As another season of Clay Shooting begins, it’s good to look at some of key competitors we might be seeing.  With wins at the English Open Sporting and the Clay Shooting Classic, a bronze medal in the European FITASC Championship and a first place at the British Grand Prix of COMPAK, there weren’t many shooters beating Mark Winser last year.

I was lucky enough to get some time with Mark, and find out a little bit about the man behind the big scores.

Mark Winser in Action

ShootClay (SC) : Firstly, thanks for spending some time with ShootClay. When you sit down by the fire and remember 2014, how do you feel about your season?

Mark Winser (MW)  : I feel very satisfied with my shooting last season; the level of competition out there is phenomenal and the quality of shooters is growing, so it’s always nice to come out on top at any major – to win four was a real bonus.

SC : What was the highlight of the season for you?

MW : The highlight of my 2014 season has to be the consecutive win of the Classic, it’s such a big competition and always one I look forward to shooting, I was over the moon winning it with such a big score in 2013 over an excellent course. To do the win again this year with the same score on what I feel was a much tougher course by Steve Lovatt was a phenomenal season and career high for me.

SC : Your career achievements are impressive – how do you achieve such consistency year over year?  

MW : Hardwork, dedication and the hunger to win are just a few of the things you have to put into an overall package to be a strong, consistent competitor. I conduct myself professionally at every competition, focus and give every course 110%

SC : I know you spend a lot of time Game Shooting over the winter, which do you prefer?  Do you change your technique much in the field?

MW : I spend a lot more time in the field with clients coaching, than I do shooting myself. However I have had a few goods days behind the gun this year. I don’t think you can really compare the two, in terms of preferring one over the other, there’s a bit less pressure on me in game shooting, as there’s no scoreboard so I guess it’s my way of relaxing. The same basis of techniques apply for game shooting yet the arena is a lot bigger so there’s a lot of footwork involved, technique can vary from bird to bird, it’s surprising just how many techniques come into play on a single game day.

SC : Lets go back to the beginning – how did you get involved in shooting?  Do you come from a shooting family? How have you worked to hone your skills?

MW : I got into shooting by complete accident, my father’s friend invited him along to shoot at a local gun club but he couldn’t attend so sent me instead, I was 12 at the time and the first in my family to even hold a gun, I was lucky to be naturally good and took to shooting immediately.  Because no-one in my family shot I was greatly supported by Neville Jay from Essex Gun, who gave me a lot of good advice and sponsorship as a youngster! I’ve never been coached, I’ve developed my skills and techniques over the years myself, however I’m lucky enough to have grown up around the same shoots as George Digweed so from a young age I carefully watched and tried to model myself on him as much as I could. I’m not from a wealthy background so every cartridge and every shoot had to count, my dad was hard on me which I hated at the time, but has definitely made a lasting impact on my discipline as a shooter and my determination to win!

SC : I know that you have recently established yourself as a coach, what is your philosophy for coaching?  How is the business going for you?

MW : Coaching is going great, I made the decision to go full time as demand for my time was taking up my weekends and detracting from time spent on my own shooting, I’ve built a good reputation up quite quickly as the majority of my business comes by word of mouth which is a good sign that I’m getting it right. I try to give a piece of myself in every lesson and behave with the same professionalism and dedication towards my students shooting as I would my own at a major competition. Choosing a coach is a big step, there’s a lot more to learn about the sport than simply hitting targets and I like to cover all bases.

SC: Do you have any advice for shooters wanting to progress in shooting?

MW : Be prepared to work hard, put in the training hours and invest in yourself. There’s some tough competition out there but there are also some great prizes and rewards and those people who are working the hardest and putting the most into their shooting are the people who will get the most out of it.  Working with a good coach can accelerate the process and help you achieve your full potential.

Mark WinserSC : How do you make sure that you are hungry and prepared for a big tournament? Will you add any extra preparation in over the winter to prepare for next season?

MW : I don’t get much time to practice between lessons, I’m a great believer that you can practice anywhere and I do a lot of target visualisation. Before a major I put a lot of energy into my mental game, depending on the competition I can start to prepare myself and focus up to a week before.

SC : Do you set yourself targets for the season? How will you be approaching 2015? Is there a title you haven’t won that you REALLY want?

MW : I don’t make one competition my focus. My target is always to give every competition 110%, of course I’d like to win a World as a senior, however as a Junior I won every single title apart from The British Open and I’m yet to win that as a Senior! So the British has become a bit of a white whale for me, luckily I have plenty more years of competition left in me!

