Vic Harker thinks winter is the time to analyse your shooting and what you can do to improve it
For the dedicated clay shooter, winter is a time to regroup and reflect on last season’s successes and disappointments – and to determine a plan to increase the number of the former and avoid as much as possible the latter.
Invariably, the gun is a preoccupation for most shooters: we like them and enjoy using them and invest a lot of thought and money in acquiring one that will ensure our success. For some, it is a matter of going from one gun to another in the hope they will find one with the magic ingredient.
This is almost certainly not the right approach, but the off-season is the ideal time to carefully consider just what you want, and, more importantly, what you need. It should go beyond the choice of manufacturer, but instead focus on weight, balance, barrel length and choke boring. All of this is important, but we can’t just buy it off the shelf.
A degree of self-knowledge is also needed (to understand the qualities you need to meet physical requirements and a particular mindset). In this, there can be conflict. For example, we may become convinced we require a certain barrel length. This may be because a successful shooter whose success you would like to emulate may use one. However, this does not guarantee it will work you. The time to find this out is not mid-season, but rather mid-winter, in circumstances where nothing is at stake other than finding out the difference between what you desire and what you need.
The same principle applies to the matter of gun fit. Quite rightly, this is a subject that is no longer pushed under the carpet, because many clay shooters didn’t understand it and previously there was no one to provide an explanation. Nowadays, there are a number of sources shooters can turn to, many of whom advertise.
We should always keep in mind that clay disciplines, as compared to many other sports, are relatively new and it has taken time to fully understand the techniques required to compete successfully. There are no magic bullets, and application and willingness to learn are the keys to progress.
A part of this is acquiring the gun you really need and not just the one you would like to buy at that moment. Once this principle is understood, choices can be made and the winter months are the time to make them without the pressure of competition.
Guns apart, it is the cartridge that breaks targets and this is an area where myth and legend can creep in. Avoid the lucky rabbit’s foot syndrome: when a shooter, after having had an outstandingly successful day with a particular cartridge, never uses any other brand – this is not the way to choose your ammunition.
Can you ever be really confident, if you have never patterned your gun, that the cartridge you use is the best? Again, the off-season is the time to find out what really works in your gun. It’s a laborious business but it’s well worth the effort it takes to shoot some patterns with a variety of loads at various distances applicable to your chosen discipline – you can find out what ammunition really performs best in your gun.
Pattern testing is also useful in determining point-of-impact (POI), where your gun shoots, and how well it fits you. I would add this is not an infallible source of information and if you are regularly shooting 100-straights with your chosen gun-and-cartridge combination, it’s best to leave them well alone. But if you are not, rather than just blundering on, take the winter to sort out what is going wrong.
It may be your technique or incorrect gun fit. A good shooting coach can help detect errors in your gun mount and swing, but if it’s a problem with how the gun fits it’s a gunfitter you need. It may be that your shooting coach is also a gunfitter, which is fine, so long as his experience extends to the discipline you shoot.
A coach who teaches people how to shoot game or even Sporting clays is fine if that’s what you do, but if you are a Trap shooter you may have to look elsewhere for help. Start by making enquiries at a well-established Trap-shooting venue. There will almost certainly be someone who can point you in the right direction. The gun and the cartridge you choose are important, but the man or woman who you employ as your coach is even more so.
How fit are you? The winter is a good time to take stock of this. Maintaining the appropriate weight for your height and physique is not only about health – significant fluctuations in your weight can also affect the fit of your gun. Measurements for comb height, cast and length-of-pull can all change if you suddenly put on some weight, or indeed if you lose a significant amount. This is also true as to the clothing you wear. A shooting vest that you suddenly find you can’t zip up at the beginning of the season is a barometer of this. Gun fit and fitness go together. Stay in good shape throughout the winter and you won’t have to change the shape of your gun stock either.