewed through binoculars, were two fully loaded traps. (Read what’s the best clay gun.)

As the clays passed safely over our heads, easily 90ft above us, and completely untroubled by what I fired at them, my dreams of easy glory fell away. The miss-in-front trick worked that one time but before I knew it, I was back on the easy stuff. I now had a clear picture of the gulf between the beginners’ clays and the high and fast targets designed to stretch even the most experienced Shots.

As we neared the end of my first clay lesson, I suddenly twigged that, lofty crane aside, John had given me a tour of the ground’s beginner-level shooting. Moreover, his upbeat manner and encouraging words were designed to boost my confidence and leave me wanting more. It made sense. If I walked away feeling crushed, I might not return. Importantly, he’d shown me that clay shooting can be easy and it can be hard. But with a little instruction and some practice, there’s nothing that isn’t hittable. I knew I had a mountain to climb but I also knew I wanted to climb it. I booked a series of lessons. After my first clay lesson I was hooked.

first clay lesson

Jim’s dreams of glory fall away as he sees a glimpse of the harder stuff from a 90ft crane

Difficult conversation

Part way through my six-lesson package, my wife dropped a bombshell. It turns out she can see my entire internet browsing history on her smartphone. This is the stuff of nightmares for married middle-aged men and my heart stopped for a moment when she told me. Happily, there was nothing there of a relationship-wrecking nature but it had allowed her a glimpse inside the head of a newly obsessed Gun. It’s an obsession she doesn’t share.

Sarah explained that, through this window into my online world, she could see all of my many shooting-related searches. She’d also noted I rarely looked up anything else. It was all a bit awkward and embarrassing. But it did mean that a difficult conversation that I’d been avoiding for weeks was finally had. Admittedly, it didn’t start well.

“And I’m telling you now,” she said, “you’re not buying a shotgun.

For reasons Sarah and I will never understand, it seems our search histories are interlinked. She told me that whenever she did a Google search of her own starting with the letter ‘M’, the algorithm helpfully offered her: ‘Met police shotgun licence application’. Similarly, ‘B’ and ‘Beretta’. She’d put two and two together in a nanosecond. While I’d been worrying about choosing the right moment to tell her of my planned shotgun purchase, she already knew what I was up to and, worse, what I was proposing to spend.

I asked her what her objections were. She clearly thought it was a stupid question. “We live in a small terraced house in London,” she said, “which we share with two teenagers.” I pointed out that there was already a perfectly serviceable gun cabinet in the property and so far it had successfully prevented our quarrelsome offspring from shooting each other with my air rifles. “I don’t care,” she responded, firmly. “A shotgun is a lethal weapon. I don’t want one in the house.”

Ace card

Google hadn’t told Sarah all my secrets. What she didn’t know was that my shotgun certificate application was quite well advanced by this point. I’d paid my fee and sent over a barely legible note from my GP. I was looking forward to welcoming a firearms enquiry officer to the house the following Tuesday, while she was at work. I came clean with this information.

I also revealed that I’d anticipated her security concerns and was planning to join a club where I’d be able to store my new gun. This wasn’t strictly true. Club storage was my option of last resort in case she objected to having it in the house. In all honesty, it was £300 I’d rather spend elsewhere. But I’d played my ace card and there was no going back.

It did a good job of taking the wind from her sails, and HMS Indignant found herself suddenly becalmed. I even pushed my luck a little and told her that I’d need to bring the gun home occasionally for cleaning and such like, which she allowed through with a reluctant nod.

“Why do you want it, anyway?” she demanded after a pause, her canvas catching the breeze once more. I replied that I wanted to shoot clays, reminding her that I’d been having lessons. “Just clays?” she asked, suspiciously.

“To start with, certainly,” I replied. She noted the vagueness of this response; both of us quietly acknowledged that there were more tricky conversations to be had, further down the line.

There was just one final broadside before she conceded defeat. “Your new hobby is quite expensive.”

It was time to be gracious in victory. “Yes, love. It is a bit,” I said.