The bloke started to grin as soon as we heard the blasts of shotgun fire and saw wasted claybirds shoot across the driveway in front of us. On a rare afternoon without kids, we had arrived at Loaded Sporting Clayfields to learn how to shoot claybirds. Neither of us had been on a shooting range before. But it sounded like an interesting combination of both our interests and skill sets. Something outdoorsy for him, but nothing overly strenuous for me.
Once fitted with guns appropriate to our arm length, as well as vests loaded with shells, we were led by gun instructor Kade Wurster to the beginners' range. I had to be shown the basics of loading a shotgun, keeping it safe and how to hold it while shooting.
Wurster points out the target on the side of the hill from where the claybird is released, and the path it takes to simulate the flight of a duck or pheasant. Just before Wurster pulls a target he calls "bird" to let me know we're off. He assures me that my first shot is the most basic shot: the claybird starts out 40m in front of me and flies towards me then off to my left.
"Bird," called Wurster.
Here it comes, and there it went.
Another go, then. "Bird." Here it goes, shoot this time. I did eventually shoot something. The afternoon breeze.
But it wasn't the miss that unsettled me - it was the noise. I had never been up-close to a shotgun, and the bang was like being inside a thunder cloud.
Even though I had earplugs, I was as skittish as the family cat on Guy Fawkes.
After my failed attempts, Wurster reminded me most people should keep both eyes open when aiming a shotgun. I definitely need to close my left eye when aiming.
So I had another go. Still the claybirds swooped past, unharassed by my shots.
Time for The Bloke to have a go. His first few shots were a dead loss. But then he got his eye in and started landing a few. Triumph. Disintegrating claybirds and big grins all round. At least one of us wasn't going to be an embarrassment. The Bloke was soon moved on to trickier targets providing him with more of a challenge. And the more he shot, the better he got. And so back to me.
Another miss. It seemed I couldn't get further away from the claybird if I had both eyes shut. As I contemplated the merits of this, Wurster remarked that I was pulling my head away from the gun just before I shot. Yes, that made sense, the noise had unnerved me and I was also worried that the gun's recoil was going to smash the stock into the side of my face. Wurster assured me that this was impossible: if I was going to shoot anything, I was going to have to snuggle my cheek right up against the stock of the gun and keep it there.
Something had to change. I didn't come to make up the numbers. Beneath my scaredy-cat exterior, there had to be a cool, calm, sniper lurking. Surely. So with a bit of eye-rolling and a couple of deep breaths, I slowly re-loaded the shotgun, snapped it shut, raised it to the side of my cheek and stared quietly at the target in the hill.
Here it comes ... follow the target ... follow ... keep cheek on gun, follow ... follow ... got it. Pull trigger, BANG.
Lo and behold. Cheering and clapping and whooping. I had smashed the claybird into a cluster of tiny pieces and they were now free-falling to the ground.
The rest of the afternoon was a grinning blur of loud bangs and disintegrating claybirds. Thanks to The Bloke's prowess, Wurster moved us to the more advanced shooting ranges. Admittedly, I missed more than I actually shot, but claybird shooting is like any skilled sport. Once you get a taste of something good you just want to do it some more.
Need to know
• Loaded Sporting Clayfields, 1029 Taumata Rd, Tauranga (off SH36, Pyes Pa Rd)
• Ph: (07) 543 0500 loadednz.co.nz
• $55 includes shooting instructor, 25 shells, gun hire, claybirds, jacket hire.
• Available for full or half-day venue hire, individuals or groups up to 120.