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50 Tips For Shooters by Phil Ross

ack in December 2010, I presented 50 tips to shooters based upon what I have learned over my very lengthy trapshooting career. I found I also benefited by listing that which I know but may not have been at the forefront of my attention. I enjoyed the process and received positive feedback from readers and my peers. Most satisfying, I also received at least two phone calls from fellow trapshooters I had not heard from in years. It was so much fun and so popular, I decided to follow up with another batch of tips this year.

With most of the major shoots and state shoots behind us, this is a good time to tune your game plan and recall that which you may have learned but is filed away in the deep recesses of your memory. Here are 50 tips I sincerely hope will help improve your scores and enjoyment of the games.

In your league or club, offer to help whenever you can. So many people give up their hard–earned weekend days to arrive at the range early to provide our recreation. Pitch in when you can. The payback is tremendous, and you learn a lot by observing others and reminding yourself of the basics when you assist newcomers.

Magic Dots

A simple product like Chapstick® can be a quick fix for someone who is having an eye–dominance issue. An even better fix are translucent eye dots.

A product like Chapstick® may work to block out your off eye if you are having eye–dominance problems. It is cost–effective and does not seem to reflect light as aggressively back into one’s eye as tape can. Smear a little in front of your pupil on the lens for your off eye; a little practice will determine the optimum placement. The best “blocker” is a translucent plastic dot (see Magic Dots).

Be careful when picking lens color and degree of light blocking at the back fence. Keep a notebook of what lens works for you when, where and under what conditions. I had a student fail miserably in Singles on the first 50 targets when he had lenses that were too dark. He figured out the problem, changed glasses and went 49x50 for a “gentleman’s” 89x100 in Singles.

If you are a one–eyed shooter, you may consider looking into a very contemporary type of rib: a short rib that might reach from the muzzle only 12″–15″ back. I have seen ribs like these appearing more and more at local trap ranges, and users report positive results. This is for me new territory but something worth investigating.

It is easier said than done, but do not “over try.” This is one aspect of the mental side of shooting that is important in all sports/competitive endeavors. Over–trying is almost always detrimental. A shooter may revert to aiming and stopping the gun or looking back at the barrel at a critical time. Work on letting your trained mechanics “flow,” even when under pressure. Let things “just happen.” Admittedly, this is often easier said than done, but it can make a huge difference in your game. Instructions from a good coach can help you learn to let this happen. Instructional videos are another good source of this kind of training.

The grip area of a shotgun is very important. It must fit you and allow appropriate control and comfort for your trigger hand. Too big, too small or too long of a reach to the trigger can degrade scores due to lack of adequate gun control from the trigger hand. Talk to a gunsmith about how your grip fits your hand.

I recently learned a friend of mine was unaware an intact target that emerges with debris from the traphouse is considered a broken target in trap and should not be shot at. He hit and broke such a target and it was scored a hit. He thought such a target counted as a hit, but he shot at and broke a broken target and should have taken the shot over. Study and know the rulebook, and be sure to call attention to any target of yours that was missed but scored a hit, as that is not usually the case at most clubs and especially in competition.

Competitions that involve stealth, guile and persuasion are best reserved for the poker table. Trapshooting is a sport that involves skill. It is not predicated upon forcing errors upon an opponent, guile and persuasion. That goes for all the shotgun sports. Let’s all be gentlemen and gentleladies out there!

If you can presquad prior to arriving at a shoot, it is to your advantage. Many clubs now offer this service. It saves time, anxiety and rushing upon arrival. You will start your shooting day much more focused upon that which you need to do, which is study the environment and target presentations.

I always take extra clothing to a shoot, even if it is a one–day event. This allows me to be prepared for a sudden change in the weather. Also, I feel fresher and more comfortable after shooting if I can change out of sweaty clothing.

Make a habit of not only swabbing the barrel of your shotgun but keeping the barrel’s chamber and choke area clean. There are special brushes and “speed tools” designed for that purpose. This bit of maintenance can ensure shells will eject or extract cleanly and buildup in the choke–tube area will be minimized and less likely to degrade patterns.

Instructional Videos

Instructional videos are invaluable for learning both the fundamentals of your game and the finer points, too.

Choke tubes can become loose. I have found blue Locktite® on the threads of a choke tube helps “lock” the tube into the barrel yet allows removal without incident.

If you forget your choke wrench, choke tubes that have notches protruding above the muzzle are often easily changed by using the bottom of a shell.

I always keep a brass “wad knocker” on my person when shooting. These weights will not only clear a wad from a “squib” handload but are also invaluable in clearing a stuck hull from the chamber.

