Muhammad Ali once commented: “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit.

Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” He certainly suffered, taking an estimated 200,000 hits over a career that led him to be regarded by many as the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time.

I’m approaching my fortieth birthday and don’t ever expect to be hailed as the greatest at anything. Over the past few years, though, I have been trying my arm at a bit of clay shooting, and with this milestone coming up am increasingly motivated to get better at the sport.

I’ve had a couple of lessons at Holland & Holland and West London Shooting School, and have spent some invaluable time with my colleague and friend Simon O’Leary at Hownhall Shooting in West Sussex. So when the offer came to try out a new sim game shoot – with an instructor – on the Hampshire/Surrey border, I quickly jumped at the chance.

And what a day it was. All the ingredients for a great shoot day were there: the estate was historic and beautiful; elevenses were delivered with warm hospitality; the shoot host was jolly and knew his ground well; and the other guns were relaxed and excited to be out on the day.

I was introduced to my instructor, and the bus took us to the first drive. It goes without saying that having a good, experienced instructor will make all the difference to your day as a newbie. Having explained my limited experience, Martin said that he would stand back and watch me shoot. “Just go with your process for now,” he told me, “and I’ll see what little things need to be worked on.”

In this relaxed manner, from time to time he whispered little nuggets of training gold into my ear. He’d stand back, allowing me to focus on the clays as they were thrown over hedges, through trees and across ponds – but every time he stepped forward to reload my gun he would remind me to continue swinging through, increase my lead or mount more securely. These simple reminders were invaluable, as was his constant reprimanding me of any unsafe handling – particularly for the benefit of my neighbouring guns.

This sim day was for me a game-changer in improving the quality of my shooting and success rate on the clays. Spending time at shooting schools is great for working on specific targets, as you get the opportunity to go over the same thrown clays again and again. However, I find it very difficult and tiring to focus on the same target more than a few times.

On the sim drives, the targets thrown were much more varied, which kept me on my toes and kept my focus levels up. This also meant that I couldn’t mount the gun before I saw the clay, so I had to mount smoothly and shoot in one motion. Performing this one movement time and again over four drives resulted in my mount massively improving by the end of the day.

Another highly valuable aspect of having an instructor with you on the peg is the encouragement and motivation given throughout the drive. As a beginner it’s easy to feel discouraged when you’re missing lots of targets, but good instructors always stay positive – pointing out the things you’re doing well and making a big deal of celebrating every broken clay. Those words of advice keep you focused on the next target. Like Muhammad Ali, I’m not going to quit.

In fact I’m already desperate to get back out. But unlike Ali, I loved every single minute of my training.