As the long cold night and short wet days draw on, many shooters will be putting their guns away until the spring and getting on with other things, but the best way to stay in top form is to keep on shooting through the winter. True, shooting in a gale or driving rain is not much fun, but there are plenty of clear cold days with frost glinting on the grass, snow laden trees or just nondescript grey days when it is neither cold nor wet. Look at the fixtures list, check the weather forecast often and go shooting. With the internet, there are good forecasting websites that will give you very localised forecasts with a high degree of accuracy.
If sloth or lethargy get the better of you and you are not able to shoot at your winter residence, we need to come up with some sort of plan to maintain our shooting fitness and possibly better our technique.
Most sportsmen and women have some sort of physical fitness training regime. In shooting we tend to train on fried breakfasts, chocolate bars, and fizzy drinks. Probably followed up by a slice of cake, (certainly in my case). On a 100-bird Sporting round, you will be lifting an 8lb gun more than 100 times, carrying it around as you move between stands. Dry mounting the gun 50 times twice a week costs nothing and uses exactly the same muscle groups as you will be using on a shoot.
Not only will it build and maintain the specific muscle groups that you will be using again in the coming season, but you will be perfecting your gun mount. If you take the line where a wall and ceiling meet, at a point mid-way along it, place a piece of blue-tac or something similar. Stand back from the wall as far as possible and set your feet up as if you were shooting at the mark. Wind your body and the gun muzzles back to the left hand corner and in slow motion, mount the gun. As you pass the mark, pull the unloaded trigger and follow through to the right hand corner. When you commence the mount, the heel of the stock should be tucked up under your armpit, front hand in control of the gun. As you start the shot the front hand pushes forward, pushing the gun clear of the body with the muzzles moving along the line of the target. The comb should come into the cheek at about the line the teeth meet, so that the stock registers in the same place every time and the position of the eye in relation to the rib is consistent. The shoulder then pushes forward and we ‘fire’ as we pass the mark and follow through to the right hand corner, so we build that good habit of following through on every shot.
As we mount the gun, the muzzles should not waver off the line of flight. Practise 25 right-to-left and then have a short break, followed by 25 left-to-right. By doing this at a quarter speed, you will build a really good mount, strengthen the muscles and perfect you follow through, all for no cost. It is important to do it correctly each time, and not just rush through it.
The next practice you can do at home is very simple. Use a good sized mirror and set yourself up so that you are orientated directly towards it. If you are right handed, focus on your right eye and with the gun tucked up under the arm as above, push forward with the front hand and mount smoothly in one consistent movement. When you have completed the mount, if you shoot with both eyes open close the left eye and your right eye should be looking back along the rib at you, sitting just above it. If you shoot with one eye closed, it will already be looking back at you, if you have done it correctly. If left handed, reverse this process.
For both of the above exercises, use an unloaded gun and never pull the trigger on an empty chamber, either have the safety catch on or use snap caps.
Increasing our general levels of fitness can only benefit our performance as shooters. In its simplest form, this can be a brisk 30-minute walk three times a week, which will begin to improve our aerobic fitness. Then, when we move around a Sporting or FITASC course, our heart rate is lower, we do not get out of breath, and feel better in the heat. Couple this with sensible food and drink intake of a shooting day, complex slow release carbohydrates such as bananas and wholemeal bread, rather than sweets and chocolate bars, and we will start to see a measurable benefit in our performance.
If you want dramatic performance enhancing fitness, go to a gym. I can hear the squeals of anguish from the cake and fried bread brigade from here, but it really will make a difference. You want to couple cardio-vascular exercise with weights and resistance. As a shooter, lifting a few repetitions of huge weights to build bulky muscles will not improve your shooting and you may need to refit your gun. Better to do three one-hour sessions a week, or as much as you can manage, and spend half the time on cross-trainers, rowing machine and treadmill, to increase your heart rate and then half an hour on light weights with plenty of reps. Better to do three sets of 20 reps with light weights, so you build long muscle fibres, which have endurance and move easily, than huge weights which builds short bulky fibres.
Couple a fitness program with shooting through the winter on selected days to get the best overall results and help support your local club, so it remains in business for the future.