In most sports height, if complemented by the appropriate physique and coordination, is an advantage. With greater reach and a longer stride, the taller man or woman has a greater potential to come out on top in most ball games and athletics. In one sport however this is not the case and beyond certain limits it can be a disadvantage.
I refer to the international forms of Trap shooting, OT, UT and Ball Trap. The problem for the taller man is that he is shooting at a target exiting from the ground only 16 metres in front of him. The taller he is the steeper the angle of the gun downwards if he places it on the mark, creating a number of problems related to both vision and posture.
As I am tall myself, this is a conclusion I have reluctantly come to over the years but not until recently articulated. The obvious person to discuss this with was another tall shooter who, standing 1 metre 90, is also the reigning Olympic Trap champion – David Kostelecky. If my ideas were completely wrong then Kostelecky would be the best person to explain to me why; I rather hoped this would be the case but instead he agreed with everything I had to say: “Everything is more difficult for the tall man” he said. “Our arms and necks are longer and generally it’s more difficult to make the gun be a part of you. Because we stand so high above the mark we look down rather than out, and we see the target later which requires more body movement. When I began shooting Trap my stance was very similar to people much shorter than me, but there came a point when, to improve, I had to change”.
Kostelecky and I agree that the problems for the Trap shooter begin when he addresses the trap. The most comfortable and satisfactory way to mount a Trap gun is by keeping the barrels parallel with the ground and simply raising it to the shoulder and then lowering the barrels onto the mark. This sounds by far the best solution but for the tall shooter it is not quite that simple. To place the gun on the mark only 16 metres away still requires having to bend from the waist. A little too much bend and when you move the gun laterally you are scooping not swinging.
The other option is to put the gun on the mark and then place it in the shoulder, but to do this the tall shooter must first adopt a more head forward position and also begin to incline his body forward over the front foot. From that position when he calls for the target he is in danger of exaggerating this lean as he starts to move the gun. On angled targets this can cause him to again scoop the barrels rather than swing them, rather than move the gun laterally as from a more stable position. This also causes the shoulder to drop. At the time all this is happening there is also every chance his face will lose contact with the stock. It all amounts to far too much body movement which, as Kostelecky says, can result in all kinds of mistakes.
If, in desperation, you are determined to stand upright and simply place the barrels on the mark, you will almost certainly find your weight will shift back onto your heels and you need a very different kind of gun fit. This question of balance is something Trap shooting coaches well understand but they may not always appreciate how much more easily these problems can arise in the case of the tall shooter.
When researching for this piece I tried to identify some top tall shooters who really made the grade in terms of international competition – Olympic, World and European champions. Out of all the shooters, I could find only two over six feet: Don Haldeman, the American soldier who won the 1976 Olympics inCanada, and Marco Venturini. Both men were 1.86 metres and while I saw Haldeman shoot only once, Venturini’s hunched style with his head almost lower than his shoulders is familiar to many of us. Venturini was a truly great Trap shooter, but with a posture no coach would recommend. A three times World and European champion and an Olympic bronze medallist, his total medal haul, including World Cup events, amounted to a total of 16, but as to his height and technique Marco was very much the exception that proves the rule. As for other all time greats, four times World champion Michael Carrega, Michael Diamond, Giovanni Pellielo and Miroslav Bednarik, none of them is taller than 1.74 metres.
With the exception of Kostelecky, only Jesus Serrano of Spainand Giovanni Cernogoraz of Croatia just make 1.84 metres (6’). Are we to conclude that the tall shooter is doomed to failure? I don’t think so. The very fact that we are above average height means there are fewer of us to begin with, plus we can all name tall shooters including David Kostelecky who are very competent.
In Kostelecky’s case, when he addressed the problem of his height, he first stopped trying to make himself shorter by dropping his head – instead he decided to stand up straight and to get a gun stock to shoot his more upright head and posture. For that he looked no further than Perazzi who made him aMonte Carlostock. Nothing new in that, this kind of configuration was first introduced to provide a more head-up position for live pigeon shooters when shooting with a pre-mounted gun. It is not, as some mistakenly think, to make a shotgun shoot higher – as with a conventional gun stock it can be made to place the aiming eye at any height in relation to the line of sight (rib). Rather, it is to accommodate a more head-up position which creates a greater distance between the shooter’s shoulder and his face. What it also helps to do, by keeping the head upright, is to discourage the Trap shooter’s natural inclination to drop the head forward which, being a very heavy part of the anatomy, will also shift his balance in the same direction.
This brings us to the Tony Busvine gun stock and the conversation I had with its designer that provided the catalyst for this piece. As an engineer by profession, Tony brings an analytical approach to his shooting and as I understand from his stock maker Ladbrook and Langton, he is constantly trying to create a stock perfectly suited to his requirements as a Trap shooter. The latest development, which I had the opportunity of both looking at and using, seems to address a lot of the problems some tall men encounter with the international forms of Trap shooting. The dimensions, all of which complement Tony’s shape and physique, should in no way be considered definitive – it is the configuration which is of interest. It is a fullMonte Carlowith a lot of stand angle, the difference in measurements from the trigger to the toe and heel being only 3mm. When I first shouldered the stock it was even less, but Tony has altered it since. Nothing then that is revolutionary but what it does provide Tony with, a tall man at 1.86 metres, is the ability to stand upright with a comfortable head-up position and his gun on the mark when shooting Olympic Trap. When Kostelecky changed his posture to a more upright position, the stock Perazzi made for him had the same affect. As part of this he also changed his gun hold – raising it above the mark.
On the question of gun hold however I did ask Tony to make some calculations as to the angular difference of the eye line between a short and a tall shooter when both place their guns on the mark at 16 metres.
TRAP SHOOTER ADDRESS POINTS
FIXED VIEW POINT
Height Angle of address Distance from trench
168cm (5’6″) 5.00% 3 metres
175cm (5’9″) 5.25% 3 metres
183cm (6’0″) 5.50% 3 metres
191cm (6’3″) 5.75% 3 metres
ADJUSTED VIEW POINT
Height Angle of address Distance from trench
168cm (5’6″) 5.00% 3 metres
175cm (5’9″) 5.00% 4 metres
183cm (6’0″) 5.00% 5 metres
191cm (6’3″) 5.00% 6 metres
As you can see it’s less than a degree, but it still makes a considerable difference in reaction time if the tall shooter uses the short shooter’s visual pick-up point. The second table shows how the short and the tall shooter share the same angular eye line and therefore potentially the same reaction time when he adjusts his gun point a little higher.
It would seem then there are two key areas for the tall shooter to address if he wants to put himself on equal terms with his shorter rival. The first is gun fit – for him to manipulate the gun as efficiently as a shooter with a shorter and more compact physique, he must have a gun stock with the configuration and dimensions that will complement both his height and his more erect posture. This will help him to move comfortably and freely. In the matter of vision, again gun fit plays a part in positioning your head in such a way you look out rather than down. With a new stock, a different posture and a higher gun hold don’t under-estimate the time and practice required before you see the benefits, but for some of us it’s the only logical option. Like David Kostelecky, to be successful we may have to change.