With summer on its way and Covid restrictions (hopefully) easing, what better time than now to take up a new hobby? Clay shooting is a hugely popular sport in the UK – and we Brits are quite good at it too, with a team of five set to head to the Tokyo Olympics, and a tally of two bronzes from the 2016 Olympics. At the Commonwealth Games, Wales, England and Scotland are often at the top of the medals tables, too.
It’s no surprise then that there are plenty of people all across the UK willing to teach you to shoot. Whether you’re looking to refine your skills ahead of a shoot day, or simply want to learn the sport of clay shooting in its own right, there’s a huge range of places to choose from.
While there are hundreds of people with a couple of traps who offer excellent tuition, many choose to go to a shooting school, where there tends to be a wide range of traps, instructors, and even organised competitions to make your day go with a bang. Here are some of our most recommended shooting grounds, which are sure to hit the target.
E.J. Churchill’s original shooting ground, on the West Wycombe Estate in Buckinghamshire, boasts what must be one of the most stunning shooting-school settings in the UK. But even ignoring the landscape, what they have to offer is equally impressive. The school offers lessons to anyone – members and non-members, beginners and regular shots alike – and have 120 separate clay shooting stands, meaning there is plenty of variety, even for the most ardent of shots. This even includes purpose-built grouse-butts, if you want to get your eye in for the autumn. There are also competitions throughout the year for members, a young guns club for junior shots, late night shooting throughout the summer, as well as an air rifle range for those who are after some target practice.
Last year, E.J. Churchill have added another location to their roster: the Swinton Estate in North Yorkshire. This new addition is set to expand, and offers an excellent option in the north.
West London Shooting School
The fact that it is easily accessible both from central London and from Heathrow has made West London Shooting School a favourite among city-types. It is just a six minute drive from South Ruislip station, and accessible via Uber.
But don’t let that put you off – on the contrary, it should encourage you to visit. This is perhaps one of the best places for complete newcomers too, as they are used to teaching people from town – as well as more rural visitors.
Far from being just for men, lots of lady shots are now coming through the ranks and are showing off their skills both in clay competitions and in the field. The West London Shooting School prides themselves on encouraging new people into the sport, and have created a specially-designed Ladies Course. This consists of three lessons, culminating with a friendly ladies-only competition (followed, naturally, by a champagne reception). A similar course is available for youngsters – The Young Shots Course.
They also offer simulated Game Flyer Days at the Great Tew Estate near Banbury, which blend the structure of a traditional shoot day (including lunch, elevenses and all the trimmings) with clay targets, and offer a variety of simulated game.
Gleneagles Shooting School
Far from being ‘just’ a hotel Gleneagles – which is of course most famous for its golf thanks to its three courses – is very much a country resort. The hotel offers all sort of country pursuits, ranging from falconry, gundog training and ferret handling lessons to riding lessons at their 50 acre equestrian school. Of course shooting and fishing are covered under this umbrella, and their shooting school is top class. With 13 shooting stands covering everything from partridge and teal to rabbit and, um, haggis (no, really), this school is ranked as one of the best in the world. You could even fit in a round of golf to finish off the day.
Ian Coley Sporting
You might expect a shooting school more used to middle-aged men to blanch when a dozen hens turn up at their door – complete with a bride-to-be in veil and wedding sash – but far from it. We were welcomed with open arms! Set up by Ian Coley MBE, GB Olympic Team Coach for over 20 years – during which Team GB achieved a number of both gold and silver medals, culminating in a gold on home turf, at London 2012 – the shooting ground offers a selection of traps and stands, whatever level you are at.
Located in the heart of the Cotswolds just outside Cheltenham, the ground has won numerous awards and is well known for having some challenging stands. As at most grounds, a ‘pay and play’ system allowed those with a licence and their own gun to shoot at leisure. Equally, beginners are welcomed with open arms – and both stag and hen parties are catered for. You even get a free cap (well, we did!).
Bisley Shooting Ground
Bisley Shooting Ground, in Surrey, is the largest sporting clay ground in Europe – so no surprise that it offers a wide array of both excellent instructors and traps – including the UK’s highest clay tower. In fact, Bisley came first in the ‘best ground’ category in the 2020 Shooting Times Shooting Awards (as voted for by readers) – so surely that speaks for itself?
Queen Victoria opened the Bisley Ranged by firing the first shot in 1860, and the history of the grounds are still reflected in the architecture and ambience, including the Victorian clubhouse, which was transferred to Bisley from Wimbledon Common in 1890. With tartan curtains, wood floors and squashy sofas, it plays its role of a Victorian Shooting Lodge incredibly well.