Saturday, January 15, 2005

Shotguns are heavier than you’d think, especially when they’re recoiling backwards into your shoulder. In cowboy films, they swing them around like they weigh about as much as the plastic ones kids play with, but a real one takes a fair bit of effort to hold aloft – even more so when you’re wearing eight layers of clothing, but you’re still shaking from the cold.

The clays seem to have shrunk somewhat since I found one in a field all those years ago. The official Olympic standard clay is 4.33 inches across – just a smidgen bigger than a golf hole – but when it’s flying away from you into the fog, it looks a lot smaller.

John van de Poll (who made his debut on another blog this week too) was my companion for today's event. We arrived and were pointed first in the direction of the ear plugs. Having poked those as far into our ears as we could, it was quite surprising that we managed to hear the lady in the tent call us back to give us a box of 25 cartridges each.

From there, it was off to the range, where we found some very keen and friendly shooters who were more than willing to show us the ropes. They hardly laughed at all to be fair. I suppose though, after a while, watching some novice completely miss the target becomes less and less funny.

Fortunately, there were two other novices with us who had also arrived early, and we got to watch them have a go before we took control (for want of a better word) ourselves. John went first. The format was ten singles and then doubles until you were out of ammunition – so, ten singles, seven doubles and a single for luck. John hit 5 out of 25 to lead what had suddenly to me truly become “the competition.”

I’ve mentioned before that my competitive nature has been known to overwhelm my enjoyment of sport at times. As I approached the novice shooting cage, I was trying very hard to tell myself that it didn’t matter how many I hit, but I knew that any less than six would leave me disgusted with myself.

Things didn’t get off to a great start. I missed a lot of clays before I realised that I wasn’t really looking down the barrel of the gun at all, but instead seemed to be looking roughly in the direction of the flying thing and hoping that would be enough. It wasn’t. The first time I really got my eye behind the barrel, I hit one.

Needless to say, I then figured I’d cracked it. I was so eager to get at the next one that I was halfway through yelling “Pull!” when the man who was overseeing the situation, a mentor of sorts, tapped me on the shoulder to very kindly remind me to take the safety off.

I hit a few more as we moved on to doubles, and my mentor was very encouraging, but in all honesty I was relying on him to tell me whether I was scoring or not. The recoil from the gun meant that I could never quite tell. The confusion arose from there. I was sure he told me at one point that I had hit five, and then I hit one of my final doubles.

I looked back at John and raised my fist in (only slightly) pretend celebration. “Six!” I yelled at him to allow for the earplugs. “No, five” said my mentor, “but if you hit this last single, you’ll be in the lead, look!” he added, showing me the score sheet. I looked as he pointed at John’s score and nodded as though I hadn’t been well aware of how many I needed to take the lead.

I could feel some tension creeping in (as tension is wont to do at moments like that) as I loaded the gun for my final shot – it was nothing excessive, but there was a slight tingle of that heady mix sport so often provides of hope, fear, expectation and desire. I shouldered the gun and shouted for a target. The miniscule black disk hurtled out into the fog and I unleashed the 12-bore fury right at it (or so I thought). I opened the gun, releasing the spent cartridge and, as casually as I could manage, turned back to my mentor.

“Bad luck, lad – just a bit low.”

The worst result in sport – a tie – still, it was a lot of fun, and I’m reliably informed (although still hard pushed to believe) that that’s what’s important.

Today was a nice introduction to the sport. I am hopeful that I should be able (with a lot of help) to have a go at the skeet variation some time, but, for now, I’m almost tempted to chalk this morning up as a valid case of “having a go at” the trap and the double trap. I appreciate that to some that might be akin to claiming after a light jog that I’d had a go at running a marathon, but I’m not so sure.

Partly, I admit, it would be nice to chalk up two more events, but I’m also not sure how much more missing 100 of 125 targets would further my understanding of how difficult a sport it is – and to shoot that many cartridges into thin air and cause that many clays to meet their end at the hand of a fallow field rather than some well-aimed lead seems inherently wasteful.

I have certainly now shifted from my previously held notion that it had to be easy because the guys on the TV made it look that way – it’s far from easy. It is hard to tell what your margin for error is, but I suspect that a good number of my shots missed the target by a long old way, which makes it even more impressive that sometimes the top people don't miss at all.

I’ll take a straw poll and decide it that way – leave me a comment and tell me what you think – have I done trap and double trap shooting to your satisfaction? Or am I a lazy, half-hearted idiot doing a half-assed job?

Many thanks to Dave Bathe and Dave New, and all the other people who were involved in organising the day - when we left, there must have been 30 people waiting in line to have a go, so here’s hoping they have raised lots of money for their church charity.

Thanks also to John, not only for providing the meaningful competition (trying to beat strangers always feels a bit hollow), but also for driving there and back, and donating £10 to Sobell House - £2 for each target I hit - although he had the decency to tell me that after I'd missed the other forty pounds-worth. It was a bad enough feeling to miss so many clays without also having to think that I was losing charity money as I was doing it.


Poll Star said...

I think it's fair enough to count today for the single and double, but being driven past 4 kids trampolining in the fog and laughing at my car won't let you off trampolining, which by the way I am also up for. Perhaps we can combine it with the pole vault and create a new event.

Statue John said...

A fine pulling, followed by shooting effort gents. I would say you've passed the test. Combining the two events in the Olympics would entail the shooting of 250 clays, which, given the 20% hit ratio today, would result in 200 clays lying dormant in a field, i.e. a hideous waste. This clay could be put to far better use in the construction of a number of nice looking garden pots! Well done!

SwissToni said...

Good work chaps.

Did Mr.Poll mention to you that he has "previous" where shooting is concerned (at least with a rifle, but that has to count for something). I think that makes you AT LEAST the moral victor of the day.

As for whether this counts or not.... search your feelings my young padawan. You already know the answer, don't you... you don't need to ask us.


John said...

Well, if we're relying on something as flighty as my feelings, then it counts. Eight down; one hundred and twenty to go!

ValMarie said...

I think that this counts as you've actually spent a chunk of time attempting the sports. I'm a stranger, so I'm not really sure how much weight my opinion holds. I've been following your blog since right before Christmas and will be donating to the hospice house as soon as there is some extra money after bills and necessities in the bank account.

John said...

If my own opinion is allowed to carry weight around here, then everyone's is! Thanks for reading and for the promise of a donation - don't break the bank though - Beijing (and the end of the challenge) is still 180 odd weeks away!