The Big Bang: Learning to Shoot

‘Bum, Belly, Beak, Bang!’ Although oddly resembling something from a nursery rhyme, the words make a surprising amount of sense in context–when shooting a moving target with a shotgun, I am told, you should sweep from behind the target, cross it from ‘tail’ to ‘beak’ and then pull the trigger, all in one long, smooth movement.

I am about half way through my first shooting lesson, and am flanked on either side by keen shots; over my right shoulder is my fantastically encouraging instructor, Darron Carver of the Apsley Sporting Shooting School at Cowdray Park, and to my left is my father, (looking the most excited I’ve seen him in years), hopping erratically from one foot to the other and squinting up at the sky in optimistic anticipation.


learning to shoot


He has never had a son you see, never played rugby in the garden or aided in the tying of a first fly; when he whoops at hollers at the boat race, the six nations and the grand prix, he does so alone. But now the time has come for all this to change, as I, his first-born, have manfully taken up the cause–after all, it’s about time the poor man had a little compensation for the hours spent smiling grimly on the peripherals of pony club events, come rain (most of the time, occasionally hail) or shine. To add a small amount of pressure to the cause, I have also been jokingly (?!) informed that I am to take part in a Country Life clay-pigeon shooting team event…in September. Better get cracking then!

As my first shot on target smashes the clay into tiny smithereens, to look at my father’s face you really would think that Christmas had come. In fact there was no need to look, as his general mood could be pretty accurately interpreted through the loud ‘yipppeeee!’ that echoed across the shooting ground–and I was wearing ear defenders at the time. Which leads me to the backdrop to the first of my lessons– the Apsley Sporting Shooting School ( is set among the enviable surroundings of the sprawling Cowdray Estate in West Sussex, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.



Despite being a ‘vertically-challenged’ female, I never felt anything but welcomed and excitable. Actually that’s a slight fib–as the first clay pinged across the sky in front of me, I noticed my 28-bore shotgun shaking, which may well have had something to do with the hands holding it. Needless to say I missed pretty spectacularly. Twice. Thankfully it was a case of third time lucky though, as the afore-mentioned third clay exploded in all directions. I quickly pocketed the cartridge. It was terrifically exciting.

Suddenly visions of a left-and-a-right of woodcock and honourable mentions in The Field flash across my mind. This fantasy quickly shatters, as the next few clays fail to do so. A few more hits later though and my confidence is back–and I will be too. Although my arms are aching and my cheek hurts (I wasn’t holding the butt close enough to it, and managed to bruise myself), I’ve caught the bug. I’m not selling the horse yet, but I’m straight off home to book in my next lesson.

For lessons at Apsley Sporting Shooting School at Cowdray Park  (01730 776453;