Jason Simon reports from Owls Lodge

A deceptively tricky 100 Sporting course at Owls Lodge left some shooters scratching their heads, James Simon reports

Immaculate, Richard, Tanya and their team spent the lockdown refurbishing the ground

Step out of the clubhouse at Richard and Tanya Faulds’ Owls Lodge Shooting School onto the green, immaculately manicured grounds and you’ll fall under the knowing gaze of two statuesque owls. A clue that this is a ground that favours the wise over the bold. 

This is certainly true of the CPSA registered 100 English Sporting fixture that was shot on 18 July. Conditions were near perfect, with the sun breaking through the clouds bang on cue at 9.30am, just as the first competitors were being welcomed at reception.

It turned out to be a glorious English summer’s day, all blue skies and sunshine, with a light westerly breeze taking the heat out of what would have been a scorching afternoon.

The 13 stand layout was set by the mischievous Graham Smith, the ground manager. We caught up with him as the first few squads were making their way around. 

A grinning Graham Smith looks on as competitors tackle his challenging course

“My primary intention is to make the day fun,” said Graham, with a glint in his eye and broad smile on his face. “I want the course to be challenging but not impossible. I also want to offer variety, so people feel they’ve had a really good day out. There are some straightforward stands out there, together with others that may look simple, but will leave a few shooters scratching their heads and thinking ‘what happened there!?’.

“It will be interesting to see what happens on Stand 3. There’s a teal that rises quite fast, so shooters will need to carefully judge where to shoot it before it gets too far away from them. Then, a high-climbing left to right bird that’s going to test a few nerves.

“Stand 4 could be a card-wrecker for some. A devious little left-to-right midi thrown from our tower, followed by a standard left-to-right. This is possibly the hardest stand on the course.

“Then, close to the end, they’ve got Stand 11, a left-to-right chandelle followed by left-to-right midi. Many shots dread loopers, but they’ve got to decide whether to shoot it at the peak, or on the drop.

High gun was within reach for Josh Brown until the penultimate stand

“Finally, the rabbits on Stand 13 could be a real laugh. Or spoil somebody’s day. There’s always unpredictability in rabbits, so I can’t wait to see how everyone does.”

Graham’s predictions were spot on, with Stand 4 in particular giving almost all of the 163 competitors the heebie jeebies. The crows on Stand 10 gave some shots pause for thought too. In fact, so treacherous were these targets it turned out that you wouldn’t need a full complement of fingers and thumbs to count the number of competitors with a nine in front of their final scores. 

Richard King stormed through to take high gun with an exceptional 97 ex 100, two clays clear of his nearest competitor. The crows on Stand 10 proved his nemesis, dropping two there and another target on Stand 5. The trickier stands didn’t faze him.

Richard King stormed through to take high gun with 97 ex 100

“I’ve had a great day,” said Richard, “Owls Lodge always puts on a good show. The hanging crows caught me out though, and I shot in front of two of them. Other than that, I’m really delighted with the result.”

Two targets away on 95 ex 100 was Josh Brown. “Everything was going well,” laughed Josh, “until I dropped the last pair on Stand 12 – a low right-to-left crosser followed by a midi right-to-left. I just hope I beat the boss!” Josh works at Barbury with Huw Stephens, a relationship always ripe for some friendly rivalry. Stands 4 and 5 also proved troublesome for Josh, dropping one on each.

Steve Scott was just behind Josh with 94 ex 100. “This is always such a lovely shoot,” said Steve, “I always have a great time here. I’ve just driven down from Bisley where I was shooting rifles this morning, so I’ve had to go from being dead steady to flexible and fluid within a few hours. The rabbits let me down, but other than that what a great day.”

If you could score points for cheery enthusiasm then Argun Ismet and his wife Ceyla would take high gun every time. Shooting his ‘n’ hers Blaser F3s the couple were having a ball at Owls Lodge. Ismet was one of the few morning shots to get into the 90s with a very respectable 93 ex 100, and he held this lead over the rest of the field for most of the day.

Ceyla Ismet found Stands 4 and 11 particularly tough, but enjoyed the day

“I’ve been shooting here for three years,” said Argun, “it’s one of our favourite grounds. Today is typical in that they put on challenging targets that really test you but not to the point where it’s no fun. Everything is hittable, you just have to work out how.”

Ceyla found the course tough but was still grinning with her 78 ex 100. “Stands 4 and 11 were hard, but it’s taught me to be more patient with my shooting. Not to get too frustrated and to remember to enjoy our time here.”

Paul Woodley was joint fifth with Des Sturgess on 92 ex 100. He was in the first squad out, starting in the cool of the morning and finishing in the warmth of the midday sun.

