Rob Sturzaker took the bait and joined a Simulated Field day in England where he was promised an outstanding shooting experience — he wasn’t disappointed.
“It is the most fun you can have standing up” said Charles Wallis, president of the South East Branch. He was inviting me to participate in a Simulated Field Day in England, where clay targets are driven to simulate field targets such as pheasants, partridge and grouse.
The Barbury Shooting School claims: “The Baydon Day is located in the beautiful Ramsbury Valley incorporating some stunning drives. The day includes the highly regarded Anchor Down drive, which offers some excellent high targets to test the best of shots.”
Huw Stephens, the genial director of Barbury, was our leader and our day began with a cooked breakfast at the picturesque Bell Hotel in Ramsbury.
Our schedule for the day was set out with military precision, but was more relaxed than it looks on paper, as you can see from the photo of our photographer Jane and fellow shooter/loader Tony.
- 9.00 Guns arrive for breakfast.
- 9.45 Set off for initial drive.
- 10.00 Guns on pegs for two drives.
- 11.45 Break for coffees and snacks.
- 12.00 Competition flush.
- 13.00 Lunch.
- 14.30 Further two drives.
- 16.00 Afternoon tea and depart.
We learnt more at breakfast from Huw, who said we would have 2500 clays driven over our heads during the day.
The 16 shooters are allocated eight pegs for the first drive, with one person to shoot and the other to load. Jane, who has loaded for Tony before, was keen to take on the task, but I said I preferred if Tony and I loaded for each other. I felt it would be easier to survive lopping off the top of one of Tony’s fingers than one of my wife’s!
Huw also indicated that fibre wads were the order of the day and said he had plenty of Barbury’s 21 g 7.5s with fibre wads. Hmmm! A bit light on for a man who fondly remembers the days we could shoot 36 g loads at clay targets, but more about these little loads later.
The safety briefing finished and Huw gave his last instructions. Poaching targets from those shooters on either side of you is actively encouraged, in fact, more or less compulsory.
This was a practice that Tony and I, being true gentlemen of the field, were a little uncomfortable with but judging by the grin on Charles’ face it was one we were going to be more familiar with before the day was out. No Marquis of Queensbury rules here, more Painters & Dockers.
We formed up in a convoy and wound our way through the tiny streets of Ramsbury and out into a nearby field where we found pegs set up facing uphill. At the hoot of Huw’s horn, targets began appearing over the crest of the hill in all directions.
My, what tiny little fellows they were! As they came closer, they appeared to speed up so it was with some alacrity that we mounted and moved our guns.
Targets were released from a battery of manual traps hidden over the top of the hill and included crossers from both sides and those thrown directly over your head.
It became clear why you had a loader. While the pace was not frenzied (OK, it was on occasion) the targets were relentless in their appearance and it was not possible, even with a loader, to get a shot at them all. Jane’s video footage shows this clearly as targets would fly overhead while Tony and I were concentrating on the breach.
Shells out, don’t hit the loader, shells in, don’t chop off the loader’s fingers!
It was a steep learning curve and it wasn’t helped by birds approaching the sweet spot only to disappear in a cloud of clay as one or other of Charles’ mates, or even Charles himself, gleefully walloped a target in front of our peg.
Not much presidential behaviour on display, unless he took lessons from the Donald!
On more than one occasion I was squeezing the trigger only to watch the target smashed to pieces with parts disappearing in two directions at once. It was clear that the greedy bastards on both sides were into our targets. While quite unnatural to Tony and I, it is to our credit that we adapted quickly and took a few back.
As it turns out poaching does require some finesse. The desire for revenge can cause caution to be cast to the wind, with the result that more straightforward shots on your own peg go through to the keeper with not a shot fired at them, while you push your range to ruin someone else’s shot.
Revenge is indeed a dish best served cold, and a measured approach is best. Nevertheless, as three pegs vie to get to a bird first the whole poaching issue tends to speed up the shooting and push the range out.
Huw sounded the horn and there was a brief pause while shooter and loader changed places and then it began again.
The targets were all high overhead, which meant lots of bent backs and necks and fatigue from raising the gun and swinging it high in the air. By the time the first drive was finished I needed a break and the ground around our peg was littered with empty cartridges.
After a brief clean-up it was back to the vehicles and off to another drive where the birds were a little lower and it seemed more crossing birds were thrown across some light scrub and trees. This seemed to have the benefit of protecting us from the poaching a bit and was a welcome change from the targets thrown in the dizzy heights.
The pace was still fast load, shoot, load, shoot, with little respite. Some erratic shots showed up as muscles became stressed.
We all like smashing targets and swatting some high overheads is great fun, especially if they are in front of some low life who has been encroaching on your peg! Seemingly in the blink of an eye it was 11.45 am and time for elevenses (morning tea) at the gazebo set up in the corner of a field. The weather was mid 20s with quite a high level of humidity.
A few of us opted for water rather than hot tea or coffee.
The break gave Huw the opportunity to explain our next challenge, a team flush. Teams of three (with loaders) would face a flush of targets, mainly driven but there was a springing teal in there. Huw would score, which was the first and last time any scoring was attempted on the day.
Tony’s team won as they did not have any misses, which Tony said “ …was a miracle, as I did not hit too many”. Once again Jane’s video provided the evidence and proved that Tony did contribute and earned his Barbury Shooting School coffee mug.
Then off to another drive from butts on the edge of a wheat field. This was the grouse/partridge shoot. The field rose in front of us but at a milder slope than before allowing for some lower but still very fast overhead targets.
This was easier work as it was possible to take these targets further out in front reducing the number of neck snapping, back breaking shots directly overhead.
We made early inroads on the poachers on either side but when they woke up to why their targets kept disappearing it was on for young and old.
Finally, a well-earned lunch back at the Bell and time to chat to some of the locals who had joined us for the day. They filled our imaginations with talk of high pheasants, fast partridge and faster grouse, real ones! Not cheap to pursue but for those with more modest means the plump wood pigeon can be decoyed and shot. George Digweed’s favourite field shooting apparently!
Our last drive was the famous Anchor Down Drive, which lays claim to extremely high birds that “test the very best of shots”. Well by golly, they weren’t kidding: tiny weeny little targets appeared over a steep ridge and moved smartly downhill and over the heads of the guns.
I was, at this stage of the afternoon, somewhat tired and confused. But as I am not likely to be back there soon, I persisted and tried to shoot all the targets.
So, with aching neck and cracking back I blazed away with decreasing accuracy until, with only a few minutes to go, I offered my gun to Tony with “I have had enough”. Tony did not hesitate and ploughed into the targets until the final horn blew. Between the two of us we fired about 800 shots for the day and hit a whole bunch of targets. We have fired more than 1000 shots each in a day on doves in South America but that was with a 20-gauge auto.
The Barbury 21 g shells we were using were very light on recoil but effective at long range if you pointed them in the right direction. Fibre wads are quite distinctive as the contents of the rubbish bin seem to have been loaded in the shell. Jane’s slow-motion video shows the shot leaving followed by a rain of “confetti”, which caused us some mirth. However, fibre wads are a thing of the future as they avoid the piles of plastic wads we often see around gun clubs.
I did not realise how little recoil there was until I fired some of the 28 g loads I had with a 21 g shell in the other barrel. Although I am not particularly sensitive to recoil, the 21 g loads were significantly softer on the shoulder and yet they crunched up targets at any range.
The day was a great success and something Tony and I had not previously experienced. There was a lot of laughter, including from our video queen, a few curses and a lot of gun fire. Thanks to Charles for the invitation and Huw for directing.
Contributed by Rob Sturzaker.