What discipline should you be shooting? It’s all about temperament, says Vic Harker
Skim through any book or manual about clay target shooting and all of them will discuss the various disciplines that are available to the shooter. They will also analyse shooting technique and gun fit, the art and science of getting a shotgun to fit your physical characteristics, in considerable detail. What is rarely mentioned, if ever, is the matter of selecting a clay target discipline to match your psychological disposition.
At this juncture I can hear the scraping of chairs as people make for the door, or perhaps more appropriately visualise my readers throwing their copy of this magazine across the room. Most of us, men in particular, prefer to believe that the things we like are based on logical choice. This is the case in some circumstances but not always and as for choosing which clay target discipline to pursue, it may well not be.
I can remember when Bob Braithwaite won Great Britain’s first ever Olympic gold medal for Trap shooting. The growth of interest and participation in Olympic Trap was immediate, regardless of aptitude or any previous knowledge of the discipline. The long-term outcome of Braithwaite’s medal was that some would-be gold medallists stayed with the discipline with varying degrees of success, while others drifted away. If there was a lesson to be learned by the administrators of the Olympic disciplines in the UK it was that success increases participation in a given discipline and for a considerable period.
However, for the aspiring Olympic champion something more than a desire for fame and fortune is required. A key requisite is a degree of self-knowledge. For example, can you describe your psychological disposition? Are you extrovert or introvert, optimistic or pessimistic? Although I’m not a psychologist, I don’t doubt that introverted pessimists are not successful at highly competitive sports. It is important for success in sports, shooting included, that you have a degree of self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses. In order to compete successfully, the shooter must feel comfortable in their surroundings. This is very much determined by the discipline chosen.
Trap shooting in all its forms creates an intense environment. Almost shoulder-to-shoulder with your fellow competitors, your success or failure is immediately apparent to the rest of the squad and any audience that is present. This is undoubtedly an added pressure, which you must learn to deal with or you will fail.
What you must also learn is to defend your space. Do not be hustled by the shooter on your left who wishes to be on your peg immediately after his shot has been taken. Maintain your usual pace in mounting the gun to your shoulder, placing the barrels on the mark, calling for the target and shooting it, taking care that you are neither too quick nor too slow. Stand your ground if you have a hustler next to you and do not up your pace, but don’t try to slow down either.
Trap shooting shares the close proximity of your fellow shooters, though DTL and OT differ widely in terms of speed and angle of target. That shooters stand close together demands consideration and respect from every gun to ensure competitions are conducted fairly and in good spirit.
As with the Trap disciplines, Skeet under domestic or ISSF rules is conducted in squads of six shooters. While targets are taken at much closer range, there is no reason why shooters should be distracted by each other while shooting is in progress. With the squad always stood well behind the man releasing the targets, there is little chance of the shooter encountering any form of distraction or interference.
Originally invented by American game shooters as out-of-season practice, to the uninitiated Skeet competitions have a relaxed atmosphere in comparison to the intensity of Trap shooting. This is perhaps deceptive. Skeet competitions under CPSA or NSSA rules are closely contested events that are never short of pressure. As for the international discipline competed under ISSF rules, it lacks for nothing in terms of pressure. It therefore requires a cool head and an even temperament as in all forms of competitive clay target shooting.
Devised by the British to reflect, at least to some degree, the kind of shooting provided by live game, Sporting is by far the most popular form of shooting in the UK. Originally it may have been considered a more leisurely, less competitive form of clay target shooting than Trap or Skeet but it has moved on. Major competitions in the UK attract by far the greatest number of shooters and are often held as three-day events.
For that reason it could be said patience is the most important attribute the Sporting shot can possess. However, that does not take into account the competitiveness and the pressure these competitions engender. Major Sporting events in both the UK and Europe are attended by vast numbers of competitors and many spectators, creating what amounts to a carnival atmosphere. This is in stark contrast to the monastic climate created by shooters and officials at some ISSF Trap and Skeet events. This may well explain why some of the greatest Sporting shooters tend to be extroverts. Many of us will remember the late, great AJ Smith before his tragic end. In his pomp he exuded a good-natured confidence, laughing and joking with fellow shooters one moment and in the next displaying a steely determination on the shooting range.
As in every sport, each must find their own way and this is certainly especially true in regard to the psychological aspects of competitive shooting.