Casualty of the Clay Ground

Arriving at a competition at the West Midlands Shooting Ground, I was nervous; the competition was in February and I had barely fired a gun since the previous May (and those shots I had fired were on a beginners’ day I joined my family on – hardly challenging targets). I met the rest of the people I was shooting with on the parking site provided by the ground, where the torrential rain I’d driven through to get there, combined with the muddy field, illustrated fairly effectively why so many people in this world drive four-by-fours. (Note to self: I must stop ridiculing my friends for driving Chelsea Tractors.)

The gun I’d learned to shoot with had kindly been sent down for me to use by my old instructor, and one of the boys in the sporting agency at work had equally as kindly loaned me a loader’s bag for the weekend to lug around our squad’s ammo for the day (I also tucked a bag of soft liquorice in amongst the cartridges – the people doing the shooting need ammunition as well as their guns). Gun slip slung over one shoulder and a somewhat heavier fully-laden loader’s bag over the other, I trudged off with the rest of the group to sign in and find our starting peg. The last time I’d shot with these girls I’d somewhat taken on the role of amateur instructress – I used to listen carefully in every coaching session in order to try and help the other girls in competitions, where instructors are strictly forbidden but helping your teammates fortunately is not. I’m also lucky enough to often be able to see the shot, so was able not only to help the girls with their bad habits (one girl always seems to close the wrong eye when following the clay) but able to tell them how far above, below, in front or behind they are on most shots, helping them recognise the problem to solve it with the next pair. Better a late break than none at all.

Having not shot with them, or at all, since May, I was uncertain as to whether I’d remember any of this, but was happy to find myself more comfortable in my old role than I’d anticipated, until the scorer called my name and I realised I actually had to fire the gun myself. I decided at this point that instructors have a far easier job of it than they let on – they can take credit for any good shots, as they instructed the shooter, but don’t have to take responsibility for missed clays, as they can always claim that their instructee didn’t listen.

I pulled my gun from its slip, stepped into the cage, practiced mounting my gun once in my shoulder, and called for my target,

–       Pull.

It was gratifying to learn at that moment that once ingrained, the ability to shoot doesn’t leave you; I hit 7 of my first 8 targets. You may become rusty, out of practice, and after 40 or so clays I must admit my arms ached from the weight of the Beretta I was shooting, and my performance had worsened. I’ll also employ the excuse that I’ve been experiencing some trouble with my hands recently, and between every peg was strapping my right wrist up in a splint, removing it only to shoot.

This disability remained my excuse du jour, though the reason for my waning number of breaks was probably just that I was out of practice. For one of these reasons, or perhaps a combination of the two, during the second half of the day my arms and wrists ached from the weight of the gun, my shots were sloppier, and more clays shattered on impact as they hit the ground than as a result of my firing at them.

Despite this, and though frustrated from the knowledge that I’d missed some easy targets later in the day, I was very satisfied at my performance during the first half. In total, I actually scored more than the previous year, by a great big one whole clay. But mostly, it showed me that, under any circumstances, rain or shine, on a good streak or bad, and even when in pain, I love shooting, and don’t ever want to give it up.

Yesterday that was reinforced, as I went out for a little shoot with the new gunman from work at the local clay ground. He brought two of his guns and I tried both – first, a side by side, and it was the first time I’d ever shot with one. It is peculiar to shooting with one, when you’ve only experienced an over-and-under. The picture you see at the end of your nose is entirely different, though I think I could have got used to it had I been able to see over the barrels. However, the combination of a short, low stock, and much heavier cartridges than I’m used to (28g vs the 21g I’m more accustomed to) meant that it kicked like an angry donkey, and after the first peg he generously loaned me  an over-and-under instead– 12b a semi-automatic Beretta, which provided a much more familiar picture. However, despite this advantage (or lack of disadvantage), a stock a little short for me, and too low a comb to boot, meant that I spent two hours being beaten around the face with an ill-fitting stock and was just a little tender in the jaw this morning. But I’d go straight back out and do it all again tomorrow, bruises and all. While I missed a huge percentage of my clays, I was somewhat mollified when the gentleman buttoning the compact for us said to me at the end that it was obvious I could shoot, but would perform better with a more tailored gun and cartridge combination. I stress at this point that if you’re interested in shooting at all, make sure your gun fits.

My requirements are not particularly complicated, but are uncommon – surprisingly as a woman, I need a long stock, thanks to the long arms I was graced with by my mother’s genetics; and as far more women will find, I require a comb raiser (or two) on the stock. This is because women have a tendency towards longer necks and higher cheekbones than most men, and the measurements of shotguns were originally tailored to a gentleman’s build. The comb height in particular is important – if I rest my head properly on the stock of the semi-auto I was shooting with yesterday, or for that matter the side by side I tried, not to mention most of the guns in the showroom at work, I cannot see over the barrels. This makes things tricky when the target I’m aiming at is the other end of them. By lifting your head from the stock, you leave your cheek vulnerable to recoil, resulting in a fair walloping from the stock with every cartridge fired, and the flinching that ensues will often distort your shot and cause you to miss the target. My two tips for today therefore, are first to make sure, if possible, that your gun fits you to some degree at least; and second, if you cannot arrange the first, try to ensure that you can at least see your target over the barrels of your gun.

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