If you enjoy being out in the picturesque British countryside and enjoying aiming at moving targets, clay pigeon shooting on the Isle of Wight could be for you!
The sport involves aiming and shooting at special flying targets called 'clay pigeons' which are fired into the air from a number of firing machines called 'traps'. The shooter attempts to hit as many of them as possible.
Even if you've never tried clay pigeon shooting before, it is a great activity to try on holiday as all the equipment is supplied for you and there are plenty of places offering coaching a training to all levels and abilities. Instructors help make this a safe yet fun activity.
As the game shooting season begins, the echo of shotguns can be heard throughout the valleys and rolling hills of our Island. Amazingly there are 43 organised ‘shoots’ on the Isle of Wight – perhaps the largest number per square mile in any part of the country.
We also boast the Bowcombe shoot, which is noted as one of the top ten in the country. It has been recognised nationally and internationally for many years and has been managed for game for the past 150 years. Three years ago barns on the estate were converted into luxury accommodation, with swish decor by upmarket interiors company Oka and there’s even a helicopter landing pad. “If you’re lucky enough to get an invitation to Bowcombe shoot you drop everything and get there,” said an experienced ‘gun’ that I interviewed for this article. This shoot is the business.
So with this in mind we thought we’d pull together a Guide to Shooting, giving those who’ve never had the chance the inside gen on etiquette, attire and how to get on your first shoot…
Types of Shoot
Top notch shoots such as Bowcombe do not come cheap with a day’s shoot costing perhaps £25,000 shared between a group of eight to ten ‘guns’ on this type of managed estate. Bowcombe shoot employs two full-time gamekeepers along with 35 casual staff, including beaters.
On private land a group of guns, often including the landowner, may jointly run a shoot and pay towards its upkeep and the provision of birds to shoot. Or they may sell places on the shoot and these too can be expensive – usually around £1,000 a day.
Farmers too will often organise their own shoots, with a slap up meal at the farmhouse at the end of the day and all shoots will culminate in a hearty meal, but not usually of the game you have been stalking: roast beef or lamb are favourites.
Bowcombe is described as a high shoot because the hills mean that birds can be put up above the guns below making it easier to see the birds but much more challenging, especially if the sun is in your eyes. A rough shoot is one where birds are put up from scrub or hedgerows and the land is rougher to negotiate, such as stubble.
Partridge and Pheasant are the predominant quarry here on the Island, although the dogs will put up woodcock from time to time, and in estuary and riverside areas there are many duck. Rabbit and pigeon are not shot on organised shoots as a rule. It’s considered to be peasant food, not pleasant dining. Both pheasant and partridge are reared for release on most organised shoots, usually bought as day old chicks. Eggs can also be hatched in an incubator and the chicks fed and watered until just before the season begins. Neither of these birds is particularly good at flying…
It is usual for ‘guns’ to wear plus fours and this tradition is kept even on the lowliest of shoots. Bright colours are not advised – greens and browns are favoured – and it’s a good idea to have waterproofs on or with you. It is seen as bad form if you do not kill the bird with your first shot, thus saving it further pain, and you shoot it in the head if you can.
On a top end shoot each ‘gun’ will have two guns and a loader who will load one while the other is being fired. Beaters are paid an average of around £15 per day but usually take their payment in braces (a cock and hen) of pheasants or partridge, which they may sell on.
It is illegal to shoot on a Sunday.
If you are not shooting you stay behind the guns, for obvious reasons, and there are rules as to when you can shoot in order to keep the beaters safe. Beaters are the people who move through the undergrowth and/or trees ‘putting up’ the birds for the guns to shoot and they may have pointer dogs with them who will ‘point’ at a thicket where the birds are hiding.
You do not shoot into an area where the dogs have been loosed or the beaters are rousing the birds and you do not fire at birds that are on the ground, but wait until they are at least ten feet off of the ground to ensure that you don’t hit any dogs or partners.
Once the birds have been shot the retrieving dogs will be loosed and these are usually Labradors, Retrievers (obviously) and Spaniels – the latter are particularly good for ducks as they are able swimmers.
Joining a shoot
It is preferable to know someone who has a shoot or who attends in order to get a foot in the door as places are highly prized. www.gunsonpegs.com is another way to bag a place on a shoot but you do have to prove that you’re up to the challenge.
Or why not try…
Clay Pigeon Shooting
Despite looking nothing like pigeons, the round clays that are shot by those learning the art of shooting have this name and are popular with novices and experienced shots as an extra test of prowess. You can join the Isle of Wight Gun Club at Godshill and arrange coaching but you might first like to take a taster lesson for only £40. Or you could take a lesson at Cheverton Shooting Ground just outside Shorwell. Island Clay Breaks at Compton Fields Farm at Atherfield Bay offer special packages to those wishing to have a shooting holiday and have their own range at Shepherd’s Chine. Once you’ve mastered the art of clay pigeon shooting you are ready to try the real thing and you may make useful contacts at these clubs if you’re looking to join a shoot.
Air Rifle and Pistol Shooting
There are three of these on the Island and whilst they are a different type of shooting altogether you can learn to aim and fire with accuracy with an air rifle or pistol. Cowes Rifle and Pistol Club is in a disused railway tunnel in Cowes, Shanklin Rifle and Pistol Club meet at Middle Barn Farm in Bathingbourne Lane and West Wight Rifle and Pistol Club have an indoor range in Yarmouth.