Simon Dutton and friends set out to shoot at as many grounds as possible on a whistle stop tour of the Cotswolds.
I‘ve been shooting pretty seriously for the past few years, to the point where I’ve been arranging my overseas holidays to coincide with competitions so that I can shoot while on holiday.
I think it would be more truthful to say that my trips have become shooting trips with some holiday time, rather than holidays with some shooting time.
The more shooting I did the more I wanted to explore the great shooting grounds we have in the UK. Living near Manchester gives me access to some excellent shooting grounds but in every shooting magazine I read, I saw articles about UK competitions being held at grounds I’d never visited. My curiosity was starting to get the better of me.
I have a few friends who are semi-interested in shooting, to the extent where they will join me once or twice per year for a trip to my home club, the fantastic Coniston Shooting Ground. However they wouldn’t be interested in a holiday with the sole intention of shooting.
This means that more often than not, when shooting in the UK I am shooting by myself. It’s fine and the solo-delay functions on the modern electronic traps mean that I can go shooting whenever I want without needing someone to manually trap for me, but I enjoy shooting with people much more.
You can help each other out on difficult targets, suggest shooting a report pair as a true/sim pair to test your skills, and just enjoy the buzz of shooting with other people who love their shooting as much as you do.
So, who do I call on to join me on the UK shooting holiday? Well, I was first introduced to Sporting clays around six years ago, after my aunt and uncle emigrated to Canada and took up shooting.
Until I got my shotgun certificate in 2017 all my shooting, and that of my aunt and uncle, had been done in Canada. All three of us were very keen on shooting in the UK, so a plan was born.
Our first UK shooting holiday was arranged for September/October 2018, so in early 2018 we first decided which part of the UK we wanted to visit – and chose the Cotswolds.
Then we spent quite a bit of time poring over the latest edition of the Shooting Club Directory to find out which shooting grounds were nearby. Our usual rule of thumb is that all grounds should be within a 2 hour drive, which means you can spend more time shooting and not just spend all day in the car.
Having made a short-ish list, we reviewed the websites for all the grounds and contacted any where booking was required, checked whether the ground was ‘pay & shoot’ or required a caddy, and confirmed if there were any restrictions on the shells that can be shot at the ground.
Some had specific restrictions on the brands or loads, but for the most part it was just a question of plastic versus fibre. To ensure we didn’t mistakenly arrive at a fibre-only ground with plastic wad shells, we all purchased fibre shells when we stocked up at Just Cartridges at the start of the holiday.
That way we could load up the car each day and not have to worry about the shells. Having settled on our shortlist of shooting grounds, and arranged them into the order we wanted to visit them, we were then able to rent a house for our holiday. We based ourselves in a beautiful village in the Cotswolds that put most of the grounds within a 1-1½ hour drive.
Before heading off on our holiday, we purchased a collapsible trolley to hold shells, shooting bags, water bottles and so on. With three people shooting 150-200 shells each it’s not practical to carry all your gear.
As well as saving us numerous trips back and forth to the car, the trolley gained quite a bit of attention from other shooters at the grounds. In fact I’m sure we could have made quite a bit of money hiring it out to people or offering them rides in it!
September 2018 arrived, and we packed the car full of all our shooting gear and then headed off to the Cotswolds. We didn’t shoot on the first day, as that was our travelling day.
We got to the holiday home, unpacked, headed to Just Cartridges to stock up on shells, found a nearby supermarket to buy food and drinks for the holiday, and looked forward to our first shooting day.
Day 1 – Ian Coley Shooting School
The Ian Coley Shooting School was the closest shooting ground to our holiday home, just 15 mins drive. It is one of our favourite grounds, easy to find, well maintained, lots of stands with varied and challenging presentations, as well as having a big clubhouse with a well-stocked shop and gun room.
We shot all 24 Sporting stands, and then spent a little time shooting some Trap too. It was also here that we decided that we were going to buy a baseball cap from every ground we visited.
The kind staff at Ian Coley gave them to us for free when they heard about our shooting holiday, and the fact that my aunt and uncle had travelled from Canada to shoot there.
Day 2 – EJ Churchill
EJ Churchill was a ground we’d heard and read a lot about and we were all looking forward to shooting here. It certainly didn’t disappoint. The clubhouse, shop, and gunroom are excellent.
There are two different routes around the ground for Sporting clays, the first is the 10-stand Claymate route – just pick up a card at the reception desk and head out and shoot.
The card only works on the specific Claymate stands, so if it’s your first time here you may see other stands but no card machines. These other stands are used when having a lesson or shooting a caddied round.
We only shot the Claymate stands, all were good presentations and challenged us. Shooting on the elevated Compak/Sporttrap stand is good fun too – you can certainly go through a few boxes of shells up there. It would be good to see EJ Churchill expand the number of Claymate stands in the future.
After shooting we indulged in some of the very nice food available, and as the weather was being kind we sat on the terrace outside the clubhouse and dined in the sunshine with the sound of shotguns in the background, while also watching George Digweed take some of the EJ Churchill instructors out on the ground to begin learning the ‘Digweed Method’.
When it came time to leave, we made sure to pick up an EJ Churchill baseball cap to add to our collection.
Day 3 – Northampton Shooting Ground
On our third day of shooting, we visited Northampton Shooting Ground. In our eagerness to shoot, we were a little early, and the Sporting traps were still being refilled.
