Ben Husthwaite guides us around the anatomy of a 100-straight
I put a post on social media asking for topics that you would like to see me write about. The answers varied from choke selection and dealing with pressure, to which cartridge to use. To answer these requests, I’m going to walk you through the Black course at this year’s Essex Masters stand by stand. I’ll tell you which chokes I used, share the methods I employed, and give some insight into how I dealt with the pressure as I worked my way around the course to my 100 straight.
In my career there are only two majors I have not won: the British Open and the Essex. When people ask me why I haven’t won these, I always put it down to my other sport of rugby. In April I’m still playing, and never put the practice in to warrant winning a major. In September the rugby season is back in full flow. This answer led a student of mine to ask me, “So if you trained hard you reckon you could get close?” Being me I replied, “Of course”, so we placed a substantial wager, and I started shooting much earlier in the season. My first shoot back after the winter break was the British Compak, eight or nine weeks earlier than my normal start. And so the preparation began.
In practice I just worked on regular targets, checking my timing and mount and finishing the session, as always, with my grid workout. I’ll cover this in another article soon. I had a busy week of lessons leading up to the competition, but the afternoon before I had got some practice in with my friend Mike Williams. Mike is new to the sport, but as a professional rugby player he has an attention to detail and discipline that has really upped my game just by listening to his advice on mental prep.
I was up early on the day. Breakfast was full of slow-release carbs, as I knew it was going to be a very long day. After leaving home at 5:00am, I arrived and started the Black course at 8:30. I was in the first squad out, so there was no one in front of us. The weather was miserable and raining. My squad consisted of five students and top shot Brett Winstanley, a friend of mine.
In my bag I had a litre of water, three protein bars, 125 Gamebore 8s, 50 Gamebore 7.5s, a full array of Pilla glasses, more Briley chokes than you can imagine, and Vario earplugs. I can tell you now that as it happened, I shot all 200 targets with Gamebore 8s. I never fired anything else all day.
Onto the course. We drew the cards randomly so who I followed was not chosen. I followed a left-handed shooter, and he was very tall. I try to watch the clays’ flight path only and not what the shooters in front are doing (this can be hard, as the instructor within can sometimes take over).
I approached the first stand feeling confident. It was a Simo pair of incomers over the large hedge. I shot this with Improved Cylinder and Skeet chokes, taking both targets at their peaks, shooting straight at them.
There was still no pressure. This was a medium-difficulty stand, and I felt good. It was a quartering away battue from the left followed on report by a high right-to-left from a tower. The battue was the quicker target, and I was happy that a couple pellets of would break it. Meanwhile, the right-to-left was showing lots of belly, so I decided to use two Light Modified chokes. I shot the battue by swinging through, making sure I went up the line as it was rising. Moving across to the tower, I shot the on-report bird by pulling away, but with a long hold on the target before moving away to my lead.
My head was telling me to keep straight on, as I was shooting well. Stand three was a teal rising through a tree with a high quartering midi on report. Again, I decided on Light Modified chokes in both barrels. I wanted to shoot the teal quite quickly before it flattened out; I let it get ahead of my aim and then swung through. With the midi, knowing how fast they slow down, I decided on a late kill point where I could see it clearly. Starting behind the clay as before, I applied a very slow swing through and shot the midi with no lead. At this point I’d eaten half a protein bar.
For me this was hardest stand of all, a fast, quartering low orange and a low white crosser on report that was very edgy. I had no expectations of shooting it straight, so I was just concentrating on making good moves. I used Light Modified on the quartering bird and Modified on the slow, edge-on one. I used my new slice technique on the first bird (more to come on this), then I held on the white target until it started to fall. I then applied a slow pull away on the target’s line to a medium lead.
Elated with shooting 8/8 on previous stand, I again concentrated on my moves rather than my score. It was another tough stand – a very long midi launched simultaneously with a standard from the same place. The standard was a lot closer. I opted to shoot the midi first using a Modified choke and then Improved Cylinder on the standard. I shot the midi by immediately pulling away, taking it early before locking onto the second bird and slowly pulling away before it was falling too quickly.
Stand 6 was an interesting station, with a hard-to-see flying rabbit from the right quartering away and a left-to-right orange rabbit on report that bounced everywhere. I was quietly confident this would be a straight, apart from that bounce. I shot this station with two Improved Cylinder chokes, applying the new slice method to the first bird, allowing me to shoot it quite quickly. The second target I shot by pulling away, but I was forced to shoot it in four different places due to bounces. By this point I’d consumed the other half of my first protein bar.
