By Communications Manager Justin Law
I missed the first few times I shot at clay targets, mostly because I was totally new to it and did a bunch of things wrong.
Thanks to some help from experienced shooters, I finally smashed one, then a few in a row. I got hooked and would have shot all day if not for the fact the ill-fitting and hard old shottie from the Eagle Park Range bunker was slowly tenderising my shoulder.
That shoot was earlier this year with the Gamebird Hunting Essentials Masterclass (the former Shotgunning Education Program) where I learned the characteristics of different ammunition and chokes.
It was a fantastic grounding in understanding the skill level you need to competently shoot for ducks (they’re safe from me this season).
The next experience I had was all about having fun.
If you’ve had a look at the latest Victorian Shooter, you might have read Shepparton Shotgun Club member Marion Barnes’ tips on buying a shotgun.
It was while putting that story together that she encouraged me to get up there and have a crack during their Tower Shoot and practice day.
The idea of simulating field shooting and testing my skill against moving targets got me interested, so I made the two-hour trip up the Goulburn Valley Highway to SSAA Shepparton Branch’s range.
It’s a large complex with several areas set aside for shotguns including two five-stands and the tower.
Young shooter Tom Bilney was good enough to loan me his gorgeous (and bloody expensive) Perazzi MX10. He has a bunch of junior achievements under his belt including Juniors High Gun at the recent Victorian 5-Stand titles and will be shooting with the Victorian team at the nationals.
He was more than happy to introduce me to the sport he loves, and his patience and good humour made getting chucked in at the deep end for the Tower Shoot competition a lot more fun than it could have been.
The set-up is five bays along the firing line positioned beneath a trap mounted up in a tower about 6m tall.
The clays come out from overhead in any of three general directions, so the art is to quickly pick up the target and shoot as you draw the barrel down.
Each of the five bays gives you a slightly different angle to shoot from and during the competition shooters rotate through the bays.
I barely had time to buy a couple of boxes of ammo (7.5s, 28g at 1300f/s as recommended) before I was lining up against shooters in Marion, Rocky Furci, Barry Bloodwell and Rod Wild who sponsored the Tower Shoot we were competing in.
With not even a practice shot I was away, hitting the first clay with the second barrel and then the next with the first.
Thinking it was easy (and I was told it was among the easiest of the competitions), I missed the next dozen in a row and for the life of me couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong, despite Tom’s expert guidance and lots of encouragement from the others.
Rod and Rocky were making it look easy, calmly striping the barrel down the target line and picking off their clays early.
I was trying to wait for the right moment, getting ahead of the target and tensing up. All the things you don’t do and finished with a six from 35.
Mercifully, I was allowed to get to the practice range where I enjoyed a lot more success at the simpler throws.
I also had the opportunity to shoot with a beautiful Miroku Mk10 Sport Deluxe loaned to me by Marion’s husband Ron.
Both the Miroku and the Perazzi made such a difference to the experience and I could have shot 10 or more boxes of shells after the five I nearly got through for the day. The challenge of each shot and the great satisfaction when you middle one and the clay explodes into fragments are very addictive.
Back at the tower for a second round, I managed to double my score for a total of 18 from 70. It was a long way behind Rod who won the day with a 67 after a shoot-off against club secretary Tony Connell who shot in the second group.
The biggest thing was that it was a whole heap of fun. Club president Geoff Morton was very welcoming, and everyone was keen to help a struggling novice improve.
I’m ultra keen to give it another crack and bring along my fiancé who I reckon would get just as much out of it as I did. This is a sport that anyone can try and is a truly level playing field for men and women of all ages.
Convincing her I need to buy a Perazzi is a whole other conversation.