To pass the time we shot on the Compak/Sportrap range, then shot a round of Trap, followed by my first ever round of Skeet. There was no Claymate system at Northampton when we visited, so all shooting was with a guide/caddy.
We found this very useful when it came to shooting Skeet, as we weren’t very familiar with this type of shooting and it was useful to find out more about this discipline. Then it was on to the Sporting ground, where we shot 100 targets over 10 stands.
There was a good mix of presentations to keep things interesting. We went back to the clubhouse to settle up and purchase a baseball cap.
Day 4 – Oxford Gun Company
A nice ground with clubhouse, shop and gun room. All rounds at the Oxford Gun Company are caddied, so booking is required. The ground is well maintained and there are a number of different presentations.
We shot 100 targets over 10 stands, plus for an extra £10 you can shoot 25 targets on the Browning Rabbit Mania stand. As the name suggests this is nothing but rabbits, so if you like rabbits you can challenge yourself on this stand – and if you don’t like rabbits this is the place to head to get over your fear.
Unfortunately the Oxford Gun Company was the first ground on our list not to have their own branded baseball caps. If they do start selling them in the future we will have to go back to complete the collection.
Day 5 – Barbury Shooting School
Barbury was another of our favourite grounds. It’s quite a compact ground, but that doesn’t limit it in terms of the stands and the different presentations available.
There is no Claymate system in place at Barbury; in fact all shooting is done on the honour system. You go out and shoot as much or as little as you’d like, and keep a track of how many targets you have shot.
The easy way to do this is to keep all of the empty shell boxes until the end of your round. Then you settle up in the clubhouse at the end of your round. The clubhouse has food available and a small shop, including the all-important Barbury branded baseball caps!
Day 6 – Royal Berkshire Shooting School
On the penultimate day of our 2018 UK shooting holiday we paid a visit to the Royal Berkshire Shooting School. All shooting at the ground is with a caddy.
This is mainly because the ground, as well as having a number of specific shooting stands, also has a large open space where shooting can be done from anywhere, which makes it essential to have a caddy with you so that you aren’t at risk of accidentally walking into an area where someone is already shooting.
This makes for a different shooting experience as not all your shooting will be done from within a shooting stand. It also means that the ground has an almost infinite number of presentations and shooting positions. Our caddied round was 100 targets over 10 stands.
The clubhouse has a well-stocked shop and there is a separate building housing the gun room. Baseball cap number 5 was purchased – at a 50% discount thanks to the generous staff in the clubhouse who were keen to hear about our shooting holiday.
Day 7 – Orston Shooting Ground
Our trip to Orston Shooting Ground was a bit of a bonus shoot. While travelling back from the Cotswolds we were planning to call in to see family on the way home.
Before leaving the Cotswolds we looked to see which shooting grounds we would be passing and Orston was close to our route, and they were open at the time we’d be passing. They had 20 Sporting stands all set up with the Claymate card system.
It’s a very nice ground, with stands set up in the trees, some in open fields, elevated shooting points and a challenging tower. We managed to shoot most stands, including the high tower, but as this was a bonus shooting day we were running a little short on shells. Then it was back to the clubhouse for a late lunch, not forgetting to buy an Orston baseball cap too.
In addition to the grounds we visited while in the Cotswolds we also managed to visit three grounds closer to home before the end of our 2018 holiday.
If you love Orston, why not vote for it in the 2020 Nation’s Favourite Shooting Ground? To find out how just head to our online voting form —
Day 8 – Thimbleby Shooting Ground
Thimbleby Shooting Ground is around 1hr 45mins from Manchester and should be on your list if you are in the Northallerton area.
It’s a nice ground situated in the North York Moors, with a good number of Sporting stands to challenge all abilities, all operated via the Claymate card system.
Simply pick up a card in the clubhouse and head out onto the ground, and don’t forget to purchase a baseball cap before leaving!
Day 9: Coniston and Kelbrook
This was the last shooting day before my relatives flew home to Canada, so we wanted to squeeze in as much shooting as possible. In the morning we visited Coniston Shooting Ground, where I am a member.
Coniston has 25 Sporting stands including a grouse butt and tower, as well as Trap, Skeet, and a Compak/Sportrap layout, all operated via the Claymate card system. The clubhouse/log cabin houses the gun room, small shop, and food counter.
Their bacon & egg sandwich after a round of shooting can’t be beaten – although being a member I may be a little biased. A Coniston cap was added to the ever-growing collection too.
In the afternoon we drove the 20mins from Coniston to the Kelbrook Shooting School. This is a ground I’ve shot at several times and it’s always a good one to visit, with all stands being operated via the Claymate card system.
There’s lots of variety in the stands and the presentations. The ground includes a Compak/Sportrap layout that is shot over water, which on the low flying targets helps to see where you missed!
The weather was against us on the last day of shooting; it was raining heavily and we did get quite wet. It was a good excuse to pop into the log cabin clubhouse and warm up with a hot drink and some food.
The only thing Kelbrook is missing are some branded baseball caps – only the second ground visited on our 2018 shooting holiday not to have caps available.
We enjoyed our UK shooting holiday so much in 2018 that we repeated it in September 2019 – you can read all about that one in next month’s issue!