|I wrote the essay below for my students. Perhaps others will find it helpful as well. I would appreciate knowing if visitors to this forum would like more postings like this. Thanks in advance for your reactions.|
Make a Plan
Shoot Your Plan
One of the reasons I like Sporting Clays so much is that it not only requires shooting skills, it has a cerebral component as well. A skeet shooter knows how he intends to shoot every station even before he steps onto the field. In trap you don’t know which presentation you will receive next, but the menu of possibilities is small and one element of the game is that you must instantaneously react to what you see without thinking about it. Sporting is different because each station presents one with a problem which has infinite solutions and the shooter must choose a solution that is best for him or her. Notice that I did not say “the one best solution” because style, skill level, physical limitations, equipment choices, and comfort level all enter into the equation.
Before you call for your first bird, you need to have a plan that includes what order you will shoot the targets, where you will break them, where you will hold the gun and where you will start your eyes. The proper names for these are break point, hold point and focal point respectively. More importantly, once you have a plan, you need to commit to it and shoot what you have planned.
When you call for your sample, there are specific things you should be looking for, besides where did the targets go? There is a mental process that must be a part of every shooter's routine. Too many shooters waste this opportunity. They make note of the target tracks and have no more plan than to “shoot’em as they see’em.” This is the classic example of the old saw failing to plan is planning to fail.
What you look for and what you should think about is affected, partly, by the presentation. A true pair requires you to choose which target you should shoot first. Often, the answer is simply, shoot the one that will fall first or the one that is getting away faster. If these factors are more or less equal, a right handed shooter typically prefers to move right to left and shoot the right hand target first. If one target follows the other in a crossing pattern, I like to shoot the one in the back first so I can swing through it to get to the second. Report pairs require a different kind or thinking. The order is chosen for you, but you will want your first break point to locate your gun at a good hold point for the second target. Following pairs require a blending of several ideas. Again, the target order is already established, but you also need to shoot the first target quickly so you have time to move to the second. You will also want a break point for the first target that places you are in a good position to move to the second. Many good target setters will force you to compromise. Sometimes targets moving through a transition must “open” or develop” before they can be shot easily. That alone may be a determining factor. Occasionally, one needs to shoot where the target can be seen and that leads to an important point. When it is possible, the best break point is where you see the target best. That is; where you see the target clearly and with the most detail. If you can focus on the details on the target it will appear to move slower and it will be easier to hit.
Once a break point is chosen the hold point will follow. This is where the gun is started so that it can be inserted into the sight picture just in time to shoot at the break point. Many students choose a hold point that is too far from the break point requiring the gun to go through too long of a swing. During insertion, the gun should come from behind and below the target track so it can overtake the target but not obstruct the shooter’s view of it. A rule of thumb is to spread the little finger and thumb of your hand as wide as you can. Place one finger over the break point: the other is covering the hold point.
Where should one start their eyes? The answer is almost never the trap where the target originates. Looking at the trap makes the target look fast and creates a feeling of “there it goes” instead of “here it comes.” When possible, start your eyes where you see the target first. That might be where the target emerges from the cover of trees and bushes, but more often, it is where the moving target ceases to be an orange (or green or black) streak and you first see it as a discreet object. That is your focal point. Your eyes first focus on the target at your focal point, then they “harden” their focus as they pass the hold point and your gun begins to naturally accelerate to overtake the target. Finally your gun reaches a mount and the comb touches your cheek just as your eyes and your gun merge at the break point, and the trigger is pulled. If done correctly, your gun will follow your eyes, but your eyes will never see the gun, only the target. This is as it should be. If you look at the gun your motion will stop and you will shoot behind the target. That is why some shooters make an effort to delay the final mount and cheek weld until the last moment before the trigger is pulled.
Once you have a plan, there is a place for everything and everything will be in its place. You also have a mental picture to rehearse just before you call for the target. Your next task is to commit to the plan and execute it as designed. Mental rehearsal will help you do this. Sometimes instructors tell their students “stay on the first bird if you miss it.” There are reasons why this serves a beginner, but once you have progressed, always shoot at both clays as you have planned to. It is important to maintain a rhythm when you shoot repetitive pairs so establish one with your first pair and maintain it until you finish the station.
You may discover that there are flaws in your plan once you try it. If so, adjust, but remember that moving your break point requires you to move your feet and hold point as well. Sometimes your plan needs a “tweak”, like quickly looking to your right to visually pick up the second of a report pair more quickly. In any case, once a plan works, stay with it.
Making a plan and sticking to it is an important part of sporting clays success. It is also one of the things that makes the game stand out among other wing shooting activities. The more you plan the better you will be and the more you will find yourself thinking about planning. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself walking away from a station thinking, “I wonder if it would have been easier to shoot that pair differently?” If you are like me, you just might turn around and try it.