When clay pigeon shooting as a beginner, being prepared is essential for getting good scores.
No matter what your level of experience or prowess, if you’re not concentrating on the job in hand, you’ll always be at a disadvantage.
It really doesn’t matter how long you’ve been shooting, or at what level – in my opinion there’s always room for improvement and something new to learn. And that’s where coaching and having a few lessons comes to the fore. After all, everyone’s got the ability to learn more – and that includes me and every other coach in the country!
So then, irrespective of whether you’re about to have your first lesson, or you’re entered for your first competition, being fully prepared is the real key to success and hitting more targets than the next bloke.
Turning up at your local shooting ground feeling as fresh as a daisy, raring to go and full of confidence, is worth fortunes and you’ll definitely shoot much better because of it.
As such, get all your gear ready the night before; gun, cartridges, ear defenders, everything you’re going to need – even down to and including what clothes you’re going to wear.
The idea here is to try and take all the stress out of the day. Worrying about whether you’ve remembered to bring your gun certificate, enough cartridges or whatever, certainly isn’t going to make you shoot any better.
As far as shooting in competitions goes, if you’re going to an unfamiliar ground, plan your route in advance and leave plenty of time for the journey.
So, if it’s your first competition, or maybe it’s just your first time out on a shooting ground without of having an instructor standing behind you giving you advice, don’t forget that it’s supposed to be fun!
At this stage one of my golden rules has simply got to be ‘don’t get wound up!’
Competition nerves can be an absolute crippler for a novice shooter, and the first stand is always going to be the worst. This is a real pity because I usually reckon that by and large most shooters will have settled down and started to enjoy themselves by about the third or fourth stand. The only trouble is, by the time you’ve shot the first few stands the damage will already have been done to your score sheet!
So, to increase the chances of dusting your first birds, it’s important to try and ‘read’ the clay before you’re ready to shoot. Try following the bird’s flight through the air with your finger – work out in your mind if it’s dropping or rising. Is it veering to the left or the right? How fast is it going, and how quickly is it beginning to slow down? Where is the best place to try and kill it? Where’s the best place to pick it up after it leaves the trap; as such, what should my stance be? Would it be better to try shooting ‘gun up’, for instance?
I can’t stress highly enough the need to watch the bird before you shoot. Do this and you’re already going to be ahead of the competition. I know I’m going to sound a bit like a cracked record but I’ve genuinely lost count of the times I hear shooters say “Now I know where they’re coming from I can hit them.”
For goodness sake… if you were watching in the first place you wouldn’t have so many losses on your scorecard!
This in itself leads nicely onto another point that’s really important for the novice shooter – in your excitement to get involved and watch the line of the birds, whatever you do don’t get in the way of anyone who’s shooting.
(If you put the boot on the other foot, how would you like it if someone was breathing down your neck just as you were about to call for a bird?)
Remember that every shooter on the ground has paid an entry fee and queued up – just the same as you have!
This process of watching a target in flight is known as ‘reading’ a clay – and it’s one of the principle skills that needs developing when you’re learning to shoot. When I’m coaching I try and instil this concept right from the word go. I’m a firm believer that the shooter gets a clear picture in his mind of the step-by-step process needed to break the target. If he chooses to develop his own style as he becomes more accomplished, so be it – but I reckon you must understand the basics to progress in the early days.
For the guy shooting on his own for the first time without a coach standing by his side there’s no longer someone there to offer instant advice or a safety net when they start missing. It’s now up to you to decide how to tackle every target. The important thing is not to rush – and always to go with your instincts.
Whatever you do, for heaven’s sake don’t rattle off a couple of shells as quickly as possible simply because you want to get off the stand because you’re embarrassed. And as we all know, there’s nothing so embarrassing as being embarrassed! And talking of being embarrassed, or being worried about looking daft, forget it! Honestly, no one’s bothered. At the very worst the other shooters in your squad will think that you’re having a really awful day. And as we all know, there but for the grace of etc etc… We all had to learn at some stage and you need to remember that only practice will help you to shoot consistently well.
In the early days of your shooting career you probably won’t end up being High-gun on the day. But I do promise that if you stick at it your scores WILL improve – and generally much quicker than you think.
Try and remember all the little hints and tips your instructor has mentioned in the past, concentrate on getting your technique right, and don’t get cross with yourself if you miss a few birds.
As long as you feel you’ve done okay that’s fine. Stick at it. Whatever the outcome, the next time you shoot you’ll be happier – I guarantee it!