Let me answer this question first – yes, clays and game most certainly do mix. Now I will endeavour to explain why.
I do accept there is a minority amongst us who object to shooting anything other than inanimate targets on ethical grounds. My idea of game shooting is that, as long as it’s conducted with restraint, respect and humanity towards the quarry, I harbour no qualms.
I do, however, have some for turning people loose on game birds and animals with no previous shooting experience. These circumstances are now fortunately very rare, largely due to the proliferation of clay target shooting through shooting grounds and clubs or even the practice trap in a field.
But what about the CPSA registered shooter of Down the Line or Skeet – does he or she benefit as regards raising their skill levels as they relate to game shooting? I believe they do and notice I haven’t mentioned Sporting which is a given, less so Trap and Skeet targets you might say, but I disagree because I believe they all do. Why? Because they present the same problem of hitting a moving target with a shotgun. Below is an excerpt from something I wrote a long time ago but it encapsulates my philosophy relating to any form of shotgun shooting.
For the most accomplished shotgun shooters hitting flying targets, clay pigeons or live game is a conditioned reflex. The task of judging the angle and distance, placing the gun in the shoulder, aligning it with the target and hitting it is achieved with about the same amount of conscious thought as we apply to changing gear in our car. Similarly, when a tennis player returns a blistering serve with pinpoint precision and accuracy, placing the ball in exactly the right spot to win the point, or a cricketer smacks a fast ball to the boundary, the same mental and physical conditioning is brought into play.
There is nothing miraculous or superhuman about any of these skills. We are all to a lesser or greater extent endowed with abilities developed in mankind over millennia to judge speed and distance, beginning with throwing stones, then using spears and bows and arrows, and finally with firearms, we learned to strike and kill our prey or our enemies at distance. The shooter utilises these innate skills and combines them with learned techniques applicable to shooting a gun. With diligent practice his technique improves and his confidence grows.
Conscious thought and inhibitions then recede; the subconscious begins its best work and his shooting becomes fluid, fast and natural. That’s where we all want to be, but the foundation of this is in a solid learned technique.
Note the last sentence; a solid learned technique can only be achieved by repetition, which game shooting doesn’t provide. Clays are the answer and I can’t think of anything better than Skeet, especially for this purpose shot from a gun down position. It’s far better than Sporting targets because it’s much easier to measure progress on regular Skeet targets, whereas it’s impossible with Sporting because there’s so much variation. That’s the appeal of Sporting, of course, but I am considering the beginner who is utilising clay targets to improve quickly, whether his ambition leans towards being a champion or an all-round shot at clays and game.
I also mentioned utilising the gun down position when shooting Skeet. It makes sense in that context, but I’m not sniffy about DTL as a form of practice for game; it optimises reflexes and puts a premium on accuracy at range with tight chokes.
In the days when DTL was usually all there was, I knew a lot of Trap shooters who were also fine game shooters. One of those still around is Peter Boden. He used to shoot pigeons but honed his skills on DTL long before he ever represented GB in five Olympics and nowadays is renowned as a high pheasant specialist.
The point is, shooting is shooting and you need to do a lot to be good at it in any of its forms. Another benefit any clay targets provide the game shooter with is that of grace under pressure. I’ve seen captains of industry go white-knuckled grasping a shotgun at some minor corporate entertainment day because they know people are watching and that can apply to clay and game shooting.
As any experienced clay buster will confirm, that’s something you have to get over and competitive clay target shooting is the perfect remedy for those kinds of nerves.
So do clays and game shooting mix? Of course they do.