Following on from yesterday’s post, in which I whinged about how I was pining for the Alps after a week skiing in the sun, today I took myself off to a very flat part of southern England for some shooting-based distraction. The result was that instead of missing mountains, I missed clays. I also learnt a lot about how different the competition disciplines of shooting can be from the occasional sporting session, and managed to have enough fun to forget my post-skiing blues (for a while…).
For all this, I have to thank Commonwealth Games shooting gold medallist, Anita North, who invited me and our mutual friend Cathy Curtis to north-east Hertfordshire’s Nuthampstead Shooting Ground to give us a taste of Olympic Trap (OT).
After a string of silvers, beginning at the Manchester games in 2002, Anita finally bagged a well-deserved gold in Delhi in 2010. She’s always been passionate about getting women involved in sport and helping them to get the most out of it, and that’s how I first met her – at a Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club event on a sweltering day in Cambridgeshire a couple of years ago. Anita was there to offer inspiration, encouragement and cake to me and the other shooting novices, and both were greatly appreciated (I still dream of the cakes, which were mascarpone and pear brownies, if I remember correctly).
Rules, regs and giant maths equipment
For the uninitiated, clayshooting is complicated, and I have to confess that, though I’ve been shooting for about three years now, I’m still pretty vague when it comes to the serious shooting disciplines: I can sort Sporting or Skeet layouts from a trap ones, but ask me to say whether something is American Ball Trap, Universal Trench or Double Trap and you’ll see a look of mild panic in my eyes. When I shoot clays, it’s generally as practice for shooting something I’d like to eat, and not competitively, so I’ve been more concerned with targets that mimic particular quarry rather than competitive rules and regulations.
The laws of OT are too long to set out here (even if I could remember them all…), but if you’re interested they’re available in their full glory on the website of the International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF).
Fortunately, when it came to getting our heads around the basics, Cathy and I had help from both Anita and ground owner and international coach, Martin Baker, who set up the Nuthampstead ground as a place for the team GB shooters to practise back in 1992 and has been developing it into an international-standard facility ever since. First, they took us down into the trap trench, where a row of traps was laid out in front of boxes and boxes of biodegradable clays, all waiting to be thrown at speed into the line of fire.
For OT, 15 traps are lined up in the trench – three for each of the five firing points along which the shooters progress. Of each trio, one trap will throw targets to the left, another to the right, and a third to the centre. The sequence in which the traps at Nuthampstead release clays for each firing point is randomly generated by computer.
The minimum and maximum angles at which the traps can fire are strictly regulated for competitions (and therefore also for training). I was one the point of making a joke about measuring them with something from a school maths set, when Martin produced a giant protractor – they really do check the angles like that. When Martin and Anita started listing the numbers of combinations possible for each shooter to face it all became disturbingly reminiscent of a GCSE maths problem.
Doing not thinking
Brains buzzing ominously, we went back to the firing points to have a go at actually shooting something. The trick, explained Martin, was to be instinctive, to drive the gun at the target, not worry about lead, and not think too much. With so much talk of rules and angles sloshing around, this was easier said than done…
After a few shots, Martin and Anita stepped in and gave Cathy and I some tips and tricks to do with a number of things, including gun mount, movement and foot positioning.
One of the most interesting exercises was trying Anita’s gun, which, unsurprisingly, I found a lot better suited to OT than my 20-bore game gun! Anita shoots with a 12-bore Perazzi made to her own personal specifications in Italy. Though it was a left handed gun and a pound heavier than my own Silver Pigeon, the Perazzi’s balance made it extremely comfortable to shoot the going away targets from a pre-mounted position, and the fact that it was set up to shoot higher than my gun meant that I actually smashed a few clays with it too.
A significant part of the Perazzi’s comfort came from the fact that it’s greater weight meant it absorbed more of the recoil from the specialist trap cartridges, made by Italian cartridge company RC. We were using 24g 7.5 shot loads, as required for competition OT shooting, and I had been getting thoroughly thumped in the shoulder. I’ve used similar loads before in my gun and never suffered with recoil, so was mildly puzzled at the pummelling.
The problem, according to Martin, stemmed from the fact that these particular 20g cartridges were designed for use in trap competition shooting in Italy. The 20-bore is a more popular trap calibre with the Italians than it is in the UK, he said, but the competition guns they use are much heavier than my light-weight Beretta, and therefore better able to cope with the kick-backs. On Martin’s advice, I switched to a low-noise version of the same RC load, and was instantly more comfortable and getting closer to where I needed to be to break the clays.
Bacon rolls and building the future
The bacon rolls and coffee once the shooting was over were as good as the coaching, and it was easy to see why Nuthampstead is so highly valued by Britain’s international trap and skeet shooters. Seasoned shots and stars of the future benefit from its facilities (and bacon rolls) and plans for further improvements are underway.
Nuthampstead isn’t only doing great things for the future of Britain’s shooters – Martin is also involved in a number of projects helping the environment and boosting the area’s birdlife. He works closely with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ringing and counting the 100+ species of birds found at the site. He builds nest boxes for the owls, and played a significant part in helping a population of red kites establish itself in the area.
Given the high number of targets and cartridges used at the ground, minimising the impact of waste material is important. The traps at the ground are loaded with clays manufactured by Spanish company Platos Vivaz out of pine resin, which biodegrade more effectively than standard targets. They also don’t change colour when they get wet, which helps competitors pick them up consistently even in changeable conditions and break well when hit.
The layouts have also been surrounded by raised banks of earth and rubble, on which most of the shot and clay fragments fall. These will soon be covered in a special mesh membrane that will collect the fallen lead, enabling the ground to sell it, and removing it from the environment, something which is common at major European grounds. The membranes at Nuthampstead have an extra level of recycling – they are being reused after serving an initial stint covering the ground at Barry Buddon, where last year’s Commonwealth Games shooting events were held.
For more information on Nuthampstead Shooting Ground, visit http://www.nuthampsteadshootingground.co.uk.