It’s clay target time
Summer is here and shooting clay targets is a great way to keep your wingshooting skills sharp. Hitting targets is a lot more fun than missing. Here are a few tips to improve your clay target and hunting skills.
Gun Fit It’s possible to shoot well and break targets with a gun that doesn’t fit you. I recently shot skeet with a pistol grip shotgun that had no stock at all, and I broke what might be seen as a respectable number of targets, but I didn’t break nearly as many as I would have, had I been shooting a gun with a stock that fit me.
Good gun fit simply means the stock dimensions of the gun allow the shooter to easily and consistently mount the gun so he’s looking straight down the barrel. Shotguns don’t have rear sights. The reason they don’t is that you don’t have time to align your eye with the front and rear sights and then swing the sight picture ahead of a flying target to hit it. Having said this, a properly mounted and fitted gun does just that without any conscious effort on the part of the shooter.
With a properly fitted gun, the shooter puts the gun to his shoulder and the alignment process is accomplished by proper gun fit. This allows the shooter to focus on the target and its flight. The shooter sees the rib and bead in his vision field, but they’re not his focal point; the target is. To determine if you have a reasonably good gun fit, focus on a spot, close your eyes, and mount the gun. When you open your eyes, you should be looking straight down the rib without having to adjust.
Gun Mount If you don’t have a consistent gun mount, you’ll never reach your potential as a wingshooter. The only way to accomplish a consistent gun mount, is to mount the gun over and over until every time the gun comes to your shoulder, it’s in the same place. Your head is in the same place on the comb, and you’re looking straight down the rib. While many clay shooters shoot with the gun pre-mounted, I believe this is counter-productive to really good wingshooting.
Most knowledgeable instructors teach shooting from a low ready position, and if properly executed, low gun is more effective than shooting with the gun mounted in the shoulder. The reason for this is that on crossing targets, the shooter needs to generate swing speed quickly and getting the gun up to speed is easier when the gun is closer to the body’s center of motion.
Practicing the mount is easily done at home with an unloaded gun. Again, focus on a spot, close your eyes and mount the gun. If you’re looking straight down the rib and the gun is pointed at the spot when you open your eyes, it was a good gun mount. If not, you need more practice. Once the gun mount is learned, it’s the same, no matter how the target moves. All tracking and movement is done below the waist, the gun mount from waist up is always the same.
Focus The point of gun fit is to make mounting the gun effortless. The point of the shooter’s ritual is to mentally prepare for success. The point of developing proper gun mount, is to assure the gun comes to the shoulder aligned with the shooter’s eye without conscious effort. Even though the shooter can see the outline of the rib and bead, it’s inconsequential because he knows his gun fit and gun mount are good. This allows him to put all his focus on the target and forget about everything else.
When a good wingshooter picks up the target, his focus on it is intense. A good shooter can see the stepped shape of the target in flight, and some have told me they can see the dimples on a spinning target. Once good habits are formed and being done without conscious thought, the trigger will almost pull itself at the proper moment, and the target will break.
Balance Good wingshooting is a result of body/eye coordination. Since all movement to track the target is done from the waist down, balance and weight distribution are critical to success. Proper stance is with the weak side foot ahead of the strong side foot at about 45 degrees. The forward foot should support 80% of the weight and serves as the pivot point. The rear foot steers the body as the gun tracks the target. If the target falls or rises, the rear leg pushes the shooters body angle down or up by pushing up with the toes or bending the knee. Being off balance will generate jerky movement, and smooth is what breaks targets. In shooting clays, stance is accomplished at the station before calling for the bird. In the field, if the weak foot is forward, shift the weight onto it. If the strong foot is forward, step forward onto the weak side foot and shift the weight onto it. The time spent in getting your weight on the correct foot will be well spent, and result in more hits.
Rhythm There’s a rhythm to good clay shooting. The gun breaks down, the shooter extracts the spent shells and drops them in his pouch. He loads the chambers, the gun closes, the shooter prepares himself for the shot and calls for it. When he sees the target, the swing begins, the gun comes to the shoulder, the gun passes the target, the target breaks, the shooter follows through and moves on to the other target and the process repeats. If the target is a fast crosser, the shooter adjusts his swing rhythm to the speed of the target. If it’s a lazy, going away target, he does the same.
With the rhythm established, the shot is never rushed, the gun moves smoothly, the shooter is relaxed, and the targets break. With experience, good shooters swing with the rhythm the target provides. It’s a learning process, but it’s easier to learn when the fundamentals are applied and practiced until they’re natural reactions. To evaluate the importance of rhythm, shoot a round of sporting clays with a puller who is consistent in pulling the target when called, then shoot a round with a puller who randomly delays the launch. You’ll find your scores suffer. Try not to be the person who disrupts the rhythm of the squad.
Whether we’re talking about shooting shotguns, pistols, rifles, or slingshots, we all perform better using certain methods. The fundamentals listed above work for most people. Your experience may be different, but these are methods almost all successful wingshooters use. Practice the fundamentals until they become a conditioned response, focus on the target, and the targets will break, I promise.
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. He recently finished his first book, Off the Porch. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, or would like a copy of his book, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or offtheporchmedia.com