Clay shooting basics: How to survive your first registered shoot

ooner or later, every competitive clay shooter enters their first registered shoot. It’s a part of the natural progression. Typically you start with thoughts about buying your first shotgun, or you might have got your first taste of clay shooting at a have-a-go stand, perhaps at a game fair or on a stag or hen do. You enjoyed it and felt this was something you’d like to pursue, so you find a local shooting ground and have a lesson or two with a small band of mates. Before long you’re going along regularly, now shooting caddied rounds rather than paying for an instructor every time.

This is the stage where most people think about buying their first gun. Let me say that you might as well put in your application for a Shotgun Certificate in good time. It varies from one police force to the next, but in some areas you could be waiting 12 months or more for your Certificate, so the sooner you get your application in, the better!

Join an organisation

I’d advise you to join one of the shooting organisations at this stage too – and if clay shooting is your thing, the CPSA (Clay Pigeon Shooting Association) is the obvious choice in England. They are the governing body of the sport, and run the system of Registered shoots, as well as compiling the list of ‘Averages’ – a ranking system based on members’ scores at Registered events. The CPSA also runs the major English and British championships in each of the ‘home’ disciplines, such as English Sporting, English Skeet, DTL and so on.

If your shooting will be split between clays and game or pest control then you might want to look at an organisation that has a wider remit, such as BASC (the British Association for Shooting and Conservation). I would urge you to join one organisation or another though, not least because that will automatically provide you with some insurance cover when you’re out shooting. Take a look at the insurance and services provided by the different organisations, and decide which is best for you.

Your scores at registered events will be used by the CPSA to determine your Class

Are you ready?

Let’s assume you are now a member of the CPSA, you have your Shotgun Certificate and have bought a gun. You can handle the gun competently and safely, and are happy shooting in a group at your local ground, either caddied rounds or using a self-service system that meters the clays you shoot. You enjoy a bit of competition among your squad, but are curious how you’d get on out in the wider world. Perhaps you have ambitions to shoot for your county, or even country, one day. It’s time to think about moving up and tackling your first registered shoot.

Like anything new, it can seem daunting, but don’t let that stop you. We all had to take that step once, and it’s nowhere near as scary as it might seem. I always find that other shooters are very patient and helpful with anyone new, and do their best to make them feel welcome and settle in easily. The key things to remember are to follow the safety rules, ask if you’re unsure about anything and not try to bluff it out by pretending you’re more experienced than you are.

For your first registered shoot, I would recommend picking somewhere local so you don’t have a long car journey to worry about. It’s definitely a good idea to go with a friend or two. Perhaps persuade the regular squad you shoot with that it’s time you tackled your first registered shoot together. Better still, you may have a friend who already goes to registered shoots and is happy for you to tag along. If you have developed a good relationship with your instructor, he or she may be going to a shoot at the weekend and be willing to show you the ropes – most people who shoot are keen to encourage others to get involved.

Many British home disciplines are ‘squadded’, meaning you will go to each stand as a group

Getting ready

It’s a good idea to get everything together the night before so you don’t forget something important. Your gun will have to stay locked in the cabinet until you leave, but you can get everything else ready by the door – eye and ear protection, hat, shooting vest, cartridges and so on. You’ll also need your Shotgun Certificate and CPSA membership card, plus cash or cards for your entry and any refreshments. Leave your empty gun sleeve on top of the pile as a reminder to pick up the gun on the way out – it’s surprisingly easy to forget in the rush to get on your way!

Get your clothing together for the morning too, remembering that CPSA Registered shoots have a dress code, as well as enforcing eye and ear protection. The general rule is ‘smart casual’, but some things are explicitly banned – no camouflage, for instance, and no flip-flops or open-toe sandals. As always, make sure your clothing will be comfortable for the expected weather, and will permit the freedom of movement you need.

Make sure that you know where you’re going and how to find the ground. Don’t expect massive signs off the main road; many shooting grounds are tucked away, and can be difficult to find if you haven’t researched the directions in advance. It’s worth double-checking the ground’s website or Facebook page to make sure the shoot is still on and you know the entry times.

It goes without saying that you won’t enjoy the shoot, or perform well, if you have a heavy night beforehand. It’s better to get an early night and wake up fresh and ready to give it your best. Some nerves are inevitable when you tackle a new challenge, but try to relax and look forward to it; what will be will be.

One of the major attractions of the sport of shooting is the camaraderie

On the day

So the big day has dawned, and you’re off to your first registered shoot! Go easy on yourself; you’re not looking to wow the crowds and walk off with the top prize. Today is all about the experience and getting comfortable with the whole thing.

You may well be surprised to find that the atmosphere on the ground is fairly relaxed and informal. The competitors are there for an enjoyable day out, no matter how focused they are on the shooting stands. Be open and honest about your lack of experience, and listen to any advice. Do be wary of any shooting instruction offered though – there is no shortage of ‘experts’ who will undermine your confidence in your gun, cartridges and technique. Stick with what you know and have practised with your instructor. A competition is no time to be trying out new techniques. If the shoot raises doubts in your mind then discuss them with your instructor at the next session.

You’ll probably find the day quite tiring. There are likely more targets and stands than you’re used to shooting in one session, and the pressure of competition makes it more wearing, but hopefully more exciting too. Stay focused, listen to the referees, and remember to follow the safety rules meticulously at each stand.

Most people find they don’t shoot to the best of their ability at their first real competition. The unfamiliar setting and added pressure can play havoc with your technique and timing. Don’t be disheartened and feel you’ve let yourself down. It takes a few competitions before you can relax enough to shoot your best.

Before you know it, the day will be over, and with any luck you’ll look back on it as a fun and useful experience. You’ve got over that first hurdle, and your next competition won’t seem half as daunting. A few months from now, you’ll look back and wonder why you ever hesitated now that a weekend isn’t complete without shooting at least one registered competition. Then, when you see a new face at the ground, you can be one of the ‘old hands’ who bids them welcome and offers a few kind words of advice and support.

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