I go clay pigeon shooting – English Sporting. I shoot pretty regularly, and I’ve been doing it for two or three years now. I’ve got competent enough at it that the instructor at the club suggested that I might want to think about training to be an instructor myself. Being a man who believes in seizing his chances, while we were having a few shots while clearing up the course, he suggested that I ought to try shooting left-handed. As he pointed out, if you have to instruct a left-hander, you need to know where they need to put everything.
It was weird.
Everything felt wrong; I couldn’t get the gun mounted comfortably (and mine’s got a straight stock that will do for a right- or left-hander), and I had to remember to put my feet the other way around and shut the other eye. I have perfectly balanced eyes, which isn’t good for shooting because it means that if I keep both of them open I can either look at the end of the gun or the clay, because if I try to do both my eyes cross, go blurred, and it hurts. So I have to shut my left eye when shooting right-handed – so I had to remember to shut the right for shooting left-handed. Then I tried to track the clay on a simple driven shot – coming nearly straight towards me. Right-handed, I can do it without even thinking. Left-handed, my lovely Miroku, which handles beautifully, felt like steering a shopping trolley. The barrel wobbled all over the sky except where I wanted it, and I nearly fell over because my entire body felt wrong.
Then I missed.
And it hurt.
It was an extremely valuable experience, and not just for learning where all your hands and feet go when shooting left-handed. In some ways, I think I skipped the usual newbie problems when I started shooting: I took to it straight away. The instructor started me off on a 20-bore gun – the way he does most women – but swapped me onto a 12-bore gun after 25 shots, and I’ve used a 12-bore ever since. I’ve never had a problem with recoil, or with tracking the clay (knowing where to aim is a different question, of course!). And the thing about never having experienced a particular problem yourself is that you don’t really understand it in other people.
Shooting left-handed gave me a new appreciation for what it feels like to be a newbie. For the first time ever, my gun did not feel like part of me. It felt like a heavy lump of wood and metal that wanted to do anything except what I wanted it to, and my body felt weirdly twisted and off-balance. Plus the gun thumped me in the shoulder every time I fired.
For the first time, I realised that for some people, shooting is just not fun at all, because it’s awkward and painful and feels dangerously out of control. And if I ever do make it as an instructor, I think that will be the most valuable lesson I will ever learn.