What makes you want to go back to a shooting ground again and again? Jason Doyle investigates…
With so many shooting grounds in the UK, we are extremely lucky to have better access to the sport than ever before. Although shooting is a relatively expensive pastime, it’s still possible for anyone to get involved if they have a small amount of money to spend – but what makes a shooting ground good?
After quite a bit of thought and discussion, I’ve come concluded that there is no one set of qualities that makes a good shooting ground. With people involved in the sport at different levels of ability and in different disciplines, there are very few grounds able to cater for everything. However, for the sake of this article I have split shooters into four groups to discuss their needs and expectations separately.
Being a novice in any sport is a daunting experience and shooting is no exception. As an individual sport, there are no team members to carry and support you and this can make the early days incredibly difficult. Shooting clays is by no means easy either as it requires strength, coordination and the ability to deal with the bang and recoil of a shotgun. To a newcomer, all of these factors combined will most likely have them in a nervous state.
One of the most important things a shooting ground must have for beginners is a relaxed atmosphere and this starts from the moment they book their first lesson. Staff should be helpful and considerate when taking the booking and be able to put the client at ease. It’s important to explain to them what they need to wear on the day, how the lesson will be delivered and the name of their coach. They should essentially be given as much information as possible so that they are prepared in advance.
When they arrive on site, a tidy, well-signposted car park is important. Buildings should be clearly marked so they know exactly where to go – while this may sound obvious, I have personally been to shooting grounds with several nondescript buildings and I had to check each one before finally finding the reception area.
This may also seem an obvious point but coaches should all be polite, understanding and supportive. Training a beginner is a hugely important task and extremely valuable to our sport so every care should be taken to do it correctly and in a friendly, professional manner.
The hobby shooter
Hobby or club shooters will have a totally different set of priorities to a beginner. This is the category I myself belong to as I shoot clays for fun and I go to shooting grounds that I enjoy the most with my friends.
Facilities are important for this group as it’s nice to have a coffee before or after a shoot. Many shooters may only visit one clay ground and being able to provide a good selection of kit to them is important, so a well-stocked gun shop is necessary.
Targets are critical to hobby shooters as well – we like to be challenged but not to the point where it becomes disheartening. There should be stands that will suit the weaker guns but the odd tricky one thrown in for good measure. Variety is good, too, so traps should be moved regularly and the type of targets varied from week to week. Traps should also be well maintained – another obvious point, but some grounds I have shot at will never be visited again due to broken birds and faulty and empty traps that waste time and spoil the enjoyment.
“For us, it’s all about the customer. We strive to cater for everyone who comes here and offer them the best possible experience. That starts with making sure we have the best of everything on site – the best traps, the best coaches we can find, the best targets we can set. We offer a huge variety of shooting from all the competitive disciplines to simulated game of every description. We are lucky to have some fantastic terrain and we try to utilise this when we run competitions and simulated days. We are constantly pushing ourselves to improve and offer customers new shooting experiences and I think that this attitude is vital for any ground that wants to be successful. We are also passionate about making shooting inclusive rather than exclusive and we run lots of young shots days for BASC and the CPSA as well as coaching and referee courses. From the directors down, we are passionate about shooting and field sports.” Greg Swan, director of Southdown Gun Club
Value for money is certainly another important factor to take into consideration. As I’ve said before, shooting is expensive and so offering discounts to members and juniors is important.
But above all else, the number one quality a shooting ground needs for us to enjoy it is atmosphere. We are spending our spare time and cash there so it’s nice to feel welcomed and appreciated. The right staff go a long way to creating a good environment and I think shooting grounds need to be sure they have this point right. Helpful coaches with good banter are essential to keep this sport enjoyable.
The competitive shot
For the serious competition shooter, the biggest reason for liking a ground will be the targets. They need to be consistent, well set and challenging. If the best in the sport want to come to your ground to shoot, the rest will follow. These shooters like to feel they’ve worked hard for their scores and the targets should be difficult and varied enough to challenge even the very top names.
For competitive shots, a shooting ground needs to be well organised, too. These people spend a lot of their time at shooting grounds and any problems will be obvious to them. When a ground runs a competition, everything needs to be in place well in advance. Car parks should be spacious enough and with a suitable surface so cars don’t get stuck if the weather turns bad.
Starting times should be realistic and achievable to avoid excessive waiting. Staff should be plentiful, knowledgeable and, above all, polite. Traps need to be very well maintained with backups available at a moment’s notice in case of issues.
Referees should be of a high standard and also have the ability to be supportive and helpful to novice shooters who may be out of their depth. I have met some great referees at the very few competitions I have entered and a well-timed word of advice at a crucial moment can make a huge difference to the enjoyment of the day.
Facilities are also important to the competitive shooter, again due to the amount of time they spend at shooting grounds. Good and well-priced food should be available in a spacious and clean dining area. Toilets should be modern, clean and there needs to be enough of them for the number of shooters expected at the ground. Moreover, if overnight camping is on offer, showers must be provided.
“For me a good ground is one that tests you with the targets they set. I like the satisfaction of having worked hard for results. Facilities are also important. I spend so much time at shooting grounds and it’s great to be able to grab a nice lunch and sit at a table without sticking to it! Staff are important as well, again we spend so much time there a friendly face doesn’t go amiss. I always feel that shooting at places like Royal Berkshire and Churchill’s is a real treat. Dylan and Rob’s teams have it down to a T. They’re always positive, friendly, welcoming and nothing is too much to ask.” Hannah Gibson
The driven game shooter
More and more game shots are now turning to clays for preparation, practice and problem solving both before and during the game season. I believe it is only right that game shots attend a clay ground regularly to ensure they are shooting competently and safely before attempting live game and luckily most now do.
These shooters can easily fall into any one of the categories previously discussed but they are most likely to be a combination of all three so a ground has to have specific details in place to cater for them. Many game shots will have limited or no experience of clay shooting grounds so staff will need to be on hand to help out.
Again, the facilities are important as these guns are often very interested in the social side of shooting as well as the main event. Coaches should be well informed on how a driven day works, the type of birds expected and the different safety issues that can arise on a game shoot.
Targets are critical to satisfy these shooters but they require a very different set-up. Most will want to shoot clays that simulate or at least closely resemble their chosen quarry species so driven targets from a tower, long high crossers and low fast incomers will all be necessary to attract their business and keep them coming back time after time, season after season.
Many grounds now also offer simulated game days where teams of guns can practice on clays set up specifically to provide the type of shooting and atmosphere they can expect on a driven game day. These days are not only great practice but tremendous fun and are a cheap and easy way for guns to improve their skills, practice new techniques or just to gain a taste of the excitement a driven day provides.
There are hundreds if not thousands of clay shooting grounds in the UK and all have their good points. There are some that specialise in specific disciplines and will only appeal to shooters of that discipline. Of course, there are others that cater for just about every type of shooter out there and if you are lucky enough to live in striking distance of one of these grounds, you are extremely fortunate and probably broke – I know I would be.
A little research will go a long way in finding the best ground for your standard and expectations but don’t let one bad experience put you off a specific club. The more grounds we have the better and support from shooters is what keeps them all going.