“I loved the downhill rabbits on Stand 13, they were so much fun! Not the Chondel and the midi on Stand 11 and the crosser and midi on Stand 12 though, I missed a couple there. Lots of clever targets today, so many edges and unpredictable angles. A good day.”

Ceyla Ismet found Stands 4 and 11 particularly tough, but enjoyed the day

Squad mate Leigh Loveridge echoed Paul’s thoughts on the ingenious targets, finding Stand 11 particularly deceptive. 

Emma Stacey had a disastrous start, missing four on the first stand, but still managed to be the top scoring Lady with 85 ex 100. “I wasn’t in the right mindset to begin with but as soon as I gave the targets more lead, I managed to kill my first pair and was back in the competition.” 

Like almost everyone else, she had a  wobble on Stand 4 but regained her focus to pull in some consistently high scores. 

“The crossers off the tower were tricky,” said Emma, “you really needed to get under them with a fast gun. Richard and his team have done a great job today.”

The day started badly for Emma Stacey, but she soon found her form

Amy Easeman, who was not far behind on 83 ex 100, shot in a squad with her father Phil and friend Chelsea King. “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed today,” grinned Amy. “My score is not the best but there’s no stand that I have particularly struggled with.

“Unfortunately, I just missed a clay or two on each one. I think it’s been an interesting course, and it’s right to be challenging. It’s been tough for novices like Chelsea, but we’ve enjoyed ourselves and that’s the whole point of clay shooting.”  

The recent switch from Olympic Skeet, due to work and education commitments, found Faye Wills, 63 ex 100, struggling with the transition. “It’s been a great learning experience today but I’m shooting everything too quickly.” It was the first time Faye, who was on the Talent Pathway for Olympic Skeet, had shot at Owls Lodge and she left impressed with the ground if not her scores.

Junior Dan Carpenter also felt a little beaten up by some of the targets. “The crows on Stand 10 were definitely out to get me. I let six slip past! Still, it’s been a worthwhile day, and I always appreciate my time here. Richard has been a great mentor to me.”

Despite the tough targets there were smiles and laughter all round

Colt and TSC Champion Bethany Norton had a mixed day too. “It started so well. I was on form for the first three stands but hit a tough patch in the middle of the competition.” It began to unravel for Bethany on Stand 4 and this run of bad luck hounded her through 5, 6, 7 and 8 too. But she regained her composure with the Teal on Stand 9 and didn’t look back after that, finishing on 66 ex 100. 

It was a tough day, and many competitors shared highs and lows, just like Bethany. But isn’t that the point of clay shooting? Isn’t that why we keep returning for more?

Given the number of smiles, and the amount of laughter ringing out around the stands, I bet everyone left feeling better than when they arrived. Perhaps a little wiser too.

Surviving Lockdown

Richard Faulds remained positive during lockdown, using his time to refurbish Owls Lodge

“Lockdown was horrible,” confides Richard Faulds, “and enormously difficult for many people. But instead of getting sucked into negativity, Tanya and I decided to take the time to build something better for our customers. All of the stands have been re-built with brand new timberwork, the trap range has been re-roofed, and the hardstanding around the ground has been replaced. Lots of people are commenting that the ground has never looked better.”

Fortunately, since restrictions were lifted in mid-May the ground has been very busy with practice days and registered shoots. It seems that club regulars were desperate to get out and start shooting again.

“We’re open for practice most Tuesday and Thursdays and we’re running four or five fixtures every month. Both practice days and events are proving extremely popular with, for example, more than 160 shots competing today. It’s a relatively small ground but one with a big character. We work hard to ensure that customers remain both challenged and entertained in equal measure by constantly revising the layouts. Fortunately, we’ve never been reliant on corporate days but I do feel for those shoots that are.”

What about the couple’s own shooting, how did they cope during lockdown?

“Sadly, due to the lack of major competitions, this year has pretty much been written off for Tanya and me. The British Open is going ahead, which is tremendously exciting but competing is what keeps us shooting – we need those big events. Once we’d come to terms with having an empty calendar it gave us the opportunity to invest our energy into the ground.”

The scores in full

Seniors

1 – Richard King: 97
2 – Joshua Brown: 95
3 – Steve Scott: 94
4 – Argun Ismet: 93
5 = Paul Woodley: 92
5 = Desmond Sturgess: 92
7 = Stuart Rudling: 91
7 = Chris Childerhouse: 91
7 = Huw Stephens: 91
10 – Joe Hemmings: 89

Ladies

1 – Emma Stacey: 85
2 – Amy Easeman: 83
3 = Ceyla Ismet: 78
3 = Sian Hoskins: 78
5 – Natasha Vadasz: 74

Juniors

1 – Daniel Carpenter: 71
2 – Toby Moon: 70
3 – Harry Pitts: 64

Colts

1 – Joshua Poyser: 76
2 – James Collins: 71
3 – Bethany Norton: 66


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