Course setting secrets: Steve Lovatt

The Clay Shooting Classic host gives us a flavour of what to expect at this year’s event

Steve Lovatt seems to be everywhere lately. He set several of the big Sporting competitions in 2018, including the CPSA British Open Sporting, where his massive scaffolding shooting platform was the talk of the circuit. He runs popular Sporting, Compak and Fitasc events at grounds like Westfield and Garlands – and now he’s going to be running the 2019 Clay Shooting Classic, which promises to be one of the highlights of the 2019 season.

Steve’s targets attract praise from all levels of shooter, from club shots who enjoy the challenge, all the way to the very top shooters, who comment that he builds in technical twists that keep them on their toes. At a time when competitions are sometimes criticised for being too easy, his shoots often see experienced shots scoring below their average – yet you don’t hear shooters grumbling. They keep coming back for more!

So what’s the secret of Steve’s success? How does he make his targets interesting, fun and difficult, all at the same time? We asked him to give us his take on what he calls “the art of flinging clays”. Here’s what he told us.

“I set up The Clay Shooting Company in early 2004 and since then I’ve been lucky enough to work on many different grounds and types of terrain. Sporting is my big passion. One of the things I love about Sporting is that it’s what you make it – there are no hard and fast rules about where the traps are or what the target angles must be.

“I believe strongly that we shouldn’t forget where the term ‘Sporting’ comes from – the idea is to replicate live sporting quarry. Yes, of course the game has changed. Sporting has evolved into a more technical discipline with the advent of new clay trap technology, but the principles stay the same: you’re presenting targets that are basically imitating a teal, a crow, a driven game bird, a rabbit, or whatever.

“Cynics might say that setting a Sporting course is easy. You just drive round the ground and tip the traps off the trailer at random spots. That’s far from the truth. The way I see it, my job is to provide entertainment to the clay shooting world. I set out to dream up a series of interesting, challenging and exciting combinations of targets to provide a balanced round of clays, whether that’s on a flat field, among rolling hills or in a steep, open combe.

“I study the ground from every direction, not just from the shooting positions. I’m looking for little hidden dips, strategically placed trees, bushes, ditches, and any other feature that I can use to add interest and a little bit of cunning to my targets. And yes, I’m looking to trick you, to catch you out so you misread a target!

If the clay goes behind a tree, it can interfere with shooters’ natural swing-through

“Let me give you an example. Suppose there’s a medium-high tree in front of the shooting stand. I might throw a full-face battue over the top of it. At least that’s how it will look from the stand. But is the clay above the tree, or is it 10, 15, 20 yards behind the tree and simply following the line of the tree? Watch carefully, because whatever you think it’s doing, that’s probably what I wanted you to think, but appearances can be deceptive. And don’t forget that the vertical line of the tree will tend to lead your eye upwards, so it’s all too easy to miss above as well.

“In another scenario, I might throw a crosser that disappears from sight behind a tree. Again, take care to judge the distance. It might look as if the clay is practically hitting the tree, but it could be some distance further back than it looks. There’s another factor at work here, too. A solid-looking object like a tree tends to stop your eyes, and acts as a psychological brake on your swing. With a clay that’s about to go behind a tree, many more shooters will miss behind than if that same target sailed on across a clear sky background.

“Of course there isn’t always a tree for me to play tricks on you with, but I’ve plenty more up my sleeve. In an open, featureless landscape I might fall back on the old favourite of a fast clay followed by a slow clay, or vice versa. It’s not rocket science, but it will take all your powers of concentration and gun control to make that a successful stand.

“So much for the features and landscape, but that’s just the beginning. I can tinker with the mechanical elements of clay flinging – modern traps allow for almost infinite adjustment of pitch, yaw, angle and power. Personally I favour Promatic traps, as I’ve found the build quality, reliability and versatility are second to none.

“Using these machines I can do so much to make the clays quite literally three-dimensional to shoot. For example a long incomer can be curling, dropping and either fast or slow, all at the same time. That all goes towards making it quite a technical target. You’ll need to make a conscious decision on how you’re going to shoot it – and probably have to think out of the box a little!

Steve uses Promatic traps to engineer the flights of his targets with impressive precision

“The use of speed is a massive part of good target setting, and the modern traps allow me to play with speed as I like, switching between different power springs and then adjusting the tension until I get just the result I want. That means I can come up with some really interesting combinations. For instance I can throw a high standard crosser that’s fast but looks slow, followed by a standard in front of trees that’s slow but looks fast. That usually catches a few people out. There are so many options. I can use a double spring to throw a clay 140 metres from the trap, or I can change the spring and it will barely fly six metres. So many choices, and so much fun to be had!

“Before you get the idea that I’ve got horns and a pointy tail, and I’m setting out to spoil your day, let me just state that on every stand I set I ask myself three questions:

  • Can people of all heights see the clays ?
  • Can people shoot the clay where they want to shoot it?
  • Do I consider it to be totally visible and an entertaining stand to shoot for all abilities?

“I seem to have gained a reputation in the Sporting world for throwing some of the most challenging clays around. I’m proud of that. I love to keep pushing the boundaries and moving this wonderful sport forwards. So if you’re coming to shoot the Clay Shooting Classic in 2019, don’t be nervous. My one big tip would be, at every stand, block out the background, focus on the clay and – most importantly – watch it break.” 

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