In late November 2019, when upland fever runs high, Shotgun Life opted for a contrarian trip to the outskirts of London for stops at arguably the best clays grounds in the world. The experience was a revelation. While American sporting clays has gradually deviated from its origins as off-season wingshooting practice, English shooting grounds remain devoutly steadfast in their mission of providing simulated wingshooting and instructions. Despite the proximity to London, the shooting grounds are surprisingly pastoral, sprawling and, of course, suffused with British tradition. Our trip encompassed James Purdey & Sons’ Royal Berkshire Shooting School, West London Shooting School, E.J. Churchill Shooting Grounds, Holland & Holland Shooting Grounds and Atkin Grant & Lang. Join us now…
The Wingshooting Schools of England: Part 5, Atkin Grant & Lang Shooting Ground
Written by Irwin Greenstein
Let’s say it’s a crisp and bright Saturday morning and you slip on your favorite pair of old jeans and make that first cup of coffee, when a feeling of comfort and well-being washes over you. That’s the feeling of stepping into the Atkin Grant & Lang Shooting Ground.
While apex English shooting grounds such as West London, E.J. Churchill and Holland & Holland charge steep prices for the ultimate in luxury and tradition, Atkin Grant and Lang in Hertfordshire has the ambiance of local club where regulars chat and gossip in the radiant warmth of the wood-burning stove on sturdy chairs and tables or comfy leather sofas. The modest lodge dates back to the ground’s origin of the late 1970s.
In a way, the clubhouse atmosphere captures the essence of the gunmaker’s imprimatur today. Founded in 1821 by Joseph Lang, the consolidation of operations and ownership by other London gunmakers Stephen Grant (in 1926) and Henry Atkin (in 1960) formed an establishment that grew a hearty following for bespoke, best-quality shotguns and rifles.
Now when you pass through the arch of the club house into the pro shop and then through a door in the rear you’ll enter the small gunsmithing workshop where Atkin Grant & Lang still produces new bespoke guns; although many customers take a different tack to bespoke by having Senior Gunmaker Alan Bower and company restore and refurbish the marque’s family heirlooms and lucky finds into like-new firearms.
The workshop is a classic. There’s the heady fragrance of machine and linseed oil saturated into the rough-hewn workbenches. You won’t find CNC machines here. Instead, it’s racks of well-used hand tools with a drill press and lathes that appear circa World War II. When we entered, Mr. Bower was manufacturing two ejector kickers for an old pair of Stephen Grants, and appeared to have a great time doing it.
However, if you’re in the market for a new shotgun, Atkin Grant & Lang is an authorized dealer for Browning, Beretta, Blaser and Miroku shotguns. Along with the new guns, the pro shop displayed an inventory of lovely second-hand doubles that Mr. Bower can maintain.
Gun fittings are handled by Julian Watson, the shooting ground’s lead instructor.
Julian Watson, the Shooting Ground Manager & Sporting Coordinator of the Atkin Grant & Lang Shooting Ground, described the place as a private club open to the public “mostly for social shooting.” The homey atmosphere belies a vigorous tournament schedule that includes Clay Shooting Pigeon Association registered shoots, club shoots, the Atkin Grant & Lang Side by Side Challenge and corporate events.
Mr. Watson had outfitted us with 12-gauge Beretta 687 Silver Pigeons and we headed out to the 17-station sporting clays course replete with a 90-foot tower, grouse butt and corporate training area. As with most of the London-area shooting grounds, there are no golf carts. Break the shotgun open over your shoulder, load up your pockets with shells and almost immediately find yourself in 20 acres of thick woods.
It’s here in the field where you can see the most dramatic improvements from the current six-year-old owner, Francis Lovel & Co., Ltd., which also operates the Oxfordshire Shooting School in Oxfordshire. As best as possible, the stations blend into the woodlands. There’s wildlife sculptures placed about. All the trap machines functioned without a hitch. And the targets accommodated all level of shooters. It all added up to lovely afternoon of sporting clays.
As we walked to the first station, Mr. Watson explained his instructional style as customized to the individual client. Rather than impose a particular shooting technique “I do what’s best for the individual, what suits them, what gets them hitting targets,” he said.
On the course, some of the high points were Station 3 in the grouse butt where Mr. Watson showed us the intercept method for fast crossers; Station 5 presented a high curling “pheasant” from the tower where he instructed us to use the “point and push” method of mounting onto the target and turning your body passed it; and Station 7 threw an easy, high incomer where he corrected me to hold closer to the breakpoint while addressing the target with an “aggressive focus and soft hands.”
Ultimately, if you want to understand how a local shooting club works around London, you certainly need to visit the Atkin Grant & Lang Shooting Ground. It’s not as theatrical as other shooting grounds you would associate with premium gunmakers, but it’s wonderfully casual and fun.