Ready, aim, fire? Let’s go shooting
More women and children than ever are taking up shooting, so Muddy takes her teenager along to Bisley Shooting Ground and gives it two smoking barrels. Boom!
“I’m going shooting today.”
Now there are four words I didn’t think I’d ever be stringing together in one sentence. Not because I have any objection to shooting, but because it had just never crossed my mind as a something that I might enjoy doing.
Well, I was wrong!
I spent an afternoon clay shooting at Bisley Shooting Ground, between Woking and Guilford, with my teen son – and I had the best day out. Turns out clay shooting is brilliant fun. You’ll feel exhilarated, super pleased with yourself and a little bit invincible too. Not a bad combination.
But first. Hands up if you think shooting is a sport for posh folk who wear flat caps and tweed, and have a set of deer antlers hanging above their drawing room fireplaces?
Sweeping generalisation? Just a bit.
Clay shooting is an inclusive sport with participants just as likely to be students and shop keepers as bankers and lawyers – and in recent years there’s also been a rise in the number of women and juniors taking up the sport.
Shooting is a leveller. It’s a sport where women and men and juniors can compete, or shoot together on a fairly even standing. No gun-toting experience is necessary.
Just to be clear the only guns I have ever handled in my life are: water pistols, and Nerf guns. I’ll admit that when I was invited to Bisley Shooting Ground, as well being happy to tick ‘fire a gun’ off my life’s bucket list, I was also a little apprehensive. Would it hurt? Would I hit anything?
Pity the poor instructor. Step forward John Heagren, Bisley’s shooting manager, a former semi-pro cricketer turned game keeper, turned shooting instructor who’s been sharing his wisdom and knowledge here for 28 years.
John is a relaxed and gentle soul. He’s been described as a ‘master of the art’. If anyone can get me pulling a trigger and possibly hitting a moving target, John is that man. He’s taught everyone from beginners like me and my son Fin, to experienced game hunters who want to polish their skills before a hunt.
The setting here is stunning. Bisley Shooting Ground at Cottesloe Heath is set on over 3,000 acres of woodland and heath owned by the Ministry of Defence. It’s one of the oldest shooting facilities in the world, and one of the best known.
The Victorian clubhouse is where your day starts and ends – it’s a charming colonial-style building that was moved from its original location on Wimbledon Common way back in 1890. As well as the reception desk, there’s a bar and dining room, plus outside terraces and a verandah where you can relax and refresh.
Fin and I are handed our safety glasses, earplugs and a cap and we set off to the shooting ground, which is a short walk (or buggy ride, if you’re lucky) from the clubhouse.
There are 32 different stands spread out across Cottesloe Heath – a mixture of single and combinations traps. John hands each of us a shotgun – me 20 bore and Fin (who’s taller than me), the larger 12 bore – and talks us through the mechanics of how they work, and the safety precautions, how to hold the gun when it’s loaded, and when it’s not, and when you’re shooting.
John also gives me a shoulder pad to protect my, err, shoulder. It’s a sunny day, and I’m wearing only a tee-shirt – although it’s not strictly necessary.
Next, a simple sight test to discover my dominant eye – right for me, and for Fin. Then, after some practical advice about relaxing, not rushing, keeping both yes open (who knew!) and gently releasing the trigger, John puts the gun in my hand and releases a clay.
I fire. And I hit it. I freaking hit it! On. My. First. Shot.
Smug look back over my shoulder at the teenager. Pressures on now son – you don’t want to be out-gunned by your mum!
He needn’t have worried too much. I missed the next three. But then I relaxed into it, stopped over-thinking my aim and hit several in a row.
Then it was Fin’s turn. And blow me down with a feather, if he didn’t hit the first one as well. I’d like to think that I possess some rare instinctive talent that I’ve also passed on to to my son, but in reality it’s most likely down to John’s excellent teaching. (Although let’s not entirely rule out my rare talent theory.)
We move on another stand – this one shooting from an elevated platform at clay ‘rats’ that skim along the ground. I was pretty good at this one too, so my level of smugness was increasing.
But apparently, women are often very good at this clay shooting thing. Why? Because we’re not trying to reenact a scene from a Pulp Fiction and we can totally nail the death stare. Finally resting bitch face and the evil eye are positive traits.
John takes us to another three stands – each of varying levels of difficulty. On one the clay moves away, on another it fires up over our heads, some fire two clays seconds apart. The trickiest one for me was the trap that fired two clays seconds apart in different directions. Fin nailed it though hitting both targets four or five times in a row. And when I finally hit both too, I felt freaking amazing.
And that’s why clay shooting is so much fun.
Fancy having a go?
You don’t have to be a member at Bisley Shooting Ground to go shooting, and nor do you need a shotgun licence or a gun. There are various package options available, ranging from one-to-one, two-to-one and group lessons, for all abilities.
A one-our one-to-one lesson costs £175, and includes the use of a the gun and up to 100 clays and cartridges. A lesson for two people is £208 and includes 100 clays and cartridges between them.
A good value way to shoot – and a great one for families – is the two-hour group shoot or three or more people. The cost is £112 for adults and £86 for juniors (aged 10-18), including up to 100 clays and cartridges.
Lessons are seven days a week and must be booked in advance.
Bisley also hosts Ladies’ Days and Young Shots days throughout the year, which includes food and drinks.
Bisley Shooting Ground (Cottesloe Heath) – not to be confused with Bisley Long Siberia (a separate company) – is part of the National Shooting Centre at Brookwood near Woking. It’s quite the shooting community with the National Rifle Association HQ on the same site, as well as Bisley’s sister company, The National Clay Shooting Centre which offers skeet and trap shooting.