The former soldier on how myriad obstacles won’t stand in the way of his shooting ambitions
So Paul, you want to be the first ever injured serviceman to shoot for the Army’s sporting team. A tall order, you’d agree?
“Absolutely, I can’t deny it. I was asked by a friend to shoot in the Royal Artillery team years ago. We seemed to win everything but because I was injured I couldn’t ‘officially’ shoot in the Army team even though I think they may have used my scores. The same friend rang me up again and asked if I wanted to try for the team. I had to do the Army development squad shoot and he really felt I deserve to be in it. I’ve done their two selection shoots and won them both.”
What would it mean to you to represent the Army as a shot?
“For me it’s all about showing people that injured veterans can still do these things and do them well. We can still do it, injuries or not. A lot of us have been left with things that aren’t any good. You might lose an arm or leg or be like me; I've got my arms and legs but they are buggered. It shows people you can still do it and sometimes you can do things to a higher level than people with arms and legs. It is trying to push forward to bring the others through.”
You were injured in Iraq – what are the extent of your injuries?
“I’ve got neck and spinal injuries but they aren’t the real problem. The problem is what they affect. With the neck injury I get a lot of pain in my right eye, the right side of my face, even my teeth. The right side of my head feels like it has been hit with a bat most mornings and my hearing is impaired too. I get neck pain and in my arms and hands I get what feels like really bad cramp, giving me trouble with dexterity and strength.”
What prompted your love of shooting?
“Dad was a gamekeeper and I was brought up on a smallholding. You either grew up outside, getting dirty with a love of the countryside or, like my brother, you stayed in and read books. I was always out with my Dad and Grandad; they loved their shooting. My Dad’s friend bought me an air gun when I was young so I could shoot targets. Once I started to get quite good I began to shoot things like pigeon. It was all controlled. It gave me discipline and fieldcraft. I think it’s important.”
Did you shoot game throughout your Army service?
“Not really. With Dad being a keeper we used to shoot on the cock shoots at the end of the season when I was on leave. There was a lot of pigeon shooting and lots of rabbits and ferreting.”
Do you shoot much game now?
“I’m in a small shoot on Salisbury Plain. I am doing the Shooting for Heroes course as well and that takes people through from novices to driven days. For me, having been shooting from such a young age, some of the shoots we visit are places I could only have dreamed of. It’s mind blowing.”
What sort of gun do you use?
“As I’m single I am a bit of a gun tart. I have two Perazzis: for sporting I use a 32” Perazzi MX8 with Teague chokes and for trap shooting a 29½” Perazzi MX2003. Due to my injuries I struggle badly with recoil, but the MX8 came with an ISIS recoil reducer already fitted – without this I would be forced to use a semi-automatic.
“As for trap shooting I’ve been paying my dues to the Olympic Trap, Universal Trench and ABT disciplines with my MX2003 and hopefully next year I’m going to start coming through the ranks and gain a place in the England ABT Team. There is also a lot of talk of Olympic Trap being included in the 2020 Paralympic Games. I’m also looking at shooting the Sporting Majors next year so I’ll be doing local shoots throughout the winter to keep my eye in.”
Do you need to adapt your gun in anyway?
“The sporter is pretty much as fresh out the box as you can get apart from the Teague chokes and the ISIS pad. It isn’t fitted to me either, amazingly. I like to shoot a gun as flat as a pancake. I don’t like to see any rib whatsoever.”
What would help you?
“Shooting is all about continuation of training, which boils down to money. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to get as far as I have, and within clay shooting it’s such a struggle keeping it going with my main costs being cartridges, accommodation and competitions. I've got a lot pushing back at me, stopping me from achieving my sporting goals but in true military spirit I’ll just push back harder.”
I know you love your pigeon shooting but have you got any game shoots coming up?
“Yes, through Shooting for Heroes. I really can’t wait. We’re shooting at the Stockton shoot, not too far from me in Wiltshire. I’ve never shot there but I understand it’s superb.”
A day at the pheasants will be a great relaxing distraction from competitions, but as things are now, what is standing between you and joining the Army team?
“I just need to get through the selection shoots achieving a minimum of a B class, and then it’s nothing but the commitment and learning from any coaching offered. I expect to do well and then it’s all about beating my able-bodied Army teammates. Hopefully this year I will be told that I am in… that I’m part of the Army team.”