At Thimbleby we welcome all levels of shooters to our ground from seasoned clay shooting competitors to total novices, and everyone in between. Our team of instructors enjoy helping people take their first steps in the world we already know and love, hopefully introducing them to a sport they can enjoy for the rest of their life.
But if you are totally new to clay pigeon shooting, there can be quite a bit to take in when you first turn up for a lesson. Just like any unfamiliar sport, you’ll have new jargon to learn and skills to master, plus you need to learn how to safely handle a shotgun. To help you feel right at home at Thimbleby and have you hitting clays right from the first lesson, we’ve put together our very own beginners guide to clay shooting. Let’s dive in.
Choosing the right clothing
Make sure you pack a waterproof jacket and some sturdy footwear (for women, heels are a no-no, even low stacked heels!). Avoid padded or bulky jackets and scarves as this could impact how you learn to mount the gun (that means where you place the butt of the gun on the front of your chest near the shoulder). You’ll also need a pair of ear defenders to wear when shooting, plus a baseball cap and some safety glasses, but we supply all of those for you here at Thimbleby.
Gun selection and fitting
Your instructor will help choose the right gun to give you a confident and comfortable start to your shooting journey. They will look at your eye dominance and whether you are likely to be a left or right-handed shooter. There are three main types of shotgun: side-by-side (where the barrels are placed next to each other), over and under (the barrels are stacked on top of each other) and semi-automatic (a single barrel). You are most likely to be given an over and under to learn with and you’ll find some clay shooters disapprove of a semi-automatic!
Then, your instructor will select the right weight and calibre for you to shoot for the very first time – generally heavier guns absorb recoil better, but lighter guns are less tiring to carry and shoot with. 12 gauge is the most common for men, with 20 bore a popular choice for young people and women – however we often see women happily shoot with a 12 gauge whilst some men love their 20!
How to handle your gun safely
Even the most experienced guns occasionally need a refresher, but it’s essential to start developing good habits right from the start. If you’re not on a stand and about to shoot, always keep the gun broken over your arm. Whenever you are walking, even if it’s just for a few strides, always break the gun. When the gun is closed, always treat it like it is loaded and never point it at another person. Your instructor will help you learn how to mount your gun and that means the most effective, safe and comfortable place for the butt of the gun to sit on your body so that you can control the gun and absorb the recoil.
Heading out onto the shooting ground
Now it’s time to head out and have a go! At a clay shooting ground you’ll find a variety of ‘stands’ which have clay pigeon traps (machines to fire a clay pigeon into the air when required) tucked nearby. They may be a single (one trap firing one clay at a time) or a pair (two traps firing clays which follow each other on an arc, fly over your head one after another or cross over in front of you.) Here, your instructor will help you learn an effective stance and how to swing the gun for the first time, following a clay through the air. And, of course, taking that very first shot! Try to stay as relaxed as possible, listen closely to your instructor and remember to watch the clay.
Advancing your clay shooting technique
As you progress through your first lesson, you’ll learn to keep the gun moving through the arc even once you’ve pulled the trigger (most people’s instinct is to stop!) and to keep your head close to your shotgun while you take your shot. You’ll learn to follow the clay with your eyes and might even start to learn how to give a clay the appropriate ‘lead’. In your first lesson there’s so much to get your head around, but if you come away from it having hit a clay or two and excited to have another lesson, that’s what we call a job well done.
At Thimbleby we offer a range of lessons and experiences to help people try clay shooting for the first time. Our team is passionate about shooting but they’re also friendly and approachable, so if you have a question when you’re having a lesson, make sure you ask it. Take a closer look at our lessons here.