Ben Husthwaite ramps it up

Jonathan McGee is back for his next training session with Ben Husthwaite, who is upping the ante with the aid of a bucket!

Ben outlines his plans for the next session

It’s hard to describe the excitement I now get from shooting clays. I’m sure many readers have been through the same journey, but for me, pre-shooting nervous energy was something I experienced on game shoot days. When my training started with Ben and my new team I never thought I’d feel the same passion for clay shooting

For our next training session with Ben, we convene as usual at Kibworth Shooting Ground for a prompt 9am start. After pleasantries and the customary full English breakfast, Ben talks us through the morning’s training schedule.

He starts by saying he’s going to challenge us this week by putting our mental and physical capacities to the test with combination training. This comes as a shock – it’s not like we’ve been taking it easy over the last few months!

My mind is racing. How can we combine what we have learnt in previous lessons? There’s a lot to put together – hold point techniques, barrel awareness, pre-planned routines and accurate shot placement.

Guns are assembled in the car park and bags are packed for a hot day of training. The group of six students, myself included, head to the first Compak layout to view Ben’s latest series of challenges.

At the range we notice there are two stationary targets, about 30 yards away and 15 yards apart. There is one orange and one green, each set on a post at around head height. I can only imagine what they might be for.

We warm up, doing our best to ignore the horror that is no doubt to follow. To begin with, each student is asked to shoot two relatively simple targets, an on-report pair of right-to-left crossers. Twelve shots from six shooters, and each time it’s boom, dust.

It’s a great relief which removes the performance pressure almost instantly. Once we have all shot the first target successfully, we get a dizzying glimpse of the second. This forthcoming one couldn’t be more different; it’s a very fast right-to-left crosser, much lower than the first.

Eyes right

Ben explains our first training exercise, using the two stationary targets on posts. The green target on the right is our visual pick-up point for the second, fast right-to-left crosser.

The orange target represents our hold point for that target. Ben’s plan is that, by ensuring our gun is directed in exactly the right spot, it helps us visualise and kill the two targets more efficiently.

After numerous group lessons I still somehow manage to stand in a position where I am always shooting first! To begin with, Ben wants us to shoot target 1 only, then move the gun to the orange target (hold point) and eyes to the green target (visual pick-up point) – as if the second target was about to appear. Of course most of us forget at first, but after a few shots the drill becomes fluent and we’re ready to move on to the next step.

Now we go through the same procedure again, but this time the second target will appear on report. I practise by drawing a series of lines in the sky with my gun, accurately placing the barrels on my intended hold and kill points.

The results are unbelievable. Each student misses the second target, not due to bad shots but because we now have so much more time that we’re missing in front! Ben is unsurprised. He explains that this method will allow us to shoot and kill quicker with less core movement. Most of us are over-leading the second target as we see it clearly that much sooner.

Core movement

We move on to our second set-up, another cracking Compak layout set out by Ben and the Kibworth team. Before we start, Ben asks us what is the difference between shooting sitting down and standing? Blank faces. I volunteer to be guinea pig for this next challenge, slightly bemused by the seat placed in our blue shooting hoop. 

Shooting with one foot on a bucket forced the students to engage the core muscles

We take turns to shoot a simple going-away target from sitting, then standing positions. The difference is apparent to all of us: movement. To me, it feels like my arms are guiding the shot rather than being guided by my lower back and stomach. Ben explains that by lowering our centre of gravity into a sitting position, we are forced to turn from the waist and use our cores. 

Standing again, Ben asks each of us in turn to place our right leg on a bucket. Resisting the urge to swing from our feet lowers our centre of gravity even further, and movement can be felt through the centre of our backs. You can feel the effects of core movement instantly when the bucket is removed and your clothes start dragging. 

James Wilson, famous for his appearances on Ben’s Smokin’ Targets YouTube series, is singled out to demonstrate this technique perfectly. When shooting the technique on a fast right-to-left crosser, there is almost no back movement.

After shooting with the aid of the bucket, we all move to shoot one right-to-left crosser with a slight drop. We concentrate on our core and use our vest zippers as the centre of the movement. It’s amazing how little core movement you need to follow a target at 30 yards.

Using our phones as a guide to measure the core movement, I’d estimate my body moved as little as two inches, but created a gun swing covering more than 30 yards.

Three hours in we retreat to the cafe for a refreshment break. I’m starting to realise just how important it is to stay well fed and hydrated whilst competitive shooting. After a quick refreshment and sandwich, we return to the range in search of targets to test our new three-point system and improved core movement.

“The best targets to apply what I have just taught you to would be those closer to the shooter. These require the most movement,” explains Ben. “Targets at distance may require more lead, but they don’t require the same speed of movement from the shooter.”

Ben shows us the next pair of targets on the Compak layout. A and B are both fast left-to-right going-away targets. We are to shoot both whilst maintaining our hold, visual and kill points. Simultaneously we address our core speed and hand movements.

Jonathan found only a small rotation was needed for a fast tower target

Rotating with the speed of the bird, less than an inch allows me to shoot it very quickly and much more efficiently. Most importantly this technique requires much less exertion on behalf of the shooter, which given our long competitions must be a huge benefit.

We move to the tower and a very different target to concentrate on. This is a left-to-right going-away tower target, which is shot dropping in front of the cage over your left shoulder.

It’s a standard clay, and is around 35 yards away, but moving fast. Using the pull away technique I lock on to the target and find I need only rotate about an inch – remarkable!

Competition time

For the last challenge of the day, Ben brings us back down to earth with a competition. Normally this would involve a shoot off, but today the competition takes a different route. As we head to the first Compak layout again, Ben explains we will be shooting as a team.

There are six targets, A-F. Each of us is assigned a target to shoot. If you miss your target then the next competitor must shoot it. It’s a challenge at the best of times to shoot all the targets Ben sets, but now we have the competitive pressure of not wanting to let our team mates down.

The first shooter steps up. The A target is a fast left-to-right going-away bird. Boom – a miss! This first round takes 18 shots for us to shoot the six targets. We keep trying. The next round takes eight shots. Finally, no-one misses and we clear the course with six shots for six targets. Thinking that must be the end I start to pack away. Oh no!

Ben rounds off the day with a team competition set on the Compak layout

The next competition follows a similar plan, but this time if you miss a target you personally shoot all the targets again. 

I step up first and miss. Luckily, it’s the start of this round, so I merely have to repeat the A target. Some were less fortunate, repeating all the targets after missing E and F.

Competitive shooting is very new to me, but with this team I am very excited about the prospects of shooting a number of larger events next year. Roll on 2020 and the continuation of our tuition with Ben! As ever, I must say a massive thanks to this incredible team of guys and our coach Ben for his continued passion and guidance.

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