Clay shooting clinic: Back to basics

Jason Doyle uncovers the fundamentals of shooting technique during a lesson with Ed Solomons

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about my shooting and the different techniques I apply. It dawned on me that I have developed quite a few different processes, each for a particular target. Being totally left-eye dominant is a major disadvantage to my shooting, so I have a couple of tricks to help out. If you keep both eyes open to shoot, just spend a few minutes walking around your house with your dominant eye shut, and you will see the difference it makes to your perception of distance and even your balance. This is what shooters who close an eye have to deal with.

These days, before I step into a stand, I watch at least one pair of birds with my right eye closed if possible. It doesn’t help me to read the targets, but it avoids the shock of suddenly seeing them in a totally different way as I take my first shots. It’s a luxury available only on stands that other squad members shoot before me, but I find it a huge help. I’ve also learned to use both eyes as much as possible during the movement before the shot. For me this applies to targets that I call for with my gun up, like teal, rabbits and dropping duck. Eye-closed shooters usually close their eye automatically as their cheek meets the stock, giving them the desired view down the rib. That limits information you can take in. I prefer to close my eye briefly to ensure my mount is correct, then open both eyes to see the bird come to the pick-up point. This allows me to take in more information and take a better, more controlled shot. The problem is I’m not consistent in the application of this or any other process. I change my approach regularly, usually when I’m not shooting well. In short: I have no confidence in my technique.

I met Ed Solomons at Sporting Targets for an introductory lesson. I explained my issues to him, and we spent a long time talking through different aspects of competitive clay shooting. Ed quickly gave me a clear image of what I need to work on. I have always just turned up at each stand and shot without putting too much thought into the process. I rarely, if ever, pick specific hold and break points, tending to think instead in terms of vague areas. I’m fully aware that this has cost me birds in the past, as my inconsistent setup has caused targets to appear to arrive in a totally different place to their forerunners. Ed highlighted the importance of performing a good shot, which doesn’t necessarily result in a killed target but which, over time, will improve my shooting. This was a revelation. I suddenly realised I had been breaking targets for years with bad  shots: shots that weren’t controlled or consistent, but rushed and erratic. I remember clearing stands and thinking how lucky I had been to do so. Every  shot had been slightly different, and  birds breaking took me by surprise. Ed explained that if you clear a stand then you should be confident you could clear it again, because your technique is sound and repeatable.

Ed Solomons’ coaching proved a revelatory experience for Jason

Moving to the shooting part of the lesson, Ed watched me on four stands without saying a thing. I shot as I normally would, and did pretty well, but knew I’d been lucky on several birds. I have always been most concerned with shooting each individual clay, and my brain only really switches on as I step into the stand. We took a break, and Ed broke down what he’d seen. I was impressed with how well he’d picked up on the errors I knew I had made, and he began to explain a method for me to follow that surprisingly didn’t involve my shooting at all. All the changes I needed to make were before I called ‘pull’. With Ed’s method, most of the work is done before you raise your gun. Hold point, break point and lead are all decided upon before entering the stand. After that, the brain should relax and autopilot should take over.

Ed gave me a simple method to read a target, decide on what it’s doing and where it’s easiest to kill, and determine where to hold the gun as it approaches. These are all things I knew about, but never fully understood. It was a revelation. Instantly my shots were more controlled. Ed’s method made my shooting more relaxed and consistent, instantly boosting my confidence.

My description of the lesson is pretty basic; there was a lot more discussed over the four hours we spent at Sporting Targets. The emphasis was on good shots rather than a lot of shots. I came away with a list of things to think about, and I was excited to get working on them. I’m sure this article contains nothing new for the majority of experienced shooters, but for me being given a simple and effective process for implementing a method has been one of the most exciting things to happen to my shooting in years.


Jason’s technique: shooting rabbits with a dominant left eye

Here’s an example of what I mean about holding your eyes open as a one-eye shooter. I like to shoot rabbits gun-up, as it gives me much more time on the target. Mount the gun on the hold point, then open both eyes. This is most beneficial on a left-to-right target, as the wider field of view affords you a much earlier pickup, but it also helps to a lesser extent on right-to-left birds. As the rabbit comes to the hold point, close your left eye and start the move. The same method can work well for targets coming from behind the stand.

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Posted in Advice and tips, Coaching

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