Eley Hawk Interview: Catching up with Practical Shooting family

Leading exponents of the surgingly popular practical shotgun discipline, the Williamsons, have been working to create a cartridge specifically for their sport. GTN caught up with them for an interview on the Eley Hawk stand at The Great British Shooting Show

The Williamsons – Faye, Jon and James (l to r) – were at the British Shooting Show promoting practical shotgun loads with Eley Hawk

Father, then son and now daughter, all three of the Williamsons have caught the shooting bug. And their preferred discipline is the fast-moving and exhilarating practical shotgun. As suits this slightly redneck sport, they all have nicknames: Dad Jon is ‘The Godfather’, son James is known as ‘The Rogue’, and daughter Faye is “The Lady”.

Jon Williamson is current Senior UK Champion in the sport, for the fifth year running, and last year not only won the French National Championships, but came a very creditable third in the European FITASC Sporting Championship: “I started shooting many years ago at a very stressful time at work, I started shooting to relax, and soon discovered that shooting is very addictive” he tells us before looking round proudly: “And it seems like both my two have caught my addiction.”

They certainly have. And it would seem they have also inherited a fair portion of Jon’s great skill. Son James, now 37, who has been shooting competitively for the last four years, took part in the World Championships in France, finished 16th in the European FITASC Sporting Championship and is the current British Champion in the sport.

And the youngest of the trio, Faye, tells us: “I’ve been back into shotgun for the last two and a half years. I started off shooting rifles when I was younger – actually I started off with handguns but switched to rifles when I was 12 or 13.” But is she any good with a shotgun, we ask? “I was a bronze medallist in the World Championships,’ she confirms.

Research and development

So the point of meeting them on the Eley Hawk stand is obviously for them to talk about the new cartridges they’ve been developing. How was the process?

Jon is keen to explain how they set about achieving their three ideal goals: less recoil (slows you down), less smoke (obscures the targets), good power (to make sure the targets go down): “The Alpha Elite has a much lighter recoil than other stuff we use, but they still have a lot of hitting power.

Testing we initially did in November, the worst possible day you can imagine, damp, cold just what you don’t want for holding smoke out of a gun… but we were delighted, it performed absolutely phenomenally.

We ran about 250 rounds that first day, and the pattern was no different overall from the Eley Olympic Blues that we use, but the concentration in the centre was much tighter which is ideal, given the steel plates in the kind of targets that we use. And,” Jon adds with a grin, “hopefully the new cartridges will help me stay where I am – at the top of my game.

The Williamsons helped to develop the Alpha Elite for Eley Hawk  

The Williamsons have also been working with Eley Hawk on developing their Buckshot offering, and shared some interesting insights in to the process: ‘Godfather’ Jon again: “Buck shot can be an odd cartridge – there are so many variants, recent experiments have been with eight ball rather than nine ball so they’re stacked in pairs rather than threes, the theory being that it would be more accurate but to be fair… I don’t know if it really works all that well.

Let’s say it’s subject to test. The buffering rounds generally hold pattern better and we’re looking forward to testing those though we did find that when James tried some in France, with the muzzle-break, there were issues.”

“It blew the buffering up!” confirms James. “But for us there’s a great advantage to working with Eley with these type of rounds and developing them, and that is that we get more time on the range to know our craft.

That gives us an advantage over everybody else  because we’re not only developing, we’re spending a lot of time down-range working out exactly where patterns are going and what we’re doing, which can only improve our shooting in the future.”

“Exactly,” says his father. We’ve been testing with different shotguns and giving back a report which says at this distance use a quarter choke, at this distance you need a half choke, because everyone thinks that tighter patterns means a tighter choke, but not necessarily so with buckshot, if you try too tight a choke the shot actually crosses over and you get a wider pattern.”

Peas in a pod

These three certainly stand out, and one thing that makes them look like a team is their distinctive yellow shooting shirts, which have been attracting a lot of attention.

They’ve even had some made up and are selling them on. There’s a bit of disagreement over how many they’ve sold, but they’re all three agreed that it can be weird and wonderful to turn up to shooting events and find people there wearing their branded shirts. There’s even some talk of having the shirts adopted by their home shooting club, Worcester Norton.

So finally, back to competitions, and before we ask about the future, which has been their favourite so far?

“The European FITASC Sporting Championship: 2019 in Hungary,” they chorus together. James explains: “It wasn’t just a good shoot it was a really nice place to be, I’d never been to Hungary before and it was great.

“To be honest the level of competition out there surprised us it was so high. After shooting at the World Championships I was expecting this to be a step down but the majority of the world’s top shooters were in the European competition anyway.”

And what of the future? Faye has been quiet until now: “This year we’re going back to Hungary, we’re off to Germany and back to France for the French Nationals so that’s at least three more trips abroad.” The smile on her face tells you that travel is something she particularly enjoys about her shooting life.

Final word to James: “This year is the qualification for next year’s World Championships in Thailand so we’ve got to shoot every competition and do well to make sure we qualify.”

Eley Hawk sponsor several practical shooters

Practical Shotgun

While frowned upon by some clay afficianados, practical shooting is a fast-growing sport that was born in the USA and is spreading rapidly across the world. 

The discipline involves rifle and shotgun in the UK, and rifle, pistol and shotgun elsewhere in the world, though specialists in each kind of weapon exist, just like the Williamsons. 

In a practical shooting event a course is laid out, which the shooter must move through from shooting point to shooting point, reloading as they go. At each shooting point a variety of targets, usually static, but sometimes moving will present themselves and the shooter must knock them down.

The fastest person through the course is the winner, but like horse jumping, failed targets mean time penalties, so the shooter must juggle accuracy with speed throughout the course.

The shotgun event is typically undertaken with a modified Section 1 shotgun, with sights and muzzle breaks and using ammo such as Number 6 birdshot. But Eley Hawk in conjunction with the Williamson family have been working on a cartridge that’s designed specifically for practical shotgun.

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