You might find it helpful to have a friend take pictures of you while shooting. Today’s digital movie cameras are particularly useful. Having a picture of your posture, stance and overall gun handling gives you the ability to analyze your style and note any changes in rhythm, stance, bad habits, etc. They are also good to go over with a coach if you can’t always have your coach with you at events or practice sessions.

If you find yourself owning a gun that “does not shoot straight” — the barrel does not shoot without zero lead in a static test left–to–right despite aligning the beads when checking the pattern — and you otherwise like the gun, you may be able to have the barrel fixed by replacing it with a new barrel or a chokesmith like Briley can build choke tubes that correct the point–of–impact (POI).

I have found an inexpensive inside bore micrometer is an invaluable tool for checking the actual amount of choke constriction in a shotgun’s barrel. I like to know exactly whether I am using a classic Full choke at 30/1000" (.030) restriction or a Light Full at 26/1000" (.026) restriction, etc. This takes some of the guesswork out of setting up a gun new to you and assures you get the patterns you want. It also comes in handy when you are considering buying a used gun.

I’ve found during cold weather, particularly in states that have moderate climates (like the Southwest), shooters tend to overdress in the wintertime. Overheating while shooting can lead to distractions and fogged glasses. It is best to layer clothing and have the option to take off various coats, shirts, etc. to adjust your temperature. Don’t make a heavy coat an “all or nothing” proposition when you go shooting and pay the price with your scores.

Do you like to go to Asian food restaurants? If so, use the knife and fork so you can take home a pair of the disposable wooden chopsticks. They can act as a drift when pounding out pins on your shotgun (use a plastic hammer to gently drive the chopstick). Using wood against bluing assures almost zero scuffing and won’t abrade the head of a metal drift pin.

Good stuff

You never know what “good stuff” you’ll find at a yard sale, sporting goods clearance sale or on the bulletin board at your club. Keep your eyes and ears open for bargains!

When you partake of services near a shooting range for food, lodging, groceries, supplies, etc., be sure to let the proprietor know you came to the area to recreate at the local shotgun range. This is positive public relations for all the shotgun sports and shooters and reminds communities shooters bring income to the area.

I often change recoil pads to change my length–of–pull (LOP). I do not spend extra funds to have the pad fitted to the buttstock if the pad fits acceptably, as the overlap helps further spread the recoil energy and offers a little more protection for the butt of the gun when it is placed in a gun rack.

I’ve lost targets when a recoil pad came loose, and it happened on a gun that appeared to have perfect threads in the buttstock’s wood. I now make it a practice to use inserts and Allen screws to secure my recoil pads (see the Gun Nut System).

Trapshooting is endurance shooting and requires tremendous mental acuity over a 100–target competition, let alone a 25–target round. Sometimes something seemingly insignificant can cause a target loss, particularly for a new or intermediate shooter. I had an intermediate shooter tell me last winter he put on a long–sleeved t–shirt and lost a target when the wind caught the sleeve and the movement distracted him! He says he will never wear a long–sleeved shirt again while shooting. If a long–sleeved garment must be worn, make sure the sleeves fit tightly. Small distractions can lead to big disappointments!

Trapshooting demands you do many simple things repeatedly in a fluid and efficient manner. I had a student who was having difficulties on Post One during a Singles race. He was so happy he was doing well on Posts Four and Five due to a change in his eyeglass configuration, he forgot to pay attention to his foot placement on Post One. He was standing too “square” to the house, and this misaligned his gun. He is an intermediate shooter who shot a 92 in that event. Had he been more attentive, I suspect he may have shot a 95 or better. Have a procedure that is always followed on every stand and every target and it will help your scores.

Shotgunning, be it sporting clays, skeet, pot shooting or trap, usually invites socializing after the day’s activities. Socializing can easily derail your train of thought, particularly if you are fatigued or hungry. Shooting involves an expenditure of energy, and the shooter is most vulnerable to making mental errors at the end of the day. I have seen some meticulous shooters take a walk around their vehicles before leaving the club looking for any items left on the ground or guns and other paraphernalia left on their vehicle, including the bumpers and roof. I have even had shooters tell me they always make sure before they leave for home that all the guns they brought to the range are accounted for. Believe me, I have known shooters who have lost a gun that fell off their truck’s bumper as they were driving home! Having a place for each item makes it easier to tell if anything is missing.

Extra caps

Be sure to have extra caps in reserve. You might lose a cap in a sudden gust of wind and wish you had brought a backup.

I always keep extra baseball caps in my vehicle. I know caps can suddenly go AWOL with an unexpected gust of wind, and I’ve forgotten to bring a cap on many occasions. Having extras handy is always a good plan!

