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At the end of a clay shooting lesson; I am regularly asked for some sort of ‘Aide Memoir’. Pupils are very keen to take away some magical formulae that will enable them to win their class in next Sundays 100 Sporting competition. Sadly I regularly disappoint them; sure fire short cut routes to winning do not exist.
Only practice and preparation will improve an individual’s performance; however maybe there is a simple check list which could help clay shooters tidy up their approach to their next shooting event. For simplicities sake let us call it the Clay Shooters Alphabet:
A. Is for ‘ATTITUDE’ you know the thing we tell our teenagers that they mustn’t have!
Well the clay shooter needs it, (This would apply equally to the UK Game shot and to the Wing shooter in the USA) and he needs it in abundance! But of course he needs the correct good attitude. So what is it? Well it is a mixture of emotions and mental processes. First into the mixing pot is; aggression. Not too much and it must be controlled aggression. Now toss in some cold steely determination; and you can put huge amounts of that in. Next into the pot is clarity of thinking, a mental washing of the mind to the point all thought processes are going to be focused on the job in hand; the next target.
Start stirring gently; but there is still plenty of room in the pot for; self belief. That total confidence that you are going to smash both targets of the next double. Just two more ingredients before we let the mix simmer to making the perfect attitude. They are both physical :Remember last month when I was talking about making a fist and holding the Grip tightly whilst you locked the gun firmly into the cheek and shoulder.
That and your stance are part of your production of the correct attitude. Your stance should have you with most of your weight going through the ball of the front foot. You are leaning forward slightly. You are’ going for’ the next target! Finally your voice; how you call “pull” It must be a ‘Demand’ short, crisp and quite loud; but never a shout. This careful mix of ingredients, will give you the best Attitude.
I often hear some of our champion shots being described as unfriendly and stand offish. That most if the time is very unfair to them: They are totally focused on their shooting. They are putting themselves ‘in the zone’ they are maintaining the correct Attitude! I doubt you would stroll up to Tiger Woods as he is about to tee off on the 18th at the US Open and chat about the weather!
B. Is for ‘BASICS’
The more experienced and competent the clay shooter becomes; the more likely that Basics get forgotten: “I just straightened the last two stands, let us get stuck into this next stand and score another straight” “Pull” Bang. Bang. “Lost kill” “Pull” Bang. Bang. “Kill lost” “Pull” Bang. Bang. “Pair lost “
What might have happened here then? When that shooter arrived at the stand, did he distance himself from others and give himself time to ‘Read’ the targets? Did he put it into his head that one of the clays is crossing in front of a bush, and that bush might well act as a brake on his gun barrels? Did he notice that the ‘on report’ target is a Midi crossing in front of trees, and switching to his red tinted shooting glasses would have given him better vision? Did it register to him that the targets on this stand are quite close, and that the tight chokes that he put in for the more distant quartering away Midi clays on the last stand; were not stacking the odds in his favour.
Most important: Did he not read last month’s article about planning?
Did he in preparation, decide the ‘Kill Point’ and therefore the ‘Feet Positioning’ for both targets? Did he think about the ‘Pick Up Points’ for both targets? This is absolutely crucial for that Midi clay flying along the tree line. Did he visualize and mentally rehearse the ‘Kill Picture’ for both targets? And finally; did he place himself to the best advantage in the shooting stand?
This is one of the most common failures that I see in clay shooters. Yes sometimes the safety cages seem quite restrictive; but moving a foot to one side could greatly improve the view of a target. We all miss for the same relatively small group of reasons: But believe me, we would all miss far less often if we would continually focus on the Basics!
C. Is for...........
Well I actually am convinced that C is the most important letter in the Shooters Alphabet (That is the clay shooter, UK Game shot and US Wing shooter, hunting Quail, Dove and Duck. I believe that it stands for; COMFORT, CONCENTRATION, CONFIDENCE. We will never achieve the Confidence unless we have total comfort and apply 100% concentration.
We must be comfortable with everything that we wear or use. We must be comfortable with where we are and who we are with. How many of you say “I am always happier when I am with......... and I always seem to shoot much better at......... COMFORT...I touched on suffering discomfort in last month’s article, and I said I was astonished at how many shooters put up with it. You should be able to fire your gun without feeling recoil to the point of it causing you pain, and you should be free from discomfort on completion of your 100 Sporting or similar. The first obvious question is; does your gun fit you? Now gun fit is a chapter on its own; but definitely worthy of a few points related to Comfort. Is the stock length correct? I regularly see people shooting with stocks that are too short, and that is a disaster!
