Vic Harker explains what to focus on in order to reach the top of your game
To reach the pinnacle of any sport requires genuine ambition together with self-discipline – if a level of fitness is required that demands moderation or even abstinence in terms of how much you eat and drink, then you are in for a difficult time if you are an inveterate gourmet or a connoisseur of the finest wines.
For the clay target shooter, a very high level of fitness is probably not essential, although as with any form of sporting endeavour, neither would it be a handicap. As to the psychological aspects of competitive shooting, surely the most important quality you can possess is that of being able to live in the moment. The shooter who neither looks back to mistakes that lower his morale, or becomes over expectant of success that will heighten tension, possesses a great advantage over his rivals. Self-reliance is another characteristic essential in a sport where, though you may have teammates, there is nothing they can do to help you and they may also be your rivals.
A common condition that many clay target shooters suffer from is ‘Gunitis’. This is the ceaseless quest for the perfect gun – the correct barrel length with the right kind of rib, the ideal choke and perfect stock. There is no doubt that a correct specification that meets the requirements of your chosen discipline is important. A combination of initially taking advice from a knowledgeable source, together with your own experience should, in a relatively short time, provide you with the gun you not only want, but need. As to gun fit or obtaining stock dimensions that complement your physical characteristics – assuming you have adopted a suitable technique – this can be relatively easily obtained with help from an expert. However, it should be kept in mind that if you constantly change your stance, you compromise the fit of your gun, so before you commit to a set of dimensions, ensure your technique is a consistent one.
As for practice, again, the amount required depends on what you are trying to achieve. Ultimately it must be to hit more targets and while practice will engrain a set of physical responses, they must be the right ones. This is an area in which a knowledgeable shooting coach can be most useful. This is assuming that he or she is familiar with the demands of your particular discipline – someone with a good understanding of sporting clays will be of little help if you are a would be Olympic Trap shooter. This brings us rather belatedly to the matter of choosing which discipline you should pursue.
It may be your ambition is to be a great allrounder in the tradition of Percy Stanbury or the great Joe Wheater. If these illustrious names and their achievements mean nothing to you, it only demonstrates the rarity of such people in the modern world of clay target shooting. The allrounder was very much the result of clay target shooting being a much smaller sport in terms of participation and choice of discipline.
Invented by the Americans, clay target shooting was originally a substitute for live pigeon shooting, which was increasingly frowned upon by an ever more enlightened population. Perhaps it was the competitiveness of the original live bird game that was played for high stakes that created the idea of the Trap shooter possessing a certain tenacity greater than that of other shooters. In contrast sporting clays, first developed in the UK, was a gentler game (in its infancy at least). Targets thrown from a variety of stands set in woodland to replicate the flight of game birds created an atmosphere of relaxed informality in its beginnings, although this discipline is far more competitive today.
In Trap shooting there is still an atmosphere of greater competitiveness, engendered by its format. On the line, shoulder to shoulder with your rivals, success or failure is immediately apparent for all to witness. In many disciplines a miss is heralded by the noise of a loud buzzer or hooter. Disconcerting to the newcomer, even the veteran never quite becomes inured to its sound.
It’s all part of the game, as is the managing of your time between rounds, which can be over two or three days. Apart from the clay target shooter, perhaps it’s only the golfer who has to negotiate this test. For a period, your sport is inevitably your life, from which there is no escape. The irrepressible extrovert may run about the shooting ground talking to everybody, the introvert sits in his car. Whatever solace the two types seek, they are instantly identifiable.
Times have changed, but the obstacles to success in clay pigeon shooting remain the same at any level. Physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle is of course a help, but mental toughness, the ability to withstand the pressure of competition imposed by all the factors I have described, is still indispensable to making the grade.
Did You Know?
-In a less puritanical era than ours, marathon card games were organised. I can recall the British Olympic Trap Grand Prix at Sealand, which then attracted a substantial foreign entry. The Italians in particular were avid gamblers. With the air thick with cigarette fumes – many shooters were heavy smokers then – a well-thumbed pack of cards was constantly redistributed between the players. Five-card poker, and sometimes for high stakes, was the preferred game.
-Live pigeons were substituted by clay targets that were shot at from 16 yards, while the more skilful shooters were handicapped out to as much as 26 yards.