The importance of winter training

Rhys Plum talks to US shooter and former world champion Gebben Miles about the importance of winter training

The dark mornings of winter and frost on the ground signal not just the end of summer, but also the end of the competitive clay season. With no major shoots until later this year, you can see this as time for a rest, or an opportunity to improve.

Lockdowns permitting, there’s time now to dive deep into elements of the game, take a few lessons, try something new, work on it and build ourselves back up into better shots for the coming season.

With that in mind I spoke to Arizona-born Gebben Miles, one of the USA’s top Sporting shots and a former Fitasc Sporting world champion, as well as Nad Al Sheba world champion and PASCA Tour champion. He told me: “One thing I’ve found to be really important in my shooting career is repeatability and consistency.

If we can build consistency in training, we can get closer and closer to perfection in competition. For me, consistency comes from having a proactive mindset of knowing that my game isn’t perfect, figuring out where the gaps are, then working hard to fill these gaps in practice.

“In most cases, you will find that errors and inconsistencies come from a disregard of good foundations. – so get out there and practise your basics. I realised early on in my career that if you don’t get these things right in training, it’s going to be way harder to get them right in a tournament.

If you want to progress, now is the time to put in the hard work says Gebben

“If I work hard at my foundations, and make sure that I apply myself on each stand, then I should be able to run-and-repeat a predetermined game plan time and time again. Put it another way, dig deep in practice and when you reach competition it will all feel like second nature.” 

“For example, I know that sometimes it doesn’t even look like I’m running a proper pre-shot routine. To a spectator, everything seems to be happening so fast.

“But it’s just that I’ve run my routine so many times that I have total confidence in my system. Having this confidence allows me to focus on the process and stay calm.”

Don’t get sloppy

Gebben says it would be easy to kick back during the off-season, but if you want to make real progress then now is the time to start the hard work. “A common problem is when shooters become sloppy or too relaxed on their break-points.

“Personally, I like to mark my break zone in the sky with a landmark like a tree or mountain. Don’t use clouds – they move! These references help me to be precise, but there’s often variation in the way the target flies between pairs and you need to allow for that.

“I like to have a break zone that is still precise, but tolerant enough to allow for the possible variations of the clay. This can then affect my hold point, because I always want to make sure that I’m underneath the bird so that I can have a clear visual of the bird on top of my barrel. For that reason you may want to drop your hold point down a bit.

Good foundations are important, so work on basics like pre-shot routine

“The break spot is to me the most important decision you make on a target. If you choose to shoot the clay too early you won’t have enough time to connect with the bird.

“Shoot too late and you will likely have too much gun speed to stay in control. So even if you decide not to change anything in your game over the winter, keep on top of the basics like break points and hold points.”

I was interested to learn whether Gebben had any drills that he felt would help me become a more consistent shot. “Some of your readers might have seen on my social media that I like to work on a Skeet range.

“I used the positions on a Skeet field as a controlled environment to train on. I don’t advocate shooting a round of Skeet like a Skeet shooter though. Instead, shoot from stations three to five, backing up three paces each time around.

“One thing I’ve been blessed with recently is a field with twelve machines that I can use to create any angle. I don’t need to use a Skeet field any more, as I can now set any target.”

Bread and butter targets

“Alternatively, if you have a stand at your local gun club that gives you the ability to move around the field, then you can use those targets and get comfortable with them at different angles and distances.

“Eventually they’ll become your bread-and-butter targets, and when they appear in competition you’ll have confidence. You should practise the perfect move on these targets, over and over again, which will allow your consistency to skyrocket.  

It’s important to be able to repeat a shot like a robot time after time

“I encourage my students to take any Sporting clay station and shoot four singles of the first target perfectly. Next shoot four singles of the second target, making exactly the right move. Then shoot four pairs consecutively before moving on to the next station.

“If you have trouble breaking four pairs in a row, start with three pairs. When you’re comfortable with three pairs then move back up to four, and maybe even go to five or six pairs, so that four pairs will seem easy. It’s a simple drill but it highlights the importance of being consistent and being able to do the same thing time and time again robotically.  

“If there’s a specific target that you have been struggling with, then go out to a gun club that you know will have that bird on, dig deep and get the work done! If necessary, move five or ten yards forward, as you do so, shoot it four times in a row. Then keep backing up, until you are confident on that target.”

Learning from golf

As a junior, Gebben was an accomplished golfer, and I wondered what overlap there might be between the sports. Had he taken any practices from golf into shooting? “The two sports are very different, but it’s the same principle.

“As far as the mental game goes, if you have a game plan in golf, provided you’ve worked hard in training, you can allow your swing to move freely. The same goes for Sporting clays.

“If you believe in what you are doing and have worked hard before you call ‘Pull!’ then you’ll be relaxed and all you have to do is see the bird and carry out your plan.

“If you’ve ever watched a golfer, you’ll see them practise their swing before they hit the ball. This is something I’ve incorporated into my shooting. I like to dry fire on targets, which allows me to feel really connected with the bird and confident in my move. When you dry fire, there’s no recoil – so if you’re doing something wrong it will be totally exposed without recoil to cover it up.

Gebben will find a landmark in the background to use as a reference for his break point

“Similarly, without the pressure of wanting to break the target, when you dry fire, the shot really slows down and so you can see if you are making a good connection with the bird, and whether your stance and balance are nice and controlled when you pull the trigger. Then when you put the shells in, you’ll typically be able to break the clay harder than you normally would.  

“At the moment I train a lot on a field that has ten machines on it. On the ten machines I’ll dry fire usually twice on each bird before I shoot. When I’m shooting the birds, if I feel disconnected or something just doesn’t feel right, I’ll dry fire again. Usually once I’ve dry fired I feel so connected that the next five pairs turn to ink-balls.”

More on training and advice from Clay Shooting Magazine

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