how to shoot game

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The glorious twelfth is upon us and now is the time for all politically incorrect souls to bestir themselves for the great exodus to Scotland to kill defenceless creatures. In fact, at the moment, you can only shoot grouse but, later, there will be pheasants, partridges, duck - whichever of our feathered friends takes your fancy.

Although at present I don't foresee actually joining in (the cost of around pounds 650 for a day's shoot being just a touch prohibitive), I took myself off to the West London Shooting School to find out what it was all about so that I'll be prepared if my lottery numbers come up next week. Here they teach royals, Hollywood film stars like Tom Selleck and even pop stars (though these can't be named for fear of injury to their street cred).

Although they are teaching you to shoot game, you learn on clay pigeons. Then, when you manage to hit at least some of your targets, they go on to "instruction in the field". This is when you've paid for, or been invited to, a shoot and you don't want to make a complete fool of yourself by shooting the wrong bird (like a starling), your neighbour's bird or the beater (still regarded in the best circles as bad form).

In fact, shooting etiquette is principally about safety - pretty sensible when you are armed with a lethal weapon - and it's the first thing I was taught by Edward Watson. Very simply, the only safe gun is an open one: when it's empty and split in half, so it can't go off. "As soon as it's closed, it's live," says Edward. "We discourage the gung-ho flick-up to close it. You bring the stock up to the barrels - so it's pointing at the ground. And you never point a gun at anybody."

I was given a 28-bore over-and-under to learn on. Over-and-under refers to the barrels being on top of one another, as opposed to side-by-side, which are only really for shooting clays. Then I learned how to hold it, looking down the barrels (unlike on rifles, there are no sights on shotguns) with my face next to the stock. Then I had to fire the thing.

We all know that guns go bang. However, the first time you are responsible for this explosion, you feel really rather surprised. The gun did not, however, bash into my shoulder - a sign, apparently of being taught the proper stance. I hadn't, though, hit the target.

Edward explained: "You don't aim at the target. Because there's a distance between us and the bird, by the time the lead has got there, the bird has moved on. So you move your aim through the tail, the body, the head of the bird and, about a foot in front of it, you shoot." Simple: bum, body, beak, bang.

Once I'd got this in my head, I hit five on the trot and Edward decided I'd got the hang of the driven bird (where the clay imitates birds, such as pheasants, that are generally driven towards you by beaters) and we moved on to the teal. Now if any bird does get about in the way suggested by the "teal clay", it's not only God who moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform. The teal moves in a sudden high arc, hovers for a moment in the sky and drops like a stone. All I was concerned about, though, was killing it - after all, it had feathers. I wasn't doing too well until Edward told me to imagine that at its zenith (when you're supposed to hit it), there were two little legs dangling below and, if I aimed at them, it would fall straight into my shot. Needless to say, with my hunting instincts aroused, the clay didn't have a chance. Off we went to the "going away" bird.

By the end of an hour, I was hooked. There is a quite extraordinary sense of achievement when you manage to hit a moving target. And, because you can only hit anything if you are entirely focused, it is also curiously relaxing - all the minutiae of everyday life forgotten. It's just you, the gun and that little black thing up in the sky. And, it has to be said, all this nature red in tooth and claw is really rather thrilling - even if I was only shooting clays.


West London Shooting School, Sharvel Lane, West End Road, Northolt, Middlesex, UB5 6RA (0181-845 1377). One-hour lesson pounds 52 for one person, pounds 35 each for two. Course of six pounds 260. Instruction in the field pounds 280