Ben Cartwright mixes it up

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Formerly an avowed Sporting shot, Ben Cartwright decides it’s time to discover what Trap and Skeet have to offer

Skeet. It’s an odd word don’t you think? It appears to have its roots in the Old Norse word ‘Skjota’, meaning ‘to shoot’. More recently, it aligns with the Norwegian word ‘skyte’, which when pronounced sounds like ‘shoot’. Further research uncovers that in Canada, ‘skeet’ is a slang word roughly synonymous with the epithet ‘chav’. Who knew? 

Like many others, I cut my teeth on English Sporting layouts. It’s an ideal format because the targets can be varied greatly, from put-a-smile-on-your-face easy, to world championship difficult.

Some two years on, I started to think it would be interesting to try my hand at some of the other disciplines. Maybe I would find out that I had a particular aptitude or liking for one of them? 

Skeet was the only format I had some prior knowledge of. Early on, I came across YouTube videos of Vincent Hancock, Kim Rhode and Amber Hill. I was, and remain, amazed at how these athletes can mount a gun and hit two crossing clays in just over two seconds.

Several people recommended I try Skeet as a way to help me improve my proficiency at English Sporting. The target presentations and format are more closely related to ESP than many of the Trap disciplines.

There is another school of thought, espoused by the likes of Ben Husthwaite, that if you want to excel at English Sporting, then you need to train and practice just English Sporting. I can see merit in both arguments. Personally, I like to mix things up, try new experiences and see where they lead. 

I made a phone call to someone I thought would be able to help. John Timmis is a shooting instructor, who, when he’s not with private clients, runs the thriving 3 Lakes Gun Club on the border between Warwickshire and Worcestershire.

I’d first met John when I started shooting at Honesberie and was immediately impressed by his wealth of experience and enthusiastic teaching style.

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Despite its emphasis on tricky rising targets, Ben found DTL to be an immediately intriguing discipline

Coupled with his encyclopaedic knowledge of local shooting grounds, I thought he would be the ideal person to introduce me to a new discipline. He didn’t disappoint.

We arranged to meet at Edgehill Shooting Ground, a mile or so from the eponymous English civil war battleground of 1642. On a beautiful summer’s day, I drove out to this little gem of a ground, to be schooled in the art not only of Skeet, but also of Down the Line and Compak.

As I drove down the track, I immediately noticed a sprawling array of 4x4s, some in camouflage paint, with what looked like rocket launchers on the back of them. I came to an abrupt halt and was about to reverse back up the hill when I realised the vehicles had clay traps mounted on them. 

It’s a humorous approach to target setting that is both creative and practical.

As John and I were chatting over a cup of tea, we were joined by the owner, Tim Spencer. He filled me in on some of the ground’s history. It has been host to many of the sport’s high achievers over the years.

Richard Faulds trained there prior to winning the gold medal for Double Trap at the 2000 Olympics. Amber Hill and Daryl Burton are visitors, and local shooters Arnie Palmer and Carl Bloxham pitch up from time to time with clients.

Tea finished, we headed off to the Skeet range – English Skeet to be precise. This meant I could pre-mount my gun, unlike in Olympic Skeet. John talked me through the format. There was a lot to take in! Fortunately, the first round we did as a walk and talk.

John explained the importance of foot positioning and setting up correctly for the pairs. Without his guidance I would never have known that the optimal foot position is to face the low house trap for stations 1-6. The second round was more fluid and I scored 20/25.

I wasn’t aiming for a good score per se. I was more interested in enjoying a new learning experience. As much as I love ESP, I can see myself putting in some practice and trying my hand at a Skeet competition sometime soon.

We moved on to the Down The Line layout, which is based around my nemesis targets: rising clays thrown at different angles. I’ve recently been struggling with springing teals but some professional advice on how to tackle them has helped me improve.

Despite my gun weighing 8lb 3oz, I’m a bit of a barrel chucker. When I see the target I tend to fling my barrels upwards, often missing over the top. So I wondered how I’d get on at DTL.

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Ben’s introduction to Skeet and Trap took place at Edgehill Shooting Ground

There was even more to learn. John, ever the patient teacher, explained the DTL format. He strode out to the trap house and demonstrated where my hold points were for each station. A quick change of chokes and we got stuck in. 

It all happened so quickly! The targets zipped out from the trench at alarming speed, and I found it hard to get on them in time. I often hold onto targets for too long before firing, and this forced me to attack the target instinctively and with precision.

I got quite a buzz out of DTL and, despite finding it harder than Skeet, I would happily do more. The annoying perfectionist in me is strangely attracted to it.

We finished off the afternoon with a round of Compak, which turned out to be like English Sporting, but without the walking. I was back on familiar ground – Sporting targets, but all shot from one location. John took charge of the trap console and as I was the only person on the layout we were able to whip through the stands in short order.

Now that I didn’t have to concentrate so hard on learning, I relaxed and had great fun with all the different targets that were coming thick and fast. A good piece of advice John gave me was to overlay a mental image of the Skeet ground onto the Compak stand.

Which skeet station did it most closely resemble? What angle was the target to me? What was my foot position and what lead did I give it? It made me think hard about my approach to each stand before I called ‘pull’. Paragraph

If you’re new to shooting, the chances are you’ve been learning on English Sporting layouts. But once you’ve mastered the basics and feeling confident, I can heartily recommend trying one or more of the many other disciplines. It’s challenging but fun. Who knows, it might just improve your favoured discipline too

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