’m offering up reviews of one book and one DVD this month. Both help teach you how to shoot more instinctively and would make great Christmas gifts.
On the off chance there may still be some readers in Shotgun Sports magazine’s subscriber–dom who are unfamiliar with the famous shooting instructor and coach Chris Batha, I’ll attempt to enlighten you. Chris Batha is one of the world’s most sought–after shotgun shooting instructors. He is recognized as one of the most experienced, skillful, insightful and enthusiastic shooting coaches there is. Chris has written books on shooting, starred in shooting videos and shot internationally on both clays and feathered game in dozens of countries around the world. Needless to say, Chris can tell you a thing or two about how to improve your shotgunning.
In the past, I have had the pleasurable assignment of reviewing Chris’ books and videos. I enjoy these assignments, as I always come away having gained a good deal of advice, suggestions and tips that not only enrich my perspective on shooting but improve my overall performance on the clays course. This time around, I will be reviewing Chis’ book entitled The Instinctive Shot.
The Instinctive Shot is a hard–cover, 208–page, highly illustrated guide mainly aimed toward bird hunters; however, clay shooters will do well to read this excellent book, too, as many of its tips can benefit the clay–target buster as well.
Much of Chris’ perspective in The Instinctive Shot is from his British point of view on the way things are done at shooting schools and driven bird shoots in Great Britain. No matter, you will learn much from this book.
Ralph Stuart of Shooting Sportsman proclaims in his Foreward: “Chris is passionate about sharing what he’s learned with others and helping grow their enjoyment of the sport. Having shot all over the world, Chris is familiar with almost every type of situation and environment likely to be encountered by shotgunners. In all honesty, when I first heard about this project, I thought, really? Another clay–shooting book? But after Chris began explaining the details, I started thinking, finally, someone is going to address the specifics on how shooting targets relates to shooting game. It’s about time.”
Chapter 1 of The Instinctive Shot deals with the history of shooting in what Chris describes as the halcyon days of driven–game shooting, those years when there existed great rivalries between estates. Everyone from the lords to the gameskeepers and gunmakers tried to outdo one another. The Edwardian shooting parties were great affairs, with elaborate dinners and entertainment, tremendous events of the upper English society.
Chris closes his first chapter by describing how the popularity of live–pigeon shooting grew to the point it was an event in the 1900 Olympic Games. Chris also explains how the development of shotguns in both Europe and America were influenced by live–pigeon and trap shooting and how, in America, hunting was meant to put food on the table rather than for sport.
Chris is a stout advocate of safe gun handling. There are many tips supported by excellent photographs and illustrations, such as how to best carry your gun in the field (both double guns and semi–automatics). He also discusses the safe arcs of fire for a driven bird shoot, how to handle guns when crossing obstacles in the field and much more.
Chapter 3 deals with proper etiquette while with others shooting in the field. Chapter 4 begins with an explanation of the types and designs of shotguns, their applications, advantages and disadvantages, trigger systems and much more. This chapter, too, is amply supported by excellent photographs. Chris even provides advice on purchasing a shotgun and how to best evaluate one if your intention is to acquire a pre–owned shotgun. Other valuable tips point out how to select the best gun for you. These points include: your budget, your height and build and the quarry you’ll be hunting. In fact, Chapter 4 is one of the book’s longest, and it’s well worth reading multiple times.
Chapter 5 gives superb detailed information on one of the most often–discussed topics in all of shotgunning: chokes and loads. One small example of the detailed information I was previously unaware of and discovered in this chapter has to do with high versus low–brass shells. When I was growing up, you only used high–brass shells if you were hunting larger, heavier birds, such as geese or ducks. Low brass usually took care of everything else. Chris informs readers,”…today there is often very little difference in performance between the cartridges. In the past, high brass was required to support the paper and plastic cases from the pressures generated from higher–velocity loads.” According to Chris, high brass is not a need in today’s modern shotgun ammunition.
If you’re a techno type turned on by shotgun chokes and loads, read Chapter 5 of The Instinctive Shot. Chapter 6 gives Chris’ advice on equipment, clothing and accessories, everything from protective eye and ear wear to cartridge belts, first–aid kits, boots, shooting gloves and more. Chris writes in Chapter 7 about eye dominance — what it is, how to determine yours, faults and fixes for cross–dominance issues and, yes, much more.
