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Coaching Newbies by Dave Robinson

There are a number of things not quite right here. Chief among them is the shooter’s lack of safety glasses. Your club should keep extras on hand for just such occasions. The Super–X loads she is using will make for a not–so–enjoyable first–time shooting experience. Swap them out for some target loads. See if you can tell what else needs attention to help her enjoy her first time at the gun club.

ost of us have been there. You are sitting around with your shooting friends after a round of clays, having a cool drink and discussing the price of shot or someone’s latest gun purchase when an SUV pulls into the parking lot. Someone says, “I don’t recognize that vehicle, do you?” Lots of negative headshaking, and then the doors of the SUV open and a bunch of total strangers pile out and start pulling guns and hunting vests out of the back of the vehicle. Your buddies start looking at one another, wondering who is going to give up the rest of his shooting day to keep the newcomers from shooting one another. It does require a sacrifice on someone’s part, but without new folks, our shooting will become a part of the past. So, with a shrug, you walk over to say hello. But what’s the best way to introduce these “newbies” to the sport?

Obviously, the first thing to do is introduce yourself, then take a quick look at all the guns to see if the actions are open and the guns are unloaded. There will probably be at least one gun with the action closed. Do not make a big scene over this, but quickly and firmly get all the guns open. If the offending person is close to you, ask to see the gun and open it yourself. If the person is out of reach, ask them to open it, keeping an eye on the muzzle to be sure everyone is out of harm’s way.

When all the guns are safe, explain to the shooters guns are to be loaded only when standing on a station and with only one round at a time.

Now that everyone is safe, take a look at the group and see if any of the shooters are obvious first–timers. If so, ask them if they know which is their master eye, right or left? If you get a negative answer or a blank stare in reply, now is the time to give them a quick test.

It is quite common among women to have a different master eye than master hand. If this is the case among your group, make a short effort to get them to shoot from the master–eye side, explaining to them, with a shotgun, they will hit a lot more targets shooting from the correct side. Again, don’t make too big a deal over it. After all, these folks are here to have fun. You have planted the information in their heads, and if they shoot much at all, they will soon understand they will have to adapt.

Take a look at the guns to see if they are appropriately choked for the game they wish to try. If the guns are screw–choked, suggest they change to the appropriate one with a brief explanation of why they should change, if possible. Again, pay particular attention to the young or female shooters, as they are likely to be shooting someone else’s gun. If you have a more appropriate gun you don’t mind them shooting, now is the time to suggest they try your gun.

Next, ask to see the ammo they intend to shoot. If they have heavy hunting loads, suggest they trade with you or one of your buddies for some lighter loads.

Also check to see everyone has adequate ear and eye protection. If someone comes up short, there is usually at least one member who will have an extra pair of foam earplugs. Be sure to tell the new shooters how to use the plugs and how important they are.

For now, let’s assume these folks want to shoot a round of skeet. Walking a new shooter through a round of skeet is not the way to teach someone to shoot skeet. Remember, these guys and girls are out here to have fun, not take lessons, so walk them to Station One.

Gather everyone up and give them a short talk on the number of stations, high house, low house, etc. Tell them the leads on the targets generally correspond to the station number for the first four stations then count back down (i.e., Station One requires a one–foot lead, Station Two needs a two–foot lead and so on, then Station Five is back to three feet, Station Six is two feet, etc.). If you have time, gather up a bunch of broken targets, take five or six steps from Station One to the center stake, and make a pile. Then walk over to Station Seven and make another pile five to six steps out from the station to the center stake. These piles will serve as “hold points” for your shooters.

Lead everyone over to Station One and ask the most–experienced shooter to go first. Tell the shooter where the target is going and to shoot slightly under it, saying “Pull” when they are ready to shoot. It is a good idea to pull each shooter a test target before they start shooting on Station One. Take a quick look at your group and be sure they have their ear and eye protection on and none are loading their gun.

Loading a shotgun.

Most beginner shooters will have no trouble single–loading a pump or semi–automatic, but over/unders can be a problem. Here, the instructor hands the beginner an empty semi–automatic and, once she takes the proper position on the station, he will help her load a single shell and close the gun.

Most shooters will not get off Station One without a miss, so you will have the opportunity to tell them they get to shoot again at the first target they miss. Instruct the shooter to load another shell, point the gun at the target pile in front of Station Seven on a line with the bottom of the window and shoot 1 foot ahead of the low–house bird as it comes across the field. Keep a close eye on the muzzle of the gun as the shooter reloads and make sure they keep it pointed downrange.

Most shooters will not have a problem single–loading a pump or auto, but over/unders can be a problem for beginners. Check to see if they have the bottom barrel selected and the safety off. Most field–grade break–open guns will have an automatic safety, so you will probably have to tell the shooter to take the gun off safe to shoot.

After the Singles are shot, it is time to shoot Doubles, so the shooter has to load two shells. Be on your toes here and keep a close eye on the muzzle. At this point, you are going to have to make a judgment call as to whether or not the shooter is capable of shooting Doubles. If there is any doubt in your mind, use the control cord to pull the Doubles manually. In other words, press the high–house button and, when the shooter fires on the high–house target, release the low–house target.

Station Two

On Station Two, I have found new shooters tend to connect better if you tell them to pretend the gun is a broom and they will trigger the shot just as they “sweep” past the target.

By now you will have some idea of each shooter’s ability, so you will have an idea of what to expect and what to look for. Remember your objective is not to teach them how to shoot skeet but to show them how much fun shooting can be, so don’t get hung up on technicalities. On Station Two, I have found most beginners will connect if you tell them to pretend the gun is a broom and you are going to “sweep” the target out of the sky by pulling the trigger just as you sweep past the bird. Set them up to do this by having them point their gun at the pile of targets you set up 18 feet or so in front of Station One and raise the muzzle until it is on a line just below the window of the high house.