A colleague of mine is very attentive to store sales, yard sales and the like and always makes it a point to visit gun club pro shops when the season changes. That’s when consumable “stuff,” particularly clothes, are apt to go on sale. His last “jackpot” was several dedicated shooting shirts at a very favorable cost reduction. ’Nuff said!

A very crude collimator for checking barrels can be made using a hull from a 20–gauge shell and one from a 12–gauge shell. Take out the primers and cut the hull length by about half. This will give you a collimator setup that will allow a rough inspection of a barrel when you are considering a gun for purchase. Put the 20–gauge hull in the muzzle of the barrel and the 12–gauge hull in the chamber. Peer through the chamber through the 12–gauge hull, and you should see dark rings inside the barrel. If the rings do not appear concentric, the barrel is very likely bent. Concentricity that seems to be off in the vertical plane is less of a consequence than concentricity that is off in the horizontal plane. A gunsmith can verify your findings, but a quick check can help you avoid obvious problems.

The very best way to store a shotgun is suspended with the muzzle pointing down, which takes tension off the recoil pad and, most importantly, attenuates the migration of solvents, oils and grease into the gun’s stock. Solvents, oils and grease are bad for wood and can soften it over time. We can’t all store our shotguns that way, so just be sure to remove any excess solvent, oil or grease before storing your guns to prevent damage to the wood.

If you happen to be observing a fellow shooter shooting a very strong score, do not invade that shooter’s space with offers of help in the form of food, water or encouragement. Only communicate when spoken to by that shooter. Although your intentions are good, that shooter is working hard to avoid being distracted and stay on task.

Healthy snacks

Be sure to keep healthy snacks and a good supply of water with you at the shooting range. Having to wait in line to get something to eat or drink could hurt your scores if you are hungry or dehydrated.

Keep healthy snack foods and water readily available at the gun club. During a tournament, you may suddenly find yourself hungry, dehydrated or down on energy, and waiting in line for food or drink can be a distraction, especially when you are about to be called to shoot.

I feel those in the shooting sports can borrow a tip from those who backpack or mountain climb. Stores specializing in equipment for backpackers and climbers have wonderful clothing that is lightweight, comfortable, predisposed to allow layering, high–quality and, very importantly, designed to wick away perspiration to keep you cool or warm. What you wear may not seem important to a new or intermediate shooter, but when you are in heavy competition, everything is important!

Take along a lightweight, portable, folding chair or two when you visit the gun club. Standing demands more energy than sitting, and you cannot be guaranteed of a comfortable place to sit on a busy tournament day.

If you reload and collect quality hulls, you will find sporting clays courses tend to offer a good selection. Hulls on a sporting clays course take a bit more work to obtain, but they are often of very high quality. Be sure to ask club management for permission to harvest hulls. There is always the added bonus of a brisk walk while hunting for hulls on the course, which can help build your stamina for long events.

Eat your midday meal slowly at a shoot. Often lunch is served after the first event is completed, and you will often find yourself very hungry after that first event. Eating too quickly increases the possibility of overeating, and overeating can lead to feeling sluggish during the afternoon events. Being sluggish is hardly good for scoring well.

In trapshooting, the architecture of the house in relation to the walkways and stand layouts may not be ideal. Note how a house might vary from being parallel to an imaginary line drawn from the 16–yard position at Post One to the 16–yard position at Post Five so you can be aware and ready to adjust your hold/eye position accordingly.

Hull Hamper

If you reload, be sure to collect some quality hulls. Good–quality hulls can usually be found on the sporting clays course.

Whenever you pick up your gun to step to the field to shoot, make it a habit to look into the barrel (from the breech side, of course) to make sure the barrel is clear. One cannot be overly safe. A spectator or child may have inadvertently dropped a piece of paper, gum, rock, etc. into the muzzle of the gun. Safety first!

I have observed some very careful shooters place a piece of heavy paper between their gun’s rib and the gun rack where the rib contacts the rack. This can help prevent undue bluing wear due to abrasion. Minimizing abrasion on the rib helps prevent shiny areas that can be distracting during shooting. See the Barrel Taco on page 43 in this issue for a clever way to protect your rib.

Always note the terrain of the field behind the traphouse. Undulations that run across the entire field may create consistent and predictable target flight patterns under windy conditions. Being aware of target “bounce” and the distance from the field to the “bounce” can often be a significant advantage for the shooter. A good coach can teach you how to read the terrain and take advantage of that knowledge.

