As the evenings get lighter and the world begins to look a little greener, many of you will be preparing to get back onto the clay ground – if you have not already done so.
It’s an exciting time, with competitions to prepare for and new gear to get used to.
It’s important not to forget the basics, though, or start getting complacent about safety and gun handling no matter how experienced you are.
I spoke to some of the wisest instructors on the clay ground to find out what their best advice is on safety and best practice.
Based in north Essex, Stuart Clarke started clay pigeon shooting at the age of 24 and quickly developed his hobby into an art form.
Stuart has represented Great Britain 17 times and England 19 times, with titles that include the World Sporting Championship, two British Open Sporting titles and two English Open Sporting titles.
Stuart instructs at shooting grounds in Braintree, Lakenheath and Bedford, and said that the most important safety advice he gives is “To never point a gun at anyone, ever, whether it’s open or not”, adding that getting into the habit of always pointing the muzzle away from others will prevent the chance of an accident happening.
Another important factor that Stuart drew attention to is having a good gun fit, which improves aim and overall gun control.
If you’re a novice shooter, it’s vital that an instructor doesn’t teach you too much too soon. Going at a pace that you’re comfortable with will help embed the valuable lessons in gun handling and best practice.
Another big name in clay shooting, Guy Bond has been teaching everyone from complete novices to experienced shooters since he was 21, and has over 25 years’ experience.
Between 1993 and 2007, Guy managed the Great Britain FITASC team. Guy advocates using the follow-through technique but is open-minded about other techniques for hitting a clay, such as maintained lead and pull away.
After an informal chat before a client’s first lesson, Guy gives a safety talk and demonstrates good gun handling: “The first thing is always to demonstrate taking a gun out of a slip safely, showing the breaking of the gun as it is being taken out of the slip.”
As he proceeds, Guy gives an explanation to his student about why he is teaching them certain things: “We then explain about checking that the barrels are clear of any obstruction before first loading every time.
“With over three tonnes per square inch of pressure in the chamber on firing, it is very important to make sure that all that force can go out of the barrel.”
As well as explaining misfires, he reminds new shooters that guns can go off accidentally: “So always close the gun with the barrels pointing to the ground.
“It is advisable to explain the ‘wood is good’ method of removing the index finger from the trigger while closing the gun and taking off the safety catch.”
His final pointer when introducing people to the world of clay shooting is to “Only ever load one cartridge at a time for any first timers for them to get used to the shock.”
With over 400 100 ex-100s to his name, Mickey Dore is a talented and well-known Skeet shooter who has consistently been on the Skeet scoreboards for over a decade.
Mickey has shot the highest number of 100 straights at Skeet and is at the top of the 100 Straight Club’s gold list, having shot for England since 1995.
He tells me that the best way to learn how to handle and use a shotgun safely – and dust those clays at the same time – is by having professional lessons.
Ever generous, Mickey has also offered to give a lesson in safe gun handling to a certain member of the Clay Shooting magazine team (that’s me!), so maybe I’ll persuade him to show me a thing or two on the skeet range as well!
Shooting is a great pastime – or so I’m told I’m about to discover at Edgehill Shooting Ground when I start lessons this year – but safety is paramount.
Good shooting, as they say, is no accident.