Sim Game Days are the best fun!  They’re very exciting and you know you are going to get lots of shooting and you’ll be doing it with a bunch of your shooting friends.  The days are usually run like a “normal” driven game day, so it is a bit of an occasion, even though there are no live birds.  You are usually doubled up on pegs, one shooting and one loading, and then you swap around during a break in the drive halfway through. There is usually a variety of drives – pheasant, high pheasants, partridges, duck (over a pond), crows, rabbits and everyone’s favourite, the grouse butts!

There’s no specific dress code; you don’t have to wear traditional game shooting kit but you may want to look the part and wear country gear, a bit of tweed and your favourite leather wellies.  If it’s t-shirt weather, I still recommend a gilet as well or shooting vest as you’ll want a bit of protection for your shoulder from frantic shooting and suitable pockets for holding cartridges, in case your loader is a bit slow!  Hats are important for protection but also part of the look; I recommend a CGUK baseball cap!  

One thing is for sure, you will get a huge adrenalin rush when the clays start flying!  You don’t know exactly when and where the targets are coming from, so your eyes are constantly scanning the sky to pick up the clays early; and then six come at once!!  Which one should you shoot first?!  Can you get a left and a right?!  Can you shoot them before your neighbour gets there?!  Can you load quickly enough to get the one already in the sky?!  Can you get that far target heading over the gun four pegs down?!  

The other great thing about a Sim Day is that it doesn’t matter how many targets you hit or miss and you don’t need to worry if you prick (or chip) one – no dogs required!  Just sharp eyesight for your own satisfaction, knowing you’ve hit the target!  You also get targets repeated, so if you’ve missed that left to right crosser three times, the chances are you’ll get another go to put it right!  It’s not a competition with others but it can be a competition with yourself.  Having said that, it is quite acceptable to pinch your neighbours’ “birds” without feeling guilty and feeling positively smug!

As with game shooting, this is a potentially dangerous sport; it can be too easy to get carried away with the moment so you need to be on your guard and 100% disciplined when it comes to gun safety.  Accidents are not acceptable where guns are concerned.

Your safety briefing should go something like this:

• Only shoot when it is safe to do so, and only when there is sky around the barrels; do not shoot in to vegetation when you cannot see what is behind.

• Be aware of where other people are standing; trappers, loaders, spectators and hosts.  Be mindful of this when loading and unloading as well as actually shooting. Guns maybe standing closer together than when game shooting.

• Select appropriate cartridges for you, your gun and the event; 21g or 24g are a sufficient loads for the job, anything heavier may start to take its toll on your shoulder.  But don’t worry, 21g fibre wads can hit some pretty high targets if your gun is in the right place, so be kind to your shoulder!

• Cartridges will need to be fibre wad.  Check with your hosts re lead and steel.

• Eye and head protection are essential; there will be a lot of shrapnel flying around which not only hurts when it hits you but can cause injuries too.

• Ear protection is also essential.

• When you get to your peg, set your kit out in a sensible place.  Keep your gun slip out of the way so you don’t trip over it whilst shooting as the chances are you will be looking up into the sky for the next clay and not where your feet are!  Set your cartridge boxes out so they’re easily accessible; open some up so you/your loader can get to them quickly to refill your/their pockets.  You don’t want to miss any clays because you’re busy opening boxes!

• Keep 12 and 20 bore cartridges well away from each other and check your pockets at least three times for stray cartridges before starting each drive.

• Break your gun before you take it out of the slip and before you put back in its slip and checking it is empty both times.  With all the excitement, Sim Days are the time it is easiest to put a loaded gun back into a slip.

• Regularly check that your barrels are clear of cartridge debris, soil or grass in the end of the barrels or, heaven forbid, the wrong cartridges.

• Check your chokes are tightly screwed in before each drive.

• When loading, close the gun into the ground in front of you by bringing the stock to the barrels and not by lifting the barrels up to the stock.  With the safety catch on then bring the barrels up (avoiding any people) to your ready position, only release the safety catch just before you are about to shoot.  Put the safety back on before bringing the barrels back down to break the gun, even if both cartridges have been spent.

• Wear flat sturdy footwear; you will need a good grip as you may be standing on a slope which could be slippery if it has been raining or end up shooting in slightly contorted positions on occasions to get that extra clay!.  It is essential that you are always balanced when you shoot and do not feel like you might fall over; not good with a loaded gun!

• If you use a side by side, wear gloves or use a barrel sleeve as your barrels will get too hot to handle!

• When in the grouse butts, use the sticks provided to stop you swinging through the line.  They are there for a reason!

• Be extra careful towards the end of the drive when your arms are getting tired.

• Practice your gun mounting before the event; Sim Game Days will find out those with a poor gun mount who will come home black and blue!

• Make sure you are using a gun that fits you.  It can make your day painful or uncomfortable and much less successful if it’s not right.

• Make sure your gun is clean and in good condition.  A gun malfunction will spoil your day and may be a safety hazard.

• Check the weather forecast before you go so you can take the appropriate kit, waterproofs etc with you.  If it’s raining, take a handy-sized towel with you to dry off your gun during the drive so the gun is not slippy in your hands. 

• If you’re shooting in a different jacket to usual one or you’re borrowing a gun, check that the butt pad and your clothing are compatible for a smooth gun mount.  A bit of insulating tape normally does the job and is a quick easy fix!

• Alcohol is usually on offer on these days; know your limits and don’t overdo it. You will be asked to stop shooting if you are not in proper control of your gun.  At worst, you could lose your licence or cause an accident.  

If you’re loading:

• Keep out of the way of the gun – you will need to be on your toes

• Do wear ear, eye and head protection

• Watch out for ejecting empties!

• Watch your fingers in the ejectors/closing guns

• Have absolute discipline with 12 and 20 bore cartridges  

• Check all your pockets three times for other cartridges before each drive

Sim Game Days are not events for complete novices for safety reasons.  You need reasonable shooting experience and to be confident with your gun safety and gun handling skills.  Otherwise, you may be a danger to the other guns.

You’ll need insurance in case of accident which you can get through either:

• British Association of Shooting and Conservation

• Clay Pigeon Shooting Association

• Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

• Countryside Alliance

If you are attending a Country Girls UK simulated game day, you will be covered under their insurance for the duration of the event.

Finally, be safe and have fun!

Written by Nicki Wakeford, Resident shooting coach for The Country Girls UK