ey Bill, the state shoot is right around the corner. We better start practicing.”
“Hey Joe, the shoot is still three weeks away. We have plenty of time. I guess we can wait until they set the course for Masters Day, then we can practice some real long birds and those fast ones that always beat everybody. Yeah, the harder, the better.”
“That sounds good, but I think I will go out and just see how high a score I can break. That way, if I shoot well, I know I am ready.”
“We could take some lessons the week before the shoot. That should get us ready.”
“Naw, lessons always throw me off my game. I don’t like some coach telling me how to do things. I have my own way of shooting.”
Yep, those two are really going to tear up the targets at their state shoot. They will probably shoot their normal mediocre scores and then wonder what happened again this year. There will be those same old excuses they use after every state shoot, then they will promise themselves next year they are going to work hard and win their class.
This is the norm for a lot of shooters. Instead of setting a goal and following a good, solid practice routine that should have been started several months before the state shoot, they just try to go out and shoot some hard, long and fast targets. Someone once told me if you break all the easy ones and some of the hard ones, you will win. Well, you may not always win, but you will be competitive and consistent. There are very few people who can win every time. On second thought, I don’t know any shooter in the clay–target sports who has never lost. Losing is just a part of learning. (That’s why I disagree with T–Ball, where every player wins something. We learn from our mistakes and this makes us better.)
Get Ready To Practice
What I would like to do here is first get you ready to practice. Practice, for the most part, is not about high scores. In fact, most of the time when practicing, you need to forget about how many targets you are hitting or missing. At the end of a practice session, there is no score and no trophy.
I am a big believer in working on the basic fundamentals. These fundamentals apply to all clay–target disciplines and will make you a better shot. The basics I am talking about are: Break Point, Foot Position, Beginning of Focal Window, Muzzle Hold Point, Target Line, Insertion Point and Hard Focus. As an instructor and coach, I have found, after gun fit and eye dominance, most mistakes made are in this group. For me, this simplifies finding the problem when a shooter is not advancing.
I believe shooting other clay–target games will enhance your sporting clays. Oops, did I just hear someone say, “What the heck do skeet and trap have to do with sporting?” I want you to think about that for a minute. What does it take to win at those games? It takes consistency, fundamentals, focus, a good mental game and repetition of the different presentations.
What presentations are shot in skeet? Let me think a minute… there are outgoing targets, incoming targets, quartering targets, driven targets, targets that come from behind you and targets that are thrown right at you over your head. The only difference is these targets are not too far away and have a medium speed. When you add in the doubles, you have a true pair. Wait a minute, this is sounding more like sporting clays than skeet!
How about the trap range, where is the similarity there? How many times have you heard a sporting clays shooter refer to a presentation as a “trap target?” As a targetsetter, I hear it all the time. As a former trapshooter, I say bring ‘em on! I like quartering shots. Trap Doubles, in my opinion, is one of the best practice routines for sporting Doubles I have ever used. It makes the shooter react to the target and not think about it. Ride the first target in trap Doubles and you can kiss the second bird goodbye.
Another thing I like about trap Doubles is I have to shoot two entirely different methods. The first shot is a diminishing lead. This is what my longtime buddy, 2011 National Sporting Clays Champion Bill McGuire, uses. The target actually does most of the work because it is moving faster than the barrel. On the second bird, I have to use an intercept to get my best breaks. Wait another minute, who uses this method? None other than 21–time All–American, NSCA hall–of–fame member and NSCA Chief Instructor Gary Greenway. These two guys aren’t trapshooters, so how can they shoot sporting with trap methods? Well, they do.
Here is my point: Sporting, for the most part, is nothing more than presentations found on a skeet or trap field. The only real difference is the targets are a little closer on some trap and skeet shots than on the sporting clays course. Adding skeet and trap to your practice routine will bring your scores up simply because you will be shooting multiple presentations that can be reproduced at any trap or skeet range. With that repetition you will be building a good mental sight picture. You will also be enhancing your mental focus because these are games of perfection. You will start to expect to break them all when you shoot these games, and that, my friends, will carry over to the sporting clays range.
