Hello! I’m Steph and as an Australian, I was as far from a UK Country Girl as they come.
At 30 years old I packed up my life and moved to the UK on none other than April Fools Day 2018. I’m a Trade Qualified Furniture Maker/Joiner turned Carpentry & Joinery College Lecturer based in the Lake District. It was actually through my work that I found a connection with The Country Girls UK and Founder Tania. The more it was discussed the more I got excited and eagerly awaited the launch of the website and membership in November 2020.
I had concerns, would I be accepted as an Aussie? Would I be seen as a fake or someone trying to appropriate a rich history of the UK Countryside? I was a city and suburban girl despite my childhood in the outback with the snakes, spiders and kangaroos, I grew up fishing but that came with the embedded fear of a crocodile eating you. I had nothing to fear at all, I purchased my social membership and was welcomed into the group with open arms.
Then the FOMO (fear of missing out) started to kick in as I started to see the posts, the shoots that were getting organised, even my Instagram feed is now full of gundogs, horses, shooting and the full country aesthetic! I was hooked and knew I wanted to book onto my first beginners day.
I had never been in the same room as a gun let alone held one but I was quickly reassured by ladies in the group that I should book on. To be honest I wasn’t even worried about whether I was going to hit anything. I just wanted to give clay pigeon shooting a go.
A beginners day is for someone like me who has never held a gun, to those with a few shoot days behind them or even those who have been shooting for a while and want to check up on themselves to correct any issues with technique and form, so I knew the group would be varied.
I booked onto the CGUK Beginners Shoot Day at Thimbleby Shooting Ground on the 24th of April 2021. At the time of writing this, when you signed up to a shoot you could pay 50% deposit and then the remainder 3 weeks before the day. One month before the day Tania creates a WhatsApp group chat with everyone who has booked on. Here we discussed final payment, what to wear, if anyone needed lifts or a bed for the night and it was genuinely lovely to have a place to put all our nervous energy together.
Due to the incredible weather on our day we all arrived wearing boots, caps, jeans, long sleeve shirts or rollnecks and gilets, all of varied colours. Coats got put back in the cars because it was a glorious day. Choosing what to wear can get you a little worked up as it is the only thing we can control in an unfamiliar situation. So take a breath, wear something comfortable that you can move your arms in and is appropriate for your weather forecast!
The day was finally here. I arrived in North Yorkshire at 9:30 am and was greeted at the door by Tania and a few ladies who were also just arriving. Due to restrictions, we were ushered through the club and out into the brilliantly sun-lit back area where picnic tables and marquees were set up for our group. Teas, coffees and pastries were waiting for us while we mingled, chatted, and inevitably started taking photos. It was so wonderful to finally meet the ladies I had been talking to online for months.
After a brief welcome by Tania, we were split into groups based on experience levels and assigned an Instructor. Dave was the instructor for my group with Grace, Alice and Becky. Then it was full steam ahead. Ear defenders and safety glasses were organised and loaned for those that needed them, then we were off to our first stand to learn the basics.
We learnt how to remove and return the gun safely to the slip, the correct way to hold, mount, move and line up our shots, find our dominant eye and more. I am glad no one is able to take a photo of what I look like from the front when shooting because that would be a squinty eyed mess!
I was first in my group to shoot, I removed the gun from the slip and Dave loaded the gun. The sense of power and excitement I felt was amazing, he let a few clays fly so I could find my line then the safety was off and I was in control. He pressed the button, the clay went flying towards me and I hit it on the first shot. I truly hope that I will remember that moment forever.
If I missed every clay after that I would not have cared after riding that high. As it turns out this is actually a sport I could do! Our group shot in turns at different stands with clays flying from different directions at each stand to get used to the varied ways in which birds would fly. I consistently hit more than I missed and was so incredibly happy the whole morning. Having the support of the other women behind me, cheering me on was amazing and it really drew a connection between strangers.
After a fair few stands, we took a quick break then headed off in the cars to Thimbleby Grange Farm where a simulated flush was set up. Pegs were aligned on one side of a hill with each group to a peg. On the backside of the hill, out of sight, traps had been set up to let clays fly in random directions towards us, reenacting what would happen on a simulated game day but very basic. This was essentially a safely controlled speed round, started and ceased by a horn blow.
While I was shooting who knows how many cartridges, Grace was there waiting to reload for me, Dave was there on my shoulder guiding me and Becky and Alice were the best cheer squad and hype-women. I also loved that Tania has the foresight to organise a shoot photographer! Sophie of Sophie Ruck Photography was in and around the groups all day taking the most memorable photos for us, a really nice touch to remember my first day with a gun in hand.
Once the final horn sounded and everyone had shot it was time to clean up our empty cartridges and head back down to the club, after the socially distanced group photo of course! We sat down for a late lunch and this is where we got to really spend time chatting to ladies from the other groups, fill our bellies, wet our whistles and continue to share the buzz of excitement that we all felt. Tania was so organised and knew how to make the day special so we all left with engraved necklace mementos from Spent Shells and a fabulous CGUK game card to remind us of the other ladies on the day and the other important details.
Then, after a few hours with sore shoulders, shaking arms, a touch of sun and the biggest smiles we said our goodbyes in the early evening and I hit the road. If after reading this you have any doubt… I am already booked on to a second CGUK Beginners day! I have also found my local club, joined the North West CGUK WhatsApp group and I have already begun to organise linking up with members from my area to shoot with at our local grounds.
If you are looking for a sign to join The Country Girls UK, this is it. You are already here so press the button and take the plunge before it sells out. You won’t regret it!
Photo Credit to Sophie Ruck Photography, Sarah Emmerson and Stephanie Le Poidevin