Girls with guns: Ladies’ Day at Bisley Shooting Ground
We're going on a clay shoot. Clay shooting is great fun, but it's even better when you're surrounded by a gaggle of great girls and it includes breakfast, elevenses and lunch.
“Was that your group doing all the taking and laughing I heard today?” asks a cheeky John Heagren, the shooting manager at Bisley Shooting Ground. We have just arrived back at the clubhouse after a morning in the field shooting clays.
It’s Ladies’ Day at Bisley Shooting Ground – an event held several times throughout the year – and ours is one of eight groups of about 40 women in total taking part in the day. Abilities range from those with zero experience right up to those who are at pro level.
So… was our group the rowdy one? I think for a moment. Erm, yes, maybe we were. A group of five women who met for the first time only a few hours earlier – and have already set up a WhatsApp group loftily called the Bisley Shooting Team – sharing shooting tips, encouragement and the enjoyment and exhilaration that come with firing a gun and hitting a moving clay target.
What can I say? We were having fun.
Ladies’ Day was created at Bisley 15 years ago to enable and encourage women to shoot in what is often seen as a sport dominated by men. It’s an easy assumption to make… that this is a pursuit for posh blokes in wax jackets who like eating what they’ve shot and mounting their furry trophies on the wall in the drawing room.
But the scene around me today completely blows that stereotype away (yep, pun intended). From the 15-year-old young gun with her sights set on the 2028 Olympics to the mum and daughter newbies looking to try their hand at something different, the Ladies’ Day attracts an assortment of women – all ages, all abilities.
Bisley Shooting Ground is at Cottesloe Heath, part of the National Shooting Centre at Brookwood near Woking. It’s set on over 3,000 acres of woodland and heath owned by the Ministry of Defence, and it’s one of the oldest shooting facilities in the world, and one of the best known. It’s also rather beautiful.
The Victorian clubhouse – where your day starts with breakfast and ends with lunch – is a charming colonial-style building that was moved from its original location on Wimbledon Common in 1890.
When we arrive, we’re shown through to the dining room, where the open fire is burning and the tables have been set for a breakfast of bacon rolls, pastries and hot tea or coffee. I’m sitting next to a lovely lady who introduces her self as Katy.
“Have you shot much?” I ask, keen to establish that I’m not the only novice here today. “Um, yes, I’ve done a little bit,” comes her reply.
Turns out this is Katy Poulsom, a big shot (sorrrrry!!) in the world of British Shooting. She’s the Development and Talent Academy coach for British Shooting, nurturing and teaching the next generation of shooting champs, so it’s safe to say she knows her way around a gun. Sitting next to Katy is Bethany Norton, one of her shining stars, a 15-year-old who first picked up a gun only a few years ago and already has several national shooting trophies under her belt and eyes firmly focussed on the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Remember that name people.
That’s the thing about shooting. It’s a leveller – a novice like myself can be at the same event as shooting legends (they’re legends to me!) like these two.
For the actual shooting though, I was grouped with my new BFFs – Hazel, Kelly, Rebecca and Lorraine – a bunch of ladies who had all shot before but were by no means heading for the Olympics (sorry girls!).
Our instructor for the day is Tony Bracci, the Deputy Shooting Manager at Bisley, a former game keeper who’s been shooting since he was 10 years old and who loves to pass on his shooting knowledge to beginners. So far so good! He’s also instructed everyone from rock legends to royalty. And now me too – a career highlight, I’d say!
Tony is a chatty, funny and encouraging and has a sharp eye for knowing where you’ve gone wrong (when you miss).
“Picture another clay attached to the right of the clay,” he says. “What colour is it?”
“It’s your imagination, it can be any colour you like,” he says. “But you should aim at that.”
Right then, red it is then. And I’m focussing on that. Boom! I pull trigger and the clay shatters into a hundred pieces. OMG! It’s a great feeling. Damn, Tony. You’re good! Hang on! Is it possible that I’m good too? Turns out we’re all pretty good under Tony’s tuition.
We move around Cottesloe Heath, to the different stands – with fabulous names like Lonely, The Corral and Colossus – each offering a different challenge. At some, the clays fly into the air from the left, some have two clays, and others still have them bumping along the ground, like rats or rabbits. I’m sure I haven’t nailed the technical terms – but you get the picture.
As the self-named Bisley Shooting Team our merry group of five tackled about eight stands, and thanks to Tony’s excellent coaching we each moved on to the next feeling we’d triumphed having hit the clays.
My top tip? Don’t overthink it, and don’t focus on the gun – in the case of us ladies, a 20 gauge shot gun – and when you hit the clay celebrate it.
There’s a break mid morning for hot tea and coffee in the field, and savoury snacks to keep us going until lunch. Then around 1pm each group heads back to the club house for a two-course lunch and a pow-wow on the triumphs of the day.
And what a brilliant day it is. Already the Bisley Shooting Team are making plans for the next one, which says it all really!
The next Bisley Ladies’ Day events are on Monday 24 January and Monday 14 March. The cost is £139 per person (non-members) which includes breakfast, elevenses and a two-course lunch, full tuition with an instructor, the use of a gun and safety equipment, clays and cartridges.