Ben Cartwright avoids a familiar trap as he kicks off his new column.
I almost became ‘that guy’. You know – the one who shares opinions and advice with such complete certainty that he can persuade you he knows best through the sheer force of his conviction.
Last summer, in the clubhouse between rounds at Honesberie Shooting School, I’d struck up a conversation with a chap on the adjacent table. His grown-up son had treated him to a shooting experience. Dad told me how he liked the idea of taking up shooting now he was retired.
His neighbour – an ardent clay shooter – had invited him over a few times and shown him his shotgun. Dad was informed in no uncertain terms that a Browning was the ideal gun for him. “You can’t go wrong with one of those,” he’d been told, along with, “They’re the best,” “Everyone’s got one,” and so on.
The trap was of my own making.
I felt myself being drawn in by my own words. I was being asked for my opinion on which gun Dad should buy – what gun did I shoot? What about a Beretta? Are Blasers any good? I caught myself at the last moment. A little voice in my head said, “Who are you? What do you know?”
I was in danger of becoming ‘that guy’.
I was a novice clay shooter, having entered the sport only a year earlier. With my freshly minted knowledge, I was in no position to be bandying around my opinions. If an experienced gun were to overhear me, I was sure to be exposed as an imposter.
My introduction to clay shooting was similar to that of many readers: I’d been given an experience voucher as a present. I was looking for a hobby that got me outdoors, had a competitive element to it and offered the opportunity to meet new people.
There were other reasons too. Having recently breached my fifties, I’d waved off a clutch of mature children from the family home, and at the same time had issued a winding-up order on the ‘Bank of Dad’. I now found myself with more time on my hands and considerably more liquidity.
So on a murky March day in 2017, I made my way over to Honesberie, which is nestled in the rolling Warwickshire countryside between Rugby and Banbury. My familiarity with guns predated this experience, as I’d served in the army during my twenties. In military terms, I’d be described as a ‘late entry’ candidate into the sport.
I had distant memories of days spent lying on the often wet and miserable Sennelager ranges in Germany, shooting at static fig.11 targets. After years of firing a rifle at those paper tigers, I had pulled myself up from being a poor shot to a good one.
What I hadn’t bargained for was how much of an impact this taster session would have on me. It’s not as if I was smashing all the clays – quite the opposite in fact. But when they did break, what a feeling! No sooner had I stepped back inside the clubhouse than I was signing up for a series of lessons. I haven’t looked back since, and have been surprised by how, somewhat later in life, it has become a great passion.
From that point forward I’ve trodden a familiar path: lessons, more lessons, applying for my SGC, buying a gun, correcting for failing eyesight, club shoots, and so on. It’s been an enjoyable roller-coaster ride of naiveté, calamitous mistakes and every now and again, an absolutely blinding shot.
In a short space of time, I’ve shot alongside AAA class shooters, visited the home of Italian gunmaking in the Gardone Valley, and been made a cup of tea by a former GB Olympic coach. I can’t think of any other sport where novices can so easily find themselves in the company of Olympic and World champions. The upper echelons are accessible in the way that they aren’t in other sports.
Last summer when I was chatting with the hapless Dad, the experience underscored a growing feeling that shooters taking their formative steps into the sport can find themselves overwhelmed at times. Do other novices make the same mistakes as I do? Get confused by chokes? Carry their gun slip upside down? Wonder if sticking that orange pencil thingy to the end of their barrels will get them to A class?
So I happened upon the idea of a series of columns from the perspective of someone new to clay shooting, who’s developed a love for it, who is quietly competitive – in a very British sort of way – and who wants to progress towards scorecards that comfortably exceed his age.
I will be sharing my journey with you, not offering advice. There are far more qualified writers within these pages who provide expert content. They have the years of experience and skill that I am yet to acquire. After all, I don’t want to become ‘that guy’.
I hope you follow along with me.
Ben Cartwright shot rifles in his youth but only recently took up clays. He has immersed himself in the sport. We follow his journey as he strives to improve.