In the wake of Cheryl Hall becoming the first woman to shoot 100 straight in English Sporting on December 27th, Helena Douglas catches up with Duncan Lawton, the first person ever to do so.
Not surprisingly Duncan Lawton clearly remembers becoming the first person to shoot 100 straight in a registered English Sporting competition—even though it was almost 32 years ago. His achievement came at the Buxton Skeet and Trap Club on June 22nd 1980 using a Remington semi-automatic. “I had a stinking cold and wasn’t in the mood,” says Duncan. “But in those days I was fanatical about shooting and I’d entered with Tony Heeks (now the England Team Sporting Manager), so along we went. I can still remember the 10 stand course which included some really tricky targets.”
Duncan, a softly spoken, modest Staffordshire-man, explains that while he sets out to break every clay in every competition, the idea that he might achieve 100 straight occurred to him only when he’d shot seven stands with no misses. “It was then that I thought ‘I can do this’, so we decided to shoot the two remaining tricky stands next and leave the easier one until last. Luckily I shot well on the two difficult ones and once I’d got to 90 straight I knew I could do the 100, as long as my nerves held—which fortunately they did.”
As with many achievements it is often only some time later that the enormity of it sinks it. “Oddly, once I’d done it, it was a bit of an anticlimax,” says Duncan. “There were lots of congratulations but it was only when I got home that it started to hit me. To start with I wondered, as I expect others did, if it was an easy shoot, but to put it into context half of the England clay shooting team also took part and the nearest score to mine was 93, so I knew I had done well. But the odd thing was that George Hume, who was on the England team, was there and asked me how I was doing when I had shot about 40 straight. He then said ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if we see history made today’, which is rather uncanny.”
Duncan’s achievement is even more impressive considering that he is a self-taught shooter. “I come from a shooting family, so my dad, granddad and great-granddad were all shooters,” he explains. “My dad got into clay shooting when it was in its infancy in the 50s and went on to shoot for England in Sporting and for Great Britain in FITASC. So shooting was familiar and I learnt from copying him. I started with a BSA177 air rifle when I was a boy, nicking air gun pellets from the shop we ran, and then began shotgun shooting at the age of 10.”
Competitive shooting followed with Duncan and Dad winning the “Father and Son” class at the British Open Sporting for four years in a row. Shortly afterwards Duncan began competing for Staffordshire and then, when he was only 16, was picked for the England senior team. “Even though I am very competitive that was a pretty big deal for a young country bumpkin”, he says with a smile.
In 1979, when he was 20, Duncan shot as an individual in the Belgian FITASC Championships—the first time he had been abroad—where he not only came 2nd but also became hooked on the discipline. “Because of the extra variety it is nearer to live shooting and was more akin to what I had been brought up with. It suited my temperament because it relies more on shooting skill than the huge mental discipline that Sporting or Skeet require.”
After impressing in Belgium Duncan then shot his 100 straight before being picked for a Great Britain selection squad competing in the French Championships at Villeneuve sur Lot in June 1980. There he shot well enough to be chosen for the World Championship squad. The selectors were proved correct in their choice. Only a couple of weeks later at the same French ground the rookie GB shooter took 2nd place in the World Championship shoot off. This Duncan describes as the perfect springboard to the following year’s World Championships in Madrid, where he became the youngest ever person to win, still using his trusty Remington semi. “I really wanted to be conformist and use a traditional over and under,” he adds, “but I had got used to the semi and how it handled despite it needing a lot of maintenance, as all semis do. I was renowned for having a bag of spares and stopping, often in the middle of a competition, to get my screwdriver out and start stripping it down.”
More success was to come, but after winning the European Championships in Zurich in 1982 Duncan’s personal life came to the fore and shooting took a back seat. “I got married, then I got divorced”, he explains, “which put a spanner in the works and changed my focus for a while.” But in the late 1980s he got back on track, going on to win the World Championships in Andorra in 1991, this time as an individual.
“Shooting as part of a team was always difficult. It was hard to get away for selection shoots, which tended to be at the other end of the country, meaning I was exhausted when I got there and didn’t perform well. And, as amateurs, we had to pay our own way and it was expensive. So I decided to go it alone, which is what many of the big names such as George Digweed, Richard Faulds and Ben Husthwaite, do today, and which suited me and the family much better.”
Today, as well as running the family business in the village of Croxton in Staffordshire, Duncan is still involved in shooting as a coach at the West Midland Shooting Ground where he works 3-4 days a week. “I stopped shooting competitively in the mid 1990s”, he says. “I lost that edge and desire and when that happens performance drops, so I turned to coaching which I get a kick from. It’s challenging because everyone is different and people learn in different ways so you need to tailor the teaching to each individual. But it’s a similar sort of challenge to shooting; instead of me trying to hit a clay I am using my knowledge of how to do that to teach someone else how to hit them, which gives me a big buzz.”
Clearly the shooting bug never quite goes away. Duncan has not only been asked to help set up the course for the EJ Churchill Classic competition in June but is also taking part in the Europeans in Lisbon later that month—despite saying he no longer shoots competitively. “It’s just for fun and to catch up with people,” he says with a laugh. But as he points out, in a couple of years time he will be 55 and eligible to compete as a veteran. Watch this space: maybe a Lawton comeback is just around the corner.