Archived Shooting Tips
A solid and consistent foundation is fundamental to every stick and ball game there is. Whether the game involves hitting a pitched ball or striking a stationary one, foot position and stance make it all possible. It should not be surprising that foot position and stance are equally important to consistently successful shotgun shooting. But there is a trick to it, and that trick is in knowing where the target is when you plan to break it and how it got there. So, before we set our feet right we must look at the show pair to know how far away the target is, how fast it is traveling, and on what trajectory. These are also the factors that go into determining forward allowance. Critically watching the target and visualizing where you can break it most easily make this determination. This point is your break point.
Foot Position: The best position for your feet will be found in a range from your support-side (for a right-handed shooter that is your left foot) foot facing from straight toward your break-point to being angled as much as 45 degrees toward your shooting side and your shooting-side foot at about a 60 degree angle to your support foot. For a right-handed shooter your foot position is to stand with your feet about shoulder width apart and your left foot facing directly toward your break point and about one-half step ahead of your right, with that foot pointing to 2 o’clock relative to your left foot’s 12 o’clock position. This will result in a foot position pointing directly toward the break point. Because we are all put together slightly differently there is some leeway in this position—if you find it more natural for you to rotate your foot position slightly toward your shooting side, the do so. The total stance should maximize your comfort in the part of your gun movement where you will shoot the target.
Stance: For a right-handed shooter using the foot position described above, flex your left knee so that about 70% of your weight is on your left foot and 30 % of your weight on your right foot. Now to complete the stance, bend forward at your waist slightly so that your shoulders are slightly ahead of your hips. This position provides a balanced position to manage recoil, and it provides flexibility in your ankles, knees, and hips to maintain contact with the gun and to move smoothly from the visual pick-up point through the break point. For left-handed shooters the above directions are reversed.
Tip #2: GUN MOUNT
The objective of the gun mount is to integrate the shotgun into the shooter’s body so that the gun points at the same point on which the shooter’s eye is focused. The shooter’s eye must be focused on the leading edge of the target. Failure to properly place the gun under the shooting eye will create the illusion of being on the target, when in reality the gun is no-where near the break point.
The Catch-22 of gun mount versus gun fit is that you cannot develop a good gun mount without having a gun that fits you and you cannot determine gun fit unless you have a consistently good gun mount. This results in the following observations—neither gun fit nor gun mount are ever perfect—close is good enough; and the search for better than good enough in unending.
Gun mount and stance are of paramount importance for consistently breaking targets. Together they are not only the key to putting the shot on the target; they allow us to manage recoil so that it is no longer a factor. Stance and gun mount are totally intertwined. If the shooter stands square to the target (this is currently favored by many competition shooters) a gun that is somewhat short can be fired comfortably. Similarly, by standing at a 45 degree angle to the break-point a somewhat long gun can be made to shoot shorter.
Gun mount is far easier to do than it is to explain—so be patient.
Gun Mount—Short version (Right-handed shooters)
- Firm left hand grip on forearm of shotgun—fore finger extended to point toward the target and the thumb away from the rib.
- Firm grip on the grip area of the stock—thumb warped over the grip and trigger finger extended along receiver.
- Recoil pad firmly and high in the pocket of the shoulder.
- Cheek resting on the comb of the stock about 1.5 to 2.0 inches from the right thumb, so that you are looking along the top of the rib and past the bead.
- It is possible to practice your gun mount in front of a mirror. With an unloaded gun you can practice the gun mount directly toward a mirror. If the gun mount is correct you will see your image in the mirror with your eyes level and your shooting eye resting on top the shotgun rib. Once you make whatever adjustments are necessary, practice the mount several times a day until it becomes as easy as placing the key in the ignition lock of your car.
SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED: The cheek weld usually requires turning the face to the right slightly and tucking the chin down (strive to keep your eyes as level as possible) until the correct alignment is achieved. However, there is a technique that I believe to be easier and quicker. With a firm grip on the gun (right had on the grip and the left hand further forward) look up at about 45 degrees and then extend your arms upwards and out at the same angle. Focus on the bead at the muzzle of the gun (this is the only time focusing on the bead is beneficial) and pull the gun back so that the bead comes directly toward your shooting eye until the gun settles into the pocket of your shoulder. At this time you can turn your face toward the gun and tuck your chin as needed to complete the gun mount. You now bend at the waist to bring the gun to the line of the target and rotate at the hips to your hold point. I know it sounds like a lot, but that is what it takes to describe a move that, after it becomes a habit, you will do subconsciously.
Mounting a shotgun involves contact with the gun with four parts of your body.
- The LEFT hand: For a right-handed shooter the left hand controls the gun and absorbs some recoil. The left hand grips the forearm firmly, with the pointer finger pointing along side the barrel. The shooter’s forearm should form a 45 degree angle with the shotgun. This will result in the shooter’s forearm and upper arm also forming another 45 degree angle. This flexed position of the left arm provides more strength and control than having that arm more fully extended. The shooter should experiment with where the left hand should be positioned on the forearm—this will effect how lively the gun feels.
- The RIGHT hand: This is the hand pulls the trigger and grips the stock of the gun firmly with the thumb wrapped over the stock. The trigger finger should comfortably be able to reach the trigger and to be laid along the receiver/action of the gun to ensure a safe finger-off-the-trigger-position.
