Clay days are hugely entertaining and help charities raise essential funds. Follow these golden rules for success, but remember, it’s the taking part that counts, says Jonathan Irby

Follow Jonathan Irby’s top tips for how to survive at a charity shoot – from what to wear, the faux pas to avoid and the kit you need to make a success of it.

George Digweed, 30-time world champion, gives his advice on how to hold your own at a charity shoot. 

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It used to start with a telephone call, then it moved to emails, but nowadays the call to arms comes via WhatsApp: “Morning, are you free to shoot as part of my team on a charity shoot this summer?” Typically, and wherever possible, we all try to say yes. A day shooting with friends in the summer sun, finishing with a good lunch and all for a worthy cause – what’s not to love? Invitation accepted, the event slides to the back of your mind until, with a week to go, you get the reminder from your host saying how they are relying upon you to help the team win. No pressure. 

So, what to do and how to prepare for such a day? Well, first of all, allow me to adapt the words of the founder of the Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin: “The most important thing at a charity shoot is not the winning but taking part.” That is not to say you can’t try your hardest but, in much the same way that a safe Shot will always be welcome on a game day, so too will a fun and generous Shot be welcome on a day where raising laughter and money is the aim. 

Over the past two decades, ‘clay days’ have become a hugely entertaining and successful way for charities to raise the essential funds that enable them to exist. As their popularity has increased, so too have the levels of creativity and innovation that go into running the days. The result being that, on a charity shoot day, one can expect some hugely exciting shooting that may require a greater degree of effort and concentration than anticipated. But as with most of life, there are a few top tips that will help you to get the most out of the day.


1. If you are a team captain, be sure to invite three friends who will make you laugh, enjoy the day and contribute to the charity. Don’t try to create a shooting equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters.  Not least because such a team is easy to spot and will often invoke unpublished rules from the organisers that handicap any ‘professionals’ to ensure a more level playing field. As somebody who played in a Colts rugby team that endured emphatic losses of 96-0 and 72-0, there is something most disheartening about turning up to any sporting event when the result is a forgone conclusion. It tightens the wallets. 

2. Turn up on time. The charity team will have put a huge amount of work and effort into the day, and it always helps if the day starts on time. You might be there on time, but what to wear?

 3. As somebody whose wardrobe is heavily biased towards autumn and features 50 shades of green, I would advise you to avoid heavy tweeds. Think ‘August grouse with an urban twist’. Jeans or chinos, shirt and shooting waistcoat, sturdy shoes and, of course, sunglasses (it’s good to be an optimist). But also plan ahead for lunch – have a jacket and tie in the car just in case.

4. If possible, bring your own gun. A good shooting ground will have a spare gun on each stand, but it may not be what you are used to and nobody wants to hear you carping on about how you could shoot better if you had your own gun.

5. If you shoot with a side-by-side, be sure to bring your hand guard or gloves. You will rapidly become deadweight to your team if, during a flush, you can’t hold your hot barrels. As a small note, if you shoot with anything other than a 12- or 20-bore, do please be sure to let your host know so they can advise the organisers. 

6. Leave your dog at home. It is a rather dull day for a dog, and they may not always be welcome at lunch and you can’t guarantee your car will be in the shade.

7. Pay attention at the briefing. At this stage it is worth looking at the format of the shooting. All days will start with a safety briefing. Listen carefully and keep quiet so that everybody can hear what is being said. It is at this stage that you will be given some hearing and eye protection and quite possibly a cap with a sponsor’s logo. Please don’t kick up a fuss about having to wear glasses or shoot in a cap. It is for your own safety and also, given the generosity of the sponsor, the least you can do. I once heard a most wonderfully elegant and occasionally direct dowager chastise a rather pompous guest who was scoffing that he never wore glasses and could only ever shoot in his own cap. She turned to him and said, “You might see better, and you will certainly look smarter if you wear what you have been given. Now, be a good boy and do as you are told.” In most instances, when the event is at a shooting ground, you and your team will rotate around a number of stands, shooting individually before all shooting together for the team flush. On individual stands, the shooting will typically be suitable for all abilities, with plenty of variety and many of the ‘birds’ having nothing to do with any species you will ever see in the wild. 

8. Tricky stands. There will be one or two stands designed to sort the wheat from the chaff. At the Royal Berkshire Shooting School, of which I am managing director, we always put on at least one if not two stands of rabbits on our days. So many people miss ‘bunnies’ high and in front. The tip to shooting them is to shoot the ground the clay is rolling on and not swing through the clay itself, and also to cut back on your lead. A rabbit clay pigeon is decelerating faster than any other clay due to the friction between the actual
clay and the ground. Another clay you may see is a ‘teal’. This is where the clay climbs vertically up before dropping back to earth. The key to shooting a teal is to be patient. Wait until the clay has reached its zenith and is about to drop, then shoot straight at it. It is one of the few times you will ever feel you are aiming a shotgun.

9. The team flush is one of the best parts of any charity shoot. I describe this as Supermarket Sweep meets Grab a Grand with a shotgun. It is when the whole team shoots at the same time. All that matters is that the team shoots well – there is no individual element here. So, what are the tricks of the trade to ensure you shoot a flush successfully? Have left-handed Shots on the left of the line and vice versa for right-handers. This will allow people to shoot to their natural and preferred side. Then, if you think you can stick to it, agree who is shooting ‘first and fast’ and who is sweeping. As regards flushes, some charity shoot days are held on sporting estates instead of at a shooting ground. Here you will find that the day comprises a series of drives or flushes where you always shoot as a team and there is no individual element. I love these days as you get to visit and shoot on estates that you might otherwise never get to see (this year alone Royal Berkshire is running days at Highclere, Windsor and Wormsley). The advice here remains the same: try to have a pattern of who shoots early and who shoots what.

10. Time spent in reconnaissance (as in pigeon shooting) is time well spent. If, while waiting for your turn, you can watch, you will see where the birds are coming from and establish a pattern. You can then allocate different members of the team to shoot specific birds. But if you have somebody like me in your team, who suffers from short memory and impatience, this can quickly go wrong. Equally, if the person running the drive spots that you are perhaps trying too hard, you must not be surprised if the speed and direction changes. Remember, it is the taking part that counts.

11.  If loading for yourself and there are trays, get the cartridges ready. If there is a loader (a lovely luxury), then I prefer to break and reload after one shot when possible. Equally as important is to talk to your neighbours to say when you are ‘ready’ or ‘empty’. It does make quite a difference. When shooting at a charity day on an estate, if you are driving around, please stick to the tracks and park where and when told. Often the owner has generously given the estate to the charity for the day and so it is only fair that everybody makes every effort to look after the ground. You may have the smartest new 4×4, but you will soon become a long-remembered pain in the axle if you cut across a crop or cavort across a field margin.  You will get little sympathy if, due to a bout of laziness, you try to park too close and end up with a few dents on the bonnet from falling clays. So, the shooting is over, and you have acquitted yourself well. What next? Return to the shoot lodge, marquee or barn and be sure to pass your scorecard in before settling down for lunch. This is the most crucial part of the day and when the charity will seek to raise funds while educating the assembled guests as to the cause itself. It is at this stage that the shooting community continues to astound me. Having been lucky enough to host, run and attend many charity shoots, I know that shooting men and women are incredibly generous. 

 12. Which brings me to my final and glorious 12th tip: bring both cash and your credit card. You can pay on the spot for anything you buy. Please be quiet during the auction and be as generous as you can. Finally, have fun and don’t try too hard to win.