Mike Yardley begins a series on his new and improved Positive Shooting technique
More than 20 years ago I started to develop my Positive Shooting System. I was a really keen competitive clay shot – it would be no exaggeration to say that I lived for my clayshooting – and I wanted to create a way of shooting that was simple and which would help me to perform more consistently under pressure. It began, beyond my own shooting experience, by watching very good shots in action and noting what they did as carefully as I could. I visited just about everyone who had a reputation as an instructor, experimented, and continued to compete as much as possible (there is nothing like trial by fire).
I was also influenced by early experiences at the West London Shooting School and in the Army (in which I shot pistol, rifle and shotgun competitively) where I had been lucky enough to come under the guidance of QMSI Jim Cairns a Commonwealth Games pistolero. The martial arts were a significant experience as well, not to mention a post Army stint as a civilian CQB firearms trainer. Finally, and to complete the relevant bio, I had degree in experimental psychology (completed between two military stints). I had taken a special interest in visual perception, the psychology of arousal/performance and the part played by the sympathetic nervous system in the so called ‘fight or flight’ response.
It was all useful stuff as the new shotgunning system evoled. On the practical front, although a few people had inimitable styles – one M. Rouse springs to mind – I noticed that most really good shots did more or less the same thing most of the time. This was quite simple in most cases, although there was variation with regard to forward allowance application and footwork. Perhaps the key point was that the good shots usually made it look easy. They had economy of movement, and rarely looked in a hurry. Smooth as silk, focussed, cool, in control without hesitation – those were their qualities.
Learning about all the different shooting methods was also part of the deal – swing through, pull away and maintained lead of both deliberate (measured) and instinctive type (as I now distinguish them). I considered conscious and unconscious shooting in the context of other methods too. I looked at the stance of both game and clay shooters and the way they mounted their guns. I read all the books by Stanbury and Carlisle, Churchill, Lancaster, Ruffer, Brister and many, many, others (if you are interested have a look in the bibliography of my work The Shotgun: An Instructor’s Handbook, although a shortened list appears in the back of the Positive Shooting book itself).
All of this resulted in Positive Shooting which was, and is, a holistic way of shooting. It considers that the three components of the perfect shot are visual contact, balance and rhythm – most easily conceived as a triangle with visual contact at the top. If any component of the triangle is missing you are not doing your best work (though you might get lucky on occasion!).
Positive Shooting also involved developing a disciplined mind-set, and a ‘personal shooting routine’ (one which would be applied consciously as part of pre-shot preparation/ritual). Once you had prepared physically, and visualised the desired outcome mentally (a smoked bird), your only task was to lock fine focus on it and keep the gun moving (at which point Positive Shooting becomes an unconscious technique). If you Google ‘positive shooting’ you can see a young version of me demonstrate this on Youtube. It boiled down to this:
1. Align your feet/body to the anticipated break point for the target.
2. Rules allowing, wind back to the point of first clear visual contact with the target (where you first see the bird as a solid object), keeping the muzzles just under the line of flight.
3. Direct your eyes, turning your head slightly, to the area where you can first see the target as a blur.
4. Imagine a kill.
5. Call for the target.
6. Start the gun moving as soon as (but not before) you see it and lock your eyes onto the leading edge. You don’t rush the mount, you begin your upper body rotation/swing with an unmounted gun.
7. The muzzles – although you are unconscious of them save in subliminal vision – start with the bird (because you have positioned yourself well) and naturally accelerate in front as the swing and mount progress.
8. The the trigger is pulled when it instinctively feels and looks right.
9. A follow through is completed with head on stock and focus still locked on the broken fragments of the clay.
10. Relax and start again!
It was never suggested that Positive Shooting was the only way to shoot. Indeed, I noted that a more deliberate technique might be required by most people once they moved beyond their comfort zone (which for many would be those targets more than 30-35 yards away).
Positive Shooting really works. In the last 25 years though, I have learnt a lot and the system has been refined as you might expect. The basics have held up very well (justifying the several years of concentrated effort it took to develop them) but nothing is beyond improvement, hence Positive Shooting II as launched here. What’s different? Quite a lot, but let’s start by noting that the basic Positive Shooting system as outlined above is still at the heart of my teaching. A number of things have been added, however, to make the system more complete.
What are these? Well, you will discover the full answer that in the months to come, but let us note some of the more significant additions briefly. The Positive Shooting process now has the option of beginning with a more conscious technique (one not just based on good preparation, position and sustained visual contact. I now call this close swing through and it is useful for starter instruction and for more experienced shots when ‘the wheels fall off’. There is a new emphasis in Positive Shooting II on bio-mechanics and what is called kinaesthetic feedback (with particular attention to core body rotation, head, back and leg position, and front hand use).
Several specific, evolved, forward allowance techniques are now part of Positive Shooting as well. There is also special advice for a variety of target presentations including teal and rabbits. There is a new version of a swing though which I call progressive swing through (starting behind the bird roughly as much as you intend to moving in front) and which is especially useful for high driven clays. Vision and psychology have been reconsidered. I have tried to simplify and be as clear and prescriptive as possible. Follow what will appear in coming months and I guarantee your shooting will improve. A bold statement, but I’ll risk it!