We thought learning to hit a flying target sounded like fun. So who better to give us an introduction to clay pigeon shooting than Suffolk's own champ, John Bidwell; six times FITASC Sporting World Champion, European Champion, English Open Champion and head of High Lodge, one of the UK's top clay shooting venues…
Clay pigeon shooting is the sport of shooting at flying targets, known as clay pigeons or clay targets, with a shotgun. A machine called a 'trap' projects the targets. Clays of different weight and quality are used and are projected in various ways by the trap.
Do most people come into clay shooting to learn to shoot game?
Clay shooting is an entirely different sport to live game shooting. There are people who do both, but the majority tend to take up clay shooting as a pastime in its own right. A lot of people just turn up and practice each day, not to get involved in competition but just for the challenge of hitting a few targets. Many people find, once they've tried clay shooting, it becomes quite addictive.
Do clays still imitate the movement of different types of animals?
Yes. Clay pigeon shooting was originally a way of brushing up your game shooting. You'd have targets to shoot at such as the 'driven pheasant', the 'high pigeon', the 'driven grouse', 'the crow' and 'floppy crow', the duck and the teal, which is a rising bird. Today there are many sophisticated different types of clay, and we don't really give them bird names any more. Battue targets are very flat and thin; they fly very fast and twist and turn in the air. The midi is a 90mm sized target, which flies quite quickly. The standard 120mm target comes in an array of different colours, which can alter the challenge of shooting at them. The mini is a 60mm tiny thing that really whizzes through the air; it doesn't go very far but is very fast. Then you have the rabbit, a solid, thicker clay that bounces and rolls along the ground.
How quickly can a learner pick up the skill?
I guarantee we can get anyone taking their first lesson at High Lodge to hit simple targets, consistently, within an hour. No problem, within a few minutes even. It's not difficult, it's something that is based on natural hand and eye co-ordination, it's as simple as catching a ball. You keep your eye on it, and the hand comes to the ball.
What's the trick?
It's all about understanding what you are trying to achieve. There are roughly 400 pellets in a shotgun cartridge, and they come out of the gun in what's called a shot string. The length of the shot string can be three to four metres in some cases. The idea is to present the shot string ahead of the target, so that the target runs into it. Clay shooters need to learn a simple technique to keep the gun ahead of the target, to keep moving with it and to judge and co ordinate the correct forward allowance, and that's what we teach. I developed my own technique, born of simple trial and error. I'd say; …move the gun, mount the gun and shoot.? The speed at which you say those three words, Move Mount Shoot, is the speed at which you actually operate. Now the Move Mount Shoot technique is recognised by coaches around the world, and the CPSA have adopted it as part of their teaching curriculum.
How does clay pigeon shooting work at competition level?
We advise anyone learning clay shooting to join the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association, the CPSA. They have a classification system and CPSA members get the opportunity to shoot in registered regional and national competitions. When you shoot in one of the registered competitions, of which there are hundreds around the country, your score goes through to the CPSA. An average score is taken over three competitions and from this you're categorised into either AAA, AA, A B or C class, C class being the lowest.
Tell us a bit about your own competition career
In the '70s I shot for England, and in 1978 I shot for Great Britain for the first time. There are four members of the Great Britain team, and I've been a member for the last 30 years, right up until now. This year I shot for the Great Britain team in the European championship in France, we won the gold medal there. I won't be attending the world championship in Australia in a few weeks, it'll be the first one I've missed for many, many years. At the age of 55 competition clay shooters become 'veterans'. I've been a veteran for the last six years, and I'm current world champion in the veteran class. I've won three world championships as a veteran and three European championships so 'I done quite well' at that.
For further information on High Lodge?clay pigeon shooting school visit www.highlodge.co.uk or contact the school on 01986 784347. ?
The Clay Pigeon Shooting Association is the national governing body of the sport. You can find details of regional clay pigeon shooting clubs and associations via the CPSA website, along with introductory information on the sport.