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How mental discipline can improve your shooting

Apart from technique, how can you improve your shooting? It's about having mental discipline says Phil Coley.

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Many people dread the first bird of the drive. The lone bird heading straight towards you, with all the field’s eyes on you.

Mental block

One of the many things gameshooters worry about is trigger freeze or flinching. This happens at the moment that you are about to pull the trigger and find that you can’t. Trigger freeze has nothing to do with technique, it is purely brought on by a mental block.

Struggling with recoilMental discipline to improve your shooting

The key to shooting any target, be it a clay or quarry, is being decisive. The moment you try to second-guess or change your mind is the moment you miss.

The best way to explain this is through the analogy of catching a ball. If someone was to throw you a ball, you catch it in the palm of your hand and use instinct. The same can be said for shooting. When a bird comes out and heads towards you, the process of shooting it is already in play in your mind. What then happens is that the process either plays out or you intervene and stop it, leading to a miss.

Not using instincts is usually caused by self-doubt, or a lack of confidence. Confidence can be improved by having a lesson as well as  creating a routine to follow before pulling the trigger. One of these is, for example, saying “bum-belly-beak-bang”, every time, which eventually becomes a part of your subconscious.

Many people miss birds in front. This happens because they miss a bird and assume that they are behind, so they add even more lead.

When you miss, start again and let your subconscious take over. Shoot where the bird is going, not where it has been. Many Shots miss out the vital stage of starting behind the bird and swinging through, and start too far ahead, which will result in a miss.

Relax and breathe

It is important to be able to calm down in a drive and focus on the next bird. To achieve this, try a simple technique called centering. To centre yourself, breathe in to a point an inch behind your belly button, focusing on that point as you breathe in. This has two outcomes: first, it gives you something to focus on, and second, it keeps you taking deep breaths, which is an important part of staying relaxed. By being more relaxed, you increase your peripheral vision, which is vital to shooting in the field where you need to be able to react to a second bird.


Visualisation involves imagining a situation and going through it in your mind and is frequently used by Olympic competitors. It can play a key part in shooting better and warming your mind up.

If you were to think of your favourite partridge drive or pheasant drive, imagine a covey coming out in front of you. What can you see? How does it feel to see that bird coming towards you? Imagine you are ready to take the shot, how does it feel and when will you pull the trigger?

Visualisation is a way of “shooting” without actually holding a gun. The benefit  is that it makes you think of what you will shoot and in turn increases your muscle memory and leads to a muscle twitch.


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For example a dog when lying on the carpet asleep will suddenly start shaking slightly. It is dreaming of chasing a bird and flushing it, and its legs move as it dreams. This is similar to what we are trying to achieve with visualisation, though we are able to make the conscious decision to pull the trigger.

The evening or morning before a shoot, go through in your mind how it feels to shoot a bird and what thoughts you go through before pulling the trigger. When you get to your peg and feel excited about the drive, remember to relax and take a breath to steady yourself each time. Be aware that sometimes when you miss, you may just be in front rather than behind, so start the process again.