In Chapter 10, Chris explains applications, advantages and disadvantages of the more popular methods for acquiring forward allowance, which include pull–away, swing–through, maintained lead, the Churchill instinctive technique and the modified Churchill method. The modified Churchill or, as Chris calls it, the “moving spot technique” is very interesting. One I’ll definitely be experimenting with at the range!
Chapter 14 is one of my favorites. It deals with grooving the instinctive shot and is titled “How To Practice Using The Inanimate Target.” One of the first principles Chris teaches is the fundamental difference between live targets and clay birds, and speed, how it’s generated for each and how it affects your swing on either. Clays begin at their highest velocity and decelerate, while live birds accelerate and can also maintain their flight speed. This major difference makes for the need to develop different swing timing on each type of target. Gee, so that’s why I stink up the place during a dove hunt! Well, one reason anyway.
The differences between mathematical leads and pereceived leads are expertly explained by Chris in Chapter 14, along with his explanation using trigonometry. Learning lead is exponential was valuable. As a former skeet shooter in my much younger days, I always thought it was a good way to practice field shooting, being as that is what it was originally designed for. Chris advocates the use of a skeet field for upland and migratory bird hunting practice.
Chapter 17 is a good one that discusses young shooters. It includes topics like what’s the best age to start them out, eye dominance, gun fit, the best gun for a youngster and more. A great chapter!
I could go on and on about the great wealth of shooting advice Chris Batha has compiled in The Instinctive Shot, but you will learn more if you read it for yourself. Trust me, this book is a must–have in your shotgunning library.
Bruce Scott and his Sunrise Productions video production company has been producing instructional videos for the trap, skeet, sporting clays and wing shooter for 25 years. His videos have featured many of the world’s best shotgunners. Now Sunrise Productions has developed a new sporting clays instructional video featuring shotgunning instructor Don Currie. It’s called Focus, Movement, Faith, a video with an interesting title and premise.
Don is well known in the clay–target games. His list of credentials is impressive: Certified Instructor, National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA); Certified NRA Shotgun and Rifle Instructor; Orvis® Wingshooting School Instructor; resident coach at various courses and clubs in Florida; Associate of the Institute of Clay Shooting Instructors (ICSI, UK); U.S. Army Instructor of marksmanship, weapons and tactics at the U.S. Army Infantry and Ranger Schools at Fort Benning, Georgia; Master/Pro Class Competitor; participated in hundreds of events nationally, shot over 30,000 competition targets, was trained by the top U.S. and U.K. instructors in the sport, and he is an avid upland bird hunter.
Don is fully capable of instructing students in the use of any of the popular lead–acquiring methods, such as sustained lead, pull–away or even swing–through; however, he instructs the Churchill method for a more instinctive technique to obtain the required forward allowance on targets. When Churchill wrote his book Game Shooting in 1955, the theories he brought forth on game shooting were “groundbreaking and foundational.” Don says in this video the eyebrow–raising theories Churchill extolled in the 1950s are just as relevant today to modern hunters and sporting clays shooters as they were back then. In fact, Don goes on to state he feels many of the “instinctive” or natural methods taught today are actually borrowed from Churchill’s technique.
Focus, Movement, Faith begins with Don telling viewers about Robert Churchill’s book and method. He goes into what the major premises in the Churchill method were: intense visual focus on the target, a well–timed swing with the hands and gun to the bird, an unawareness of the gun’s barrel or sights and application of forward allowance achieved by the subconscious, not the conscience mind.
Don starts the instructional phase of the video with an explanation of eye dominance — what it is, why you need to know what yours is and a basic determining technique to help you find out if you’re right or left–eye dominant. He also explains most tests only give you one of two results — right or left–eye dominance — but there are other visual dominance conditions he calls “center vision” or “center–eye shift.” These are a bit harder to discover using a simple self–test.
Gun fit is next on the video. Don gives good explanation as to why a gun should be fitted as properly as possible. Before he gets too far into that, however, he explains to viewers a well–practiced and grooved gun mount should be part of the shooter’s overall skills. The importance of a good gun mount is evident in Don’s explanation, and the Sunrise Production’s proprietary Eye–Cam® helps illustrate Don’s explanation and is made good use of in the rest of the video, too.
Focus on the target is the next topic Don hits in Focus, Movement, Faith. The four components of this chapter on focus, according to Don, are: Focus exclusively on the target; Be totally unaware of any target–to–barrel relationship; Focus small (a specific part of the target); and Time your focus. Don makes it clear why shooting shotguns is so radically different from rifles or pistols with regard to visual alignment to the target. He also makes it clear why focusing only on the target and having no perception of the barrel/target relationship is so important.
