Photographs by Justyn Hardcastle
It’s remarkable how empowered you feel with a gun in your hands. The weapon is a thing of beauty, a sleek composite of twisted metal and polished chrome and, in just five minutes, it has become akin to an additional limb. The butt nestled in my shoulder, there is only one objective, one care in the world: a little clay disc no more than three inches in diameter.
“Pull!” comes the holler and with a faint click, the target floats down tantalisingly from the hilltop, catching the breeze to assume a new course every few seconds. My shot rings out into the Yorkshire countryside but the disc continues on its merry way, skimming mockingly over my head. “Oooh, it was just a fraction to the right,” says Ryan Hartwell, the Club President and my tutor for the day. He’s too kind, it probably landed somewhere near Beverley.
My efforts always seemed to be a little to the right, always off-target. I score zero hits from ten attempts. Zilch. Nul Points. Watching from a nearby hilltop, as the club’s committee members effortlessly lay waste to several dozen clays in succession, is an unedifying experience.
Clay Pigeon Shooting will present a challenge to any York sportsman or woman, something out of the ordinary. The members defy any beginner to hit anything in their first couple of sessions. In just two terms, this new addition to the York Sport club roster has acquired a small and friendly following, practice diligently on a weekly basis and enjoys an apparently ‘mental’ social life. They also have their sights, if you’ll pardon the expression, on challenging the established elite of university clay pigeon shooting competition.
That will be no mean feat: the likes of Cambridge, Oxford and Durham have been in existence for decades, competing regularly in events all over the country. Nonetheless, York will be hoping to make an impression in their first BUCS Championships, to be staged in February at the West Midlands Shooting Ground in Market Drayton, Shropshire.
For now, though, it’s the unfussy surroundings of the Monckton Shooting Grounds, a 30-minute drive from campus, that are the centre of the club’s universe. With panoramic views of the surrounding fields and dales, the venue is a mix of valleys and undulations, traps and towers catering for the various types of shooting. Some of these structures can zip clays from heights approaching 50ft, a tiny black blip against the slate grey skies. In the distance, lurking tantalisingly in the December gloom is a Moto X circuit, but that’s for another day.
Each participant, ranging from experienced marksmen to complete novices gets a dozen shots, with the traps and direction of clay launch varying each time. The idea is to replicate the test of a competition, where entrants are expected to hit targets floating towards them from all manner of angles.
The club, which practices at the venue every Wednesday, are hoping to attract newcomers curious about the sport, with a view of driving down costs. Currently, there is a £15 annual membership charge, with each session also £15 for two hours. However, it’s £15 well spent to try a sport which offers a challenge simply not available elsewhere in the York Sport roster.
Contact [email protected] for further information or visit https://sites.google.com/a/yusu.org/clay-pigeon-shooting/