Terrific trio

The English Open Sporting saw shooters take on a well balanced selection of targets

Three shoots, three chances at glory for Mike Bartlett and his partner Cheryl Hall

English Open Sporting at Hodnet 

As always, Hodnet put on a great shoot. Unfortunately, they have a new noise complaint from a neighbour, which has restricted the times and the number of days that they can host shooting. That means the English Open Sporting may be one of the last majors held there. 

The targets offered something for everyone, and it was great how they got harder as you went. I struggled with a fast, low, right-to-left quartering-away bird on stand one, missing three – not the best of starts. I then straighted seven out of the next nine stands!

My only misses were one of a pair of midi loopers and a pink going-away from a platform on stand 4. Cheryl was also going well until she got to the midi loopers, which she couldn’t read at all, dropped six of the eight targets. Next was a sim pair of incomers.

Shooting first in my squad, I made a mistake and didn’t read the board. I didn’t realise one of the targets was a midi and I dropped three. Cheryl straighted that stand. Next was a quick climbing midi with a high overhead bird. Cheryl missed one of the midis and I missed two of the close overheads.

Cheryl then straighted the rest of the course – until the infamous last stand. I made a hash of stand 14, missing four! We both shot five on stand fifteen. Cheryl missed one of the vertical droppers. I hit all of the droppers but only one of the difficult teal.

It was a heavily talked about stand, but it could have been a lot better if they hadn’t put such a hard teal on as the second bird. It destroyed many people’s cards and was a too hard a finish for most. Cheryl won the Ladies by six with 105 ex-120. 

Fitasc Grand Prix at Garlands

This shoot was meant to be held at Hodnet, but Steve Lovatt took it on at the last minute due to Hodnet’s new restrictions. The two-day event saw a stark contrast in weather: day 1 was wet, windy and horrible; day two was sunny, warm and lovely.

Steve put on a good shoot, although I’m told that 40-50 per cent of the targets were the same as those used in the Classic the week before. One thing that they did get wrong was the attempted reintroduction of the ticket bird. This is a great idea if implemented as they do abroad, with ticket birds only appearing in singles.

Unfortunately there was a mix up and most of the ticket birds were in simultaneous pairs with other tough birds. In general the course was a bit too tough, with too many hard birds on each peg, in stark contrast to Fitasc abroad. There were also a lot of breakdowns and no birds; we had to wait for over 45 minutes on one layout to shoot the last peg.

On the upside, there were a lot of changes for the last day, which was brilliant. Cheryl shot really well and won the ladies with 166, six targets clear of the runner up. 

European Compak championships

Last up this month was the European Compak championships on Evia Island, Greece. On the Wednesday we visited the ground and shot two practice layouts.

The targets were a repeat of the Compak Grand Prix, with a few minor tweaks. There was something there for everyone, but unfortunately the course setter was allowed to shoot his own targets (the new rule introduced in Fitasc Sporting this year has been dismissed from Compak). The course setter unsurprisingly won Veterans and gold in the team event, coming 10th overall. 

The weather was glorious, sitting between 38 and 41°C all week. Hydration and keeping to the shade were vital. The stands were brilliant – sun screen roofs provided shade, yet they were still unobtrusive and allowed unobstructed photographs of shooters. We should emulate these in the UK where possible. 

The first day saw us on layouts 6 then 5, both of which were three singles and an on-report pair. There were straightforward incomers, but also some tricky Trap-style targets and a fast battue. Cheryl started perfectly and shot 50 straight. I dropped a Trap-style bird but straighted the rest for a 49. 

Day 2 was on layout 8 then 7, which each featured a single and two on-report pairs. Layout 8 had some of the closest targets in the competition, including a blue, floppy right-to-left crosser that caused problems for many. Cheryl started as she had left off the previous day, shooting 25 straight.

I dropped a Trap-style bird and finished on 24. On layout 7 the targets were a little further out and incorporated a fast left-to-right 70mm off a small tower. A pink teal was causing a few problems, and a high chondel needed a bit of thought.

Cheryl dropped the chondel early on and then the teal on the last peg to finish on a 23. I dropped the chondel on peg 1 and managed to straight the rest to finish with 24. At the halfway point Cheryl was on 98, two clays ahead of the nearest lady. I was on 97, just one behind Cheryl. 

Day 3 saw us shooting layout 2 then 1. Both were three singles and a pair – sim on layout 2 and on-report on layout 1. Cheryl was on first and shot a 23, missing an incomer on peg 5 and a fast left-to-right crosser on peg 3.

Seeing an opening, I managed to knuckle down and shot 25 straight putting me one ahead. Layout 1 had some tricky birds that neither of us liked the look of. A dropping, edgy bird coming from a long way out and landing in front of peg 1 was horrible, and a fast, high chondel that needed less lead than it looked caught me out once.

Cheryl struggled with a floppy, white, left-to-right curling bird that needed almost no lead, missing it twice. We both made a big mistake and hadn’t eaten since the morning before we left and I ran out of steam on peg three after shooting the first two straight.

I was double barrelling everything, which hadn’t happened all week, and I missed a straightforward right-to-left Skeet-style crosser. Lesson learned: not eating cost us two targets each! 

On the last day and we were shooting layout 4 then 3. The former was a single and two on-report pairs, while layout 3 was a single and two sim pairs.

There was a horrible right-to-left quartering-out bird at the start. Fast and pink, it flew just a few feet off the ground before landing in front of a hedge some 30 yards out. It was invisible until the last 10 feet of its flight, which gave very little time to get on it.

Like many others, Cheryl and I both missed this bird on peg 1. I managed to straight the rest but Cheryl dropped a rabbit running along a mat at the base of the hedge.

Our last layout to finish was the double sim pairs, which included a tasty midi teal that was fully wound up. There was also a fast, curling, crossing battue and a tricky, edgy, curling incomer, which meant there were two key pairs: the teal and the incomer on peg 3 and the teal and the battue on peg 4.

Having seen people try to shoot the pairs both ways round, we both decided to shoot the teal on peg 3 on the way up, allowing us to shoot the incomer when it was showing most. We both hit this pair. On the second pair the breeze was sometimes bringing the teal in closer, so we each decided to shoot the fast right-to-left battue first and take the teal on the drop.

The wind brought Cheryl’s teal in and she made it look easy, straighting the layout to equal her personal best score of 192. On my turn I got to peg 4 straight, but inexplicably missed the full-use single, a right-to-left quartering-away bird.

This put the pressure on for the pair coming! I shot the battue and waited for the teal, but there was no breeze to bring it in; it was going to hit the tree at the back. Extending my lead, I managed to break it just in time. I straighted peg 5 to finish on a new personal best of 193. This left me one short of the podium, but I was top Brit and one ahead of Cheryl. 

We both learnt a lot and it was one of the best trips we have had. The restaurants on the sea front served some great food and we loved every minute of it. 

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