Using sim days the right way for summer shooting practice
Sim days are excellent for brushing up your shooting during the summer, but it must be done properly, says Tom Payne
When the season draws to a close, most shooters put their guns back in the cabinet and there they will stay until the autumn. But the introduction of simulated game shooting, or sim days, has enabled shooting estates to generate income through shooting while offering a great summer alternative to the clay ground for game shots. It can also help educate anyone interested in what a day’s shooting is really like.
I speak from experience as I was involved from the early days when working for one of the schools that was influential in the introduction of simulated game shooting. Working with Jonathan Irby of the Royal Berkshire Shooting School for Purdey, I learned the complexities of running a simulated day. When Jono departed, I ran the simulated shooting on six estates in the country, organising more than 60 days a year.
Along the way we introduced grouse courses and stepping-stone game courses, always trying to make them as realistic as possible. We helped fine-tune the flurry machine that many of you will have seen.
I’ve been out of the simulated game shooting scene for a while now, though I get dragged to a few each summer. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. There are a few fundamental things about simulated shooting that are key to making the day a success and, most importantly, safe for all involved.
First, for simulated shooting to work well you must have contours of ground. You need good banks that in many ways have a short carry for the clay. The short carry means a faster, flatter bird and is far more realistic. The banks allow for good height of bird but also mean that the traps and trappers are hidden from the Guns. This includes automatic traps. In this instance, the traps and trappers are the beaters. The height of the bank also allows you to cover a much wider line.
Guns at the bottom can be spread correctly, not quite 40 yards apart but certainly 25 to 30 yards. The whole point is simulated shooting rather than out-of-control flush shooting. The Guns and trappers should not see each other all day; those pulling the trigger certainly do not want to see traps while shooting.
The format of a sim day should be the same as a day’s game shooting. Start with the usual meet for breakfast and coffee, then on to the safety brief and drawing of pegs. Break for elevenses after two drives, then shoot another one or two drives before lunch. Finish with a final drive before tea and coffee. It makes for a superb social experience in the summer months; the opportunity to meet friends, for syndicates to catch up with each other or for businesses to entertain loyal clients.
From a shooting point of view, sim days can help your shooting to a degree but it does depend on the standard of clays on show if you want to sharpen up your style and technique. In the end it is very easy to forget everything and start shooting at clays, worrying about the number of shots and not what you are doing.
All this said, simulated shooting seems to have become a bit of a free-for-all. Everybody is having a go at doing it regardless of location or understanding of what it’s all about. It seems people are seeing it as a way to make a quick shilling or two, and as a result the fundamentals are being missed and forgotten.
Let’s start with safety. The only way I can describe some of the simulated shooting I’m seeing is “out of control team flushes”. Guns are placed far too close and thousands of clays are sent over the top of them, creating rushing by all parties and a complete disregard to how they are controlling their guns individually. Spaced out 10 yards apart is too close — and far too close for a gun to be closed in the wrong direction.
On most days, 16 Guns double up, shooting eight pegs. Any inexperienced Gun in this environment should have an instructor or loader with them. They could be an experienced clay shot but if they have only ever shot in a cage, standing on a peg is very different.
I’m also seeing days being run on very flat ground, with automatic traps over high hedges. It may be safe for the Guns but it certainly isn’t if you have trappers. I suppose it depends on what you want to demonstrate as simulated game, but cherry pickers loaded with traps over flat ground, for example, are totally ridiculous. Why on earth would you go on a simulated day to stand in a flat field shooting at high birds from cherry pickers and pay for the privilege? You cannot claim that it’s simulated game shooting. It may represent tower shooting pheasants in the US but it doesn’t resemble any form of game shooting in the UK.
People may argue it’s not simulated game shooting, it’s simulated shooting. If that’s the case, you might as well say you’re going clay shooting. It is no replacement for game shooting and should never be used as such.
Financially, it is very difficult to see a good return for the effort put in unless you are doing multiple days in the same location. Running simulated shooting during the shooting season because you have struggled to get birds, for example, is not what it’s about. Simulated game shooting is for the summer months. Days should be run on the correct ground. A safe simulated day must be run correctly, not simply as a free-for-all because someone wants to make an extra bit of money.
Some of the things I have seen and heard make me worry that simulated shooting is getting very close to having a serious accident.
If you are thinking about starting simulated shooting on your estate, it is worth getting some professional advice. Purdey at the Royal Berkshire Shooting School, Abbey Sporting at Rievaulx or the Raisthorpe Flyers all specialise in simulated game shooting and do an exceptional job. They will be happy to help.