No-one likes missing, says Jason Doyle, but that’s why you should do it more often: so that you hit when it counts
After taking a few weeks off shooting to recover from my neck injury I was hungry for action again. My regular 50-bird club shoot falls on a Sunday. The day I returned saw weather as bad as I’ve ever shot in, but with my renewed enthusiasm and a pain free neck I surprised myself by shooting a solid 47 to take High Gun.
Turnout was small due to the conditions and I had a lucky break on a couple of wind-tossed targets, but I’m happy with the score and my shooting.
The ground who ran the shoot offered the same targets a week later for anyone who wanted to come back to practise, so myself and a mate returned in much finer weather for just that.
Driving down to the club I was thinking about the three birds I had dropped the previous weekend and how I could make them up this week, when suddenly it dawned on me that shooting the same course in the same way trying to make a score that was totally irrelevant was a pretty pointless way to spend my day.
I had already proved that I could shoot these stands, so why not use the opportunity to change things up and turn the session into a training exercise rather than a practice session?
On meeting up with my mate my suggestion led into a discussion on the difference between practice and training and the pros and cons of each.
Practice and training are often used as interchangeable terms, but they are not the same. Practice can be defined as “repeated performance of an activity or skill so as to acquire or maintain proficiency in it”. Or in other words repeating a skill you already have in order to make the process more subconsciously available to you when required.
Imprinting a skill through practice allows the brain to work on other aspects of your shooting. An example of this is gun mount. Once you have practised your gun mount until it is subconsciously imprinted, your brain becomes better able to focus on the shot itself.
Training, on the other hand, can be defined as “the act, process or method of learning a particular skill or type of behaviour”. So if practice is turning what you’ve learned into an instinct, training is learning how to improve something or do something new.
Both types of activity are important to improve your shooting. Practice is about getting the reps in until something becomes hard-wired. But what about the situation in a round of Sporting when a clever course setter takes us out of our comfort zone so we can’t use those instinctive skills?
That’s where good quality training comes into its own: when you need to adapt your skills to an uncommon situation. An example of this I always struggle with is when one or both birds of a sim pair can’t be shot in the spot where I would naturally like to shoot it.
Think about a pair of right-to-left crossing targets with similar lines but different speeds. The front one needs to be taken quickly so that you can make it to the second one before it hits the ground.
This forces you to shoot one target quite early and the other on the drop, which I hate. Straight away this puts me in a flap and on a one-way road to a bad score at that stand. Why? Because I like to shoot birds where I have the best chance of killing them; I don’t like to miss so I practise what I’m good at.
Practising what we are good at to make those targets feel easy is all well and good – if you can shoot all the ‘easy’ birds in a round, the chances are that you’ll post a decent score. But what about those more difficult targets – the ones we need to break to stand a chance of winning?
I’m not talking about very distant targets here, because in reality they seem to be few and far between. I’m talking about targets that are tricky purely because of how they are presented: stands where we are forced to move our feet between the birds; stands where taking the first bird in the most natural and easy spot makes it impossible to get to the second in time; stands where a looper comes into sight late in its flight and has to be shot on the drop.
These are all situations I’ve lost birds in many times because the only time I shoot them is in competition. I recently listened to an excellent podcast from the Behind the Break guys with Mark Winser as their guest. In it he talks about learning how to miss and how to be comfortable with it.
He says it’s OK to miss while training to do something new. There is no other way to improve except by pushing yourself to failure. What he said made a great deal of sense. I encourage everyone to listen to that podcast.
Back to my training exercise on birds that I’d already shot well. We started out by shooting the pairs in reverse, which made a huge difference. A couple of first birds had to be left late to allow an easier transition to second birds, and a looper had to be taken later than normal due to the distance the gun had to travel from the first clay’s kill point.
This pushed us out of our comfort zones and made us learn how to shoot targets in places other than where we wanted to. We then picked individual targets and shot them at different stages in flight until we could repeatedly break them in trickier spots than where we would naturally take them on.
I missed a lot, but I learned a lot as well and I came away from the experience with much to think about and a whole new array of sight pictures in my head. Nobody cares how many I missed. Nobody was counting scores, but I know the training I put in will benefit me.
I’m not sure I would have benefitted much from going down and shooting everything in the same format as the competition. In fact, I’m certain I wouldn’t.