I have been shooting competitively since I was 12. A good few years ago now! Back then shooting sports in the UK were rather… tame. The most popular branches of the sport were target rifle disciplines. Everyone wearing brightly coloured leather shooting jackets, shooting in the prone position at standard paper targets set at a single fixed distance. One would take a break for tea and cucumber sandwiches during lunch and then back into prone for another round in the afternoon. Obviously I am being a little comical with the cucumber sandwiches but you get the idea, very formal. If you turned up with khaki cargo trousers on eyebrows would be raised…
Personally I always longed for a more practical experience. I wanted to shoot in different positions, in a variety of environments at multiple/interesting targets. I had heard about practical shotgun but asking anyone about it risked raising eyebrows even further. It seemed to occupy a small niche that attracted scorn from the traditional crowd. I heard many shooters remark that PSG (Practical shotgun) was “bad for shooting as a whole” and attracted “the wrong type of people”. The Police took a similar stance and actively discouraged people from applying for the type of shotgun that would be suitable. I never did end up trying it out despite really wanting to due to the stigma it seemed to attract.
Roll forward a couple of decades and things have changed a bit. Practical/target shotgun is now one of the fastest growing disciplines in UK shooting…
How I got started
The first thing to do is find a local club which offers PSG. A number of clubs shoot at Bisley in Surrey and the NRA run regular competitions there. I was lucky enough to find a club a little nearer to home set in beautiful woodland. I would suggest checking out shooting forums such as www.fullbore.co.uk for advice on clubs or contact the NRA who are always happy to help. They also offer a target shotgun training day at a very reasonable price run by a very nice chap and fantastic shot. I made contact with my local club through a member I knew personally. I received an invite to come and give it a go. The club runs a specific day for new starters once a month. I like the thinking behind that, new shooters tend to need a lot of attention so dedicating a day is a superb idea and ensures the clubs membership expands.
My first PSG shoot
The Phoenix practical shotgun club is set in the middle of the woods near Horsham, Sussex. The drive to it involves several minutes of forest track which left me wondering if I was heading in the right direction. Finally a sign appeared warning Danger! Shooting taking place. A couple of seconds later I found the venue entrance. The club house is a substantial woodland shelter complete with eating area. The owners greeted me warmly and checked my details ect. I chatted to a few guys while we waited to get started. I found the PSG crowd to be friendly, welcoming and happy to share tips and advice. A world away from the slanted views expressed all those years ago.. In fact I would say that the PSG crowd has been the friendliest bunch of shooters I have met in any of the disciplines I have tried. That is saying a lot as mostly everyone I meet in shooting circles turn out to be nice. Just one of the reasons I enjoy shooting sports so much…
After a few tips from the veterans we have our names called out placing us in squads. The new shooters are placed with more experienced shots. As we walk to the first stage I think what a pleasure it is just to be here in such a pleasant setting. The sunlight hazing down through a green canopy. We arrive at the first stage. All stages are set within large rectangles which have been cleverly assembled with fencing and scaffolding. The first stage we arrived at was compartmentalised into 4 “rooms” which each had a number of red and white steel targets. The idea is fairly simple, shoot the whites, avoid the reds. If you hit red you get a time penalty. The RO explains the stage and walks us through it. I noticed the veterans were quietly counting and pacing out the stage. Obviously even the highest capacity shotguns are going to need reloading at one or more points. Reloading is a vital part of PSG. It is time consuming. Obviously you do not want to be loading a full mag of shells if you only have a couple of targets left to hit so knowing the stage and working out when to reload are strategic necessities.
Most of the guys use quick load options like the caddies pictured here.
The shooters are called one at a time. Shotguns must be taken to the start position bagged. The RO then explains the stage again and on stages with options (multiple “rooms”) you will be asked which direction you plan to move in. You are then given instruction to load and make ready.
I have used shotguns in the past for clays and rough but never had any call to reload so I was slow and fumbling.. This was not helped by my old school leather belt with cartridge loops. The RO was very understanding and told me all new guys struggle.
I used (and still do) a Revo 8 shot pump. It has performed admirably and there is a review on the blog. It cost £275!
Once loaded the RO gives the go and the timer starts BEEP! I move to the first door with the muzzle pointing down range at all times and BAM! Cachunk, BAM! Cachunk… Steel plates drop and I’m running to the next “room” while fumbling my reload. I complete the stage and get told my time. I have no clue if it is any good but I am grinning from ear to ear. I spent the 80s rolling around in the woods with toy guns, of course I am grinning.
Taken on my third practical shotgun outing.. Notice the upgrade on the belt – quick load caddies..
Watching the others run the stage is also huge fun once you have taken your turn. Some of the guys run it with such speed and fluidity that it leaves you in awe. Others make a series of fumbles or suffer feed problems (notably the box magazine fed crew with AK type shotguns) which make you think “yes I won’t be last!” While watching, everybody chats and swaps tips and ideas. Again I was very impressed by the friendly helpful banter and general great attitude of everyone I spoke to.
We ran 4 stages through the morning. The challenges included shooting around barricades, shooting from the weak shoulder, from confined space/position and even sitting astride a wooden horse! Seeing the steels spinning off when you hit them squarely never gets old. The only downside at the end of the morning was a definite ache in the shoulder. Next time I would wear thicker clothes!
After the last stage is complete we went back to the club house for dinner. Hot food is cooked on site at very reasonable prices. Everyone chats about their performance/gun problems and the banter is dished in spades. The social aspect is nearly as much fun as the shooting. The icing on the cake is the fantastic setting. I was completely sold… The next priority would be hundreds of dry fires and reloads with dummy cartridges to speed up my loading time..
I highly recommend giving practical/target shotgun a go. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I would be very surprised if watching those steel plates spin off into the air didn’t raise a smile of even the most stalwart target rifle shooters! This may be why PSG is growing so rapidly in the UK. The only discipline with a higher uptake currently is Civilian service rifle which shares the practical/multi position/move and fire aspects. It seems the shooters of 2015 are willing to sacrifice some formality and get their hands dirty and heart rate up! That can only be a good thing considering the country is in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Anything that motivates the sedentary into a sweaty breathless state gets the thumbs up in my book. And the best bit? You are having so much fun you forget you are doing any exercise at all 😉
A couple of Youtube links below from camera phone. Please excuse the quality…
A bit of practical shotgun: http://youtu.be/STPg13h43d4
video from my third outing.
Graham with some smooth moves