Helice, also called ZZ, for the oringinal target, the 'Zinc Zurrito' was a substitute for the zurrito pigeons favoured in continental live pigeon trap shooting competitions before shooting captive live birds was outlawed in most places (it survives in a few overseas territories but is not publicised due to the inevitable pressure from animal rights activists, who can be both disruptive and violent).
Happily, there cannot be much argument about the ethics of shooting todays 'Zinc Zurritos' as they are neither flesh nor zinc. Modern ZZ targets are a two-piece construction of plastic (will these too, one day be formed from biodegradeable compounds?). They have a white inner disc and an orange propellor. To 'kill' one, you have to break the two apart with your shot before it reaches the outer perimiter.
Fired randomly from any one of a bank of traps set in front of the shooter, the targets spin off in whatever direction, and on whatever trajectory, they see fit; requiring a fast, well-directed shot to knock them down before they are out of effective range. The fence is set at 46 yards from the shooter.
On September 26th this year, the annual competition for competitors shooting traditional side-by-side guns was held in Kent, as it is every year (weather and rampant diseases allowing) at the Invicta Gun Club, near Royal Tunbridge Wells. It is an occasion when the select but dedicated band of Helice enthusiasts,many of whom shoot for the National Team, gather to try the sport in its most original form, usieng the guns their great grandfathers' generation would have taken to Monaco.
I squeezed into the last entry spot by a whisker and was delighted to have the opportunity to head down the M40 very early on Sunday morning, hoping that there would be sufficient fuel in the filling stations to allow me to return that evening! A three hour drive before dawn may not be the ideal preparation for a shooting competition but I was there for the experience rather than harbouring any aspirations of winning anything.
I took with me a gun I had never shot before, fresh from a gentle restoration. This is something of a tradition, the last time I shot the Hurlingham Cup I used a W&C Scott 'Monte Carlo B' pigeon gun and did quite well on a day when the torrential rain and squalling gusts of wind proved something of a leveller, leaving me far higher on the leader board than I deserved to be.
This day's gun was a J. Burrow. A proper pigeon gun, with side-clips, flat, filed rib, intermediate ivory bead and a chunky, semi pistol grip stock. Weighing 8lbs and choked tight in both barrels, it was a good candidate and I looked forward to trying it out. Chambers are 3", which seems excessive until you read-up on old loading data, which explains that for many of these competition loads, which were restricted by the rules in terms of powder and shot, the extra case length was to facilitate better wadding, therefore producing better patterns, rather than to make space for more powerful powder charges or bigger shot loads.
Having shot ZZ with my normal, open choked game guns, I undersand that to do anything at all here you need tight chokes. Without them, the targets simply do not break. Checking the rules before I left, I noted the maximum load allowed these days is 28 grams of shot, which seems pretty feeble for a trap discipline. However, as with all these rules, if they apply to everyone, they create a level playing field and must be workable.
ZZ rules dictate a reasonable dresss code that is perhaps smarter than your average clay competition. Nothing unusual, a clean pair of khakis and my newest tweed shooting vest, coupled with collar and tie and a nice flat cap. Remembering a leather glove for the left hand is a good plan, as those barrels can get hot. Glasses and hearing protection are mandated.
That Sunday proved to be the last of the summer. Warm winds and hazy skies lasted until the trophy presentations but the next couple of days brought in the wind and rain that remains with us as we enter October.
Chris Potter, veteram and former winner of the cup, thought the standard of shooting this year was poor overall, some good scores but the average, including his own, performance not on a level that he would expect to see.
ZZ is fun to watch and exciting to participate in. Sadly, Invicta is now the only club in the country to host it, with the demise of the only other ground in Rugby.
Despite a small number of British shooters being involved, they do well in competition, often bringing home a trophy against Italian and Egyption teams numbersing many times their own. It s a great sport, I hope it grows.
Until next year, when the side-by-side guns come out again for the Hurlingham Cup, most competitors will go back to their over & under trap guns.
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