This is your author clay pigeon shooting - or more accurately blasting away at the Derbyshire countryside whilst a tiny clay disc whizzes past, unharmed. One of my oldest friends from back home (in both senses) was celebrating his 30th over the weekend, so a few of us went to Manchester to see him. After driving over from Preston on a bright Saturday morning we linked up in a convoy and drove into the Peak District - which I learned recently is the second most visited National Park in the world behind Fuji-Hakone NP, where I was on a very un-bright weekend a few months ago.
We rolled through to Glossop, and then on to Crowden - half a dozen scattered houses in a wind-swept but striking valley. Up the hillside was the Boar Shooting Ground, overlooking the Torside Reservoir. Thankfully a misnoma - the only things we'd be shooting would be clay pigeons (and bracken, in my case). Now I've never held a gun in my life, so was looking forward to it - but also a bit nervous as to whether I'd hit anything. As it happened I hit the very first one I aimed at - but then nothing for a long while. We had split into groups of four, and as my mate Oliver goes shooting all the time (he brought his own ammo) the owner let him look after three novices - me and old schoolfriends Alex and Phil. Stages were marked out with scaffolding poles stuck into the ground like fenceposts (so you didn't wheel around and shoot over other people), and the clays were launched with a hand-held button (we still shouted 'PULL' instead of 'PUSH', though).
Oliver goes shooting practically every weekend, and is - and I'm sure he'll take this as a compliment - a ruthless machine. Clay after clay shattered into fragments, shrapnel spinning into the long grass in every direction. The rest of us were somewhat less effective, and managed to hit a few - I got 7 out of 30. Not too bad for a first go. It's difficult though - for a start the gun is longer than I was expecting, and pretty heavy. You lean into it, pressing it into your shoulder. This automatically tenses you up, so when the clay flings out of the bushes, you jerk around and try to follow it. Being smooth is the best way to hit one, and you follow the trajectory of the disc until you can't see it behind the end of the gun, and squeeze the trigger.
At this point, the shotgun kicks upwards and there's a earplug-shaking BANG. If you're lucky (or Oliver), the clay explodes into shards. If you're me, it continues to spiral merrily onwards and plops into the heather fifty feet away. I did get better, we moved around to different stages - designed to replicate a different kind of bird. I was pretty good at the one which comes directly at you at about 20ft in the air. I don't know what kind of bird that is (apart from suicidal), but using Oliver's special semi-automatic shotgun "Don't put your finger in the chamber, it'll take it off", I hit 4/5 (and more importantly retained all my fingers). At this point, a real-life pheasant wandered over to see what we were up to - which is as unadvised as a rabbit turning up to watch a greyhound race. The gunshots didn't seem to concern it, and after a while it hopped through a farm gate and away, unflustered...