The indefatigable Jason Doyle sees improvement as he continues to strive for that elusive AA Class status, and learns the virtues of holding still.
This month started with a fantastic 100-bird Sporting run by Mac’s Valley Gun Club. It was as varied and tricky a course as I’ve shot in Ireland and course setter Bill Maher really had put a lot of thought into it and applied all of his extensive knowledge.
The course had plenty to catch people out if they weren’t thinking about the targets – lots of twists, curls and tricky speeds. There were several birds presented at a distance and even more that were impossible to shoot in the obvious places due to trees and the use of backgrounds.
In short, it was a perfect shoot for me to test all the new techniques I’ve been practising and I was thrilled with the results. Hold points were essential to get right; I thought about these a lot during the day. Bill had really varied speeds from trap to trap, encouraging shooters to overdo it on some clays.
I could see it was a trap that was easily fallen into. Ed Solomons’ simple technique of asking myself a few questions about each clay kept me focused on birds that would have fooled me otherwise, and I felt my confidence was much higher than normal. I found that moving my pickup point closer to the kill point on slower clays and making small but deliberate moves really helped, especially on the longer range targets.
There were still a few traps where I dropped two and three birds, and I dropped 15 targets out the second 50 after missing just six out of the first 50. That shows I still have a long way to go mentally, but in general I shot about as well as I could have hoped for and came away with a solid 79 on a tough shoot.
After the Mac’s Valley shoot I started thinking more about gun movement and how bigger and smaller amounts of movement can be applied. I always love watching the differences between how George Digweed and Richard Faulds shoot. George uses lots of gun movement and Richard basically uses none.
These opposing techniques are both highly effective when applied by an individual with an insane amount of skill. My own technique falls somewhere in the middle, but this has often let me down, so I started to think about how some targets could be made easier with lots of movement and others with less.
To test this I went to shoot some Automatic Ball Trap under lights at a local ground. This discipline was totally alien to me, and shooting under lights was also a new experience, but I wanted to see if I could consistently chase, overtake and shoot these tricky random clays.
The experience was very enjoyable and quite enlightening. With no way of anticipating the angle of the clay you are forced to wait until it’s seen. I found shooting ABT increased my concentration considerably, even compared to DTL, due to the extra angles and heights.
With ABT there is no choice but to be beaten by the clay and chase after it. I found that once I was prepared for the fast gun movement I had little or no trouble keeping it controlled and steady. This is in contrast to those times I have had to apply fast movement on Sporting clays, usually as a result of bad pickup points or bad transitions to the second bird of a pair.
In those situations the movement became more of a slash, with little control and even if it did work once the process was difficult to repeat.
The next day I went to shoot some Sporting with a different technique in mind. I was going to try pushing my hold point farther out, let my eyes do more work and shoot with as little gun movement as possible.
Discipline was the big issue; I had to force myself not to move the gun too early. With less movement there is less time to connect with the bird, leading to a tendency to rush the shot. It’s also tempting to move your gun too early, before the clay comes to it.
This is a disastrous mistake, as you then have to slow the gun’s speed and ambush the clay as it comes into the kill point – not an easy shot, and not recommended. I did find that on birds that require very little lead, like dropping ducks, quartering away targets and steeply angled loopers, the small move method worked surprisingly well provided gun mount was perfect (for me this is not always the case).
If the mount is not spot on you lose valuable time that can’t be recovered when pickup and kill points are very close. A big benefit that I found from applying small moves was that it was easier to transition to the second bird of a pair.
This might be purely a personal thing but I found I had more awareness of where my second hold point was and was more relaxed moving towards it after a small move.
In summary I think there are situations that will suit both techniques and I’ll be staying somewhere in the middle for most shots but trying out new methods has been very interesting. Shooting technique is such a personal thing and what works for me may not work for most, but I definitely believe we should all try new things while practising.
This has probably been the most important thing I’ve learned from Ed Solomons; he has encouraged me to try all sorts, including shooting with both eyes open on driven targets. The beauty of Ed’s teaching is that he can improve whatever method you use.
He doesn’t try to completely change your technique. That said, if he feels a change is for the best he helps you through the transition and explains the whole process. Not only are my scores improving since I’ve started seeing him but my understanding of clay shooting is growing along with my enjoyment of the sport.
Jason Doyle is a keen sporting shot whose clay shooting career has lost its momentum. We follow him as he works to raise his game and claim his place in AA Class.