Shooting clays doesn't have to be boring, as a new venture on the Isle of Wight is proving.

‘It’s a strange thing we do down here,’ admits James Thorp when asked to explain the new simulated shoot he’s established at Kern Farm on the Isle of Wight. Designed to mimic driven game shooting, Mr Thorp’s simulated shoot replaces live birds with oscillating traps that throw out randomly timed clay targets.

Though more varied than traps set to one, more predictable, angle, typically used in clay pigeon shooting, stalwarts of traditional driven days claim that the targets in a simulated shoot move too slowly and, with nothing to mimic the individual flight patterns of different birds, too predictably. That is until now.
shooting on kern farm 4

Following the success of a simulated day to celebrate a birthday and fit in some pre-season practice, Mr Thorp was visiting a local shooting school when a trap, shaped like ‘a giant cake tin’, caught his eye. He tracked down where it had come from and promptly bought one of his own. The machine could fire clays double the usual distance and at twice the speed to extraordinary heights.

Even without these powerful traps, the farm’s location, surrounded by spectacular countryside, is a success story in itself. High levels of sandy soil, brought about by Kern’s proximity to the sea, have resulted in small and tight valleys, some open and others wooded.

The clays that fly overhead do not just do so at a fast and challenging angle, but in varying sequences that simulate pheasant, partridge and even (new this season) grouse.

clay shooting at kern farm1

Service is the final, but unforgettable, element in Mr Thorp’s bid to outdo more run of the mill clay shooting operations. ‘Every day I do is a bespoke day,’ he asserts. Great lengths are gone to in an effort to find out about clients’ shooting capabilities, interests and hopes for the day. The experience will also guarantee plenty of shooting—guns can expect to go through 250 to 250 cartridges each and 6,000 to 12,000 clays.

Understandably, this emphasis on the individual translates to the hospitality, from the type of lunch guests would like (Mr Thorp offers everything from formal lunches laden with fresh seafood to more relaxed buffets) to the wine they want to drink. ‘Evidence from previous people’ Mr Thorp stresses ‘is not what I expect you to find.’ Broken clays and spent cartridge cases are meticulously cleared between days to prevent guns guessing where the clays might come from.

It was always going to be hard to convince the critics, but it seems that Mr Thorp has an answer to every question thrown at him. What about those who say they’ll miss the thrill, and unpredictability of shooting at a live target?

Low flying flurries of clays, developed to look like grouse skimming over the heather, ensure that the element of excitement, and skill, is still very much there. ‘My brother was nearly killed by a bird to the neck…a clay won’t kill you but it can give you a nasty cut,’ adds Mr Thorp. But what about gundogs? Apparently, some dogs love picking up clays, although Thorp’s own is ‘utterly useless’ and just breaks them in her mouth. The shoots are also an effective way of training gun-shy dogs to sit at heel without distraction of falling birds.

It’s not surprising that Mr Thorp is so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about shooting. He started shooting at the age of nine ‘at home with a meagre pocketful of cartridges, trying to make each one count’. A philosophy that Mr Thorp carries with him today. He understands the importance of conservation and what shooting has to offer.

Looking ahead, Mr Thorp predicts a decline in large corporate days out where emphasis is on the number of targets. A move from the ‘sausage factory’ to something ‘a little less bound to the Range Rover…a very good place for shooting to be headed,’ he says.

Kern Shoot might not be a practical choice for a novice shot, it’s designed for those au fait with shooting and eager to practice all year round, but James Thorp hopes that, with the popularity of clays finally rising, ‘the future of simulated shooting is rosy.’

** Simulated driven clay shooting at Kern Farm costs from £215 to £300 per gun ( 07971 000880; http://www.kernshoot.co.uk)

* Follow Country Life magazine on Twitter