Captain of the British Army Clay Shooting Team, Major Jason Wright, explains the benefits of Clay Shooting in the British Army to Jasper Fellows
From the stoic Queen’s Guard to the rough and ready Paras, all British Army personnel share a few key traits. Discipline, the ability to work under extreme pressure and, of course, firearms training.
These attributes alone would make for a devastatingly competitive clay shot, but how do we switch out SA80 rifles for sporting shotguns, figure 11 targets for flying clays? And how can clay shooting benefit our armed forces?
The answer lies with Major Jason Wright of the Royal Military Police, Captain of The British Army Shooting Team – Clay Target. His mission is to find and nurture clay shooting talent within the Army and exploit it for the glory of queen and country, whilst enjoying all that the sport has to offer.
“The key is giving personnel the opportunities they might not have otherwise had,” Jason explains. “If you look at the top clay shots in the country, many of them have had the advantage of having access to their very own clay grounds, to sporting shotguns and to the funding needed to pay for clays, cartridges and lessons.
Thanks to the generous financial support that we receive from the Army Sport Control Board, its Army Sports Lottery and several other sources of charitable income, we are able to give every serving member of the Army these same opportunities and advantages.”
Of course, funding only makes up a small part of what it takes to become a top shot. First talent needs to be found and nurtured. “Many new recruits have never fired a shotgun before,” says Jason. “We encourage them to give clay shooting a go in a number of ways – from simple barrack room posters and social media through to encouraging them to get involved with their Unit or Corps clay club.
“My own personal story follows a fairly standard path,” Jason explains. “One morning a note came through on our orders saying there was a trial for the clay target development squad. So, I phoned the number listed and was told to meet the squad in Wales.
My only previous experience with shotguns was with a sawn-off during a weapon familiarisation range day in Northern Ireland, so I was surprised when I met Simon Arbuckle who suggested I visit the Army Rifle Association and take part in a shotgun skills course.
Eight or so years later I became the captain of the Army Clay Target Team! My story is one of the many that show we can start with inexperienced clay shots and take them from zero to hero.”
Of course, Jason can’t look after every soldier who wants to give clay shooting a go, so that’s where The Army Targets Shooting Club (ATSC) is able to step in. “The ATSC offer introductions to clay shooting in a safe and controlled manner,” explains Jason. “They host a number of novices to intermediate level events throughout the year for beginners to get involved with.
A safe introduction to the sport is key and by taking advantage of our excellent relationship with a number of shooting grounds, including beautiful Barbury Shooting School on the Marlborough Downs, they are able to offer that at some of the UK’s best equipped grounds.”
“The British Army is divided up into a number of different corps based on the diverse skill sets that make up our modern military. From the Royal Engineers to the Royal Artillery these individual and collective groupings often have their own clay clubs. Healthy tribalism is inherent throughout the corps structure, which we take advantage of by hosting a variety of inter-corps competitions and events.
“These events provide an excellent opportunity to talent scout, to find those who might be suitable for The British Army team. I am also in close contact with the secretaries of each corps team, who might suggest a rising star for consideration or help me to make decisions based on an individual’s performance.
“I have a remit for 50 soldiers. These are taken from the whole force (regular and reserve personnel), and I also have the opportunity to select five veterans to shoot as part of the team at each event, which gives me the opportunity to include a variety of talent.”
Once a soldier has made it through the selection procedure and onto The British Army Shooting Team – Clay Target, they are given the opportunity to represent The Army at a variety of events across the UK and beyond, with British Army Team personnel appearing in Cyprus, Italy and event Texas in 2019 alone.
“Of course, they still have the opportunity to take part in standard CPSA registered events,” continues Jason.
“But we really like to get them involved with major competitions, like the British Open Sporting Championships or the Beretta Worlds. These events are great for gaining competitive experience, and they give us a chance to play with the big boys. Our shooters may find themselves squadded with George Digweed or Richard Faulds – it’s great to be able to give them that exposure.”
Clay shooting in the Army isn’t all about Sporting though. Thanks to The Army Olympic Pathway Programme Jason hopes to one day field his soldiers at an Olympic Games. “Two years ago, we set up our Olympic Development Squad, which was based on the successful American model of understanding, and taking advantage of, the synergy between soldiers and shooting.