SC : Many of our readers are interested in your gun and your kit, what do you shoot with? And what is in your range bag?

MW : I‘m very lucky when it comes to my kit, I have been equipped with world leading products in all respects. I’ve been with Krieghoff now for 10 years, my gun of choice is the K80 Parcours which I used for the 2014 season, I use it for FITASC, Sporting and Game shooting! Krieghoff have really hit the nail on the head with this one, it’s an excellent universal shotgun.

My cartridge of choice are Gamebore Black Gold 8’s and 7.5’s. I’ve recently been trying Gamebore White Gold 7.5’s which I’m getting excellent kills from.

Eyewear is one of the most important pieces of kit for any shooter.  I use Pilla Magnetos and have the full range of lenses for varying backdrops and light conditions, when majors are being won with one or two clays in it, you need every advantage you can get and these lenses have definitely given me that, the Magneto model have magnetic lenses so you can change them quickly and easily on a layout.

SC :  I was in the squad behind you at the Clay Shooting Classic, and I was really impressed with how calm and focused you were for the entire second course. What do you do to get yourself in ‘the zone’, do you have any tips for someone who is trying to keep their focus for a round of sporting?

MW : It can take me days to get myself into this calm, steady, mindset before a competition, I’ll start to focus a three to four days possibly a week before. My focus in the entire competition is on not letting a single target go. In shooting mental preparation is just as important as your technical game and it’s something I like to work on with students.

SC: How do you feel about the state of the sport? Shoots feel busier every week, but still people complain about prize money, sportsmanship and even dress codes? What’s your view on how we safeguard the sporting element of the game?

MW : I think the sport is somewhere in between at the moment, when we lost Embassy sponsorship years ago, the sport took a real hit and I think it’s certainly gone through a stage where it has been allowed to slip a little. We’re seeing more and more major shoots with bigger prize funds than ever which is promising and we should respond to this by stepping up the game of professionalism in the sport especially at top level, I think we all need to pull together our efforts to really push the sport in the right direction; the US team are really leading the way in terms of professionalism and really pulling the sport into the future I’d like to see the same happen here.

I’d like to see greater efforts to stamp out cheating in the sport as a start removing the shooters contact with score cards and hand out more severe punishments to those caught cheating.

Mark WinserSC: With new events like Nad Al Sheba, the ShootClay Cup and the Premier League starting in 2015 – do you feel confident in the way the sport is shaping up?

MW : It’s certainly heading in the right direction, the bigger competitions and prize funds are definitely spurring on the sport. I think Nad al Sheba certainly raised the bar in the standard of event we can achieve and it’s fantastic that so many big names and companies are investing in the sport and in turn encouraging more people to compete.

With the level of competition year on year increasing, proving that people are willing to put effort in the sport, as long as the competitions continue and the much needed sponsorship which is greatly appreciated continues the sport will grow.

SC : What do you think can be done to introduce more people into Clay Shooting?

MW : As shooters we should do all we can to encourage new comers, whether it’s friends, family or work mates, encourage people to have a go. Lots more also needs to be done to market shooting to a wider audience and I’d like to see our colts & juniors given more support, especially financially when going for teams and shooting abroad as part of a team.

SC : Some lighter questions to finish with. You must travel a lot for your shooting, which are your favourite grounds and ranges to shoot at?

MW : Grimsthorpe Shooting Ground is a favourite of mine for its topography, it’s a beautiful spot and family run so is very friendly and accommodating. Orston Shooting Ground put a great 100 bird sporting on every Sunday and the food there is excellent.  Royal Berkshire Shooting School & EJ Churchills are two of my firm favourite premier grounds, both are ran to very high standards with excellent facilities every event I have shot at each has always been ran with military precision.

SC :  A lot of top shooters seem to be superstitious, do you have anything we should watch out for when you are on the peg?

MW : I don’t personally have any superstitions or special rituals, however when I was a junior on our way to a Classic my father called off and bought me a prawn sandwich, I went on to shooting the competition very well and winning a Franchi Semi Auto – after that before every competition he’d stop off and buy me a prawn sandwich! Needless to say I can’t stand them now!

SC : Finally -one last question – if you could choose your ideal shooting squad (dead or alive), who would you choose to compete against and with?

MW : George Digweed, AJ Smith, Sean Bramley, Ben Wells and David Carrie

Mark – once again, congratulations on a strong 2014 season and good luck for this year. Thanks for taking time out to speak to ShootClay.