How do you know that you stock is correct for you? Let me first dispel a myth. As you read this there are people in Gun shops putting the stock along their fore arm with their fore finger touching the trigger with the Butt in the crook of their arm. They genuinely believe that is a gun fit measurement. It definitely is not; it is simply telling them how long their fore arm is.
Let me give you a Laymen good rule of thumb for getting the stock length right. Mount the empty shotgun into your cheek and shoulder. Lock it in tight, also make sure that your leading hand has the tip of your fore finger touching the tip of the fore end and your trigger finger is curled around the trigger.
Now get a friend to place two or three fingers flat on to the Comb between your nose and the back of your thumb. If the friend cannot get at least two fingers there; the stock is too short. If there is room for more than three fingers the stock is too long. Fit a good quality recoil pad to the Butt. Have a recoil reducer fitted into the stock. Buy one of the modern shooting vests that have pockets for recoil reduction pads. Experiment with light load cartridges. There are now some very good 21gram 12 g cartridges available. Get a Shooting Coach to check your gun fit and gun mount. When you have experienced totally comfortable shooting; you will never again put up with discomfort. I am totally happy now to shoot in ‘Wimp’ Mode.
CONCENTRATION...Remember the ‘washing of the mind’ that I said you needed to give yourself the correct attitude: That is the starting point of your concentration, which must be 100% on every clay shooting target that you are determined to kill. Getting the concentration right is probably the most difficult aspect of clay shooting and Wing shooting; but without it, none of us will ever achieve respectable levels of success.
The process should be starting as you approach the shooting stand; if you have shot other stands and have missed some targets, you must blank those from your mind. Distance yourself physically and mentally for a few seconds as you give yourself time to ‘read’ the targets. This is the time that you should be working your hardest; you must step into that stand with a clear and definite plan of how you are going to tackle those targets.
Now you are in the stand: Slow everything down; you were happy to wait your turn, so is everyone else.Rehearse your plan, get yourself in the most advantageous position in the stand, and make sure your feet are correctly placed for the first target. Close your eyes and visualize the kill picture for both targets.Now you can call “Pull” Bang. Bang. “Pair killed”..
Reload slowly; you may have noticed some very good Clay shooters that have developed little mannerisms to slow themselves down. They actually have a little routine that they follow religiously: you could do the same! Shoot every pair of targets as two new and separate jobs. If you are concentrating hard enough, you should not know if you are shooting your second pair or last pair! Try not to count up your scores; yes I know that is very difficult, but it will be a distraction. If you are shooting well, you could get a little complacent. If you are not doing as well as you would want, you could become negative, which would definitely affect your mind state. You must remain positive to be able to maintain full concentration.
CONFIDENCE... Only by constantly adhering to A, B and C coupled with regular practice, will give you that all important Confidence. Nothing else will achieve it and it requires no further Explanation:
D is for ‘DISCIPLINE’
During lessons on lovely Sunny days, when the pupils and I are having a great time; I warn them that I am going to introduce ‘dirty D they look a little concerned, then I explain that I am talking about discipline’. This is so easy to get wrong: Think about it; you are enjoying yourselves at your favourite shooting ground among your best friends. You are relaxed, shooting well and the World is a great place. It is a delicate balance, you are supposed to be enjoying your selves; and this is when A, BC and D get left behind.When the Discipline goes, so do the good scores!
E. Is for ‘EFFORT’
I could have said Efficiency, because of course that is important; but you are all a jump ahead of me, and have already figured out that sticking with A, B, C, and D is going to ensure your efficiency. So for Effort do make the effort to practice; especially mounting your gun in front of a mirror. Not the most exciting shooting activity, but a very valuable one.
If you put enough effort into this; you should be able to mount the gun with your eyes shut, then open them to see that you have mounted the gun perfectly. ( This gun mounting practice is just as critical for the Wing shooter as it is for the clay shooter ) Do make the effort to look after your equipment; especially your gun, clean it properly and get it looked over by your local gunsmith every couple of years. Always make the effort to spend time reading the targets and mentally rehearsing your shots. You will be very pleased that you did.
F. Is for...........
Well, I have previously stressed the importance of feet positioning; and gun fitting has been mentioned: So what should F stand for in the Clay Shooters Alphabet?
What if we ask you to decide! Send in your suggestions of what F. Should stand for; along with your reasons why, and the Clay Shooting magazines panel of experts will decide which word /s should be chosen as the most suitable. The person who in the opinion of the panel, has sent in the most appropriate words will win a signed copy of my “Clay Shooting for Beginners and Enthusiasts" and the following month we will ask for suggestions for G then H and so on.