After waiting for what seemed to be a millennium, the day finally came; my first training session at a British Shooting Regional Shotgun School, the second level of the Talent Pathway.
I admit I was dreading getting up this morning, as I didn’t finish work last night until 11pm and we set an alarm for 4:45am. Those who know me well know that I need a decent amount of sleep, otherwise I can barely function – while some people may be capable of running fully on four hours, I, sadly, am not one of those miraculous few, and I must thank my amazing husband for using his day off to drive me up to Doveridge so that I could at least doze in the car on the way there and back.
An almost-four-hour trip got us there with about fifteen minutes to spare. I sat down at the table with two of the three coaches and watched the other shooters arrive. Out of 12, I knew only two; a young girl I had been squadded with at the English Skeet Inter Counties at Bisley (an excellent shooter, I wish I had started at her age!), and a guy about my age that I knew from the Sporting circuit and game shoots back home. Of the rest, I recognised one man from the talent identification day I had attended, the name of another young woman who I had not met before but had heard was a good shot, and the name of a young lad who follows me on Twitter (again, an amazing shooter for his age). All the others were complete strangers to me.
We were briefed on what the sessions would cover over the next few months; aside from shooting technique, the coaches would help with our stance, encourage us to remain fit and healthy, explain the rules and etiquette of competition, and more. Essentially, they will be there to monitor our well-being as much as our shooting, because these things do go hand in hand. I think that what shocked me the most was when we were told that the only thing we would be able to take for a headache on a competition day would be aspirin, because the rules of drug use are incredibly strict.
It didn’t take long for us to go out to the skeet range to get started. I have never shot at Doveridge before, so this entire experience was new to me. While I headed out with the group, my husband challenged the Sporting layout; when we met up again a couple of hours later, he told me that the targets were excellent, and he thoroughly enjoyed it. I couldn’t quite believe the sheer quantity of layouts available; upon arrival, I didn’t think the ground was that large, but clearly I was wrong. Trap, Sporttrap, separate Olympic and English Skeet layouts, and three or four different areas to shoot Sporting too! No wonder they have held so many championships there over the years. Very impressed.
At the range, we were split into two smaller groups; those of us for whom this was the first ever session, and those who had been involved with the Pathway programme for a year or so already. Each group took it in turns; while the experienced shots did full rounds, our first few turns were concentrated on specific target types. The coaches examined our stances, gun position, hold points and techniques at every single stand, offering advice both on and off the concrete square.
Even before we had started, I felt that I was having to play catch up. As I have mentioned previously, I have shot gun up all of my shooting career, and shooting gun down had daunted me since I was invited to join the programme. I was even more concerned when I discovered that of the six people in my group, I was the only one who did not shoot gun down at all. All of the others either had significant experience with FITASC, or had shot their previous disciplines gun down anyway.
I needn’t have worried, because the coaches were the very same ones who had attended the identification day, and knew that I was starting from scratch with my gun position. They tailored their approach to each stand depending on who was shooting it and which disciplines they had come from; for those from a predominantly sporting background, for example, it seemed to be a case of hold points and where to pull the trigger. I started on the single birds, not going to full gun down straight away but just taking it slightly out of my shoulder and away from my face to get used to tilting the stock up rather than moving the barrel too far. Although it took me longer to start shooting simultaneous pairs than the others, I think that my knowledge of how to shoot a skeet layout and the relevant hold points gave me a bit more confidence, and by the end of our second turn at the range, I had my gun down fully (in the ISSF position!).
Even if I didn’t hit targets I knew I could hit with my gun up, I was certainly doing far better with each round that we did, and with each stand the gun position and hold points were becoming far easier for me to find. It helped hugely that I had changed to a fitted gun, as the higher comb comes up so beautifully to my cheek that I no longer worry about my head positioning, and the shorter barrels are so much lighter to move with the faster Olympic targets. My confidence increased the more clays we did – even if my shooting did not always reflect that1 – and the encouragement from the coaches was so wonderful to hear.
Our last turn on the range, we did an actual full round of 25 Olympic Skeet targets. Due to my obvious lack of experience shooting gun down, the coach suggested I simply shoot the low house from each stand, focusing on one rather than all. I did this for the first stand, but forgot that was the plan and set up to shoot the high house on the second. He asked me if I wanted to shoot it properly, and after a split second’s debate in my own mind, I decided to do it. Why not? I thought. If I’m going to miss them I might as well miss them in the proper order! It was only the first session, after all, so I wasn’t worried about hitting everything.
I ended up shooting far better than I expected. Let me put it into perspective; a few months ago, I shot at a skeet event in which we shot one round of English, one NSSA, one English Doubles and one Olympic. That had been my first actual round of Olympic skeet, and I had tried to shoot gun down – out of 25, I had hit eight. Not a complete ‘nil points’. Since then I hadn’t shot any Olympic, and to be truthful barely any English or NSSA either, perhaps two rounds of each since January. Today, with a fitted gun, a few hours of coaching and a little bit of extra confidence, I hit 13. Over half! Including a beautiful (if I may say so myself!) shot at the low house on the centre stand, which, until this point, I had been unable to hit at all (the video has been uploaded to my Facebook page, Faye Wills Clay Shooting).
So all in all, an incredibly uplifting day. I went from not shooting gun down at all to shooting a full round at the ISSF position, and had hit more than half the clays … just! The rain had held off, the targets had flown nicely (only one ‘no bird’ for the whole day from the entire group), and everybody got to know one another. I can’t wait for the next session, and am desperate to get back out practicing in the two weeks until that date. I am so glad that I took a chance on a new opportunity, trying something different. I am supported by a wonderful network of friends and family who are giving me even more encouragement and confidence to pursue this sport and achieve as much as I possibly can. Shooting is a true passion, and one that I will be continuing for years to come.