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Branching out from clay to game shooting

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In this article from My Countryside magazine, External Affairs Officer Sabina Roberts discusses her experience branching out from clays to game, where she found a welcoming community and rewarding experience. 


If you told me a few years ago that I would be soon spending a day shooting gamebirds out of the sky – and enjoying it – I would have told you that you’ve got the wrong girl.

I am a city dweller, and always have been. Growing up, I had about as little exposure to the countryside as you can get. But in my first year of university at St Andrews, I found myself joining the Clay Pigeon Shooting Club in a rather impulsive decision to try something unfamiliar and expand my social circle. It didn’t take long for me to get hooked. I became active with the club, and even ran it as the ladies’ captain in my final year.

Nevertheless, I always thought that shooting clays would be the extent of my hobby. I got plenty of enjoyment out of clay pigeon shooting and having never previously had the opportunity to shoot game, I couldn’t picture what a day was all about. It was hard for me to understand why people partook in the activity or why I should want to give it a try.

These thoughts began to shift the more time I spent in the countryside through clay pigeon shooting in both Scotland and England, and the more I spoke with people who shot game. Eventually, the politics student in me decided that I had to do my own research and settle this internal debate.

I read countless sources – ranging from The Field to PETA – and came back thinking that the demonstrated environmental, social and economic benefits of shooting were far more convincing than the generic talking points of those who oppose it.

My research forced me to ask myself questions, such as why I felt more comfortable buying chicken from Tesco than shooting a pheasant? Ultimately, my conclusion surprised me: not only did I realise that game shooting was a beneficial practice, but I wanted to try it myself.

I joined the Fulham Shooting Club, a community for young people based in London interested in shooting with a range of prior shooting experience. They organised a shoot at an estate in Hampshire for the end of the game season, which I signed up for.

In the weeks leading up to the shoot, I was uncharacteristically nervous. Despite having been competitively shooting clays for several years, I felt as though I had suddenly signed myself up for an entirely foreign activity – akin to skydiving or mountain biking, not walking in the countryside.

My friends would tell you that I bombarded them with questions about shooting etiquette (how will I know if it’s my bird or the next peg’s?), what to wear (what are plus twos?), and, terrifyingly, what happens if I don’t hit any birds? In retrospect, these interrogations were largely silly and dramatic, but felt pertinent in the moment, nonetheless.

On the day of the shoot, I arrived bright and early. We met at a farmhouse, where I quickly realised that I didn’t know most of the group. Moreover, they seemed to already be good friends, which magnified my anxiety about being an inexperienced outsider.

Yet, the boys could not have been more welcoming. As soon as I mentioned it being my first shoot, they were incredibly supportive and excited for me. They talked me through what to expect and urged me to relax and enjoy the day. Their thoughtfulness was obvious when they told me they had planned a rotational system, ensuring that an experienced shot would stand at the peg with me on each one of the drives. My nerves were put at ease.

We set off to the first drive. It was to be a mix of pheasants and partridges. I walked over to the peg I was allotted and took a second to breathe. I felt the sun on my face – a long missed feeling in London – and listened to the sounds of wildlife surrounding me. My heart was racing, but I simultaneously felt peaceful and ready.

After a tap on my shoulder, I snapped back to attention, and saw the first birds of the day making their way towards us. I spotted a pheasant – it was flying high above and to the right of me. In what felt like a flash, I pulled the trigger, and the pheasant crumpled down towards the ground.

In the weeks leading up to the shoot, many asked me whether I felt okay with killing a bird. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure how I would feel. I’m a notoriously sensitive soul – prone to crying at emotional advertisements on television and becoming upset for strangers in public that appear to be lonely. Yet, in the moment of shooting this pheasant, the only thing I felt was adrenaline – and a strange satisfaction in taking part of the food chain. It felt natural.

After the drive finished, the group celebrated for me, and I felt relieved to have been successful on my first try. The rest of the day consisted of several mixed drives, elevenses, and constant chatter in between. The camaraderie of the day struck me – the conversations we had with the beaters and shoot managers, and how quickly everyone in the group turned from strangers to friends.

Compared to clay shooting, the day felt far less uniform and technical (which, as an impatient person, frustrated me at times) – but I grew to appreciate the unpredictability of it all. Besides, nothing beat the gratification of cooking and eating the game I shot the next day.

Game shooting is an easy sport to draw misconceptions about or, crudely, label as an “exclusive blood sport for old men”. My experience could not have been further from this stereotype. Seeing a group of young people introduce beginners to the activity gives me confidence that by building understanding and increasing public education – something the Countryside Alliance does week in, week out – game shooting can combat its unwarranted reputation.

Without participating, it is difficult to imagine the genuinely welcoming community that surrounds shooting and the rewarding nature of the experience. And so, for that, I will be encouraging people to try it themselves. I sure will be doing so again, next season.

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