The New GL43 General Licence
Even for old hands, reinforcing the importance of safety is a good idea, and for newcomers, it’s utterly essential. The golden rule? Always treat a closed gun like it’s loaded, even if you know it’s not. What’s more, never aim it close to others or yourself. No matter what type of gun you’re shooting or what type of target you’re aiming at, it’s also important to go equipped with shooting insurance, to keep yourself and others safe.
Finding your dominant eye will help you work out whether you’re a left handed or right handed shooter, and whether you should shoot with one eye or both eyes open. The ratio tends to be oddly gender specific, with about two-thirds of men having a dominant right eye, and two-thirds of women their left.
To work it out, bring your two hands together to create a triangle like the image below. Then centre an object near you in the triangle. Close your left eye. If the object stays in the triangle, you have a dominant right eye. If not, it’s your left.
Clay shooting is one of the few all-inclusive sports; men, women and children can all compete against each other on an even playing field. This makes it a fantastic family hobby. If you are completely new to shooting and looking to have a go there are a couple of ways you can go about this:
Find a clay ground. If you don't have a shotgun licence, the ground will need to have a section 11 certificate, this allows people without the authority to own a shotgun to shoot whilst under supervision. We recommend booking a lesson, a good instructor will run through the basics of safe gun handling, help you find a gun to suit you and help you start hitting clays!
Go to a country show or game fair. Most of the big shooting shows and game fairs will have a ‘try it out’ stand. It’s worth keeping an eye on the Gunstar facebook page for the latest shows. You won't get much tuition but it is a good way to tell if you like the sport!
So you’ve had a go and you’re hooked, what do you do now? Clay Pigeon shooting is a sport where concentration levels are key, no matter what your skill level is. If you aren't concentrating, the chances of you having a successful day are slim to none. Regardless of how long you've been shooting, there is always room for improvement which is one of the many things that is great about this sport.
If you have had a couple of lessons already, you're probably ready to have a go alone. Along with practice, instruction is the best way to improve your shooting and is something we would recommend you keep doing all the way through your shooting life. After a few lessons, you should be able to analyse your failings to try and figure out what you've done wrong. If you can't work out why you are missing, other shooters are usually happy to help; just ask! We were all beginners at some point!
One of the things that we've really picked up on is the number of people who've failed in their first competition and then given up. All of the top clay shots have worked hard, with most of them having some dreadful first competitions. If you're entering competitions early on, be patient and relax. It's the best way to calm those competition nerves. When you are stood on a stand, with a queue of people waiting to shoot and watching your every move, it can be disconcerting and off-putting. The key is to get your ear defenders on and focus on your target; you've got to try and shut out the rest of the world.
'Watch the bird'. Knowing where that clay is going to be flying is the key to success and this is usually referred to as 'reading a clay'. It's one of the key skills that you'll need to learn. Your instructor will go into more detail but the things you need to ask yourself are:
Where is the clay coming from?
Where is the clay going?
How fast is the clay travelling?
Where do I first see the clay?
Where am I going to try and break it?
Once you have an answer to all these questions you should be able to work out where to ‘pick up the clay’ (start pointing the gun at it), how much lead to give and how your body should be positioned. Get all these right and you'll do well. If you find a stand with a bird you've not come across before and don’t do so well, don’t let it get to you. Everyone has a had a bad stand in the past; only practice will make perfect. We recommend you try and visit as many different grounds as possible to give you the edge. The bigger the variety of stands you practise the better you’ll get, plus it's a great way to meet like-minded people!
Once you have gotten into the swing of shooting -pun intended- you’ll need a gun! We have a huge selection of suitable guns listed on our site, which fit all budgets from small to large. I would recommend if you're looking at guns that aren't brand new, that you read this article on buying a second-hand shotgun safely.
There are a huge variety of shotguns available. If you are looking at shooting game as well, you'll be after something slightly different to someone who wants to shoot any of the trap disciplines. The three main types you'll come across are Side by Side (barrels are next to each other), Over and Under (barrels are on top of each other) and Semi-Automatic (single barrel with a magazine). The most common style you’ll see at the clay ground is an over and under. Although semi-autos are becoming more popular, they are sometimes frowned upon in competitions.
Once you have a gun there are a few other necessary accessories you'll need, these are;
Cartridges (Usually available at the clay ground)
Waterproofs (usually essential in the UK)
A gun case
Shooting vest or jacket
You’ll see lots of expensive shooting vests and electronic ear defenders when you walk around a clay shoot but don't think this is compulsory! Having all the kit is certainly nice, but remember you are there to shoot, not to look pretty! Good footwear should be at the top of your shopping list, it's possible you'll cover a lot of ground between stands and at some shoots the terrain can be interesting. We recommend a solid pair of walking boots. A decent shooting jacket or vest should be second on your list. There is a huge number available in varying styles. We recommend you try and wear the same outer layer every time you shoot, at least to begin with, this gives you one less factor to adjust to every time you're out. A decent pair of ear defenders or earplugs are also essential- it's unlikely you'll be allowed on the range without them. It's possible to spend hundreds of pounds on earplugs but a £20 pair will be ok for the average shooter. It's always worth getting them from a gun shop so you can see if they get in the way when you mount a shotgun. When clay pigeons break, it's possible fragments will come your way, for this reason, we recommend you wear shooting glasses, most gun shops should stock a few different pairs for you to try.
In conclusion what tips would we offer to someone starting out?
Watch the bird! Stare it to death.
Practice, practice, practice!
Make sure you get a gun that fits.
Take regular lessons.
Ask the advice of other shooters.
Don't just go to one ground.
Don't let a few misses get you down.
Most important of all - Have fun!