As we head into a summer season of charity shoots, game-shots and clay-busters will take to the stands for fantastic causes. George Digweed, 30-time world champion, advises on how to hold your own
Summer is the season of charity shoots. They exist to raise money for fantastic causes and have fun, but sporting people are competitive types and nobody wishes to end the day with the clay conservation award. George Digweed, 26-time world champion, offers his expert advice on how to shoot well at charity shoots.
The last pheasant was bagged months ago, but there’s no need to banish your gun to the cabinet for the summer. Follow our guide to 11 things to do in the off season with your gun. Whether you are polishing the moves, encouraging a youngster or getting a gun restored, use the summer wisely.
HOW TO SHOOT WELL AT CHARITY SHOOTS
With the coming of summer, it’s time for the Purdeys and Holland & Hollands to emerge from the gun cabinet to do battle in a semi-competitive environment at a host of charity shoots, now annual fixtures on the sporting calendar. These are the events at which the game-shooting fraternity, who comfort themselves with the thought, “Well, he can shoot clays but you want to see him on live game”, might now rue those words. But they should not be surprised or upset if the clay shooters upstage them.
Game shooters have to remember that when they go clay-shooting at a charity shoot it must be done on a fun basis because as a sport in itself clay shooting standards are now so high that the chances of a proper game shooter beating a top professional clay target shooter are almost zero. In fact, they’d be lucky to get anywhere near his score.
And that doesn’t really matter, as that’s not the point of charity shoots. They exist to have fun and generate money for those less fortunate than us. Not that we get much credit for it. In a sport that is deemed so politically incorrect the BBC won’t touch it, millions of pounds are raised each year by shoots up and down the country for some fantastic charities, thanks to the generosity of shooters. But having cheerfully accepted it’s all in a good cause and mainly for fun, no one wants to end up with the wooden spoon. So if you don’t want to shoot like a lemon at charity shoots, what do you do? Here are a few guidelines that will help you shoot better and enjoy the day to the full.
Remember, game shooters always (well, almost always) shoot for fun in a non-competitive environment, with possibly only a loader or a picker-up actually seeing what they shoot when the drive is busy. That’s not the case at a charity clay-shoot. Game shooters are then out of their comfort zone with scorers counting each bird and lots of people watching. Some of the spectators might well be World, European and Olympic champions of note, for that’s the inclusive nature of our sport – a possibly unique attribute. You wouldn’t go down to your local tennis courts and find yourself competing against Murray or Federer but in the shooting field you’re likely to find their sporting equivalents. And just as you wouldn’t beat Murray don’t think you can pick up your gun twice during the summer and beat the professionals. But you can minimise the gap between their scores and yours if you take a few simple steps.
THE RIGHT KIT AND THE RIGHT MINDSET
You would not expect to perform at the top level if you went high pheasant-shooting on Exmoor with the wrong kit. Clay-pigeon shooting is no different. Make sure you take a good hat with safety glasses, as the recent trend has been for simulated driven flushes at these events. While you can predict the flight of a whole clay, broken pieces have a mind of their own. If you shoot a side-by-side, remember to take a hand guard or gloves – you are likely to fire more cartridges on a simulated drive than you would do on some of the country’s finest shoots.
Cartridges are often provided but if you are shooting an obscure calibre or guns that are chambered less than 70mm, I would suggest that you take a supply of your own cartridges; at least then you know you are sorted if your cartridges are not available.
Shooting competitively requires a different mindset to a formal game day. You have to be able to remember how you shot your first two targets and, if you hit them, be able to replicate that four or five times in a row. If you miss them, don’t keep doing the same thing and miss the lot.
Hydration plays a big part in sport now. To prevent fatigue, especially on dry, hot days, fluid should be taken in regular quantities (not the “bubbles” variety) but eating during the competition will slow your metabolism and reactions. Normally, a large lunch is provided at the end and it should be your goal to get to that lunch feeling hungry, not full – having chomped on those delicious nibbles that are often provided mid shoot.
It is the course designer’s challenge to beat people with angles and speeds. Clay targets fly in a straight line and slow down, whereas a pheasant or partridge in a wind will curl and speed up. Because they are trying to beat you with angle, when waiting your turn it is imperative that you watch the line of the targets closely while your opposition and fellow competitors are shooting.
It is vitally important when shooting all of the different stands, be it Springing Teal, driven targets, Rabbits or going away, to give yourself the best chance possible. Remember that most clays are missed by two feet – not two feet in the sky but those on the end of your legs. If your feet are wrong, your shoulders will dip and you will be off line.
By keeping your shoulders square and level your head will remain in the right place; if you keep your head still, the gun will always be where you are looking.
Going-away targets are often fast out of the trap. If you try and shoot those in the traditional game way, with your gun held down and away from your shoulder, you’ll run out of time as the clay becomes a dot in the distance. Remember that the course-setter has probably designed it to test all abilities, including “proper” clay shooters, so with these targets adopt the gun-up position, either with stock almost in your shoulder or fully mounted on the face.
Most guns tend to shoot slightly high so your focus should be to come up to the targets from underneath; as you get to the bottom edge, squeeze the trigger.
On most stands there will be three, four or five pairs, either thrown as true pairs or “on report”, with the second target being thrown the moment the trapper hears your first shot. You must train your mind to accept that you are not shooting eight or 10 targets but eight or 10 one-target competitions.
After each shot, forget the result and focus on the next target as if it were a separate competition. This mindset will allow you to go through a stand addressing each pair in the same manner, rather than building the pressure to the so-called dreaded “last pair”. How often have we seen someone doing well then blow it on the last target?
Try and shoot in clothing that is not only comfortable for the day but addresses some of the recoil issues that may result when shooting in just a polo shirt. There is a range of lightweight shooting vests available on the market now that do not make you look like a hardened clay shooter but are comfortable and absorb recoil.
A SOCIAL AFFAIR
Shooting, especially at charity shoots, is very much a social affair so while you want to maintain focus on your shooting you still want to enjoy and absorb the day around you. Most hardcore competitors tend to have the ability to switch on and off at will. I would suggest that your focus switches on when there’s one competitor in front of you before it’s your turn, maintain focus throughout your turn and then switch off as soon as your last shot is fired. Keeping the required level of focus is hard and as most events tend to involve three or four hours on the shooting stands, it’s impossible to maintain focus for that long. By switching it on and off you are only focusing during the 20 minutes or so that you are actually pulling the trigger.
At the end of most charity days, sometimes during the day, there is the “team flush”, an event during which your four-man team can gel together, work as a team and carry anybody who is having an off day. I would advise that the two strongest shots take the outside stands, with the two remaining guns in the middle. Their game plan is to attack the targets as soon as they are seen, with the two outside guns clearing up what targets are left. As long as you stick to your game plan, good scores can be achieved with everybody taking full credit.
Above all, these events are an opportunity for the whole shooting community to come together and not to get wound up too much over who’s a “game shooter” or a “clay shooter”. These days most of us do a bit of both. The primary objective of charity events is to raise money and while the winners of the event are noted at the prize giving, it is not the main reason to be there. But it is nice to avoid the “clay conservation” award…
George Digweed MBE has now won 30 World Championships and is a formidable game-shot.