British Open Sportrap Ladies Champion Hannah Gibson talks to Jasper Fellows about her career and inspirations
Hannah Gibson is easily one of the country’s most impressive female shooters. She is a multi-discipline powerhouse who has travelled the globe to fill her trophy cabinet with solo and team trophies in Sporting, Olympic Skeet and Sportrap.
Her impressive credentials, combined with her passion for introducing new shots, is inspiring the next generation of clay shooters and is something we could all learn from.
Hannah’s career started in a way familiar to most of us, following her dad around at the local shooting ground. “I first started clay shooting when I was 12 years old, at our local club Northall CPC,” explains Hannah.
“My father had been shooting at Northall for a while, so as a family we would go up there for the member’s social events. These events helped to spark my interest, and, eventually, my dad gave in and let me have a go.”
This spark ignited a fire when, in 2002, Northall CPC regular Charlotte Kerwood won her first Double Trap gold at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester.
“Charlotte really inspired me to start shooting,” continues Hannah. “Seeing a lady win a Commonwealth medal in a sport that was dominated by older men was really inspirational and changed my view on shooting. I thought, why couldn’t I give it a go? Now no one can say it’s a man’s sport! Cheryl Hall has always been a role model of mine too.
“I remember shooting with her at the Midland Game Fair final back some years ago, after she’d won the Sporting Home International outright. She gave me the drive to not only finish well in the Ladies category, but to try to compete at a high level against the men too.”
Northall CPC became a nursery to Hannah’s budding talent. Here she was able to practise every week and shoot alongside some of the country’s best. “I was really lucky to start out there,” says Hannah. “We had some great local talent: Steve Scott, Guy Franklin, Steve Clark, the list goes on. It was great to see their success and that certainly helped to inspire me.
“Clay shooting is one of the few sports where beginners are able to practise and even compete alongside those who are competing at the highest levels. One day Dan Kerwood suggested I give Olympic Skeet a go – and I found I really enjoyed it. I will always be grateful to Northall and its members for supporting me on my shooting journey.”
Dan Kerwood’s advice soon paid dividends, as, in 2009, Hannah found herself shooting for Great Britain, a prospect that was both exciting and daunting. “I qualified for the ISSF World Shooting Championships in Maribor, Slovenia. I had shot well in qualifying, so I felt that I had really earned the right to represent my country and was totally over the moon. But it was also nerve wracking.
“When I walked into the club house for the first time and saw all the different countries grouped together, all preparing for the event, cleaning their guns, doing their warm-up stretches, it was totally overwhelming.”
The nerves almost got the better of Hannah as she struggled to pass muster in front of the equipment control team. “It turned out the line on my skeet vest was slightly off,” continues Hannah. “I had to make the alteration on the spot with little more than a cheap travel needle and thread.
“Not the best tools for stitching through a nubuck skeet vest! Luckily, I had my teammate and best friend Sian Bruce to laugh through the whole process with me, even as I stitched the front of the vest to the back. Thank God my shooting was better than my sewing skills!”
Despite this early hiccup Hannah went on to have a successful career, competing the world over for her country. However as she progressed from being a student to the world of full time work she found herself struggling to find the time to compete at such a high level.
“I really wanted to see how far I could push myself in Olympic Skeet,” explains Hannah. “I had some amazing experiences competing all over the world with some of my best friends. I was still at school or college during those years, so life was a bit more flexible.
“Then I went into the world of full time work, I was trying to balance everything but couldn’t give shooting the time and attention it deserved. I began to fall out of love with the sport. I was spending what little time and money I had on shooting, but not getting the results I wanted.
“I often worried that I was letting down all those who had supported me. It was hard to walk away from the sport, but looking back it was the right thing to do at the time.”
Despite taking a break from top-level competition, Hannah was still deeply entrenched in the world of clay shooting. “I was still working weekends at Northall during that time,” Hannah says. “My friends and family were all still shooting so I was still actively involved with the industry.”
Having grown up with the sport, clay shooting was hard wired into Hannah’s DNA, and it didn’t take too long until she was back at it. “During my year off I did miss competing. Eventually, my dad managed to persuade me to shoot a few local Sporting competitions and I really enjoyed being back.
“My competitive nature led me to getting some coaching to get my Sporting technique up to scratch. Then, to my mum’s dismay, it was time to replace my old Skeet gun with something better suited to Sporting. The bug had bitten again and I was back at it.”
Despite what could be seen as a career-damaging break from the sport Hannah was soon back on form, taking on the world, only this time with a more confident, relaxed manner. She has managed to take the stress and anguish of not performing exactly as she wanted in Olympic Skeet and use it as a driving force through the rest of her Sporting and Sportrap career.
“When shooting an Olympic discipline, I felt I had to have a set routine, which has carried over to my Sporting to a degree. I feel so much more relaxed in my shooting now then I was back then. I used to get so stressed about so many little things.
“But those challenges, and competing all over the world when I was younger, have helped to boost my confidence and allowed me to perform better under pressure.”
This new-found confidence led to one of Hannah’s proudest achievements –being crowned British Open Sporting Ladies Champion at High Lodge in 2016.
“When you look back at the history of that trophy, you look back at some truly amazing lady shooting from the past 70-plus years. To have my name alongside theirs is something I will always be proud of. It makes me feel part of British Ladies shooting history.”
This was far from the only time Hannah’s name would appear alongside the country’s greatest. Last summer she returned to High Lodge to take the British Open Ladies Sportrap Championship title for the second time in her career.
“I was pleased with how I shot,” says Hannah. “I thought it was a really good event with some tricky pairs that you really had to commit to. I felt pretty confident going into the event. I like to shoot things quick and the layouts that day were set up perfectly for a quick shooter.”
It was a hard fought victory on the day, with Hannah pipping Cheryl Hall and Ami Hedgecock to the post by just one target. “The standard of British ladies shooting is so high at the moment,” explains Hannah, “there are often just a few targets between the top ladies of the day, so I was very pleased to win it for a second time.”
There’s no doubt that the state of women’s shooting will continue to improve. While Hannah was inspired by Cheryl Hall and Charlotte Kerwood, the next generation of young shots will be inspired by Hannah and her compatriots, in part thanks to her volunteering with the ladies shooting club Femmes Fatales.
“I think with groups like the Femmes Fatales, the Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club, and the various individual grounds that host their own ladies groups and days, we are helping to create a friendly environment for women to learn to shoot and make friends in the sport,” says Hannah.
“These groups have managed to pick up some incredible sponsorships from a range of companies both inside and outside of the industry. This shows a willingness to promote women’s shooting which is brilliant. I think the shooting community as a whole are finally seeing that for the sport to survive we have to get more women and children involved.”
Hannah also has plans to take a more direct role in bringing up the next generation of shooters. “Long-term I would love to get into coaching,” she says.
“I love teaching. I get a real buzz out of seeing my students achieve their goals. Shooting is something I feel I can give back to, but I still have a few more things I want to achieve myself before I immerse myself into coaching.”