SHOOTING: SEEING the rim split on my first clay of the day was excellent - it felt good!

Surprisingly for a novice like me, a few cleaner hits followed, bang, bang, bang, one after another, so my instructor Peter Harris had obviously coached me well for my first clay pigeon shooting lesson at the North Wales Shooting School, near Chester.

The first targets we went for were incoming clays, and the tip was to sit the clay on the bead at the end of the barrel.

Each clay direction has a name, often related to the game bird whose flight it imitates, and my next challenge was the more taxing 'springing teal'.

This clay is sent up almost vertically and you have to follow it up with the gun barrel. And it was very satisfying to hit a couple of those, too!

So far I was shooting with a 20-bore shotgun, and it was all going very well until Peter suggested trying a 12-bore - a bigger, heavier gun with more of a kick.

This was much more difficult to line up with the target as it quickly got heavy. After three misses, I tried a lighter 28-bore and had more luck.

I'd been invited for the lesson by BASC, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, based at Rossett, the representative body for country shooting in Britain with 120,000 members.

I'd had a go at clay pigeon shooting a few times several years ago but it was great to get the basic stance and technical stuff right with an expert at your side.

Before we got under way, Peter talked me through all the safety aspects of shooting, and gave me a quick hand to eye co-ordination test.

First lessons last about half an hour and most people find ten to 12 shots is sufficient, depending on their own comfort zone.

Shooting is growing in popularity and more women are taking up the sport - and Peter says teaching women is easier because they listen to instructions!

Thanks to gun-totin' men like John Wayne and the like, men are born thinking they can shoot straight. He says that, with some men, his instructions go in through one ear and out the other!

Some do take to it easily and wish they'd tried it sooner.

'It's rare that someone really doesn't like it, though some have a go and decide it's not for them.

'Many want to go on to shoot game birds as a natural progression,' he said.

'Shooting a bird in the wild is totally different. To shoot live quarry, you need to be a natural shot - but clays are a good way of training the eye.

'Shooting live creatures is an emotive thing but it's a conservation exercise, not a killing exercise. It's a social thing. Increasingly, a lot of business is done in the field, and you're providing excellent food for the table at the end of it.'

Gaynor and Peter feel the future for shooting is very healthy, and have faith in the fact that BASC and other shooting organisations are always happy to meet people and get their message across.

'A gun in itself is not dangerous, it's only when they are in the wrong hands that there's a problem,' said Peter.

And shooting is something that as a country we are very good at, despite it being a low-profile sport.

Britain's Richard Faulds took the gold medal for clay shooting at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and 15-year-old Charlotte Kerwood won gold for her clay shooting skills at the Commonwealth Games in 2002.

Gaynor said that BASC runs Young Shots activity days all year, together with a host of shooting courses for all ages and abilities.

Gaynor Hodgson, publications officer with BASC and herself a keen shot, came along and said that over a million people take part in shooting sports every year, which is more than in rugby, hockey and athletics.

She added that Liz Lamb, former British ladies' champion and BASC's development officer for the West Midlands, is full of advice for ladies on how to get started.

She operates a database of ladies interested in clay shooting days which can be joined for free. Liz can be contacted on 01889 565050.

BASC will be at several country fairs this summer offering people a chance to try their hand at shooting, and all the kit will be provided.

I decided my right shoulder was aching a bit as I drove back to the office - but I'd certainly be keen to have another go.