Brain training

Jonathan McGee passes on the training tips from his time in Ben Husthwaite’s intensive sponsored tuition programme

The day started like any normal training day, but this time our Gold Tier Team are back where it all began at Kibworth Shooting Ground in Leicestershire.

The day will be split into two halves. The morning is training and the afternoon will be putting what we have learnt into action. I’m joined by my team mates: Karl Patten, James Wilson, Brent Woodard, Dean Martin and Sam Stewart, and we all head to the classroom for our first lesson of the day.

Tuition Drill No.1 – Spelling and counting

“Training means a lot of missing, be that testing yourself on new targets, developing new routines, or simply increasing speed and accuracy”. These are words I’ve heard Ben say before, but never to me personally as a student of his.

Personally, as a new clay shot this was my first insight into the mindset of an athlete like Ben, who continues: “The rest of today I am going to show you a few techniques I use to train in the lead up to major competitions.

Ben and his Gold Tier shooters share a joke

“Not everything I do revolves around my shooting; we need to drag you away from the physical aspect of shooting to work on your mental game. There is no point shooting a 99/100 in practice then falling apart in a competitive environment”.

It’s amazing to think that the six of us training with Ben today could be the first to ever hear this advice.

Ben recounts the three main methods of shooting, and their importance, which I find extremely helpful as they are all relatively new to me. Apparently, maintained lead does have its place – this was a shock to hear from Ben, who is well known for criticising its effectiveness.

Ben explains that for us to be able to shoot to our full potential we must be able to shoot every method using correct gun speed and know when to use them. I am already questioning myself. How will I remember which technique is which? And how will I know which suits which target? This was a fantastic start to improving our mental game, but it was a lot think about – and Ben has only talked for five minutes.

Heading out of the classroom we approach Ben’s first Compak layout armed with our first infusion of knowledge, eager to shoot the techniques. That’s when Ben gives us our next surprise. Not only will we be shooting two targets using each method, but while doing so we will be spelling out our names to distract ourselves from the job in hand. Easy.

One-on-one tuition must be amazing, but honestly these group days couldn’t be better. Never in the world of competitive shooting have a group of guys willed each other to success so fervently. It’s also amazing to relax in between shooting and get feedback from fellow students.

We all manage to successfully complete Drill No.1 and progress to the day’s second stage. I was reassured that if we hadn’t all performed up to standards we’d still be doing it!

Training Drill No.2 – Barrel Awareness

Working out lead and hold points before taking a shot is a vital training exercise

We gather around Ben for the next set of instructions. “Looking at that first round of shooting, how can you be the best you can be if you have no idea of where your barrels are pointing?” he asks.

I have always thought of myself as being barrel aware and having pretty tight hold points on targets. The next exercise is about to challenge that.

Ben looks at our blank expressions. “What we are going to do next is rather unorthodox,” he says. “But there is no better way to train your unconscious mind. Being more barrel aware will improve your hold points, speed up the time you have on targets and make you a more consistent shot”. We’re intrigued, and it shows clearly on our faces.

“Lets start by shooting with the gun locked into your shoulder as normal,” Ben continues. “But I want you to shoot with your guns upside-down. Turning the barrels upside-down allows you to see a completely new sight picture”.

Ben gave helpful advice, but also added extra complications to the drills

To start with we all close our unloaded guns and aim at a fast, straight going-away target directly in front of us. Then we take it in turns to load our guns and mount to our hold points and attempt to shoot the target.

Oddly, on this occasion most of my team shoot very high after starting with a high hold point. As a rarity, I cope well and dust two consecutive targets. Good luck? Maybe, but I can only hope my background as a game shot keeps coming in useful as the day progresses.

Ignoring Pre-Planned Methods

“How many times have you walked onto a stand and known instinctively how and where to shoot the targets, only to miss the odd one?”. Ben asks, before explaining how pre-planned shooting can lead to a lack of focus and poor technique.

Ben asks us to close our eyes and visualise the line of a right-to-left looping crosser. We close our eyes, lock onto our hold point and then when tapped on the shoulder by Ben, we open our eyes and shoot the clay.

This method of shooting allows us to ignore preplanned technique creating a shot based on line, lead and speed of the target. Instinctively we all jump to Ben’s favoured Pull Away technique.

Just to confuse things (as if this wasn’t hard enough), each time Ben taps us on the shoulder he is changing the length of time since we called “pull”. This changes everything: sight picture, hold points and lead. Through Ben tapping us on the shoulder earlier we shoot faster, a later tap on the shoulder resulted in rushed shots and many misses. Wow, so much to take in!

Mind Games

This next drill pulls us back to the mental side of clay shooting. How could spelling out our names or counting during the shot take our minds away from the shot itself?

Ben sets us three more targets. He asks each of us to shoot them using the three techniques we have been shown, but during our set-up for each shot we have to spell our name or count. Luckily I’m up last. We all shoot the three targets using three techniques.

We all shoot considerably worse when it comes to the last target and the last technique. “Its obvious isn’t it?” Ben says. “You each chose your favourite techniques first and were left with your worst. The last shot is worse because you’re overcompensating due to not having a choice of target or technique”.

Stationary Targets and Shot Placement

“We’ve all heard coaches and wannabe experts say ‘you’re stopping the gun’,” says Ben. “The average cartridge load comes out of the gun at 1400fps; swinging through isn’t going to make a difference if you know exactly how much lead a target requires.”

The targets Ben set weren’t the harshest, but the conditions he placed on the shooters were another matter

When you look at it like that, this makes perfect sense, but one of the first things I was ever taught about shooting was to continue to swing through a target and keep the line.

Ben asks each of us in turn to hold on a right-to-left tower target dropping away from us and place a shot exactly 18 inches in front of it – and when I say ‘exactly’ I mean exactly. Each of the techniques we’ve been practising has been honed and modified to create the perfect shot.

A single inch either way and Ben notices and has us repeat the shot. Ben continues, “I want you to all read the target perfectly, its line, speed and ultimately the point of aim. Placement of the shot means you have an exact lead picture. From behind it will appear like you have stopped the gun”.

On the same layout the practice continues. This one has us confused already. I ask Ben why we are looking at a blaze orange clay on a post some 30 yards away. “How long do you take to pick your hold points?” asks Ben. Our answers are all in the range of 2-3 seconds per target.

We take turns to shoot at the stationary orange target with our guns under our shoulder rather than mounted. Each and every one of us shoots way over the target, some by as much as 10 feet. On the second or third time we all hit the clay mounted on the wood. Ben explains that creating an accurate hold point will give us much more time to compose the perfect shot.

As we near the end of the morning session, I think Ben can see our exhaustion and enthusiasm dwindling. We move to the second Compak layout, where Ben asks us to shoot seven individual targets, each with the full use of our guns. Easy.

Only one sticking point: we are not allowed to miss and if we do we start the seven again. This simulates the environment we need to get used to, one of stress and competition.

Jonathan takes a moment to reflect on what he’s learned from the day’s challenges

What a day. It’s hard to describe how valuable a coach like Ben can be, not just to clay shots but also game day tuition. Before being coached by Ben I would miss 40 per cent of the clays I shot at. I had a slow technique, minimal foot movement, no hold points and a kill point was something I thought of only for game shooting.

On a good day I can now shoot 85 per cent of the clays presented to me. In all honestly most of this improvement is down to Ben’s coaching, with the rest accounted for by my dedicated personal training time, which I fit in once or twice a week.

No wonder I can’t wait for our next training day in August.

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