Game days can be daunting but with the right preparation you can enjoy every minute, as Claire Zambuni explains.
1. Join a club
The shooting community is a warm one and there are new clubs springing up all over the country for ladies. The Shotgun and Chelsea Bun Club is one of the foremost.
Founded and run by Victoria Knowles-Lacks, it prides itself on being inclusive and welcoming. Brilliant baking is as admired as blazing barrels. Victoria says: “By joining a club there’s a real sense of community and a ready-made support network of friendly and welcoming women in place.
It’s not unusual to feel slightly apprehensive about starting shooting, but knowing there are other ladies in the same situation is such a good feeling, leaving you to get on and have fun and enjoy all of the excitement that the sport brings.
Ladies’ shooting clubs are there to welcome you and support you in getting into shooting – plus there’s always lots of friendly chat and plenty of good times.”
The glamorous Femmes Fatales are also encouraging women to shoot around the UK. They have a love of fashion and firearms and this year organised the inaugural Femme Fatales Cup at the Royal Berkshire Shooting School.
2. Explore different types of guns
Don’t just go for the first gun someone suggests. I learnt the hard way by injuring myself using a heavy 12 bore that had not been correctly fitted to me. I now shoot with a Beretta 686 over-under, although I am about to go back to my roots and shoot with a side-by-side.
I am having a 20 bore Spanish side-by-side made with an engraving of Lola, my beloved working cocker spaniel. Shooting Gazette shooting instructor Ed Watson (AKA Dr Watson), says: “For a lady, a 20 bore is generally easier to handle and better in terms of weight and recoil.”
A good cartridge helps too and there are excellent low-recoil shells on the market, which are perfect for a 20 bore.
3. Get your gun fitted to you properly
Having a gun correctly fitted and made for you will transform your shooting. Top instructor Adam Calvert has a wealth of experience of fitting guns for female shooters and he says: “For women, the most important thing is that they need a higher comb height because of their higher cheekbones.
It is particularly important when you achieve the higher comb height that the gun is not too high in the shoulder pocket. This is why you often see ladies with a Monte Carlo stock, which features an elevated comb to lift the cheek higher while keeping the heel of the stock low.
“Almost all the mass market guns are produced for Mr. Average and ladies do not fall into this category as they have smaller hands, higher cheekbones and breasts.
These guns can be made to fit, but you need to use someone who knows what they are doing. Some manufacturers such as Caesar Guerini are starting to make guns specifically for ladies as it is such a growth market.”
4. Get good instruction from the outset
One of the UK’s most respected instructors based at E.J. Churchill and the Royal Berkshire Shooting School is Edward Watson, who recognises that generally women have 10-15 per cent better eye-to-hand co-ordination than men and therefore enjoy an advantage from the outset.
But it doesn’t stop there: “Women tend to listen more and don’t think they are good at the beginning, which gives them an immediate advantage. It is more common for a woman to be right-hand, left-eye dominant,so many should shoot from the left shoulder from the start.”
Edward believes a course of six lessons taken over six to eight weeks will cover all the basics. “It is also important to find an instructor who treats you like a client who wants to learn to shoot well, and not as a girl who wants to have a few shots.”
Some of the most accomplished and elegant female shots I have met started with the Holland & Holland Green Feathers Course (a course of three lessons and a competition day with a gun on a game day to be won). In some ways this course paved the way by starting to encourage women to shoot.
5. Become confident with your Gun and practice
Once you have a gun that fits then become confident with it. Spend time learning how to mount consistently. Remember that good muscle memory needs 2,000-3,000 repetitions. Find a club where you can take your gun and practise on your own.
6. Remember that safety always comes first
A safe shot will always be respected and welcome on a game day. It’s more important to show you know how to be a safe shot than a hot shot. If you have had the right instruction from the outset, then safety should be second nature. Always be muzzle aware.
Take time at the beginning of the drive to acknowledge your neighbouring guns so they know you are aware of where they are and always be attentive to the position of the beaters.
7. Choose clothes for comfort not style
When you are shooting in the field you need clothes that work. If it’s a bigger day you will need a good pad to protect your shoulder and a waterproof jacket. That sounds obvious, but many jackets are only showerproof.
By all means dress to impress when you arrive and come back for lunch in more fitted styles, but make sure you have the full range of movement when out with the gun.
There are some stylish fitted breeks available from traditional companies like Holland & Holland or relative newcomers such as Troy of London. Use accessories such as scarves and belts to make the outfit your own.
8. Eat game
If you are going to shoot it, you should eat it. Simple. Most shoots will give you an oven-ready brace to take home and even Iceland sells frozen grouse these days. Don’t be daunted when learning how to cook with game and definitely experiment.
An early-season grouse is probably most appealing simply roasted, but the older birds are just as delicious used in a stew or curry.
Partridge is incredibly versatile and as good in a simple pasta dish as it is roasted. If you don’t have time to pluck the bird, simply cut out the breasts for a versatile, high-protein, low-fat meat.
9. Read up on the etiquette
Whilst shooting has moved on, there are still traditional ways that need to be respected.
When shooting live quarry, a huge amount of work goes into making the day go smoothly and etiquette such as dress, tipping the keeper, arriving on time and sending a thank you card are all important elements to the day.
If you have done your homework then all of these things will fit into place. Don’t leave it till the last minute.
10. Focus and enjoy it
Girls can be notoriously conscientious. The key to a great shoot day is to ignore what all the other guns are doing.
Do not give a jot about what they might be thinking about your hit rate and concentrate on shooting your own birds. Being self-conscious in the field is a pointless exercise.
It’s still a relatively new phenomenon to have so many ladies in the field and sometimes it’s easy to worry about not letting the side down, but forget what everyone is doing and get into the zone. Keep going and stay focused, as if you are on a good shoot there will always be plenty more birds to come.