Clay shooting basics: Take your time for better scores

In the heat of competition, it’s easy to forget everything you’ve learned. Take it steady and follow your routine, says Bryce Blandford-Corp

You can see it at any Sporting shoot. Someone will walk into the stand, load up and call “Pull”. They haven’t got a plan; they don’t follow a routine. They may not even know where the targets are coming from. You know before they even fire a shot that they don’t really have a clue what they’re going to do – and unsurprisingly their scores are disappointing.

Quick reactions and natural ability can only go so far. If you’re going to shoot well, consistently, then you need to take every stand seriously and treat it with the respect it deserves. That means assessing it, making a plan, and putting that plan into practice. Crucially, it also means sticking to your plan under the pressure of a competition.

All too often a shooter will have a good routine and technique in practice, but in the heat of competition they forget it. Their good intentions go out the window, they rush into the stand and before you know it they’ve missed two pairs and the wheels are starting to come off as they wonder why they aren’t shooting well today.

It starts as you approach the stand with your squad. You may all be enjoying a laugh and a joke as you walk, but if you care about your score then the targets will need your full attention when the time comes to shoot.

Watch targets as other competitors shoot, and note the key points on their flightline

Read the board

The first thing you should do as you walk up to the stand is read the board. Usually it’s a laminated piece of A4 with the details printed on: the course if there’s more than one, the stand number, and a description of the targets. For instance it might say “Blue Course. Stand 4. 5 pairs. Midi L-R o/r Rabbit R-L.”

First off, check you’re on the right stand, on the right course. It might sound silly, but it’s easy to make a mistake – and the ref might not spot that you should be on Red 6 instead of where you are! If you know that on a particular stand you will be shooting five pairs, you can make sure you have enough cartridges in your pockets, plus a couple of spares for no-birds, and prepare yourself mentally to shoot that number of targets.

In this example you also know that each pair will start with a midi target thrown from left to right, followed on report by a rabbit clay coming from the left. So far so good, but even if you’re the first in your squad, you shouldn’t be rushing things.

Stand behind the cage for a minute, collect your thoughts, and take in the scene in front of you. Look at the immediately obvious landmarks – a tree, a hedge, an earth bank – and assess their distance from the shooting position. This should be an almost subconscious process.

Take in all the information you can. What are the backgrounds like? Perhaps there is a large area of blue sky or white clouds, or maybe you’ll be shooting against a dull patch of trees. Where is the sun – is it going to be in your eyes as you shoot? Perhaps you should think about switching the lenses in your shooting glasses to make the targets as visible as possible.

Watch the best shooters and you’ll see they have a plan long before they step up to shoot

Watch those targets

Now for the targets themselves. Watch each one to the full extent of its flight – not just to the point where you expect to shoot it. Often you’ll see a shooter call to see a pair and shout “bang” just where he plans to kill the first bird. Don’t do that. Watch that first target all the way until it either hits the ground or disappears behind an obstacle, and make a mental note of any landmarks along its flightline. It can be hard to recall a trajectory precisely even immediately after seeing it. Then call “bang” and watch the second target equally closely.

Think carefully about each target in turn. How far and fast is it? Refer to your landmarks and check your range estimation – not forgetting that we know the first target is a midi, so it may be closer and slower than you think.

Where do you first see it clearly? Where will you hold your gun? Where do you expect to shoot it? Where do your feet need to be so you can keep balanced and swing smoothly? Having shot the first target, you will need to move quickly across to your second hold point and be ready for the second. Does your foot position allow a smooth swing on this target too? If not, perhaps you need a compromise foot position that will suffice for both – remember that a right-handed shot will find it easier to swing further left, so you may need to favour the rightmost target, and vice versa for lefties.

Rushing in is never a good idea. Take time to collect your thoughts, staying separate from other competitors if needed

Into your routine

So you now have a plan, you know exactly what to expect, and you’re ready to shoot. Step up when it’s your turn, get your feet right, and relax into your normal routine, whatever that is. Ignore any distractions or heckling from behind, just concentrate on doing what you normally do. If that includes lining up your cartridges, kissing the gun or whatever, that’s fine. Do whatever works for you, and do it the same every time.

What you mustn’t do is dream up a brand new plan you’ve never used before, because the bloke in front of you straighted the stand using his method. Bully for him, but this is no time to be trying out a whole new technique you’ve never practised. Try it out in training if you want, but not in competition.

Prepare yourself properly, stick to your tried and tested technique, and give it your best shot. That way you’re giving yourself the best possible chance of shooting well – good luck!

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Posted in Advice and tips, Coaching

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