Leading international clay Shot, top shooting instructor, high pheasant addict, and the owner of a swanky new Range Rover.
How did you first get into shooting?
I actually got into shooting by accident when I was 12 years old. I don't come from a shooting background at all, so when my dad was invited to go clay shooting by a friend, he asked if I could go in his place instead. It was literally the first time I had ever seen a gun; I hadn't even held an air rifle before. But by all accounts I was a complete natural – no one believed that I had never shot before – so I was encouraged to take it up. Dad started taking me to the local clay ground twice a month as that was all we could afford.
And when did you win your first competition?
It wasn't long after that. Our local clay ground in Essex ran 70-bird competitions on Sundays and almost straight away I started winning the junior section. After that, dad and I started touring the country, making sure that I entered the England selection shoots. By the time I was 15, only three years after I first fired a gun, I made the England Sporting junior team. Ever since then, shooting has been my life.
What gun did you start off with and what do you shoot with now?
My first gun was a Zoli 12 bore with 30" barrels which I still have. After that my dad bought me a Gamba, but 10 years ago I moved to Krieghoff and haven't looked back. I now shoot a K80 Parcours with 32" barrels and fixed and full chokes for everything.
What is your proudest achievement so far?
It has to be winning the Stratstone Ultimate One at the Royal Berkshire Shooting School. I went home with a brand new Range Rover! That competition may never happen again, so it was a bit of a miracle that I won it, especially with a score of 25 straight (the next best score was 19)! I still have to pinch myself when I think about it – it really was an incredible day.
What are your goals for the year ahead?
Good question. The ultimate aim has always been to win world titles in Sporting and FITASC. I have had a number of podium and top 10 finishes, but the level of competition out there these days is colossal. But I shoot because I enjoy it. I honestly believe that if you start to focus solely on winning, your shooting will suffer as a consequence. I am a firm believer that putting yourself under unnecessary levels of pressure can be debilitating, so I have never really been a huge goal setter. I prefer to take things as they come, one competition at a time.
I also get a huge amount of satisfaction from my coaching and I can't wait to see a young Shot by the name of Brody Woollard (who Mark has been training for the past year) develop as a competitor. His father asked me to help him out and I see a lot of myself in him at his age. He's a lovely boy, polite, charming but very competitive.
Other than sheer talent, what would you say have been the keys to your success as a competitive clay Shot?
I am obviously competitive – you don't get to the top of any sport without that competitive edge – but I think that a lot of my success has come from when I was a youngster and wasn't able to shoot as often as I would have liked. We could only afford for me to shoot twice a month, which created this burning desire to shoot as often as possible – and win. And that has never left me. Every time I shoot a competition now, I think about that. And it never feels like a chore for me; come the end of the game season, I cant wait for the competitive clay season to start.
I also think that I have an ability to shoot well when I really need to. I can clear my head and stay calm when the pressure is on. Everybody feels pressure and I am no different – I get that adrenaline rush, that flutter of excitement – but I have learnt to deal with it.
At the end of the day, no one can perform at the best of their ability all the time, so when I am not in a competition, I don't put too much pressure on myself to shoot well. I see it as saving energy for when I really need it.
How do you manage to hold your nerve when it goes down to the wire?
When I am in a competition, I always tell myself that smooth is fast. Being able to slow my thoughts down is something I have learnt to do over the years. Panic, and the wheels will come off.
When the pressure is on, you have to channel it into positive thoughts and use it to your advantage. It is something I have worked on through trial and error, from those occasions when the pressure got the better of me.
Every time I shoot in that high pressure environment, I learn something new about my own mindset. I also stroke my fore-end which seems to help!
Do you have a sporting idol?
I used to box as a kid, so I have always admired Muhammad Ali because of the way he handled pressure. He has admitted that he was petrified at times, particularly in the lead-up to his rumble in the jungle with George Foreman, but he never showed it and he certainly never let it get the better of him.
But in our sport, you have to admire George Digweed. He is simply incredible in what he has achieved. I have immense respect for him. As a kid, he was definitely a bit of a hero of mine.
What is your training regime like before a big competition?
I don't actually practise as much as you might expect. Some people go out and shoot hundreds of clays in the run up to a competition, but I prefer to relax and calm my mind down to make sure I am well rested and in the right frame of mind. I don't ever practice particular targets in the lead-up to a competition because you don't know what you're going to get. I will shoot a maximum of 200 clays on the Monday or Tuesday before a competition just to make sure that I am smashing my targets, which just boosts my confidence a bit. But I do practice mentally as I prepare for a competition – I envisage myself winning and I picture my targets being obliterated which also gives me a bit of a confidence boost.
And what about game – when and where did you shoot your first live quarry?
I first shot live quarry when I was 16 in Sussex at a small syndicate shoot I was invited to, and I loved it right away. But because of the cost, I didn't do much – maybe two or three days a year. But these days I shoot about 20 game days a year and I absolutely love it.
When I have a gun in my hand, I always feel like I need to perform well, but with game shooting, I feel like I can relax and enjoy myself. Obviously I always want to shoot well, but I don't see it as a competitive environment. And I don't think it should be.
What is your favourite quarry?
For me, there is nothing better than a mixed partridge and pheasant day with some really high birds in the mix. I like the variety and challenge.
What do you regard as the most difficult shot in the book?
It has got to be that extreme, 50-70 yard pheasant on a windy day. At that height there are so many variables. Is there a crosswind? How much are they sliding or drifting? Are they climbing or dropping? So you've really got to be able to read them well in order to shoot them. But believe me, the right gun, cartridge, choke and barrel combination in the right hands will consistently bring down high pheasants.
What gun and cartridge combination do you use for high pheasants?
For very high birds, I use my Krieghoff K80 Parcours with 32" barrels, fixed and full choke with Gamebore Black Gold, 36g, 38g or even 40g No. 4s. When you go up in shot size, you need the heavier loads to produce a decent pattern at that distance.
Do you think your game shooting experience has helped you with your competitive shooting at all?
No, I have to separate them and treat them differently. Although the sociable and non-competitive nature of game shooting probably helps me to relax and switch off, I actually find that at the end of the shooting season it takes me a little while to get back to my best on clays. But I so love all of the different aspects of game shooting – the keepering and management of the shoot, the social elements, the wildlife, the camaraderie. It's not just about the killing.
Do you have an all-time favourite shoot?
I have three favourite shoots. Warter Priory in Yorkshire, Brigands in Wales, and Whitfield in Northumberland.
Who is the most impressive game Shot you have ever seen?
It would have to be my father-in-law, Dave Carrie. And I'm not just trying to score brownie points! He really is incredible and very very consistent, which is the hardest thing to achieve.
Who would be in your dream team on a day's shooting?
Dave Carrie, Will Healey, George Digweed, Sean Bramley, Martin Elworthy, Kevin Jobling and my partner Rachel Carrie.
How long have you been a shooting instructor for?
I've been doing it full-time for five years now. I spend an average of five days a week coaching, either at clay grounds and shooting schools across the country, or on the peg in the field during the game shooting season. During the game season I often coach six days a week, but my clients are probably a 50/50 mix of clay and game Shots.
What advice would you give to a new game Shot?
Make sure you have the right kit and that your gun fits you perfectly. And make sure you find the right cartridge and load for your gun. Most importantly, never forget why you have a gun in your hands – it's about enjoyment and should never feel like a chore. Learn to appreciate all aspects of a day's shooting – it's not just about the pulling of the trigger.
Do you have any other interests aside from shooting?
No. Shooting is my life!