The process of hitting a target should, on paper, be a relatively straightforward affair.
In a nutshell, it’s a four-stage process. Make sure your stance is correct, mount the gun properly and swing, get the muzzles ahead of the bird, and pull the trigger.
In reality, though, while three out of the four are easy for a coach to demonstrate and teach, it’s that annoying little third stage that always seems to be the bugbear for a vast number of shooters. How much do you need to be ahead of the clay before you pull the trigger?
This is where developing a feel for a bird is so important.
Mount and fit
To develop an instinctive flair for shooting your gun mounting must be absolutely spot on. Equally important, your gun must fit properly too. If the gun doesn’t come to your shoulder and face in exactly the same position every time there’ll always be some degree of error, and the hand, gun, eye relationship will be lost. The gun must be an extension of your arms and body.
If this isn’t already the case, only practice, in front of a mirror often helps, can make perfect.
Leading the blind
Obviously don’t do this in a competition, but here’s a couple of great ways to sharpen up your reflexes. I really must stress these are simply exercises to help you get the ‘feel’ of a bird because, in reality, this goes against virtually everything I’ve ever said about how to hit more targets!
– Don’t watch the presentation of the bird before you shoot.
– Keep the gun down at roughly FITASC level, below the shoulder, and call for the bird. You’ll find all of your senses will be on a razor’s edge.
– Call and count to three, so the clay is well on its way before you shoot.
The result should be a snap shot and you’re another step along the way to developing a ‘feel’ for your target.
When your gun mounting technique is correct every time, effective snap shooting comes about predominately by timing. The more you practice, the more you’ll get a feel for a target and you’ll get to know instinctively the precise moment to pull the trigger. What you must never do is hesitate. Whenever I see this happening it’s always because the shooter is trying extra hard to ‘make sure’ he hits the bird. By trying to improve the shot he’s undoing everything that his instincts have told him. In these situations as soon as you start thinking about what you’re doing (or trying to achieve) you’re almost certain to miss the bird.
You must always be ready and prepared to move your feet. A lot of the time a general ‘weight on the front foot, toe pointing forward’ stance will be sufficient to kill the majority of targets. That said, if a bird suddenly comes at you from an unexpected angle you must move your feet/body position to stand a reasonable chance of hitting the clay.
If your overall stance (and by that I mean how you position your feet prior to pulling the trigger) is completely out of kilter with the way the bird is presented, you’ll almost certainly run out of swing. If this is the case you’ll end up either dropping a shoulder, leaning into some backbreaking position, or rolling the gun so it’s out of the shoulder and not mounted correctly. Either way, you’ll probably miss. Even though you’re shooting purely on your reflexes, you must never accept a compromise when it comes to your shooting stance. Move your feet either before, or during your gun mount.
No one is going to develop a fantastic, natural snap-shooting ability overnight. It all comes down to practice. As far as practice goes, you’ve got to put yourself in situations where you simply don’t get much time to think about how you’re going to hit the target ? all you’ve got to concentrate on (and remember) is the fact the bird is hittable, and let your instincts take over. Try and get out on a shooting ground where you can shoot the same bird over and over again if necessary. Even though the shot is relying on snap reflexes, it will still help you store yet another sight picture in your memory bank.
Try something different
When you’re trying to improve your instinctive snap shooting, the last thing you want to be aware of is precisely where the targets are coming from when you call for the bird. As such, why not have a few rounds of ball trap or universal trench. The beauty of both these disciplines is the birds are released at random trajectories from any one of five traps. It’s great fun, and a real sharpener for your shooting skills. Try and keep the gun down before you call for the clay and don’t worry too much if you miss more than you hit in the beginning ? it’s the experience that counts.
Go pigeon shooting
February is the traditional month for roost shooting. If you get a chance to have a crack at this most sporting of pastimes, do so. The sheer unpredictability of their flight, coupled with the birds’ natural speed and ability to veer off and turn on a sixpence, will sharpen your skills more than anything I know. If you’re not that keen on shooting live quarry, or if your freezer is already full, don’t worry. Dry firing the gun (with snap-caps fitted) is a good way to build up your mental library of sight pictures and help develop that extra ‘feel’ for snapshooting.
Having said that…
We’ve been looking at how sharpening the reflexes and utilising instinct can improve our scores. This is undoubtedly so. However, no shooter can rely on this alone. There’s never been a substitute for perfecting a decent shooting technique. Remember, make sure your gun fits properly and you mount it correctly each time. Ensure your stance, moving your feet if necessary, is correct for the target and your swing is smooth. Then let instinct, coupled with your mental library of sight pictures take control of when you pull the trigger. The result should be unbeatable!