Women are better shooters than men on the clay pigeon circuit, so Tom Bayston tells me as he prepares this correspondent for his maiden shoot at Park Lodge Shooting School - it sounded like a challenge to me.
Apparently, females are more likely to pay attention to the instructions they’re given when trying the sport for the first time, and the right technique, I learn, is what separates the wheat from the chaff.
The scenario is this. A 110mm-wide clay is fired out of a trap at the press of a button pressed by Tom beside me. It zips through the air at around 30mph, giving me seconds to train my sights over the flight path and unload a shell from the 12 gauge shotgun; the butt of the stock pressed against the bulbous layer of muscle between neck and shoulder, beneath the collarbone.
What’s key, Tom explains, is to shoot ahead of the moving clay - like passing a football ahead of a teammate so they can run onto the ball - so that when the trigger is squeezed, a collision course is set between shell and clay. A true hit explodes the clay, though chipping the edges still count as a hit. Wind speed and direction adds unpredictability as to the clay’s trajectory and there’s no compensating for procrastination. An instinctive, steady shot goes a long way to determining success, something this novice gun quickly discovered.
The purpose of my visit to Tom’s impressive diversification project - he farms down the road with his parents - was to find out how accessible shooting is to newcomers.
Shooting now has wide appeal. For example, at Park Lodge, set in 44 acres next to the East Yorkshire village of West Cowick, the experience is geared not just towards old hands but hosts corporate parties who come for a ‘different’ experience. It attracts a surprisingly diverse age range too. The youngest gun so far was a seven-year-old girl and the oldest, a woman in her 70s who wanted to tick shooting off her bucket list.
There’s a few older couples taking the circuit during my visit and they stopped to explain the sport’s appeals.
“It’s a sport we can do together,” says Pat Tomlinson, 60, of Norton near Doncaster, who was ambling between shooting stations with her husband Dave, 67. “We used to shoot 19 years ago but I had a car crash and it put me out of action for a while. I came here to use the air rifle range but I soon wanted to get back to clays. We’ve done shoots all over - in Dubai and Portugal.”
I step up for my first shot at a station called ‘squirrel’. I misfire, failing to pull the trigger hard enough a few times but after the false starts I hit a clay, which is released from the traps in a rolling fashion, downhill along the ground. The slow pace allows time to position the gun but the clay’s downward tumble is a tad testing at first attempt.
Buoyed by a bullseye, it’s on to ‘incoming’. A clay was cast upwards and looped towards me, where it seemed to hover momentarily before crashing into the ground. I hit it first time at the peak of its trajectory under Tom’s masterful tuition.
Next up, ‘rabbit’ sees the clay whizz from right to left, bouncing up and off the turf. I hit a respectable number and feeling like I’m getting the hang of it, and Tom, sensing so, leads me to a station close to a 90ft tower. Looming into the sky, the very suggestion that folk actually hit any projectiles unloaded from the top seems utterly absurd. The clay is supposed to represent a pheasant’s flight. I get six shots. Shot one... miss. I don’t expect a hit, but the adrenaline has kicked in and I want success. Shot two, and it’s a strike! Tom claims to be impressed and I’ll take that, and this is probably when the old male stereotype took over. Perhaps too giddy with new found confidence, I vowed to prove it was no fluke. Four shots later and there were four solid clays lying untouched on the grass. Mental note: quit while you’re a ahead next time!
The joy of shooting is in the precision required and the satisfaction of getting it right. I can see how anyone would get hooked. Tom offers a knowing smile as we head back to the clubhouse and we bump into one of his five instructors, Brian Thompson, 54, who has practised shooting since the age of 10. Explaining the past-time’s appeal to him, he says: “It’s the challenge of it really and the being out alongside other people. The social side of it is quite strong. It’s not about who’s best. The secret to shooting well is building up your muscle memory. You have got to practise your aim so that when the taregt comes you are ready for it.”
Park Lodge Shooting School is a fun experience that appeals to many and the clubhouse, built in 2011, offers high-speed wi-fi for customers and a coffee shop-bistro with a menu of burgers, lasagne, sandwiches, cake and drinks. A shop sells outdoor and shooting attire and upstairs there’s a large meeting room which can accommodate 60 guests. A spacious, separate room is being refursbished for hire for general functions. For more details, visit shooting.parklodgeshootingschool.co.uk
Park Lodge stages its first charity shoot on Tuesday, June 10 in aid of Yorkshire Air Ambulance and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution. Teams of four will shoot five flushes each consisting of 100 clay targets. Team entry is £280. For more details, call the shooting school on 01405 764500.
A project out of necessity
Arable farmer Tom Bayston started to look at diversifying in 2000 because he was losing money. “We needed to do something to increase our revenue stream. I’d played rugby to a decent level and stopped through injury. When my father asked how I was going to spend my Saturdays now I said I’d rejoin our local shoot.”
After tuition across Britain, Tom imagined the Park Lodge project. It required the transformation of a wheat field. “Once harvest was over and we’d seen out winter, we developed the ground and in spring 2007 we got going properly, operating out of two portable cabins and we’ve added to it each year since.”
Park Lodge is open Wednesdays to Sundays and also opens on bank holidays.