Glorious Grimsthorpe – A shooting education

Words by:
Matt Limb OBE
Featured in:
June 2024

Matt Limb OBE steps into the world of clay shooting at one of the top grounds in the region – and dispels some misconceptions along the way.

Picking up my gun, normally with a dog by my side, has been a large part of my life. Yes, there have been times when I have not been so active, and others when I have consumed more shotgun cartridges than is healthy. But I don’t see any great change as I drift through life.

I have never seen myself as a clay pigeon shooter; I feel far more at home frightening pigeons, or stood on a peg with one of the dogs. Growing up, I can clearly remember a comment that clay shooting is fine and great fun – but you can’t eat clays. It was against this background that I simply never found myself venturing to a clay shooting ground, for no other reason than it just never happened.

From the outside looking in, clay shooters appeared to be clones of one another, dressed the same way, with baseball hats and carrying shotguns that appeared to have bits bolted on. Plus, it looked to be about achieving the highest possible score; all very competitive, never missing a clay, with competition being everything.

This was very alien to my thoughts on shooting, which I have always regarded as a leisurely pastime, with no pressure, just the dogs and a few good friends. But a few years ago, I realised I was wrong. Seriously wrong.

My first visit to a shooting ground – that never-ventured discipline of knocking clay pigeons out of the sky – was as much of an education as it was enjoyable. I had been asked a few times to join friends on a Sunday morning to have an hour or two breaking clays but would normally find an excuse and send my apologies for not joining them. Then one Sunday I sat and thought, why not?

On arriving at the clay ground and parking up, the first people I saw were a couple who beckoned me a heartening good morning. This husband-and-wife team did not look like the clay shooters I had seen before. Soon our small group arrived and we made our way to book in. I was now in strange territory and felt like a lamb to the slaughter. But my fears were totally unfounded – a warmer welcome could not have been given.

That Sunday morning we were at the Grimsthorpe Estate Shooting Ground, just a stone’s throw from the castle of the same name and a few miles from Bourne. Not only did I have a great time shooting, but also a life-changing education.

I learned that you don’t have to be one of the highly competitive clay shooters to shoot at such places. It can be a very leisurely morning breaking clays in the company of like-minded people, with as much competitive spirit as you want, or don’t want.

I remember seeing the couple I said hello to in the car park a little later, realising they were not carrying a scorecard, for it did not matter now many clays they hit, or indeed missed. They were not there to hit every clay that appeared in front of them, they were there to have an enjoyable morning out, no doubt, with a bite of lunch after.

That Sunday morning now feels like a distant memory. Since then the world has been turned upside down due to the pandemic and Brexit, which we are told is now sorted, kind of, but I am still shooting. I’m now no longer afraid to set foot in the world of clay shooting, but still at a non-competitive and leisurely level.

Today Grimsthorpe must been seen as one of the top shooting grounds in the region, if not the country. They have never rested on their laurels, but continually strived to move forward. It was a brave move for the Russell family, three decades ago, to move with such diversification, but with their hard work Grimsthorpe has become a great success.

And yet you can stand less than half a mile away and not realise you are near a shooting ground, except for the sound of the occasional shots. The shooting ground blends well into the surrounding countryside, with many of the stands actually in woodland. For me this makes for a very natural setting for any shooting.

While Grimsthorpe often sees itself as a place where you can join friends for a social non-competitive time, they do offer English Sporting and a High Tower complex for the enthusiastic clay shooter who wants to sharpen his or her skills for a competition.

So, does this mean I have converted and become a dedicated clay shooter? Not at all, but I can now see where it fits into my shooting – remembering that shooting is unique and different for each and every one of us that owns a gun. I think I will always be a rough and game shooter, but out of season, or for that leisurely Sunday morning outing in the company of good friends, clay grounds like Grimsthorpe cannot be beaten.

I recently returned to Grimsthorpe and caught up with Sophie, who now runs the shooting ground and is the granddaughter of Harold Russell, who started the business. I was able to catch up with her for a chat about the many recent changes, the first and most impressive being the new clubhouse with The Rookery Café and its licensed bar – all set in décor and fittings giving the feeling of a remote Scottish Hunting lodge.

Looking around it’s not surprising that locals from the village are coming into the café, as do non-shooting partners waiting for their other halves – and even dedicated shooters might stop for lunch. But again, you would struggle to know there is clay ground across the front lawn.

There really is more to clay shooting than I originally thought, especially if you are new to shooting and looking for some guidance and instruction. Over the years I have helped – and I mean helped, rather than coached – a number of novice guns, but I can’t instil skills and techniques in the same way a qualified coach would. Steve Wood is the head coach at Grimsthorpe and can offer one-on-one coaching for the novice. Equally Steve can help many a seasoned game shooter with timely reminders on techniques ready for that elusive high left and right pheasant we dream of bagging. Plus, he has seen a huge success introducing new people to the sport. I can think of no safer and more constructive way to make a start in shooting. Even if you don’t have a gun but think that clay shooting is a sport that you might be interested in taking up, Steve can help you.

So, do I still have the same thoughts about passionate and competitive clay shooters? No, I can now see they enjoy a very different sport to my own. They need a shotgun that is different; equally they would look out of place dressed in a tweed suit, with a spaniel by their side, knocking clays off the high tower.

Speaking of the high tower, I take my hat off to many a clay shooter, after watching them hitting clay after clay after clay. I can only dream of doing that with a soaring high pigeon or a late January screaming cock pheasant clearing the top of the highest trees.

Before I left, I went to thank the team for looking after me and had a quick cup of tea. As I paused a moment, I could see clay shooting offering something that would not be as easily available with rough shooting: the corporate days out. Imagine a boys’ day out, in fact even a girls’ day out, a stag day, or even a get-together of like-minded friends coming along to enjoy some quality time – especially with the high-quality on-site catering available at Grimsthorpe.

So, if you enjoy your shooting, don’t dismiss a day on the clays. Trust me, it really is not that frightening. Remember, you don’t have to be a world-class super shot hitting every clay flying in front of you. It is about more than that; just like game and rough shooting, it is about being in the company of good friends, enjoying a day in the countryside together.

Learn more about shooting at Grimsthorpe at: www.grimsthorpeshootingground.co.uk



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