Claire Zambuni explains the factors that influenced her choice

I’d always been a 12 bore girl. I like to think of myself as one of the boys and when I first started shooting I always was. It was so rare to have another girl in the line and when you did, it was often someone accompanying their other half and making flattering comments about their partner’s shooting such as ‘lovely shot darling’. I’ve never been terribly good at spectator sports it has to be said, but standing around in the freezing cold and often rain admiring your other half, sounds to me, like a rhum deal.

So I learnt how to shoot. I did the Green Feathers Course at Holland and Holland and then had lessons from the now retired Andrew Perkins there. He was wonderful – funny and a skilled instructor. I am a great fan of the shooting school at Holland and Holland as they seem to teach people to shoot with such style that even if you are missing you still look elegant. I am a tall girl, some would say Amazonian and I was thrown in at the deep end with my shooting with high birds on Exmoor and Wales. It was also down to a misguided sense of pride that I chose a 12 bore as did not want to seem any different.

The first guns I bought were a pair of Arrieta Crowns. I had been lucky enough to shoot next to someone who had lent me his 1919 side-by-side Boss. I had fallen in love with a side-by-side and my Arrietas are still treasured possessions today. However, shooting increasing amounts of charity clay days and high bird shoots I succumbed to the over-and-under. Still a 12-bore, I think my favourite I used was the EJ Churchill Crown that was made for me by Perazzi, but what I didn’t realise was that with the amount of shooting I was doing and the weight of the gun, I was injuring myself.

For two years I shot in pain and the standard of my shooting fell. Eventually, the consultant told me I had the worst case of RSI he had seen and after trying all the non-surgical procedures it was an operation for me. This was devastating. It meant no shooting for eight months, a complete change of lifestyle, physio and building upper body strength through yoga and pilates. When I did eventually pick up a gun, I had to start to learn the basics again and shoot in small bursts. I simply found a 12-bore too heavy and made the ridiculous mistake of going on a game shoot far too early and shooting with 32g cartridges.

I just about got away with it as far as not undoing all the work of my surgery, but after the pain and worry I had damaged myself again, I asked John Ward from R Ward to look out for a reasonably priced 20-bore for me. He found a simple Beretta 686 and I have never looked back. Hull Cartridges were immensely supportive in sending new loads for me to try and Steve Jones, the head instructor at the London Shooting Club really got me back on track. His patience and dedication brings out the best in his clients.

As clients go, I was a very frustrated one initially as I had lost so much of my natural ability. I started trying to make time to see him a couple of times a month. I only shot with the 20-bore and the smaller load Hull cartridges. I shot for a maximum of 20 minute bursts until my strength started to build and focused on unfamiliar sporting targets. I started to see real improvements and last season, I was invited to the legendary shoot Brigands. Famous for its high birds, it did not disappoint, but there is also something for everyone here. On the final drive, Tall Pines, I shot 10 consecutive left and rights in a row with my 20-bore and I knew that the dark days were over.