Tom Sykes reflects on his coaching as he introduces a beginner to shooting.
“Times have changed and there are now a lot of opportunities for women”
Now I know what some people will be thinking about taking their partner shooting because it can be seen as a cardinal rule to keep the sport as an escape from domestic bliss. However, I am a great believer in encouraging anyone to take up the sport, especially when it comes to youngsters and women. Times have changed in recent years and there are now a lot of opportunities for women to become involved in fieldsports, they even have their own specific groups such as the Femmes Fatales and Chelsea Bun Club to name a couple.
Charlie already had a keen interest in country pursuits before we met – we actually met through a small shoot. The shoot is run by three brothers, one of which is going out with Charlie’s sister Becca, which created a great laid back family atmosphere for all involved. Charlie was a regular beater on the shoot, often talking about wanting to have more involvement in the shooting world and asked if I could teach her how to shoot. As with everyone new to the sport, I like to bring them up through the ranks to give them a good all-round experience and understanding on how the shooting industry works, from commercial game to the muddy foreshore. Charlie joined myself on numerous shoot days on the estate where I control the vermin and professionally beat, to
give her a better understanding on how a commercial shoot is run compared to a family shoot that she is used to.
After a few weeks, we arranged to get her started with a clay shooting lesson. The best place by far for someone to learn the basics of gun safety and marksmanship is to take them to a clayground. It is a controlled environment where a trainee can get to grips with the operation, mounting and firing of a shotgun. Because Charlie doesn’t have the biggest frame, I decided to start her small by using a Beretta AL391 20-bore semi-auto. The gun handles very well and is more than capable of hitting the target, even in a beginner’s hands.
The calibre and cycling system of the auto makes it an ideal starter shotgun because there is little to no recoil, allowing the shooter to get to grips with a gun without being punched into next week.
After going through the basics, working out the master eye and running through the stance and mounting techniques, we had Charlie loaded up and ready for her first shot. I started in the beginner’s section with a simple incoming clay. Once ready and with a keen eye watching over from me, Charlie shouted pull and managed to centre the clay! Neither of us expected to get off the mark so quickly and we soon left the beginner’s shed to move onto something a little more challenging.
Clays to game
In the weeks that followed, I advanced Charlie to my 12-bore semi-auto because it is a more versatile gun for her to use on vermin and wildfowl. In the last few weeks of the season, Charlie received an invitation by the head-keeper of the estate
to shoot on the “Keeper’s Day”. I decided the best option was for her to share the day with me so I could give Charlie one-to-one tuition and hopefully help her to bag her first pheasant.
The clay tuition took a side step because I now had to get her competent with a game gun, my Laurona O/U, and concentrated on driven clays that replicated a typical pheasant. I explained the scenario that she would encounter on a shoot day – there would be the addition of beater, pickers-up and other Guns to consider. When transitioning from clays to game it’s important to ensure that the novice is aware of the different factors you come across when not in the safety of a cage on a clay shoot. I ran through how to shut a gun on a peg and bring the barrels up safely without pulling through anyone – using visual aids like clay traps and trees to represent people. I proceeded to send a pheasant flush over her making it as realistic as possible. This helped Charlie get to grips with loading, standing safely and mounting on an incoming target as you would on a peg. Once again, she handled the situation well and showed that she was able to adapt to the situation efficiently.
On the peg
The Keeper’s Day was soon upon us and all the preparation was in place for Charlie to bag her first bird. I shot the first drive to finish off the coaching by showing her how to shoot in the “live fire” scenario, leaving the second drive as Charlie’s time to shine.
We arrived at the peg and I stepped back allowing her to get organised – loading the gun with Gamebore 30g 6s. The drive was perfect for a beginner because the birds could be seen from a great distance, allowing enough time to mount the gun comfortably before firing. The coaching was paying off as she mounted the gun safely and addressed each bird in a calm manner. As with any beginner, the first few shots failed to hit their mark. After the first couple of birds had continued unscathed, a cock pheasant lifted from the crop and headed our way. Last minute encouragement from me to keep her head down, take her time and give it plenty of lead resulted in a perfect single shot that cleanly despatched the bird, a shot any competent game shooter would be proud of. The beating line roared with applause and Charlie was left with the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.
We shared the rest of the day resulting in a few more birds each. Although I had an enjoyable day shooting one or two nice birds myself, nothing will compare to the joy of seeing my coaching pay off with Charlie’s first bird. Now that summer is upon us we will be looking at moving Charlie’s training from game to the joys of decoying in the summer months.
“Neither of us expected to get off the mark so quickly”
Charlie asked Tom to teach her how to shoot
Beginner Charlie always had a keen interest in country pursuits
Tom was able to use his Shotkam as a training aid
Tom kept a keen eye on Charlie as she smashed the first clay
Charlie loading Tom’s Beretta 12-bore semiauto with trusty Gamebore cartridges