Ben Cartwright is taking the plunge

Ben Cartwright jumps into his first CPSA shoot. Can he give a good account of himself with the pressure on?

It was time to get competitive. Surgery in late 2018 had frustratingly kept me away from shooting for three months, and during my recovery I’d had time to mull over what I wanted to achieve the following year.

I had progressed from lessons to caddied rounds, then to self-caddied rounds and even some coaching sessions. I was keen to attain a good standard in the sport, and the next logical step was to move up to competitive shooting. I settled on a goal of reaching B class by the end
of 2019. 

My first shoot with a competitive element happened more by accident than design. One Saturday I pitched up at Hereford & Worcester Shooting Ground for some practice. I was told that on Saturdays the club shoot was the only game in town. If I wanted to shoot, it would have to be that. So I thought, why not? 

The ground’s head coach, Ian Butler, gave me a scorecard and set me a target of 38 from 75. It was a reasonable expectation. He then pointed me in the direction of the competition stands.

As I walked up the path, I couldn’t see any reference to stand one, so I kept going. Five minutes later I was facing the horror of having to return to the clubhouse to ask for directions. I’m the sort of man who has it in his DNA to not ask for directions. Ever.

I was saved from looking like a complete numpty when I bumped into a groundsman. He pointed down a side path with instructions to shoot at the stand at the end and work my way back from there.

It made sense, but I realised two minutes later that I was starting off on the hardest stands on the course. It was a disaster. An hour later I traipsed back into the clubhouse with 24 ex-75. Ian, ever the gentleman, didn’t comment.

Dialling up the difficulty

A few months ago, the guys at Honesberie had been encouraging me to attend their Sunday morning CPSA shoot. This is held at their sister site on a nearby farm. It was time to take the plunge and dial up the difficulty.

I arrived early and well prepared, having packed my kit the night before, including my new CPSA card. I didn’t want to be flapping about on the morning of my first shoot and end up in a rush or starting late – that wouldn’t be a good way to start my first competition shoot.

On arrival, I spotted the course setter, Tom Howe, who walked me to the signing-in desk. Under a covered area, a makeshift kitchen was dispensing food, but I didn’t have the appetite for a bacon butty that day, which is most unlike me.

I’ll gladly admit to some first-time nerves. These stemmed from my desire to do well and not mess up in front of others. I like to do everything to a high standard, whatever it may be. I get annoyed when I haven’t acquitted myself well. 

I had given some thought to what success should look like for my first registered shoot. Factoring in that I was somewhat nervous, on a layout I’d never seen before and shooting pairs, I set my low benchmark at 50 per cent and my high benchmark at 60 per cent. I think this was a realistic and achievable spread for my first time.

Within minutes of arriving I was heading down the well-signposted track through the woods. There was no chance of getting lost. Stand one had about eight guys standing around waiting.

It was a bit like being at the barber’s; I tried to work out whose turn it was next. I joined the line forming behind the cage. I was puzzled when some chaps who joined the throng after me stepped in front to shoot.

Spotting my bewilderment, one of them explained that I had to hand my card to the referee when I arrived at a stand, not when I stepped into the cage.

I explained that this was my first time. Realising I was on my own, against their squad of four, his friend suggested I go ahead of them. Five minutes in, and already I was experiencing three of the best British character traits – sportsmanship, kindness and polite queuing.

The first stand was a crosser followed by a high driven. I went through the set-up routine I’d been practising with Gareth Butler at Hereford & Worcester.

Focus on the basics, I told myself. I looked down to check my foot position to discover that on the walk-in I’d had a minor run-in with a cowpat. Was this an omen?

In the end I had a good start on what turned out to be very much a pair of warm-up targets. They weren’t fast, so I had time to adjust for my ill-chosen hold points. I missed the first clay, but went on to hit six out of eight. I was pleased, but I knew things would get harder from then on.

After the first couple of stands I began to settle into a routine. My nerves hadn’t diminished, but they hadn’t got any worse. I was growing accustomed to the easy banter among friends and the conversations that would start up between individuals waiting their turn.

In life, I’ve generally adopted a policy of keeping my mouth shut and my ears and eyes open when I’m unsure of what I’m doing. On this occasion I was happy to be the grey man and soak up what was going on around me. 

Progressing around the course, I was averaging just over 50 per cent, but the stands were getting harder. On stand six the wheels came off completely – I hit a lowly two. The second bird was a long-distance white standard crossing in front of white clouds.

I didn’t even see the sighter, nor the first pair. But help came to hand. A gentleman behind me, seeing that I was having a nightmare, stepped in and gave me some tips. I had to wait until it was passing in front of some trees on its downward path before picking it up.

I was immensely grateful for this intervention, and was once again reminded of why I enjoy the camaraderie among shooters.

On the last six stands I was alternating between hitting 50 per cent then having an absolute shocker. Time was running out, and unfortunately the traps on stands nine and ten went down and took 30 minutes to bring back up. I was up against a deadline: it was my son’s birthday lunch that day, so I had to leave by midday.

On hearing this, Sean (from Stafford), who I’d got chatting to, kindly offered to let me go ahead of him, as did the three guys in front of him. It was very decent of them, but I still wouldn’t have had the time to complete stands 11 and 12. So I thanked them all and headed back to the sheds to hand my card in.

Totting up the scores, I was greatly surprised to discover that I’d hit 41 ex-82. I had just managed to scrape through to my 50 per cent target after all. I won’t sugarcoat it – there is much work to do.

But I won’t beat myself up either. There were many positives to take away, and the morning made me even more determined to press on and reach this year’s goal of getting to B class. 

I wasn’t disappointed at leaving early. As much as I love clay shooting, there are other priorities in life, and family is my main one. Overall, despite the nerves, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, so much so that if I could, I would have gone back out on the Monday and done it all again, only better.

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