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Last Updated: Monday, 27 March 2006, 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK
In the line of fire

Our intrepid reporter slips into his country slacks for a lesson on the clay target range.

By Mark Ashenden
BBC Sport at the National Shooting Centre, Bisley

Shooting at a clay target
Sadly, no points for hitting clouds

Lying in my arms was an Italian work of art - a Beretta, standard 12 gauge weighing in at 7.75 pounds and costing about 1200. It felt good.

I steadied my feet with the butt of the gun rammed into my shoulder, looked down the barrel, took a deep breath and shouted that magic "pull".

The target flew out of the trap (at more than 50mph, I was told), the gun exploded into life and kicked back into my body. Time stood still...

The black disc continued to fly across the skyline.

It was not the miraculous and wondrous introduction to shooting I had envisaged for my first lesson at the National Shooting Centre in Bisley. I had missed by a blooming mile.

This is not a sport where you sit down, weigh up the angles and debate the merits of which target to aim for.

It's a now-or-never moment. It's all about "instinct", my coach Allen Warren kept telling me. "It's a bit like playing over a lake in golf. The more you think, the more you'll miss."

Team manager Allen Warren looks on
In the safe hands of England's team manager

Second time lucky? Nope. Third time? Missed again. It's not something you can experience with degrees of enjoyment. If you miss, you miss. Nothing, no points, no smiles.

So what was going on?

"Lose the jerk," I was told. "My cameraman's going nowhere," I replied.

But it was no time for jokes. I wanted a hit.

I was told to follow the target and shoot just in front of it.

"Let the eyes lead the hands and just let it happen," my coach added. "Do it as though you are pointing a stick."

Shooting is still a dirty word. We want to get away from this image that it's all about killing
England clay target team manager Allen Warren

It seemed weird aiming your gun at air and not the actual target. I approached the stand for my fourth go and heard the words "feel the force!".

And it happened...

The target shattered everywhere. Elation, jubilation, celebration. High-fives aren't hugely recommended with a gun in hand, but the smile had returned.

The adrenaline rush followed and I was grinning like a boy who had been given his first Action Man.

I had just hit my very first clay/target/bird.

Call it what you will, it lay in a million pieces across the 3,000 acres of prime Surrey heathland.

One click and the empty carriages popped out, leaving a trail of smoke pouring from the barrels. It was a very good feeling. And it got better. I scored four more in a row.

I remember playing darts at school hitting two treble twenties, stopping after the second throw to compose myself, only to see my third dart flying into the door.

It was all about finding a rhythm and being calm. "Being relaxed in a state of alertness," was how the coach described it.

The inevitable 10-minute barren spell followed.

I didn't mind one bit. It was job done. It was like walking off the 18th green, checking your scorecard and taking huge pleasure in seeing the one birdie jumping out among 17 bogies.

The relief of my coach was huge. "Easy, isn't it?" said Allen calmly.

Easy it wasn't, but a lesson with England's Clay Target team manager was a magical experience.

I'd feared spending a day with elderly gung-ho types intent on regaling me with tales of blasting rare geese out of trees.

I was wrong.

To many, shooting represents lawlessness as opposed to a highly-professional sport, and it's an activity that arouses strong opinions on both sides.

2002 Commonwealth champion Charlotte Kerwood
Charlotte Kerwood retained her Commonwealth title in Melbourne
Guns are dangerous - fact.

But fans of the sport point out that possession laws are stringent and safety procedures at clubs rigorous. Britain's licensing regulations are so strict that its pistol team has to go overseas to train.

The sport has a constant battle selling itself.

"Shooting is still a dirty word," explained Warren. "We want to get away from this image that it's all about killing."

Medals win friends, and more golden success for the likes of England's Charlotte Kerwood, who retained her double trap title at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, might help shooting's cause.

Kerwood hit 106 targets out of 120 to set a new Commonwealth record in her event.

The 2000 Olympic champion Richard Faulds missed out on a medal in the men's double trap in Melbourne, but he did pick up a bronze in the pairs event.

What was Faulds' top tip during my day at Bisley? A mischievous, "just don't miss" wasn't quite the encouragement I was looking for.

For more information on the sport and how to get started, check out the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association website.

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Shooting guide: Pistol
03 Mar 06 |  Shooting
Shooting guide: Full bore rifle
06 Mar 06 |  Shooting
Event guide: Clay target
06 Mar 06 |  Shooting

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