- The Right shoulder: Ideally the recoil pad of the shotgun will nestle into the pocket of the shoulder that is formed when the upper arm is raised to about 45 degree and the arm is pushed forward slightly. The upper arm should never be above parallel to the ground. This pocket is located inboard of the rotator cuff, and out-board of the collarbone. As with all of these dimensions, the variations in our individual bodies make these only approximations—but they are time-tested approximations and will serve a new shooter well.
- The above description addresses the horizontal placement of the shotgun. The vertical placement is equally important. Remember our objective is to align the shooting eye directly along the rib so that the gun points where the shooter looks. This dictates that the gun be mounted as high as necessary to achieve this alignment. New shooters seem to want to mount the gun low and bring their face down to the gun. This is incorrect—the gun should be brought to the face. With the head erect and the eyes kept as level as possible. For some shooters the top of the recoil pad may be as much as an inch above their shoulder. It is important to obtain full contact between the recoil pad and the shoulder. NSCA teaches a pre-mount technique for new shooters. As soon as possible the shooter should move to a gun position just out of the shoulder and with the muzzles located just below the target’s line-of-flight.
- The CHEEK weld: The final and most critical contact is where the gun, when properly aligned, touches the cheek just pressing on the lower radius of the cheekbone. With practice, you will remember this contact point as an indication that the gun is in the proper position and the gun mount will become automatic.
My first two tips were highly detailed "how-to"
of the fundamentals of shooting stance and gun mount. The following a
very brief tips that apply to
- Avoid the "Lemming" approach to shooting a station. The shooter ahead of you may not know any more than you know, he may be experimenting with an unorthodox strategy, or he may have misread the targets. Use the show pair and any other targets you can observe before you step into the box to determine how you will shoot the station. Think with your own personal brain.
- Economical and efficient gun movement to the target conserves your energy and reduces the likelihood of introducing an error into the shot. Start with the muzzles below and near the target's line of flight. The moving target requires a moving gun; but it does not have to move much.
- Ammunition is an over analyzed component of shooting clay targets. Settle on a shell that is easy to shoot (1 oz/2.75 dram) and that is readily available, and then stick with it.
- Chokes are probably a close second for the over analyzed award. Shooting practice with one choke, such as Light Mod, is fine - you should be concentrating on gun movement and reading the targets. You should be very comfortable with how your chokes affect your patterns and various ranges. In competition I definitely recommend changing chokes to match the target presentation.
- When you practice, strive for smoke-ball breaks. Dr. Bob Rotella says, "golf is not a game of perfect." Neither is clay shooting. Practice for smoke-balls, and hopefully the inevitable glitches will be chippy breaks. If you are satisfied with chips during practice, in competition your bobbles are likely to be complete misses. Rotella's book, Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect belongs on every shooters bookshelf.
This Tip is meaningful for both new shooters who are just forming their shooting routine and progressing shooters who are battling inconsistency. The how-to books and instructors emphasize the need for a pre-shot routine. For most us this is confined to watching the show pair and having a plan to shoot the station. This is a good first step, but it is not sufficient to guarantee success.
There is a critical element that must be completed between the planning process and calling "PULL" if we are to shoot a station with target to target and pair to pair consistency. This critical element is to reset completely before calling for each pair of targets.
The symptom that indicates a failure to reset is when the shooter breaks the first pair and then struggles with the remaining targets. This results in what I call the donut station (XX00XX). It occurs like this - The shooter steps into the box, goes through his pre-shot routine and breaks the pair. Feeling confident, the shooter reloads and casually calls for the next pair, only to see one or both sail by untouched. Angered and embarrassed he resets his stance, breakpoint, and hold point and breaks the final pair. While he may feel good that he averted further disaster, those targets can never be recovered. In a game where places are decided by one target you cannot afford the luxury of casually giving targets away.
Misses of this type are absolutely preventable, but you must consciously reset for each pair of targets or you risk unconsciously shifting one or more elements of your set-up. An unconscious change in your hold point, your break point, or where you visually capture the target can change the appearance of the target. This difference in the appearance of the targets from one pair to the next can result in lost targets. This results in a loss of confidence, which snowballs into further losses.
To avoid this major contributor to inconsistent shooting you should reset every part of your attack on the targets for each pair step by step. Start at the ground and rebuild your stance, gun mount, break point, hold point, visual pickup point, and how you will bring the gun to each target---only then are you ready to call "PULL." Under no circumstances should you call "PULL" before you are completely and comfortably reset and ready.
How to coach yourself out of another miss:
If you break the pair, then the last thing you want to do is change anything-just reset and call for your target.
However, if you miss one or both of the pair you must change something-but what? There is no time for theatrics, anger, or self-deprecation. You must determine why the miss happened and correct your shot plan within about 20 seconds. The following will help you make the needed corrections to either your plan or to the execution of a valid plan.
First, were you on the target's line of flight? This is critical for every target especially so for those that have been in the air for a while-long crossers are almost always dropping by the time the shot reaches the target. Targets thrown against a deceptive background need to be recognized for what they are.
Second, address the lead or forward allowance and the technique used to establish it. For instance a target that appears to be quartering away may have a subtle curve that requires more or less lead or a change in technique get the gun to the break point.
Third, your new perception of the target's behavior may require a change in break-point and/or hold-point; now is the time to fully reset your position, stance, and gun mount before reloading and calling for the target.