Give it your best shot
We were at the old Tarheel Gun Club, and I was sitting on the porch with Jason, the club keeper who always wore blue denim bib overalls. I was talking about the relative difficulty of the different targets in a round of skeet. The toughest targets for me were stations three, four, and five. All these are crossing targets, one each from the right and left. At that time, I didn’t really have a good handle on shooting crossers and it seemed these targets always kept me from shooting 25 out of 25. “Well,” I bragged, “at least I don’t have trouble with low house, station seven.”
The low house target at station seven comes out just to the right of the shooter’s elbow and seems to hang in the air like a bean can on a fence post. In relation to the shooter, there’s little discernible movement so lead isn’t part of the equation. You just point the gun at it and shoot. Jason, snorted. If you take it for granted, you’ll probably miss it on the next round.” I did just that.
When I’m teaching a novice shooter and we’re shooting their first ever targets, I always start with a straight away target. With a straight away target, there’s no decision about where to shoot the target, it seems to hang unmoving, suspended in the air and ripe for the picking. Having said that, I have to admit I miss a lot more straight away targets than I should.
There’s no target on a clays field, whether it’s trap, skeet, five stand, or sporting clays that’s a certainty. You have the opportunity to miss every target that’s thrown. As Jason liked to say, “It’s not that the target is so small, it’s that there’s so much air around it.” When you take a shot for granted, you lose your focus and your odds for a miss increase drastically.
It’s true that there’s little gun movement required to hit that straight away target, you still have to point the gun at it. Gun mount is just as important on an easy target as a tough one. It’s easy on an easy target to anticipate seeing the target break and lift your head. On a shotgun, there’s no rear sight. There’s generally a rib and at least one bead and that’s all the sighting apparatus you need, provided you put your head in the right spot. On a shotgun, the location of your head on the stock replaces the rear sight. Lift your head, and you’ll shoot over the target. Have it improperly aligned to left or right and you’ll miss to right or left. Just because there’s little gun movement required, doesn’t mean you don’t have to mount the gun properly.
Shotgunners who practice shooting with the gun out of their shoulder will eventually surpass the shooting skills of those who shoot with the gun mounted on their shoulder. The reason is, having the gun already locked in your shoulder impedes movement or crossing targets. Instead of mounting the gun in your shoulder, put the butt of the shotgun near your shirt pocket with the gun out in front of you. Raise the barrel and put the bead on a point that will intersect with the target’s path. When you pick up the target, begin to mount the gun while keeping the front bead on the path of the target, whether it’s a crosser or a straightaway shot. When the gun mount is complete, the gun should be pointed at the target and the trigger is pulled. If you practice your gun mount and teach your body muscle memory at mounting the gun, you won’t have any problem getting the shot off with time to spare.
This brings us to the other main reason for missing a straight away target, trying to aim at the target and taking too long before you shoot. Shotguns are pointed, not aimed. On a straight away target, there’s a temptation to aim the gun at the seemingly stationary target. Aiming takes time and if you spend too much time, the target will begin to fall out from under you and you’ll shoot over it.
Most shotgun targets are easier to hit when they are moving fastest because a fast moving target travels in a straight line. As the target slows down, it begins to arc, and arcing targets are tough targets. it is easier to move in a straight line than a curved one. Fast targets move in a straight line, slow ones move in an ever increasing radius. As soon as your eye picks up the target, begin your gun mount keeping the bead on the path of the target. When the gun mount comes together, pull the trigger.
This brings us to the final reason people miss straight away targets, moving the gun at the time of firing the shot. Trap shooters only shoot going away targets and probably ten of the targets in an average round are almost straight way. Trap shooters are more aware of flinch than any other discipline in shotgunning, and it’s probably because they have a minimum of gun movement.
Flinch is a natural tendency to react to a loud noise or abrupt movement. It’s the biggest enemy of shooters because whether you’re shooting a shotgun, a rifle, or a pistol, flinch will play havoc with your ability to hit what you’re shooting at. Good shotgunners manage the trigger as well as good rifle shooters. They pull the trigger without moving the gun. How many times have you seen the muzzle dip when a round doesn’t go off? Many times, that dip happens before the gun goes off, disturbing the shot enough to completely miss an easy target.
Wingshooting is a great sport. There’s gratification in seeing a clay target scatter in all directions, even better when it seems to turn into smoke, as the result of a perfect hit. Any sport is more fun when you do well at it, and learning to shoot straight away targets without taking them for granted will make you a better wingshooter.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for national magazines and websites. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or offtheporchmedia.com