The only way is Essex

Richard Faulds and George Digweed before the 2007 shoot-off

Richard Faulds and George Digweed before the 2007 shoot-off - Credit: Archant

Now in its 12th year, the Essex Gun Masters has gone from strength to strength. We spoke to Neville Jay to find out more about the event, which runs from 10-14 April

Three-time Master, George Digweed

Three-time Master, George Digweed - Credit: Archant

On the return flight from a European shooting event, Essex Gun shop owner Neville Jay found himself sitting next to John Dyson, a man acknowledged by many to be among the very best of the world’s course builders. They discussed the event they’d both just shot in detail; target quality, format, organisation and catering. They both felt that the majority of UK shoots were sadly lacking in many if not all of the stated criteria. Always on the lookout to promote his growing business, Neville asked John to give some thought to setting up a top quality shoot that Essex Gun could sponsor. Neville’s only stipulations were that it had to depart from the usual 100-bird format and that it be a true open. After a few policy meetings and a lot of suggestions, the first Essex Gun Masters was born.

Carl Bloxham, 2009 winner

Carl Bloxham, 2009 winner - Credit: Archant

The inaugural event in 2001 unveiled the format that is so familiar (and much copied) today: two 100-bird courses to be shot in a single day, with one course set about five targets harder than the other. Then, as now, the competition would be held at Martin Hunnable’s picturesque Hepworth Hall, situated on the outskirts of Halstead in Essex. Before the event there had been worries as to whether shooters would actually like shooting 200 targets in a day. But they did, and that first Masters was shot by 900 competitors – a figure that has increased year upon year, with last year’s entry peaking at over 1,100. That first event was won by Sean Bramley, who has gone on to become a multiple Masters winner.

Multiple Ladies winner Cheryl Hall

Multiple Ladies winner Cheryl Hall - Credit: Archant

“For any annual event to be hugely successful, it is important that the format evolves,” says Neville. “Many competitions grow stale and die because it becomes a case of ‘same old, same old’. This is where the Masters scores heavily. Every year, small changes are made in an attempt to keep things fresh.

Three-time winner Sean Bramley

Three-time winner Sean Bramley - Credit: Archant

“In the ‘old days’, John Dyson and his crew would wait until everyone had shot, then go out and change the course for the afternoon’s 100 targets. Nowadays, two complete courses are built on different areas of the estate, if possible on virgin ground, allowing both courses to run concurrently.”

Another innovation is bringing in Lookers, the Land Rover distributors, as a co-sponsor. This ensures a fleet of very luxurious Range and Land Rovers is on hand to ferry competitors from course to course. Generous co-sponsorship from Lyalvale, Gamebore, GMK and Caesar Guerini has enabled Neville and John to put up a spectacular prize fund running deep into each class in terms of shotguns, cartridges and ancillary products, to the point where 12th in class will win cartridges worth more than their entry fee! Catering, trade stands and a well-stocked shop selling all manner of shooting goodies are all aspects of the Masters that are looked at and improved on each year.

For an event going into its 12th year, the winners’ club is surprisingly small. Sean Bramley and George Digweed are both three-time winners, and Richard Faulds, Carl Bloxham, Martin Myers and Mark Winser have all had their hands on the impressive Essex Gun Masters trophy, along with Phil Gray, the junior who brilliantly won the tenth anniversary event.

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“Like fine wine vintages, certain years stand out in the memory for a variety of reasons,” says Neville. “Sean Bramley’s third win included the only 100-straight ever to be recorded at the Masters. Watching John Dyson trying to congratulate Sean with his bottom lip quivering was an unforgettable sight!

“Many spectators (myself included) point to the 2007 Masters as the defining event. On the Wednesday morning Richard Faulds and George Digweed, unquestionably two of the finest sporting shots on the planet, went out to shoot. Six hours later, they came back with identical scores. Barring a miracle, Sunday would see these giants of our sport do battle in a shoot-off. Spectators flooded into Hepworth to see this clash of the titans. Even shooters who hadn’t shot the event arrived to see the drama unfold. They were all rewarded with a masterclass in long-range shooting, resulting in George winning his third Masters.”

He adds: “For the majority of shooters entering the Masters it is a social event, with groups of guys and girls from the same club having a day out. The fact that one of the group will go home holding the bragging rights just adds to the craic. In the last few years, a squad of Scottish shooters has flown down to Stansted, grabbed a cab to Hepworth and shot themselves to a standstill over the two courses and many, many tries on the pool shoots, before grabbing a cab back to Stansted and eventually their flight home. Admirable stuff! But then again, the Masters is that sort of event.”

This year’s competition will be held from 10-14 April, with a prize fund in excess of £28,000 in shotguns, cash and cartridges. The entry fee has been held at £75 for yet another year, demonstrating excellent value in these money-conscious times. The shoot is non-registered, so everyone is welcome.

Essex Gun will as always be the main sponsor, with co-sponsors Promatic Traps, Caesar Guerini Guns, Gamebore Cartridges, Musto Clothing, Lookers Land Rover and Fork Hire Ipswich all in attendance, showing off their latest products.

Neville adds: “John Dyson has some new and rather spectacular innovations out on the courses this year, and I haven’t got the slightest intention of revealing them and spoiling the fun!”

To find out more or to enter, call John Dyson on 01842 810121, mobile 07867 892504 or Essex Gun on 0208 220 4733. You can also e-mail