Olympic Skeet hotshot and Sporting Diana Jess Burgess on navigating the fine balance between a City career and the pursuit of competitive shooting
Growing up in the suburbs, country life was relatively unknown to me until I was in secondary school. I’d certainly never heard the words ‘Olympic Skeet’. My father stumbled across rural pursuits and found them a wonderful escape from his City job. He offered me some pocket money to load his gun on a game day. I was woefully underprepared for the snow and mud, overwhelmed in my mum’s oversized waterproof jacket and without boots. However, I managed to have my first go at shooting, using my dad’s Beretta 12-bore on an overhead pigeon. The cold and wet, combined with the heaviness of the gun and recoil, initially put me off. But later I was offered the chance to shoot clays with a 20-bore using 21g cartridges, and I didn’t look back.
Once I got the right gear, I loved the simple pleasures of being outside. I was fortunate enough to shoot through school, where Sarah Daley was coach, and I was able to practise on Wednesdays as part of designated ‘sports time’. This is when I did my first bit of competitive clay shooting. It was here that ‘Olympic Skeet’ was first mentioned but, when the ranges were hard to come by, I didn’t actively pursue the discipline. However, the London 2012 Olympics were a good opportunity to see this sport firsthand. My mind was blown. I watched the ladies’ final, one of Kimberly Rhode’s world-record events. She demonstrated such calm and consistency under pressure – it was inspiring and I felt I needed to explore the discipline further.
First taste of Olympic Skeet
After some research I found ranges at the National Clay Shooting Centre, where I had my first lesson. While I loved the experience, with GCSEs looming and hopes of a City career after university, I decided to wait until I had achieved what I wanted academically. I continued shooting all the way through school and university, though, before landing squarely in a job in London. It wasn’t long before I wanted to put regular clay shooting back into my life. The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club had recently sprung up, so I joined and took part in a few local get-togethers. While I didn’t win rosettes for my baking, my shooting was more successful. By chance, Anita North and Allen Warren held an Olympic discipline taster day, including Olympic Trap and Olympic Skeet. This was where my Olympic Skeet journey began.
In the discipline’s off-season between 2016-17, I met Pip Watson, an established Olympic Skeet shot. She took me under her wing and taught me the basics. She set me up brilliantly for the British Shooting Talent Pathway, where I started my training with David Dale. Before long I was advancing up the British Shooting programme, working with Allen Warren, who was instrumental in my journey to making the England and Great Britain teams. I have now almost entirely stopped doing any other shooting disciplines, and more recently I started working with Jeremy Bird, a noted GB Olympic Skeet shooter. However, with only 24 hours in a day, my biggest challenge has always been managing my energy through the week so I can train and compete at weekends. All while holding down a full-time job in finance. It can be relentless at times.
Training while holding down a full-time job
So why do I do it? It’s simple: I love the sport. I love the process of training, improvement, failing, getting back up and growing stronger. I love the adrenaline rush, the contrast of being outside and sitting behind a desk. With more than 15 years of experience, I have now been competing in Olympic Skeet for five years. I represent Great Britain (seven caps) and have two caps for England. Last year was my first representing Great Britain, where I won a quota place for the European Games (designated to the country, not the individual) and achieved European Championships team gold. I also hold the 2022 ladies’ titles in both the UK Championships and British Championships. Alongside this, I have maintained eight years of a City career amid the often hours-long trip to the ranges for training and competition. I am always exploring new ways to support my shooting career and most recently joined the Eley Hawk family for 2023.
TOP TIP The country life and its opportunities will be there for you when you are ready, so choose your time and back yourself.
Looking for top tips on the best shooting kit? Check out our guide to the best cartridge bags. Want to learn more about our inspirational Sporting Dianas? Click here to read about what motivates rural mental health campaigner Rebecca Wilson.
Thank you to Dubarry for supporting Sporting Dianas in fieldsports. See Dubarry’s range of sporting clothing and footwear here.