Practice – the how and the why

Steve Rawsthorne of Holland & Holland offers tips on training sessions

Steve says the first thing we need to do is to define our long term goal

If you look at any top sportsperson, they will always have a coach or even a coaching team that they practise with. They want to stay at the top of their game, and they did not get there by just wandering out one day and winning a world title – it took a lot of hard work over a long time.

Whether your goal is to win an England or Britain shooting team badge, become world champion in a particular discipline or just to beat your mates at the local 50-birder, if you want to improve, you will need practice. But training is not just going out with a friend or two and having a bit of fun blatting a few clays, nor is it shooting one clay 32 times on a single stand until you can hit it – all you have done is learnt the target on that stand. Practice needs to be structured, to have a goal, and to be relevant.

The first thing we need to do is to define our long term goal – ask yourself: “What do I want to achieve? How much time and money am I prepared to commit? Will my family support me in this?” If you have a lot of family or financial commitments, perhaps young children, it may be that you cannot dedicate the time and money needed to achieve your goal. You might have to settle for less for now and build towards your ambition in the longer term when time and money permit. Will your employment allow you sufficient time off to do what is needed?

Achieving a more consistent mount will enhance your success

If you have just started shooting, it is unlikely you will be beating George Digweed and Richard Faulds this year. If you are a C-class shooter it might be to get into A-class. If you want to win a national team badge, you might first want to get into the county team or reach AA-class. When you have clearly decided on you ultimate goal, write it down, read it regularly. Now break it down into stages, what will you do in the next month? The next year? The next three years? Have a clearly defined and written set of goals for the short, medium and long term and review them regularly to check you are on target.

To be a good shooter, you need to understand the science of shooting, you need to know and understand all three of the main methods of shooting: swing through, method and maintained lead. And you need to be able to shoot them and apply them to different targets presented to you. You need at least a basic understanding of ballistics relating to shotgun cartridges and clay targets and you will need a perfect gun mount and good footwork. You will need to be able to read the targets on a stand and set yourself up properly for them, so when the first target of a pair is a right-to-left crosser and the second is in the opposite direction, you are not orientated towards the first target and run out of movement for the second one, causing you to miss. When reading a target, the line is at least as important as the lead, and the only way to become good at reading targets is to look at and shoot as many different ones as possible. Some of the science you can learn by reading books and articles, the rest you will have to practise while shooting targets.

Spend a session just perfecting your gunmount – spoiler alter: it shouldn’t look like this

Practice allows you to perfect all of the above techniques in a calm, controlled environment with little stress, so that when you are shooting in competition, you are able to compete with little thought or effort, allowing you to focus on the targets in front of you. It helps you to build a full set of tools to tackle any target you will be presented with. A carpenter does not go to work armed only with a hammer, he has a variety of tools. You will need the same in your shooting career if you are to be successful.

So when you are having a practice session, have a goal. It might be to work on your gun mount, in which case, actually hitting the target is a secondary objective, a concept many shooters struggle with. It could be a particular type of target, so arrange a session where you shoot ten, have a break, then shoot another ten before changing direction and distance of the target.

If we want to practise the three methods of shooting, then set up a decent crossing target and shoot ten swing through, ten method and ten maintained lead. When we are consistently successful, move back ten yards and repeat, before changing direction. If your arms start to become tired, stop for a minute, don’t just carry on, you will not do yourself any favours. It may also mean you need to consider some gym work. One reason for Andy Murray’s success in the last couple of years is his fitness, something shooters often neglect.

earn how to read targets and set up appropriately, unlike here, where we have the weight on the back foot and will end up with the face and the stock coming apart

One common problem in trying to practise is getting the target you want for the length of time you want. You cannot do it in the middle of a competition, so you will need to find a ground where you can get the targets you want in a way that allows you to do what you need to. You also need to have someone with you to pick up and correct the faults you are making, which means they need to know exactly what they are and how to correct them. It is no good just saying “you’re behind it”. You need to know the reason why you are behind it and how to correct it. If there is a problem with footwork or gunmount, it needs to be diagnosed by someone who can explain what to do to be more successful.

It is worth considering using a shooting ground and the services of a professional coach. A well-intentioned friend or good shot is not necessarily the best person to do this. Your coach can set up the targets you need for the time you need. You should also remove the element of competition from your training, it is not helpful. Focus on the technique you are perfecting, leave competition for another day.

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Clay Shooting magazine. For more great content like this, subscribe today at our secure online store

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Posted in Advice and tips, Coaching

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