Road to the Classic 2021: How to improve your shooting skills beyond beginner level

As we gear up for the 2021 Clay Shooting Classic, we’re exploring how you can set off on your journey from amateur to the Classic. This time we’re looking at how to make that first big step beyond beginner level.

© Rob Middleton 

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The most common way to start shooting was through family members – which is exactly how I came to break my first clay. My father took me along to the local clay ground, and I very quickly caught the bug.

In recent years the world of clay shooting has become more open and welcoming. Media and marketing are focusing more than ever on attracting newbies to the sport, while the clay grounds themselves are not the elitist environment they once were.

There are many more ladies getting involved, and most shooting grounds now run Young Shots courses and ‘have-a-go’ introductory sessions – and all this can only be a good thing.

But what happens to all these newcomers once they’ve had a go? If you’re introduced to shooting by a friend or family member the way forward is obvious. You keep going with them. But if you’re flying solo in the shooting world what do you do next? The answer isn’t so obvious.

Having worked at shooting grounds for the past four years, I have to agree with Sam that the marketing was targeted at young shots and beginners. The general idea was to get people interested, tempt them to have a go with good value starter sessions, encourage them to purchase all the kit with packages and offers – and then leave them to it. 

Perhaps shooting grounds could be doing more for the ‘average’ shooter, the shooter that really enjoys the sport but classes themselves as neither a beginner nor a ‘top shot’ – the shooters ‘lost in the middle’.

I got in touch with Sam Betts after seeing a very thought-provoking post on her Instagram account @bettspetsberkshire. She made the point that a lot of the support and encouragement in the community is targeted mostly at the younger shots.

The daughter of a gamekeeper, Sam picks up on local shoots 
(©SLR Photography @slrphoto)

Of course that’s important, but shouldn’t there be opportunities and resources available for all shooters, regardless of their age, gender or experience?

Sam explained “There are lots of young shots days. I’m not young, so that was a bit off-putting. It’s not nice to be wondering if you’re too old. But I loved shooting so much that I was stubborn and kept looking.

“There are ladies’ clubs, and I have been to a few meet-ups and shoot days. But I just wanted shooting with any sex or age to be my normal. To have the kind of opportunity a young shot has at an older age would be great.”

Sam took up shooting at 42 because she didn’t really have a hobby, she just worked a lot – something which a lot of people can relate to! She did however have connections to the world of shooting through her father and regularly picks up on local game shoots as part of what her company offers with dog training.

She describes how “I kept being given the opportunity to take a shot, but I was too shy to say yes, and I was always worried that I would miss everything, so I wanted to learn first. My father was a gamekeeper, so I know a lot about shooting, but couldn’t shoot. He left me his guns eight months beforehand, so that was also a factor in deciding to have a go.”

Sam went ahead and contacted her local shooting school, which is the Royal Berkshire, and booked a session. “Off I went in secret to see Nigel. He really looked after me and put me at ease. He showed me how to do everything, didn’t presume I knew anything, and got me to hit 10 clays.

Sam says her best buy was sharing a coaching session and going to a competition with her coach

“The feeling of euphoria had me smiling for at least two days. It was and still is one of the few things that takes me completely away from everything mentally.”

Once Sam had started shooting there was no stopping her, but this was when she began to find it difficult to expand her experience. She continued going for lessons at the Royal Berkshire but found it lonely and wanted to meet new people to shoot with and learn about different disciplines.

She has found her own ways of dealing with this, and agreed to share her top tips for other shooters who find themselves in the same position – see the box on these pages.

Sam comments that “It was easy to start clay shooting, but harder to find people to go with as I couldn’t find anything for an older person. I want to try multi discipline next and have seen no taster days offering it.

“How do I know what I’m good at if I haven’t tried it? Imagine having four coaches on four different disciplines, with a 20 minute session at each. I’d happily pay for that experience.”

Sam’s tips for in-betweeners

1. Find the right instructor

“Don’t waste money on flashy instructors. It’s all about whether you understand each other,” Sam advises. “The best shot in the world may not be the best teacher or coach. Those that are great may not shout about it; they don’t need to. A great teacher has to understand how you learn and how you ‘see’ the target, or you’ll get frustrated.”

2. Book a course of lessons

After her initial session, Sam chose to book a course of lessons. This can be quite a large expense in one hit, but you generally get a ‘multi-buy’ saving compared to purchasing lessons as you go. “Different grounds charge different rates, so it’s worth doing some market research and checking what shooting schools are available within the distance you’re willing to travel.”

3. Get social 

Sam wanted to meet new friends to shoot with. “I follow quite a few people on Instagram and started looking at ways to get out there, liking posts and being more social.” Instagram, Facebook and other platforms are a great resource for meeting people in all walks of life. It causes as much trouble in the shooting industry as it does good, but if used responsibly it allows you to engage with fellow shooters.

Join Facebook groups and follow hashtags on Instagram such as #clayshooting. Before long you will have found lots of accounts to follow and created an online world where you feel comfortable to discuss your sport and seek advice from others. Sam says “I was brave and literally put an advert on my Facebook page asking for a shooting buddy. I was amazed at how many people responded.”

4. Share a lesson

“If there’s more than two of you, some schools offer a deal including cartridges and clays,” Sam says. “Even when you’re not shooting, it can be interesting to watch your friend shoot and listen to the instructor’s comments.”

5. Find a coach 

“My best buy was sharing a coaching session and going with a coach to a competition,” Sam says, adding that coaches are very different to instructors. One of the shooters that reached out to Sam’s facebook post was Matt Hance, who is a very experienced shot competing at a high level in English Sporting and Fitasc.

Sam explains that it was “slightly daunting” shooting with such a top shot, but “he chatted to me and asked me questions and was just so positive it put me at ease and made me want to get better. He introduced me to so many people, too. I now feel able to go alone to any shooting ground. I always get chatting to someone, even if it’s ‘Crikey I shot badly there, where was I?’”

6. Try a competition

Competitions can be a great way to expand your experience, especially shooting under pressure and in front of others. Companies like the CPSA allow you to track your progress, and the scoring system gives you an average and a class. 

Sam found that Matt was a great help when she first started competing, “Matt will actively distract people by talking to them and as he’s a good shot they will normally question him anyway.”

7. Listen and learn 

Shooting with friends, especially ones who are also more experienced shots, can offer a wonderful way to challenge yourself and improve your shooting skills. Take advice from the people around you, but “don’t listen to everyone – choose people wisely and give them the opportunity to teach you.”

8. Don’t rush

“When you’re ready buy a starter gun, but don’t rush into it. All shooting schools have guns. The most important thing is that your gun fits you. Do your research and don’t be fooled into thinking you need expensive things. You don’t.”

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