Ladies who shoot
PUBLISHED: 16:10 28 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:23 20 February 2013
Whether looking for fun outdoors, a challenge... or perhaps even a partner, girls are picking up the guns to show what they can do
Ladies who shoot
Whether looking for fun outdoors, a challenge or perhaps even a partner, girls are picking up the guns to show what they can do
WORDS: Jan Raycroft; Photography: Maureen McLean
There is underlying air of something a bit earthy and sexy in the nicest possible way in shooting. Combine sporting etiquette, a chance to dress up in styles that can be flattering (even the wellies look good) with the exhilaration of actually hitting a clay pigeon, and you get the same effect as a glass of good bubbly or irresistible cake (more on cake later!).
We are at the award-winning EJ Churchill Shooting Ground, within the 40 acres of the West Wycombe Estate, on a day when the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association has been holding a contest. Those whove already competed are returning to the clubhouse and bar to compare scores and take a look at the shop full of specialist clothing, accessories and Christmas goodies.
Most are men, and it is here that I discover just one of the many reasons some ladies take up the sport, or if already capable shooters, choose to become members of clubs. Its the men. Some very nice men, indeed, it has to be said.
This is indeed a happy hunting ground. There are ladies, divorcees and widows, who want to enjoy the company of a certain type of single gents who have like-minded interests and similar backgrounds.
Pressed, EJ Churchill marketing manager Jane Fenwick admits: You might just meet that special person or simply look to widen your social circle, finding yourself invited to away days and dinner parties. The atmosphere is so relaxed and friendly that at the very least you will have enjoyed a good days shooting and great conversation with similar people.
But partner hunting forms only a tiny part of the attraction for women. More and more are taking up the sport, and another reason is that, like perhaps golf, tennis, riding and skiing to a reasonable standard, it is a social skill that looks good on corporate CVs.
With more women reaching boardroom levels, or climbing the ladder to it, I can see why shooting on the list of leisure time activities suggests so much more than enjoys cinema and reading. It requires a certain type of discipline combined with willingness to take on a challenge, without a huge physical effort.
And if you move, or hope to move, in those circles where business deals might be closed after a manor house shoot, then coming across as a confident and willing participant during a shooting party will stand you in good stead.
Beyond that we have the fact that this is a sport where women can truly be the equals of men. Indeed many instructors find that female learners progress very quickly as they listen carefully and are not prone to the instant macho male adrenalin rush when a gun is placed in their hands. Gents, as some of us have pointed out, its where you finish, not where you start!
I was hoping that would be the case when EJ Churchill instructor Adam Calvert lured me into a short lesson. Theres been a tremendous uplift in the number of women shooting in the past three to four years, he tells me. With people like Madonna, Kate Moss and Liz Hurley taking it up, its added to the glamour.
I am, of course, none of these ladies, but charming Adam was judged by GQ magazine to be one of the best four instructors in the country, and I would soon see why.
We stood in the gun room with Adam eyeing me up, in the most professional way. Height, sorting out which was my dominant eye, being left-handed (and whether I played any sports right-handed), position of chest to shoulders, stance, even his decision that I had high cheekbones, all scrutinised and taken into account before sorting out the gun, and done in the nicest possible way.
We dealt with safety issues and Adam explained that a broken gun is not one thats stopped working but where the barrel is disconnected and left hanging from the stock. Its easy for ladies because the right way to carry a gun is like a handbag over your arm, he pointed out.
Having chosen a gun he then went off to adjust it. As he is also a specialist gun fitter, we ended up ready to head off with just about the ideal gun for me to take my first ever shots at the clays.
What happened was simply amazing. Within a couple of shots I started hitting the clays as Adam gently pointed out adjustments needed. By the end I was able to hit two clays sent up within a second of each other, catching both in turn as they started to drop towards earth. Are you sure you dont have a man hiding in the bushes, shooting them for me? I asked, but Adam insisted it was my achievement.
So I checked that Jane Fenwick, joined by EJ Churchills Jane Nixey and Charlotte Drury, who with photographer Maureen McLean were cheering me on, had not secretly fired the successful shots, unheard by me in my ear defenders. No, they declared Id cracked it.
The thrill when the clay shatters really is something to experience. I felt alive, positive and ready to take on the world. Of course its emotion Adam has seen many times in a novice, but its clear he greatly enjoys the beaming smiles and release of giggles from the pent up nervous energy.
And for those whove heard that shooting leaves you with a sore shoulder, I can definitely say this is not the case when you have the right gun and have been positioned by an expert. As for hitting the clays, I always had good eye /hand co-ordination as a sporty youngster and for computer game shoot em ups, but Im sure that virtually everyone could pick up the basic skills very quickly.
I must admit to being surprised when Adam told me that many of the ladies he instructs are keen to move on to actual game hunting, such as pheasant shoots, once proficient. Its not something that would appeal to me personally, but since the game is headed for the table in any case Im glad that those choosing that option have been so well trained.
EJ Churchill arrange game shoots on the estate and across the country. Everything can be supplied, right down to the teams and dogs which collect the birds, although those with trained gun dogs can bring them.
It was a day of surprises for I discovered that a have a go clay pigeon taster session can cost as little as 38 per person, based on four taking part. You need bring nothing but yourself and a sense of fun.
And its not just the ladies to whom the men are giving elbow room. There is a Young Guns Academy at EJ Churchill for those aged eight to 18. Their Halloween fun included shooting at pumpkins.
More and more young women are coming in to the sport, such as Binfield-based Amber Hill, who at 14 just missed taking part in the London Olympics but is now ranked number one for England and number three for Great Britain. She has her sights set on a medal in Rio, having taken a bronze in the skeet discipline at the International Junior World Championships in Finland in August.
Im now in awe of Ambers skill, determined to follow her progress, and wish Id tried shooting at the age when she began, just 10, under the guidance of her granddad. But this is a sport to start at any age, thats for sure.
When it was time to give back the gun and head for home, the sense of achievement was still there. As I told photographer Maureen McLean: I want to do that again, and again!
Having your cake and eating it
The Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club is a fun ladies only clay shooting and tea club which has gone national and is backed by the British Association of Shooting and Conservation, having grown from just four girls last September.
In 2013 they plan to hold a shoot in every English county. The ladies shoot 30 cartridges and clays under fully qualified instruction in small groups. Once everyone has taken their shots, they head for tea and cake in the clubhouse.
They were at the Oxford Gun Company near Aylesbury twice in November and will be at EJ Churchill on 8 December.
The club welcomes all levels, including absolute beginners. Its a perfect opportunity to have a go, improve your shooting, make new friends and have a great few hours. They love beating the boys!
The EJ Churchill event costs just 45.
You can find more details on
About EJ Churchill
Edwin John Churchill set up a gunmaking workshop in London in 1891. Today the name is recognised as one of the worlds finest gunmakers.
They are the only UK shooting business with their own gunmaking facility, shooting ground, corporate entertainment company and sporting agency.
Based on the beautiful West Wycombe Estate, seat of the Dashwood family, the business includes the shooting facilities, superb clubhouse and shop with everything you need. The business has grown in the last two years and when we called they were recruiting three new staff members.
Competitions, corporate and charity events are hosted, and packages can be arranged for breakfast meetings, half and full days and simulated game events, with booking starting from just four people. Christmas clay pigeon shooting packages, with or without a festive lunch, are available.
A family fun day is planned for 1 December, with shooting competitions, have a go stands, shop discounts and much more.
Saturday hen and stag parties are popular, from 120 a head. Where else can you get shooting, champagne, cream teas and perhaps archery and cocktail-making, ladies?