From two rabbit clays, I was now called on to shoot two battues, an orange clay from the left, semi quartering but rising hard, and a black right-to-left crossing at 40 or 50 yards. Continuing to concentrate on my moves, I told myself not to miss the big bird behind. I went with Improved Cylinder and Modified, deciding to use a swing-through on the first target to make sure I got up the line and a long pull away on the second. On the first pair I made my first bad move of the day and had to correct, only just clipping the long second bird. Adjustment made, I got out of there with a straight. At this point, the first thoughts of shooting a 100 straight started to enter my head.
A tricky stand. I was conscious I’d made a bad move on previous stand, and I didn’t like the line of either clay. I was first up. The challenge was a low white incomer below my feet, and on report a standard coming from behind a tree. I decided on Skeet and Limited Mod as my chokes, and as I changed them I wished I could see another pair. As it wasn’t registered I could have asked, but I thought I’d go with initial thoughts – I’d swing through on the incomer and slice into the second as long as I saw it quick enough. I called “Pull”, and the white one ripped past my gun. With a Hail Mary of a swing, I split it in half and somehow managed to hit the second too. I knew I was getting lazy. After a sharp word with myself, I completed the stand. Knowing that the 100 was on and that I’d made two bad moves, I took myself away from the squad and refocused to make sure nothing was taken for granted.
With my two missteps and the possibility of a 100, this was the first time I felt rattled. A little cutting in the hedge was used for this station, which was a sim pair consisting of a going-away chondelle, with branches impeding swing, thrown at the same time as a teal that you couldn’t see on the way up and which was accordingly classed as a dropper. I aimed to shoot the first target quickly, and I went with Improved Cylinder. As before I was going to swing through it to allow me to drive the gun up the line. The second dropped around 30 yards, so I went with Improved Cylinder for this too, applying a slow pull away and shooting the target as close to the ground as possible, where I could see it best. I was now starting to feel fatigued in my mind, so I took a full protein bar. I ate the lot.
My confidence was back now, and I knew that as long as I found the line I would be okay. When the first target come out, my confidence was boosted further still, as I saw that it was an easy little 15-yard crosser. Then the report target was shown: a horrible, edgy climbing battue that seriously varied in its flight. I used a Skeet choke for the crosser and Limited Modified for the battue, as although it was only showing half its face, it was a thin, fast target that a couple of pellets would break. A nice, steady pull away on the crosser, and I decided to let the battue get to the apex, where it was biggest, but easy to miss in front, so I shot swing through, helping me control the smaller leads. The battue may have been first.
No fear here. A overhead bird sent from the right, followed on report by a fast-rising midi from the left, both thrown off little towers. I used a Skeet choke on the overhead and Improved Cylinder on the midi. On the overhead I just let the clay run into the barrel and took the shot. Then, starting two feet behind the midi, I applied a fast swing through to shoot it while I could still see the belly.
The walk to 12 was all about fighting the demons of success and not letting my mind get ahead of the score card. I kept reminding myself, “Stay in the now – shoot the next pair like it’s your first.” Negative thoughts were also a threat.
The stand had a fast-quartering rabbit going from from the left and a straight trap shot from behind some hay on report. The rabbit was jumping and bobbing at the point where I first thought to shoot it. I could have lost the 100 on a bounce, so changed kill point, deciding to go with Improved Cylinder and shoot it a little later. It was Improved Cylinder for the trap shot too, as I decided to take it quite early and not get too careful. I used the slice technique into the rabbit, and then it was just a short swing through on the second, with neither target requiring any lead.
Turning to the final stand, I allowed my mind to drift into visualising the 100. I was thinking of how to take the picture of the card and my equipment for Instagram; this allowed me to focus on the goal. When the squad started shooting, I closed my mind to concentrate on the last four targets. It was a tough peg to finish on, and I told myself I wouldn’t be phased by a miss here normally, so wouldn’t be now.
A long-range orange teal was followed by a long range right-to-left crosser showing some belly. There were only two pairs to shoot. I decided to attack the teal to make sure I got the line of the second target, so I went with Light Modified for that. I didn’t want to rush the crosser, so I put Modified in my second barrel. I planned to apply an aggressive swing through on the teal and slowly pull away with a long hold on the second target before moving out to a big gap.
I was confident on the last peg, but tried to shoot it like any other peg. I went through my pre-shot routine and hit the first pair perfectly. I didn’t delay; I ran the pre-shot routine again, and before I knew it the 100 was shot. Note that I allowed my mind wander to the what-ifs; I like having something to chase.
Was it the perfect round? The score says so, but from my perspective I made two terrible moves; there were things I noted from the day to work on. I hope this gives you a little insight into my chokes and mental game, and that you enjoyed walking through the course with me.
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