Starting out in the world of shooting can be daunting and learning to shoot correctly from the off is vital for future success, says Graham Brown of Purbeck Shooting School

If you’re just starting out as a new shooter, try and steer away from being taken around a clayground with a friend. You are far better off when starting out clayshooting taking several lessons with a qualified instructor in a quiet part of a ground without spectators, where the instructor can get the foundations of good shooting right.

People often think that practice is going out and shooting 50 or 100 targets around a layout. In fact this does very little. Practice should be disciplined, concentrate on a minimal number of 
targets and experiment with different shooting techniques. This way you can really start to understand what works for you as an individual.

pistol grip shotguns

There are a host of makes, models and styles. A full pistol grip like these is recommended for beginners.

Guns for starting out clayshooting

  • I would suggest a shooting novice gets the heaviest gun they can handle while retaining good posture.
  • I would go for shorter barrels to begin with because they are more manoeuvrable, and then move to longer barrels at a later stage.
  • I would also recommend a shotgun with a pistol grip which aids control of the gun and to begin with, an over-and-under.

Why an over-and-under?

Although heavier over-and-unders aid recoil suppression and allow for a greater field of view. I would look initially at the pupil’s eye dominance and establish their ‘handedness’ – right or left handed – which is all part of good gun fit.

Wherever possible I would try and get people to shoot from the shoulder beneath the dominant eye. I am against the closing of an eye or any vision correction ‘aid’ as I believe we live our day-to-day life with both eyes open. A correct fitting gun will overcome any visual problems.

shotgun cartridges in different bores

From left to right: 12,20, 28 bore and .410. Novices should stick to 20s and 12s and avoid the smaller bores initially.

What about cartridges?

Buy the less expensive range you can and with the lowest recoil. As a novice you will not be shooting long targets where more expensive cartridges come into their own. You don’t need to spend a fortune on guns and cartridges at the novice stage.

Don’t hurry

  • It is better to have fewer shots concentrating on posture and technique rather than rattling off cartridges without really learning anything. Quality not quantity is the name of the game.
  • I normally start a novice with the gun in the ‘gun up’ position before looking to move to ‘gun down’ as soon as possible. The reason for this is because as a shooter progresses, it is highly likely that they will be required to start from a gun down position in certain disciplines or in the game field.
  • The ability to control the timing of the shot is the most important thing. It is easier to speed up a slow shooter than to slow down a fast one.
one cartridge in shotgun

One cartridge at a time only for beginners.


At this stage I load the gun with only one round. As confidence builds I let the pupil handle it themselves and would look at the safety aspects of shotgun shooting as the lessons progress. The rhyme I teach them is ‘On the wood is good’, i.e. keep your forefinger extended on the woodwork above the trigger until it is time to shoot.

Safe placement of trigger finger before shooting

The correct and safe placement of the trigger finger before shooting

First time lesson

Graham said: “One of the clays I would normally show 
a first-timer is a ‘floppy crow’. It is a 
slow, near vertical incomer which teaches muzzle-to-target awareness because there is plenty of time to become visually aware.

Getting ready to shoot clays

Getting ready to shoot the crow clay with finger in the safe position and the muzzles about halfway up the clay’s trajectory

Floppy crow technique

This target is a slow, near vertical, incomer which teacher the beginner muzzle to target awareness as there’s plenty of time to become visually aware.


1. As the clay is halfway up its trajectory, start moving the gun on it.


2. Keep following the clay as it is nearing the apex of its trajectory

shooting clays

3. The clay is almost stationary at the peak of its trajectory – this is when you should fire

shooting clays

4. From the shooter’s view, the clay should be just about the muzzle

Powdered clay

6. The clay is powdered. One you hit a succession of five or six you can move to gun down