In our last installment, we mentioned our first research project with skeet shooters and, as we write this, there are more projects with sporting, skeet and hunters as well as new and different video for each group. Something we are increasingly aware of as we coach around the world is that the majority of wing and clay shooters really don’t know what it looks like when the perfect shot comes together and, as a result, seldom really understand how they can get better. In fact, one of the things we are learning is that there are many wing and clay shooters who would like to get better, but there are few who are willing to make the commitment to do so. We have a lot of shooters “sign up” for the study and even do the background sheet, but when it comes to actually doing the homework and shooting the clays each week for a series of just six weeks, nothing happens. It’s as if they want to get better, but they are not willing to try something that doesn’t even cost them anything…except time–and that, it occurs to us, is the one thing no one can get more of.
Regardless of where we go, we are always asking wing and clay shooters what it really looks like when they shoot a moving target with a shotgun and the answers we continue to get just don’t make any sense. That said part of the conclusions we have drawn from our research in the studies we have completed is that there is a marked difference between the really good clay and wing shooters, and the ones who just like to wear the clothes and show off expensive guns. That difference, while on the surface would be the obvious one, means the better shooters always shoot more birds with fewer cartridges than the others. But we discovered something that is deeper and rarely discussed over cigars and single malt scotch.
Great shots never seem in a hurry or rushed in any way, and in fact go through the shots of the day in an effortless way that almost resembles the grace of a couple doing a fine waltz, the intricate needle work of a vascular surgeon or a short order cook flipping two over easy! As they move with the flow of the birds, their movement, while rhythmical, seems to always be ahead of where the birds will be as if they are waiting on the birds to arrive wherever that place might be.
Ever willing to stop and have a conversation about anything as if they are not even trying to “shoot well,” they are just enjoying the day and can just stop and have a word with anyone and, as if flipping a switch, just go back to that dance of gracefully intercepting flying birds with the shot cloud with such little movement it all but defies the laws of imagination and shooting.
So how do the great game shooters do such complicated movement with such grace and efficiency? They have done it so much they already know what it is supposed to look like before they even get the gun mounted, so there is no thinking while they are doing what they do. They have embraced the fact that there is a vast difference between intellectual understanding and technical expertise and the difference is how many times you have done it. “The amateurs do it ’till they get it right, and the pros do it ’till they can’t get it wrong, and there are a lot of cartridges between those two comments,” says Vicki Ash.
Another thing that the really good clay shots do that most shooters live and die and never understand is that, unlike the overwhelming majority of shooters, they will never be caught chasing a target. The majority of the sporting shooters are mounting the gun quick and chasing after the target trying desperately to fix the shot at the end, which leads to a long list of confusing visual pictures. Add to that an equally long list of excuses due to the confusingly inconsistent and inexplicable results.
The advanced sporting shooter always mounts the muzzle into the shot ahead of the target seeing the target behind where the muzzles are pointing, thus never being behind as they match the speed of the target with their muzzles take the shot and break the target consistently. To them, the target is moving in slow motion because they are always controlling the target from in front. When the target and muzzle are going the same speed, there is no speed–everything seems to be still or at the very least in slow motion!
The advanced clay shooter takes the opportunity to work on their game to the point that when they see a target, they immediately “see the target and the movie of how the target and muzzles come together as the target breaks.” The big difference between the great shots and the rest is they have taken the time and put fourth the effort to understand how to control the bird’s visual speed, and make any bird regardless of speed appear to fly in slow motion (70 mph traffic, if you are in it, every thing is still!).
They are always controlling the bird from in front; therefore, they are always anticipating the arrival of the target and can adjust accordingly to changes in line or lead and still stay in sync with the target. This is where the effortless moves come from and the rest of the crowd is reacting to the target from behind lurching and slashing hoping to finally get in front of the target and get the lead right at the end of the shot. These shooters are dragging their barrels across the sky chasing the targets and are never in control of anything, which keeps them from having any confidence before, during or after the shot. The saddest thing is, if they hit the target, they rarely can do it again, and when they miss they can’t correct it on the next one!
So while this epistle is not about flipping eggs, sewing veins or dancing the waltz, it is about shooting a shotgun at a moving target and what all really great shots have that the rest of the shooters only wish they had. The answer? To achieve the status of greatness in wing and clay shooting, one must experience it enough successfully such that they know exactly what it will look like when the shot is taken before they close the gun and call pull.
That’s right, they must be able to visualize exactly what it will look like as the shot comes together. If you want to be great, then you must finally admit that everything you do is a circuit in your brain and the brain can’t do anything unless it first has a picture! This is the separator between the great shots and the rest of the field. They have put in the time it takes to get control of their gun speed and have begun, through experience and dedicated practice, to predict what it will look like when the shot is taken before they close the gun. Eventually through repetition and struggle they have more successes than failures and then one day they begin to realize that it just happens without them even thinking about it and, like dancing, sewing and flipping eggs, it continues to happen over and over again. So what really separates the great shots from the rest is the ability to know what it will look like when the shot is taken (not to feel it or to think it or to hope it will be right, you just gotta know).–Gil & Vicki Ash