Shotgun 101 – Skill Building

We want to share a few things on consistency and gun fit and how they play a role in your improvement and shooting enjoyment.  Skill building to most is misunderstood. Especially to outdoor enthusiasts who are either wing shooters or clay shooters.

Years ago, when Gil took Brian to Mexico on a mixed bag hunt, they found themselves in a duck blind with the guide behind them calling the ducks and calling the shots. The first ducks that showed that morning were four pintails.  As they worked the blind the guide kept telling them to wait and let them make another pass.

Finally, he said, “on the next pass take ’em.” Gil whispered to Brian who was on his left, “When they come in you take the lead duck and I’ll take the one in back and we will meet in the middle.”

As the guide called the shot, Brian and Gil stood up, four shots rang out and four ducks hit the water. The guide said, “Finally, somebody who can shoot.”  It was on that trip when chasing quail that we saw three coveys of quail with 100-plus birds in each one.

If you have never heard what 100-plus quail sound like when busting out of the brush, well, let’s just say I have never forgotten it.

Brian had been shooting sporting clays with us for two to three years and had been shooting a shotgun at birds for a year longer than that. So to say he could shoot was an understatement.

He had started his journey in shotgunning with a 28-gauge over and under shotgun that I had cut off to fit him and had quickly graduated to a 12-gauge for sporting.

He, like us, had spent hours doing gun mount drills to perfect his move and mount. It was out of necessity, because Sporting Clays at that time was a low gun sport, so you had to learn to move and mount the gun.  Unlike today when all clay target games can be shot with gun up. So many shooters opt to shoot gun up because they don’t want to take the time and do the necessary repetitions to learn to move and mount the gun.

The unfortunate thing about not learning to move and mount the gun is that without that skill, the shooter is constantly thinking about what they are doing with the gun while they are shooting at clays or birds.  This creates a disconnect in the shooter’s brain because the shooter has more attention focused on getting the gun mounted correctly, then tries to find the bird with the end of the barrel. Chasing it down and trying to fix the shot at the end, only to shoot ‘til the gun is empty and hit nothing.

Skill building begins as conscious images of what you are trying to learn, and through repetition, failure and correction, eventually the action begins to become a skill and is passed off to the automatic part of the brain. Then it happens over and over with less and less thought.

One of the interesting things about skill building is that the more a skill is practiced, the better the skill becomes and the better the skill becomes, the less thought and visual input is necessary for higher and higher levels of performance.  Things like casting a bait casting reel, hitting a tennis ball, casting a fly rod, reading shallow water finding fish, shooting a shotgun, playing an instrument, or landing an airplane are all skills that must be mastered for you to enjoy doing them, but it seems that few people are willing to put in the time and effort it takes to get really good at any one thing.

This leads to trying to take a short cut. Almost all short cuts are expensive and always lead to trying to think your way through the action. When you are thinking your way through an action, you are not going to do very well.  You can think your way through shooting a rifle. Rifles have come a long way in the last 20 years from recoil mitigation, shootability and accuracy such that you can buy a rifle that can consistently hit a target at 500 to 1,000-plus yards.

There is some magic to having a fish on the other end of a line and it is fun to see what and how big it is. We love doing it, but when we decided to buy our retirement home on the bay, Vicki could not throw a bait casting reel, so she began the journey of learning how.

Everyone likes to reel fish in, but few are willing to go through the backlashes to learn how to throw a lure with a bait casting reel, especially into the wind.  Bait casting reels have come a long way since the days of the Garcia Ambassador 5000 and Gil can throw a bait casting reel with either his left or right hand, underhand, overhand and side arm.

His knowledge of how to set up a reel based on the skill of the user was a great advantage for Vicki.  Gil has been fishing for 64 years, but to be able to cast accurately  with either hand was something that he had to learn himself and he actually did it because he knows what it takes to build skill in order to enjoy fishing at the level he wanted to enjoy.

He had to take his casting skills to another level.  Gil wanted to learn how to cast a spinning reel without a bail on it. He bought four Shimano Stellas, took the bails off of all of them, and used nothing but those reel and rod setups for three years.

Needless to say, it was frustrating in the beginning. But he stuck with it and he can do it really well now.  We have a pier to our boat house at the bay and a dock on the lake behind our house in Fulshear. Almost every day Vicki would either be on the dock or pier, throwing lures with her rod and reel, because she wanted more enjoyment out of time spent together on the water.

We both love to shoot birds and have been to South America 37 times, teaching in the fields and shooting our share of the birds. To see the improvement of the hunters who go with us to learn to become better game shots is impressive to say the least.

Without exception, the shooters who practice their gun mounts daily for 30 days before they leave on the trip will learn faster than those who don’t.  They do 300 mounts, beginning 30 days out and 500 mounts 15 days out and 750 at seven days out.

When they get there, they have the stamina and strength to shoot 500 to 1,000 times a day and make some quality shots.  Typically, on the second hunt everyone puts modified chokes in their guns and start shooting greater distances to improve their shooting. By the fourth hunt, they are all using full chokes because they are there to learn how to shoot birds at distance, not just kill a bunch of birds.

Gil’s Uncle Dusty Garret said many times that 90 percent of the fun of doing anything is having the best equipment available and then putting in the time to learn how to use it well enough that you don’t have to think about what you are doing.

Building a skill takes time, patience, failure and repetition, and in great measure does determine how much you can enjoy doing anything, especially wing and clay shooting.  As Professional coaches we are asked often what kind of gun to get to become a better shooter?  While we both shoot Krieghoff Parcours K-80 and K-20, most shooters we see are looking for the quick fix and will try anything, looking for the short cut.

Often, we are asked if we can fit a gun to a person and our reply is, we can, but our first question is, “How much experience does the person have?” If they are new shooters, we can’t fit the gun to them.  In order to fit a gun to someone and have it improve their shooting, the person must be able to consistently move and mount the gun without thinking about it.

If a person is a new shooter just getting into wing or clay shooting, we would do a novice gun fit to get the length correct and a little drop or cast if those adjustments are available on their gun.  A little-known fact about gun fitting is that in a new shooter their gun fit will change as many as four times in the first four to five thousand shots.

As a shooter learns to move and mount the gun, get their weight forward, build up their muscles in their lead hand, arm and shoulder and develop a general style and consistent approach to each shot. How they mount and move the gun will evolve.

As it evolves, so does their ability to consistently move and mount the gun. During this evolution, their gun fit will change and become more consistent.  Just like gun fit evolves, what we see when shooting moving targets evolves with experience and repetition.

The better you are at anything the more fun it is to do and at the end of the day that is why we love the challenges of hitting moving targets with a shotgun!

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