Focusing small is Don’s way of describing how fine your visual effort on the target should be. Don wants the shooter to pay attention to only a small area on the bird, never the entire target. The digital graphics used in the video help viewers better understand Don’s teaching. Timing your focus, Don says, is necessary because most of us cannot maintain intense visual focus on the target for the entire duration of its flight. Don’s advice is to use intense focus on a small leading portion of the bird only at a point just prior to and through the break point.
Movement is next discussed by Don. He begins this segment by saying movement is every bit as important to the shot as focus. He informs viewers the purpose of a good gun mount is not to get the gun to the shoulder but to align the gun with the dominant eye, which helps facilitate proper visual focus from the visual pickup point to the break point. Makes sense. Don goes on to explain his four radical rules of movement. They also make sense once you hear Don explain them. Movement is further discussed with the parts that make it up. According to Don they are: planning, ready position, mount and synchronization.
The Movement chapter continues with Don explaining in detail each of the components to the movement. The portion dedicated to planning the shot is supported well once again by the digital graphics and the Eye–Cam®. The Eye–Cam® particularly helps give viewers a much better look at Don’s explanation and how he sees the birds once the gun is to his face and he creates and executes the shot.
I have to say, I began watching this very well–produced video with some skepticism about the instinctive Churchill method. Now that I’ve watched it several times and have gone to the range to implement some of it, I can much better understand its value to upland bird hunters. as well as sporting clays shooters. This is a technique I will be using more of in my clay–target shooting.
The elements of a good ready position are examined next. These, according to Don, are: stance, draw length and barrel orientation. Once again, each is explained in good detail. By this point, Don had made a good impression on me as a knowledgeable instructor, passionate about his teaching, articulate, experienced and personable, all the traits and aspects I hope for in an instructor.
The part of this chapter that stood out and hit home for me was the explanation and demonstration on barrel orientation. I have struggled with keeping a smooth barrel move to the target for a long time. I think Don has given me some good stuff to help me smooth my move.
The final part of the title of this video is next dwelled on by Don — faith. He tells viewers it is likely the element of good shooting that eludes most of us. We should have a measure of faith in our total technique, supported by confidence in our shot planning. This element will prove most important when you dive into the realm of the Churchill method, where no visual awareness of barrel to target is maintained. Don explains most shots are missed in the last two–tenths of a second where most of us have to make a conscious check of our bead–to–bird alignment. Develop a good, consistent mount, keep intense visual focus on the target, plan your shots well and have faith in your game, Don says, and the target will break.
Several stations at the beautiful Quail Creek Plantation, where this video was taken, are shot by Don using the Eye–Cam®. He expertly breaks down each element and feature of the target presentations he attempts, describing how he plans his shots and then masterfully executes the shots. I can’t tell you how much the Sunrise Production Eye–Cam® helps the viewer to see exactly what Don sees over his barrels when making these shots. Excellent views of live shooting!
The final instructional segment of Focus, Movement, Faith is a gift to the viewer. That’s what I’m calling it anyway. Don came away from last year’s NSCA Nationals as the side–by–side champion, after which he tasked himself with chronicling and breaking down all the pieces of his shot processes to help other competitive shooters. What he eventually came up with he calls his “O.P.T.I.M.A.L. Process.” That acronym stands for Observe, Plan, Test, Image, Mark, Align and Laser Focus.
The next 15 minutes or so in the video are dedicated to Don breaking down some stations at Quail Creek in great detail using this OPTIMAL Process. As Don says in the portion that opens this segment, all elite–level competitors have their own private, personal processes they use before and during each presentation, but very few are willing to share this highly personal and valuable information with others. In Focus, Movement, Faith, you get to see and hear how the big boys do it. Watch the video if you’re serious about improving your sporting clays. This segment alone is worth the price of the video.
The final segment of Focus, Movement, Faith has Don parrying some questions from Bruce Scott, questions viewers would likely pose if they were there. Don handles the questions well with confidence in his method and a friendly manner. A minute or so for the sponsors closes Focus, Movement, Faith. Don brings viewers a technique that might sound like voodoo to some, heresy to others and ludicrous notions to a few. Like I mentioned earlier, I began to watch this video with more than a little skepticism, but now I will be working to develop this technique into my sporting clays repertoire from here on. I think you will, too.