Thinking of trying shooting? We’d love to have you onboard! James Marchington explains how to get started in part one of a new series.
There are many great reasons to take up shooting. It gets you outdoors in the fresh air. It develops new skills and knowledge.
There’s the companionship of a great community of people. It provides a new challenge, with a clear measure of progress as you develop your technique.
There’s the chance to pit your skill against others at your level, as well as stretching yourself to compete at a higher level. And in young people, shooting can encourage positive traits such as self-discipline, responsibility and sportsmanship.
And before this all sounds far too serious – it’s also great fun! As one young female shooter remarked to me recently, “Nothing beats that feeling when you hit a clay target and it smashes into dust!”
Don’t let age or anything else put you off giving shooting a go. This is one of very few sports where you can compete side by side on equal terms regardless of age, sex and ability.
So long as you can pick up a shotgun and point it at the target, you’ll be welcomed into the world of clay shooting. Indeed, at many competitions you could find yourself shooting alongside national and world champions – who are usually more than happy to find time to chat and share their tips.
You can forget any preconceived ideas, such as shooting being the preserve of rich middle-aged men dressed head to toe in tweed. Just flip through the pages of this issue and you’ll see schoolchildren, ladies of all ages, university students.
Some of them have only just started shooting, while others have achieved the dizzy heights of the Great Britain shooting squad. They’re all part of the friendly clay shooting community, and they’re all delighted to welcome newcomers into the sport.
Another thing that puts people off is the idea that shooting is hugely expensive. It can be – just as you can spend a fortune on anything from fishing to football.
Then again, you take it at your own pace. There’s no rush to buy a gun, and when you do you can get a perfectly adequate one for a few hundred pounds.
You can shoot local to keep travel costs down, and shoot as many or as few targets as you can comfortably afford when it suits you. Most of us would like to have the time and money to shoot more than we do, but that’s life!
You can dip your toe in the water with no big commitment. You won’t need any special clothing or equipment, and you certainly don’t need a gun or any sort of licence.
All that will be provided. There are shooting grounds and clubs all over the country that run frequent ‘have-a-go’ sessions as well as corporate fun days and stag and hen parties. They are delighted to show total beginners the ropes, and ensure their first experience of shooting is enjoyable and safe.
I’d suggest booking a have-a-go session with a small group of friends or family. It’s fun to share the adventure, and feels less intimidating. Try not to worry about being any good, and don’t listen to anyone who tells you the gun will kick or hurt you.
You’re going to a professional who is qualified and experienced at looking after complete beginners.
At your first session, you’ll be issued with the basic protective gear you need – a peaked cap, safety glasses and ear plugs, plus a shooting vest if you need one in addition to what you arrive in.
The instructor will introduce you to the basic operation of the gun, and explain the key safety rules. He or she will then take you out to the shooting stand, keeping control of the gun and cartridges at all times.
You’ll get one-on-one instruction, with the instructor looking after the loading and emptying of the gun throughout. They will help you mount the gun correctly in your shoulder so your eye is looking along the barrel, and coach you as you fire your first few shots. With any luck you will hit some targets, and be eager for more!
So you’ve had your first go at clay shooting and found it fun. Perhaps you hit a few and think you might have a knack for it – your instructor might have commented on your natural ability. What do you do now?
My advice is to take small steps. There is no need to rush off and apply for a licence or put down a deposit on a gun. Build up some experience first, work on the foundations of a good shooting technique and try some different targets.
That way you can decide whether this really is the sport for you, and get a better idea of what you’re looking for when the time comes to get a gun of your own.
The best way to do this is to book a lesson or two, perhaps with the same instructor from your have-a-go session if you got on well together. As before, it can be fun to go with a friend, but this time try to keep it to just two or three of you rather than a larger group. That way your instructor can spend time with you refining your gun mount, stance and swing.
Ideally you will have a series of lessons over a few weeks, not too far apart so that the previous session is still fresh in your mind. With any luck, you’ll find the process fun and absorbing, and be keen to keep developing.
Eventually you’ll start thinking about getting your own gear – glasses, ear protection, and ultimately a gun. That’s the point where you’re well and truly hooked and start thinking of yourself as ‘one of us’ shooters – and the real fun begins!
Next month we’ll look at the process of getting your Shotgun Certificate, and choosing your first gun.