Show up and shoot! Dive straight in if you want to improve is Vic Harker’s advice to newcomers
As a beginner practice is important, but if clay shooting is of any significance it has to be regular. There are those who shoot clays as a form of practise for game shooting but don’t think game shooting is not competitive. Every gun wants to shoot better than his neighbour and so there is no escaping the pressure that it involves.
It is, of course, the beginner who inevitably feels pressure most. Inexperienced in every aspect of shooting, fear of failure can overwhelm to the extent that fears are fulfilled and the performance is below the level of capability. On the other hand, success creates more success and so fear of failure recedes, but does it ever go away completely? I doubt it. I think, therefore, that the best way to deal with fear of failure is to treat it as a natural component of competitive sport and learn to manage it. Some attempt this by trying to convince themselves that outcomes don’t matter, but this can never work. If losing doesn’t matter the whole point of competitive sport is lost.
It is important that the shooter wins or succeeds to a level that builds some confidence. The way to achieve this is to compete in a discipline within your competence. Your ambitions may extend to Olympic Skeet, but if you can’t make a fist of the domestic form you’re facing a hard road.
In most European countries, the Olympic disciplines are the only choice, and they have more facilities in terms of coaching and competing than we do in the UK. Regular confidence-building practice by competing in the domestic disciplines can be a useful substitute, and there is a whole generation of older shooters who did just that and went onto compete successfully in the Olympic disciplines.
If you are new to clay shooting, don’t decide what discipline you are going to specialise in too soon – choose the one that comes most naturally to you. Factors that may determine can be age, gender, physical fitness, psychological disposition and, most importantly, self-knowledge. The last two factors will undoubtedly have the greatest influence on your future success, and it even comes down to choosing the right gun.
Cool, thoughtful pragmatists will make the right choice as they will know what they want and need, and they won’t leave things to chance. The most regular expense a shooter incurs is that for ammunition, yet how many of them pattern their gun to ensure the cartridge they are using is the most effective in their gun? I constantly notice the most cartridge-conscious shooters are the champions in their game. They use a lot with a gun that fits them, don’t expect to miss, and have to be certain the ammunition they use will do the job if they shoot straight.
That confidence is born out of success. One of the ways of achieving confidence is to set goals you have a reasonable chance of achieving. Don’t set your goals too high and savour the moment when you achieve them. With so much emphasis placed on excellence at the highest levels of clay shooting, the Olympics and everything that goes with it, we tend to forget that for most people shooting is a pastime, but it’s not enjoyable if it has to be an Olympic gold medal or nothing.
No form of clay shooting is ever wasted, Trap, Skeet or Sporting. Regular practice of any kind keeps your reactions and eyesight keen, and muscles attuned to the physical effort it requires. Some of the greatest shooters the UK has produced began as all-rounders and who went onto win at the highest levels of clay target shooting. In the case of young beginners, they have time to choose what discipline they may wish to specialise in. It should be the one they enjoy the most – to find that out, you just have to show up and shoot.
Achievable goals for beginners
- In the coming season make every effort to move up a CPSA classification
- Compete for a place in your county team
- When shooting at any level, including your club’s Sunday morning outing, make every effort to excel