It isn’t often that you get to see history made, but there was always a feeling in the back of my mind that I might just get to see some today. With the biggest prize in Clay Shooting on the line, and the cream of sporting shooters assembled at Royal Berkshire Shooting School – it was all down to the conditions to see if it could be made today.
Overnight weather forecasts weren’t good, and the time of the tower shoot off was bought forward to avoid the rain showers that were threatened, and as we arrived at the ground this morning conditions were cold, but near perfect for the final.
The competitors assembled for coffee and bacon rolls, before a quick briefing from our host Dylan Williams, before setting off for some carefully arranged practice stands. By 10.30 we were waiting at the base of the Stratstone tower ready for the final, and the chance for someone to drive away in the all new Range Rover Long Wheel Base Autobiography provided by Stratstone. All that stood in the way was a score of 23 or higher.
Stevan Walton opened proceedings with an excellent 17, followed by Daniel Morgan of Wales who shot a 15 and Ricky Draper who finished on 12. Jamie Passant, who eventually won a (toy) car for the most entries into the competition followed on with a 10, and Henry Arnold shot 11. The first big score to top the leaderboard was from Willie Thatcher who shot 19, with Des Sturgess (previously a finalist at the Gamebore Gold Cup) scoring 18. Ben Davies put in 15 and Huw Stephens of Barbury Shooting School a 14.
Local shooter Chris Childerhouse got close to the top of the leaderboard with 18, and last years winner John Heagren wasn’t able to repeat last years performance with 16 scored, but a very impressive last pair shot closer to the tower than anyone else managed.
Then Mark Winser stepped up, with 22ex25 in the qualifiers, he needed to improve by one shot if he was going to challenge here, and as he composed himself before the start of the sequence I suspect his calm demeanor was hiding maybe a little bit of nerves. From bird one, he looked completely in control – every pair hit cleanly and centre patterned and when he reached target 12, I thought we could be on for a big score. Target 19 was the wide right looper/curler that caught many out with full use of the gun, Mark vapourised it first barrel and it looked on. 20/21 – quick midis, 22 & 23 pair dead… the car was won. As Mark destroyed 24 and 25, the crowd erupted, with every shooter rushing forward to congratulate Mark on what had been a stellar display of shooting. He’d set a target that couldn’t be bettered, with four shooters left to go, they could only tie and force a shoot-off.
As it was – no-one could match the straight – Ed Solomons, who had shot 24 in the qualifiers dropped a target earlier on and quickly knew he couldn’t force deadlock. And so, Mark Winser was being congratulated for the win.
Business wasn’t concluded yet – the leading shooters in the sporting event that accompanied the tower challenge had a shoot-off for a beautiful vintage Rolex Submariner courtesy of David Duggan watches. Set over 5 stands with some testing targets indeed, Mark Winser also took the High Gun, with a 44 ex 50.
Afterwards during an excellent prize giving lunch, the win was just beginning to sink in with Mark, who was still a little speechless as he was presented with his two amazing prizes. Weekly winners we presented with Champagne courtesy of Bollinger and the highest Side by Side shooter was Tony Dean who was presented with clothing vouchers from the Really Wild Company.
So – as the press surrounded Mark and the obligatory interviews and press photo calls took place, it was clear that we had seen a tiny little piece of Clay Shooting history being made which will be recognised across the sport.
For those of us lucky enough to be there – we got a special treat, that straight will stick in the memory for some time!