Far from being a sport for fuddy duddies, shooting’s popularity is rocketing, with over 600,000 enthusiasts, and a survey by The Business Magazine suggests this is driven by women: oh, and I suspect if the visage of husbands were plastered over clays, you could soon double the number of guns reporting across the countryside.
Men have long taken pride in their hunter-gatherer roles, but why let them snare all the fun? For if you learn to shoot clays and then progress to pheasant, how satisfying to cook what you have caught? It is actually highly entertaining, I am starting to learn, firing a lethal weapon. Plus, joining the shooting set will give you an excuse for an entire new wardrobe (traditional tweed can come with a funky twist these days).
And in case you thought shooting was the preserve of the aristocracy, did you know you could receive lessons for £60 an hour from the brilliant Charlotte right here in Sussex?
“Clay shooting is probably one of the nation’s fastest growing sports, popular to all ages and genders,” ventures Charlotte over puffs of smoke. “Britain more often than not produces many world class clay shooters.
“The sport may well owe its presence to the abolition of live pigeon shooting for sport back in 1921. Early throwing mechanisms launching simulated targets (probably dating back to the 1860’s) evolved to the current fast launching clay traps, enabling shooters to challenge their shooting skills to the limit.
“The sport is highly addictive and fun and leaves you wanting more,” she continues enthusiastically. “Until you have tried, you really will not know what you have been missing.
She concludes: “The shooting disciplines that exist provide great opportunities for those who wish to aspire to national and indeed international levels of shooting.”
Or for duffers like me. To further reassure you, if I can become a gun, anyone can; I am the Eddie the Eagle of any sport. Furthermore, I am an Armenian, raised in Istanbul, educated at a Lycée and a British university, drawn to London by the City buzz.
Inexplicably I married a stuffy Englishman who took me to view a remote farmhouse down a long rutted track.
“Over my dead body am I living here,” I declared. So here I am, caked in more mud than mascara, more likely to be found beating than grooving to a disco beat (beating being what you do on a shoot to get the pheasant airborne).
Said husband bought a mad Springer Spaniel that would turn up, not next door, but in the next county. To every gamekeeper, constable and dog bowl in the district, he has become a loyal friend. And so I took him beating, which if nothing else has taught me the true meaning of the phrase “to be dragged through a hedge backwards.” He is now the shoot’s star dog, and he can sniff out birds better than Prince Harry in Boujis.
But it dawned on me that a) most beaters are women, b) most guns are men and c) beaters do most work. Men were lounging loftily on a hill in Lord Curzon poses one crisp morn, taking generous swigs from hip flasks, as we peasants were scrambling around with the pheasant. Sometimes this division of sexes seemed so sharp I could have been back in Turkey.
So I had shooting lessons. And you can’t find a better teacher than Charlotte, found at her father’s Northall Clay Pigeon Shoot in Sussex, when she isn’t practicing somewhere exotic.
“I’ve just returned from Italy and my trainer asked me to miss a few shots as the men were growing cross,” she laughs. “It’s a sport run by men. In competition women shot 200 out of 200 clays so they changed the rules: now women only shoot 75, so they can never match a man.”
That said, political correctness is even reaching the shooting range. Because no gun has been designed for women, Jordanian sorts (as in the amply proportioned Sussex model, not the nationality) can find it awkward holding a gun: but the British coaching manual forbids instructors from telling women where to hold the butt vis the bosom.
On a rough shoot, conversation is earthy, but great value, and the season in our village begins with port in an oast house.
Normally after a shoot we retire to the pub, play cards and argue over who shot more. Rarely have I, an outsider, been made to feel so welcome. Teasing though the men can be, a good shot will win their respect. This is one gentleman’s club worth inveigling your way into. But the appeal remains the thunder of guns reporting across the countryside. Even for those of us who don’t consider ourselves violent, there is real satisfaction in tracking a pheasant, squeezing a trigger, and firing – then seeing your quarry fall from the sky: dinner.
Increasingly, it takes a woman to bag a bird; now to persuade husband to pluck and cook it.
Do’s and don’ts
Take time choosing a gun and buy a light one, or you
will develop muscles like Martina Navratilova. Use the
excuse to buy a new wardrobe: it doesn’t stop at
tweeds – hats, I discover, are the new handbags. How
you hold your drink is as crucial as how you hold your gun.
Leave pheasant you shoot to mature – possibly outside the
bedroom of your friends just down from London.