The Big Bang: The final test

 ‘Do you want to wear the Royal Berkshire Shooting School cap, or the polo one?’

Before I could answer, I was cut off…’You should wear the polo one, you don’t want to look like you think you actually know what you’re doing.’ Simply charming–these were the first words that my thus far supportive father uttered to me as we arrived at my very first clay pigeon shoot.

Thankfully after 25 years of this ‘character building’ humour from my father I am near-immune. I was actually feeling pretty excitable about the Canine Partners Charity Shoot. Besides, this was to be my first lesson of the day –when at a clay pigeon shoot, one should always wear a hat, to protect heads from falling clays.

After I had collected my shotgun, a 20-bore very kindly leant to me by the ever-amazing Apsley Sporting Shooting School at Cowdray, West Sussex, I was very keen to get out to the first drive. Having met up with the rest of the Country Life team (Editor, Mark Hedges; Deputy Editor, Rupert Uloth; Father Extraordinaire, Oliver Cooke), we were given a lift across the beautiful Holywell Estate to the first drive, ominously named something to do with fireworks…
canine-partners-shoot-2.gifAs we were given a moment to watch the direction of the clays, my excitement turned to a sense of foreboding doom…they were flying VERY fast, in all directions, all at the same time. – I got one on the whole drive – pathetic!

With a lurking sense of embarrassment I sheepishly followed the rest of the team (who thankfully seemed to have shot far better than me, and more importantly not noticed my score – or maybe they were just being polite) to the next drive. Which I am delighted to tell you, went rather well! – A completely different set up, these were still flying in all directions, but from tree cover. I identified two or three that were slower than the rest and just focused on those…and it worked! I got a respectable eight (not quite as many as everyone else, but I was simultaneously amazed and chuffed).

And then things seemed to go from good to better – the third drive was ‘pheasants’ from a tower…far more what I was used to back with Darron Carver at Cowdray, who I secretly wished was standing behind me. But this was a big tower…a really big tower, and as we watched the team before us shoot, it would be no exaggeration to say that I was very nervous…these birds were faster than anything I’ve shot at before, and by the time you could shoot them, you were bending over backwards. With Darron’s words about shooting in front of the clay echoing in my head I edged forwards. – And it was brilliant! This was definitely my best drive of the day, and I would even go so far as to say that I got as many as the boys. Incredibly fun. I loved it.

My second highlight was on a similar drive, but with more tree cover. My delight really stems from the fact that the man in charge of the drive announced that, ‘any young lady who can shoot as high a bird as that, over her left shoulder, needs to be taken seriously.’ I don’t think I stopped grinning all day.

The team scored a respectable 121, coming in tenth place out of 38. I chattered on about how I was going to take up shooting to my bewildered father the entire way home. He was somewhere between proud and horrified I think, with visions of me shopping for a Purdey flashing across his mind. Maybe I should have worn the RBSS cap after all – no, let’s not get carried away. When I woke up the following morning, a large black bruise had appeared on my cheek, from not holding my cheek close enough to the stock – sorry, Darron!

Back in the office, my editor was delighted; ‘at least it shows you’ve been doing something sensible with your weekend.’ Sensible? – Maybe not. Highly addictive – absolutely. I recommend both shooting and Darron at the Apsley Shooting School to anyone even vaguely considering it – if he can make me shoot respectably after just three lessons, he can do it for anyone.

Next stop – real pheasants!