One of the most traditional of British pursuits, shooting is easy to begin but challenging to master – that’s what makes it addictive. Caroline Roddis has all you need to know to get started.
Whether it’s sharing a laugh with friends at a clay ground, gazing through your rifle sight at a tiny target positioned a kilometre down range, or experiencing the unparalleled thrill of watching grouse hurtle towards you over a majestic Scottish moor, there is nothing quite like shooting. It’s a sport that has developed hand-in-hand with the evolution of firearms, although both the engineering developments (in particular the breech-loading shotgun and the pin-fire cartridge) and royal patronage of the mid-19th century had an especially strong influence on what we recognise as shooting today.
Shooting is a sport that is easy to begin yet challenging to master, making it an addictive hobby. To excel, you’ll need to have good hand-eye coordination and boatloads of self-discipline, but you don’t need to be Olympic gold medallist Peter Wilson (Double Trap in 2012) to enjoy the sport – whatever your level there are abundant opportunities to make lifelong friends and immerse yourself in one of the most traditional of British pursuits.
If you’re thinking about taking up shooting, the first question you’ll need to ask is shotgun or rifle? There is no reason that you can’t try shooting with both, but having a clear idea of where you want to start will make your journey into the sport much easier.
Shotgun shooting is what most people will encounter first, but the impression you might get from a corporate day or a stag do is far from the full picture. There are numerous different clay shooting disciplines, ranging from English Sporting, where you’re presented with clays that mimic the movements of birds and rabbits, to the highly competitive and slightly zany Helice – a simulated version of the live pigeon shooting popular with the aristocracy in the early 1900s, in which each clay is equipped with plastic wings that create frustratingly erratic movements! Proficiency in clay shooting is also essential if you want to venture into the wonderful world of game shooting, whether that’s spending a few hours tucked into a pigeon hide, or a whole weekend centred around a driven pheasant day on a great estate.
Rifle shooting is, from an external perspective, much more sedate, but it still gives a thrill. Most of the time, especially as a beginner, the targets you’re shooting at will be static – often a simple set of concentric rings with a bullseye. The skills needed are slightly different too: breath control, careful positioning and accurate sighting are all hugely important, no matter whether you’re shooting with a small-bore .22 or a thrillingly high-powered .762. Proficiency with a rifle is essential if you want to go stalking – always the best way to stock up on venison – or pursue large quarry overseas.
Whichever you choose, the next step is to book a lesson at your local ground. Every venue has a dedicated team of instructors, many of whom have more competition medals than you can shake a (shooting) stick at, and beginners are always welcome. You can find the most convenient ground online, where you’ll also be able to compare the packages offered: many venues offer dedicated packages of three or more lessons for complete beginners, often with a tempting discount and other perks. Lessons can also sometimes be taken with a friend or in a group – simply contact your chosen venue to discuss your options.
All first lessons should cover a few essential basics, including safety, gun mount and eye dominance. These are essential to your future enjoyment of shooting and instructors will go over these in detail before you get out onto the range.
Once you move on to staring down the barrel(s), don’t worry if you don’t hit a lot of the targets. Your aim at this stage should simply be to get a feel for the gun, determine whether you enjoy the sport and soak up your instructor’s knowledge – the high scores will follow!
Regardless of the type of shooting you do, there is no set number of lessons that you should take. Instead, your aim should be to get to the point where you feel comfortable going out onto the range unaccompanied, be that on a charity clay shoot, for a competition or simply a day out with friends.
There are excellent shooting grounds all over the country. If you’re in London you have easy access to two of the best. Holland & Holland, run by the same company that makes beautiful English guns, is based on acres of impeccably manicured land near Ruislip and boasts some of the best instructors in the world for both shotgun and rifle. Similarly, the nearby West London Shooting School offers expert tuition on all aspects of shooting in beautiful surroundings, and has just completed a vast extension of its rifle range to offer an experience that replicates the thrill of shooting driven boar.
A little further afield lies Bisley, not only home to an excellent clay ground but also the place for rifle shooting in England. Contact the Old Sergeant’s Mess Shooting Club for shooting lessons over a wide variety of distances, not to mention a comfortable clubhouse for post-shoot drinks. Gloucestershire, meanwhile, is home to the excellent Ian Coley Shooting School, which has a huge range of testing clay layouts alongside an air rifle range – if you can drag yourself out of their tempting gun shop, that is.