Being a big movie buff, I sometimes use analogies made up from different movies I have seen. One that comes to mind here is the original Karate Kid. Remember Mr. Miyagi and how he taught Daniel Larusso karate? He had him doing things like waxing the car, painting the house and fence. Why did he have him do those things? I think it was to create an instinctive reaction by a lot of repetition with the different moves it took to do them. Shooting skeet and trap will do the same for you on the sporting clays course.
Now that your mind is ready, let’s get started. Here’s how to use skeet and trap to improve your sporting clays.
When on the skeet range, start out shooting only singles from every station. Do this until you are consistently breaking the target and the move feels natural. Now, add a report pair from each station. I know skeet doesn’t have report pairs, but we are not learning to shoot skeet, we are practicing to shoot sporting clays. Keep shooting report pairs until you feel you have good timing and are breaking most of the targets. Skeet Doubles are next. Shoot doubles at every station and continue doing so until every move is made with a subconscious effort.
You are now ready to increase your presentations. Let’s concentrate more on the report and true pairs. Start adding changes to these presentations, like shooting the other target first. If the club will allow it and it is safe, shoot the targets from different places besides the skeet stations. Shooting in between the stations or slightly behind them will give you a slightly different presentation and increase your library of sight pictures.
Now, let’s move over to the trap range. Look at the diagram (right) to find the shooting stations and the direction you will move. This practice routine is called “Floating Handicap.” Back in the ’70s and ’80s when I shot a lot of trap, this is the way we practiced Handicap. First, request management to lock the trap to a straightaway from Post 3. This will let you practice the same angle throughout the walkway you are on. You will find as you change walkways the angle will also change, giving you a slightly different quartering presentation. Plus, as you move back and forward you will be learning the presentation at different distances. Start on the 16–yard line and move back in small increments, like a yard or two. It really doesn’t make any difference, as long as you shoot from as many positions as you can. When you reach the 27–yard line, move over to the next walkway and start forward again, changing distances as you move.
Keep going back and forth on the five walkways until you have shot 25 targets. The next time you practice, change the angle when you lock the trap. You will find all quartering targets on the sporting clays range can be duplicated on a trap range this way.
To take your practice routine a little further, start shooting doubles. I want to warn you, this game is addictive and you can burn through a lot of ammo. When shooting Trap Doubles, the targets do not oscillate. This is more like sporting clays, so this practice will give you many of the presentations you see in sporting.
For a trapshooter, shooting the target that is going straight away from you is correct. Post 3 doesn’t have a straightaway, and most non–trapshooters just pick their first target. The right way to decide which target to shoot first is to shoot the one that will let you find the second bird the easiest. In other words, the one that will keep the gun out of your field of view. For a right–handed person, this will be the right bird. For a left–handed person, it will be the left bird. This will also keep the gun into your face since you will be pulling it that way as you start your swing to the second bird.
When you set up for any station, set your feet to the break point of the second bird. This will let you use your natural swing. The old saying of “winding the spring” is what you will be doing here.
There are many more things I would like to add to your practice routine, but space limits me. I bet if you read this article and start practicing what you read, your sporting clays scores will go up. Take advantage of local trap and skeet fields to prepare for your next sporting clays competition!
Mike McAlpine is the owner of Clay Target Academy and Claybird Specialties. His three–day Target Reading & Presentation Seminar (TRAPS) teaches shooters of all levels how to read targets and their lines, as well as how to break any presentation. Mike was NSCA Chief Instructor for seven years and is a member of the Texas Sporting Clays Hall of Fame. He is recognized nationally as a premier targetsetter and course designer and has set targets and taught in three countries and 40 states. Claybird Specialties builds equipment for clubs and ranges. You can reach Mike at (325) 656–6319 or visit www.claytarget.us.