“Our Olympic Pathway starts with our Olympic Talent ID days, where we assess a large group of soldiers on their suitability – those who perform well are offered a place on the pathway.
“We have worked closely with British Shooting and have essentially mirrored its Olympic Pathway, including using some of some of its renowned coaches like Allen Warren and John Bellamy.
“By combining top coaches, excellent facilities, like the National Clay Shooting Centre at Bisley, excellent resources and a clear, defined pathway we are able to give our Olympic shooters the best possible chance at success.
“Will we put people on the podium at the Olympics? It’s a long path but the ingredients are there. We have already had some great successes, including at the European Masters Games in 2019, so we’re heading in the right direction.”
Aside from trophy raising and aiming for Olympic glory, there are more serious reasons why clay shooting can be so valuable to the modern armed forces.
“You could look at all the fun we have clay shooting in the Army and say, what is the cold, hard benefit of shooting clay targets? Of course, there is the obvious answer that forces personnel need to be able to shoot well, but what’s so interesting about clay shooting is the similarity it has with modern operational shooting,” says Jason.
“Modern combat has moved away from that cold war image of enemy formations rolling across the fields of eastern Germany and into rural and urban environments where soldiers need to be prepared and ready for anything. Shooting static figure 11 targets on the range just doesn’t cut it anymore.
“Clay shooting is all about the ability to shoot a moving target instinctively from an alert position, similarly to how a modern soldier has to operate in today’s combat environments. Through competitive shooting, we’re also able to simulate pressure in a safe way.
“All competitive shooters know how it feels to be stood on the stands with their heart beating away, feeling the pressure and trying to stay focussed. That kind of pressure is incredibly hard to simulate, so having the chance to test the mettle of our young soldiers is fantastic.”
You don’t have to be training for combat to understand the benefits of shooting clays – it’s an opportunity to get away from the office, have a good time and enjoy a walk around a beautiful clay ground. “Of course, we aren’t all infanteers,” continues Jason.
“I’m a Royal Military Police Officer, so it would be unusual for me to handle a gun in my day to day work. But there are still many positives all Army personnel can take from clay shooting. Just being able to give them the opportunity to join others away from the day job is a massive benefit to personal wellbeing and morale.”
“Clay shooting is also just a great deal of fun and being involved with any corps team, let alone the Army team, helps to build a sense of comradeship and unity in an enjoyable way. Take, for example, our Armed and Emergency Services League championships.
“Throughout the year we compete against The Royal Navy, RAF, Police, Prison Service and Fire and Rescue Services. Each service hosts its own event with the top 10 scores from each service at each event going towards a final score.
“As you can imagine competition is fierce, so it really gives us all something to shoot for, while also providing the men and women of all services the opportunity to represent their service on a national level.”
Providing opportunity is at the core of Jason’s mission with his team and with clay shooting across the entirety of the British Army. “Everything we do in Army clay shooting is about access. Thirty-odd years ago when I first became involved with Army team sports my perception was that it was a bit of a closed shop, everything felt quite cliquey.
“I believe the British Army is about providing opportunity to all of our personnel that perhaps they wouldn’t have had in civilian life. Whether that’s rock climbing in Wales, sailing in Cyprus or shooting alongside Aaron Heading at an Olympic games.”
“Operations come first, and I would never try to pull a soldier away from their commanding officer if they need them. But to be able to enjoy the sport I love with them, to be able to provide them with opportunities they may never have had in civilian life, to see them progress, develop and succeed is one of my greatest joys – and being able to combine it with the day job makes it all the more incredible.”
Are you currently serving or a veteran of The British Armed Forces and looking to get involved with clay shooting?
Visit rifle.armysportcontrolboard.com/clay-target to find out how you can take part.
CPSA courses for Service personnel are delivered nationally through the Army Rifle Association (ARA) in Bisley. For further information email the ARA Chief Clerk – ArmyCapCbt-SASC-ARA-ChClk@mod.gov.uk
Follow the British Army Shooting Team – Clay Target on Facebook @BritishArmyShooting
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