For the low house, point the gun at the pile of targets in front of Station Seven about even with the low–house window and follow it across the field with a sustained lead of 2 feet. Shoot the Doubles in the same fashion, remembering to manually throw the Doubles targets for those who need the help. Stations Three and Four are shot in the same manner as the Singles on Station Two, except the lead is increased to 3 and then 4 feet. Shoot Station Five with the same leads as Station Three.

Station Six is the mirror image of Station Two, but you have to instruct the shooters to shoot the high house first on Singles, then the low house first on Doubles. The broom analogy works on Low 6, as well as it works on High 2. Remember to throw the Doubles targets manually for those who need help.

At Station Seven, instruct the shooter to use the reference pile as an aiming point away from the house, with the muzzle on the target line. Use a 1–foot lead and emphasize the need for a good follow–through. Have the shooter point the gun over the center stake for the low–house shot (check to be sure they are pointing the gun over the right stake). Tell the shooter to shoot right at the low–house target. Reiterate that they should shoot the low–house target first, then have them shoot the Doubles. Manually pull the Doubles targets for those who need it.

Station Two

On Station Seven, tell the beginner to use a 1–foot lead on the incoming high–house bird and emphasize the need for a good follow–through. Be sure to have them hold over the center stake for the low–house bird.

On Station Eight, put the shooter on the far back corner of the pad and have them point the gun at the target crossing point. Then bring the gun back along the target line to a point about 2 feet out of the high–house window. Tell them to shoot at the front edge of the target when it appears.

Shoot only the high–house target until all the shooters have shot, then set everyone up in a like manner to shoot the low–house target, and then you are done with the hard part. At this point, everyone will have broken at least a few targets and will be much more receptive to any suggestions you may have about shells and equipment.

If you are going to take the shooters through a round of trap, the first thing you need to do after getting the guns safe is have the shooters put the guns in a rack while you go get some help. You cannot watch five people, all handling guns, at the same time, so enlist some other club members to help you.

It is not a bad idea to lock the trap down to throw straightaway targets from Station Three and lower the targets so they are as flat as possible, yet easy–to–see. Remember your newcomers will most likely be shooting field guns, which usually shoot fairly flat. They will have enough trouble hitting the target without having to shoot over it as well. The drill about ear and eye protection, choice of guns, chokes and ammo remains the same as discussed for skeet. Don’t forget to check for master–eye dominance.

Just like shooting skeet, remember you are coaching, not teaching, and the goal is to let the shooters have fun and keep them safe.

Take your shooters out to the line and stand them on the stations, reminding them not to load their guns until told to do so. Tell the shooter on Station One to hold on the far left corner of the traphouse, on or slightly below the roofline. Instruct them to call “Pull” when ready and to shoot about 1 foot in front of the target.

Tell the shooter on Station Two to hold in about one–third of the way in from the left corner. Instruct them to call for the bird after the shooter on Station One has fired and shoot about 6" in front of the target.

Tell the shooter on Station Three to hold slightly to the right of center and on the roofline of the traphouse. Instruct them to call for the target after the person to their left has shot and to shoot right at the target.

Tell the shooter on Station Four to hold in about a foot from the right corner of the traphouse and on the roofline. Instruct him/her to call for the target after the person on their left has shot and to shoot about 6" to the right of the target.

Tell the shooter on Station Five to hold their gun on the far right–hand corner of the traphouse, slightly below the roofline. Instruct him/her to call for the target and shoot about a foot in front of or to the right of the target.

After everyone has fired five shots, explain the process of rotation to the shooters. Keep a close eye on everyone to be sure their guns are empty and the actions open when they begin to move. Most likely, at least one shooter will have their gun closed. Gently but firmly explain to them this is not acceptable and the rules require the gun be open and empty whenever anyone leaves his/her station.

Most beginners will assume the person on Station One always shoots first, so you will have to teach them otherwise and remind the person on Station One it is their turn after the shooter on Post Five has shot. After shooting one round, consider changing the trap machine back to oscillating targets, especially if the shooters seem to be doing well.

One of the hardest things about walking beginners through their first round is resisting the impulse to correct all the errors you see. The shooters can only retain a small amount of the information you are giving them, and there is a point where the shooting becomes work and not fun. Avoid this at any cost, except safety. You will be surprised at how many targets someone can hit with their face at least 6″ away from the stock!

After the beginners have shot one round, they will be much more open to suggestions you may have, but keep them short and to the point. Advice like “You really need a good single–barrel for trap” is not called for at this point, but if you have one you don’t mind them shooting, let them try it for a round. I recently took a group through a round of skeet, and in this group was a petite lady in her 40s who was struggling to hold up a Remington 1100 through the round. She never got her face any closer than 3" from the stock, but nevertheless she managed to break five or six targets. For her second round, I convinced her to try my 6–pound 28–gauge over/under. She broke 17 targets on the second round, beat her husband by two birds and left the club convinced I was the second coming of Fred Missildine.

A skeptic might say, “That is all well and good, but you lost a day’s worth of shooting and are out a box of shells or more and have nothing to show for it but a dirty gun.” Maybe, but earlier this year I had the opportunity to take two young girls in their teens through a couple rounds of skeet with their parents watching from the sidelines. After shooting 50 targets and putting their gear away, they came up to me with their eyes shining and said, “Thank you very much. We had so much fun, and we will be back every chance we get!” Shooting a 100–straight never made me feel that good.