The geometry and configuration of the buttstock on your gun is not trivial. Pads may present a mild curve from the top to bottom; sometimes this configuration will fit, sometimes it will cause problems. Note what pad configuration is best for you. For example, I prefer a straight pad. If you ever have your shotgun’s length–of–pull shortened or lengthened, specify that the gun’s pitch remain as original from the factory if it fits you well. This includes any changes made via grinding on the recoil pad. Pitch changes, if needed, can often be made via tapered spacers between the pad and rear of the stock. Talk to a gunfitter about getting the best fit with your gun. Books like Michael Yardley’s Gunfitting – The Quest For Perfection can also be helpful in finding the right fit.

I have found some newer thinking in stock design has produced very versatile and comfortable guns. I am referring mainly to “parallel–comb” configurations. Factory guns featuring this configuration can often be appropriate for shooting skeet, trap Doubles and sporting clays, assuming a built–in vertical lead that is not unusually high.

Gunsmiths and manufacturers of custom guns recognize springs of higher quality offer certain advantages. Generally, higher–quality springs with, as I understand it, a higher silicone content will last much longer and hold more consistent settings, particularly in the trigger group. This is an inexpensive improvement and, since tournament shotgunning demands repetition, a good investment. Talk to a gunsmith about the springs on your gun.

Shotgun Sports advertises some wonderful instructional videos that can be invaluable for learning the games and improving your performance. There are also free downloads on the Shotgun Sports website that include an overview of how to shoot trap from the Remington Pros which is excellent. Take advantage of every chance you get to learn more about the sport you love.

Shotgun Sports also offers a sample shooting diary on their website. I was impressed with that document, and it is free! This diary page came from Dr. Keyes’ excellent book, Mental Training For The Shotgun Sports.

A shotgunner has many choices when it comes to chemicals to either clean or lubricate a shotgun. Some can be toxic. I recommend wearing disposable nitrile gloves when working with cleaning solvents, as some solvents can be absorbed through the skin. There are some effective non–toxic cleaners on the market, so look for them when practical.

1-Ounce loads

Today’s modern 1–ounce 12–gauge loads of 7½s or 8s are great for Singles and the first shot in Doubles. Try a 1–ounce load!

I am of the opinion today’s modern 1–ounce 12–gauge load of No. 8s or 7½s rated at 1,150 f.p.s. is an ideal Singles load and an ideal load for the first shot in Doubles. This load offers plenty of energy to break its intended target and will minimize physical wear on the shooter and gun, keeping both fresher for an afternoon Handicap event. Give the 1–ounce loads a try!

In American trap, make note of where you hold the muzzle before calling for the target. As you progress in trapshooting, you should learn to make shorter movements to the target. Shorter movements based upon knowledge of the game lead to fewer errors. This is true whether you tend to be a “spot” shooter or one who “points” at the target and takes a little longer to establish a sight picture. If you don’t feel you are progressing in your acquisition of the target, I suggest you look for a good coach to help you speed up the learning curve.

If you have time at a shoot, make an effort to observe the top shooters, particularly in Handicap. Note the different styles they use but, more importantly, note how the better shooters have trained themselves to be efficient in their movements and able to make the same movements repeatedly with almost imperceptible changes. This ability to be the same from shot–to–shot leads to winning scores. Learn from your observations and try to accomplish the same in your own shooting. Watching videos with the pros can offer the same benefits.

If you feel anxious before or while shooting, do not worry about feeling anxious. It is normal to feel some anxiety and others likely feel the same way. Understand that your anxious feelings can help you achieve better focus, and it is self–defeating to worry about feeling pressured. Learn to use the increased focus to your advantage. Study mental training through books and videos or with a coach, as it is the key to success as your game progresses.

We all miss targets. Fight the urge to “personalize” missed targets. You missed the target; the target did not evade you with skill or thought. By not personifying a missed target, you will find yourself in a position to be much more focused to break subsequent targets.

One final thought: It is important to bring a strong work ethic to every target, whether in practice or competition. Don’t become lazy and forget to apply the basics or the helpful tips you have acquired. Many shooters have missed targets by carrying on thoughtlessly and calling for a target when things “did not feel right but were almost acceptable.” Be disciplined and demanding of yourself, and you will find more success and enjoyment in the shotgun games.

Hope my tips help you round out the year successfully and go on to even more success in the coming new year. You never know when or where you might pick up a new tip that will bring new success, so stay open to learning new things every day.

Phil Ross has won many trap events over the last seven decades. He continues to teach trapshooting and promote the sport with joy and passion. You can find out more about Phil’s trapshooting clinics, as well as his books, CDs and speaking engagements, by calling (909) 307–0385.