James Marchington went to the first post-lockdown CPSA Registered Fitasc and Sporting competitions at Westfield.
I felt a mixture of jubilation and trepidation as I pulled into the car park at Westfield Shooting Ground, in the lovely Cotswold countryside near Cheltenham.
After weeks of lockdown, this was my first visit to a shooting ground – indeed, my first trip further than the local supermarket. It felt great to be out at a shoot again, but with the Covid-19 virus still in circulation, there was also the nagging worry about whether it would not only be safe but feel safe.
Stepping out of the car, I was met with cheery waves and greetings – the shooters were delighted to be back out, and looking forward to pulling the trigger.
It felt awkward at first, skirting round people and resisting the temptation to step up and shake hands with friends I’d missed over the lockdown. Soon, however, it became second nature, and the set-up at the ground made it easy to observe and even exceed the official guidance – which at the time involved two-metre social distancing.
Restrictions had just been relaxed to allow groups of up to six people to meet outdoors, while still keeping the two-metre rule. The shoot, however, was arranged to ensure no more than two people needed to come within anywhere near two metres of each other.
The shooters were squadded as six, and then split into pairs. Each group received a briefing in front of the clubhouse before moving on to Stand 1 in pairs.
At the first stand was a series of clearly signed waiting positions, each more than two metres apart. You and your partner would wait at the appropriate point until the next position was clear, then step forward, until eventually you reached the shooting cage. The referee kept hold of the scorecard and operated the buttons, so the shooter had no need to touch anything but their own gun and kit.
Shooters made their way round the course and at the end were encouraged not to hang about chatting around the clubhouse. Toilets were available if needed, waiting outdoors until the previous customer had left.
You could even get a takeaway tea or coffee to enjoy on the grass before heading home – and with plenty of space available there was no need to get close to any other group.
The whole system was brilliantly thought through and executed, and the shooters took care to follow the rules to the letter – it worked. Over the weekend more than 200 people shot the 100 Sporting and 100 Fitasc competitions, with everything running smoothly and to time.
Steve Lovett of The Clay Shooting Company, the organiser, told me “It’s been brilliant. We’ve had a really good weekend. The weather on Saturday was a bit hit and miss, with strong gales and chucking it down in the afternoon, but it has gone really well.”
He explained that the format was planned out during lockdown, working in conjunction with the CPSA, and they had a trial run over the bank holiday weekend to make sure it would work, before holding the first Registered competition.
“I must say I was a bit nervous about it, because it was all on timed squads, but people were going round in maybe an hour to an hour and 20 minutes – it worked really well.”
He adds “For me, it’s been a really efficient way of managing the ground. We know where everybody is at a given time. The shooters know exactly when they’re going to shoot, and there are no queues. They’re loving it. In fact a couple of them have commented that they could do more Sunday shoots on this basis.
“They can turn up, go round in an hour and a quarter, then go home and spend the rest of the day with their loved ones. Then on the flip side, you’ve got all the serious competition shooters who recognise that with this system they could do two or three shoots in a day.
“It’s a win-win. In fact even if we get back to some sort of normality, whatever that is now, I’d be tempted to carry on running this sort of system.”
Steve explains he had worked closely with CPSA national director Nicola Heron to develop the system. “She came up with the idea, saying we’ve got to think ahead, we need a system to get back competition shooting.
“She put it on paper and I looked at it and said, yeah, that’s a brilliant idea. We fine tuned this and that, and we came up with a system that really works. And unusually for the clay shooting world, it works for the ground and the shooters at the same time!”
Nicola was there on the day, not just watching but shooting the course to see how it all worked. She explained there had been a massive amount of work done behind the scenes to allow shooting to get going again. “We had to ensure that all the processes were in place to make sure it was safe.
“The options we’ve decided on for registered Sporting are fantastic because the shooters only touch their own kit. The scorecards stay on the stands, or stay with the caddy if it’s a caddy ref, and the shooters can just enjoy it.”
She continues “It’s fabulous the way Steve runs it, where six people collect to have the briefing and then move off in pairs. The pairs all work really well, because it keeps the whole flow going around the ground so you don’t see any queues. If you arrive at a stand where there isn’t anybody shooting then you get a chance to see a pair. Really, that’s all you need.”
Nicola explains that, as a governing body for the sport, it’s the CPSA’s job to liaise with the police and government. “Ian Parker, our CEO, is excellent at dealing with the government and the police authorities, and that’s meant we’ve been able to put registered shoots back on safely. It’s just great for everybody to be back doing the sport they love – and long may it continue,” she adds.
All in all it, was a hugely positive and enjoyable experience for those involved. All of the shooters I spoke to, without exception, were absolutely delighted to be back out pulling the trigger, and they had nothing but praise for the new system.
Of course, the traditional end-of-shoot prizegiving was no longer possible – instead, everyone had left the ground by 4.30, and Steve posted the results that evening on the Clay Shooting Company website. The prize money was then sent on to the winners.
Top in the Fitasc was JS Barnett with 94 ex-100, closely followed by B Husthwaite on 93. JS Barnett topped the Sporting too, sharing first place with L Hayter and N Hendrick, all on 96 ex-100. Junior winner with 91 was Josh Bennion, while our own Becky McKenzie took Ladies with 86.