The ap­pren­tice

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’s story

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.

A nat­u­ral

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”

More in­volve­ment

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

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